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Full text of "Creatures of the night; a book of wild life in western Britain"

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CREATURES OF THE NIGHT 

Tte S*oRV 
OP 



By the, same Author. 

IANTO THE FISHERMAN 

AND OTHER SKETCHES OF COUNTRY LIFE. 



Illustrated with Photogravures. Large Grown 8vo. 

The Times. " The quality which perhaps most gives its 
individuality to the book is distinctive of Celtic 

genius The characters ... are touched 

with a reality that implies genuine literary skill." 

The Standard. "Mr Rees has taken a place which is 
all his own in the great succession of writers who 
have made Nature their theme." 

The Guardian. " We can remember nothing in recent 
books on natural history which can compare with 
the first part of this book . . . surprising insight 
into the life of neld, and moor, and river." 

The Outlook. "This book we speak in deliberate 
superlative is the best essay in what may be 
called natural history biography that we have 
ever read." 



LONDON 
JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET 




THE BROAD RIVER, IX WHICH SHE HAD SPENT HER EARLY LIFE. 

(Set; p. 50.) [Frontispiece* 



TO-NIGHT-IS -\VHITE, MAN- IS -ASLEEP, 




CREATURES OF THE NIGHT 

A BOOK OF WILD LIFE IN 
WESTERN BRITAIN 

BY ALFRED W. REES 

AUTHOR OF 
" IANTO THE FISHERMAN" 



WITH ILLUSTRATIONS 



LONDON 

JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET 
1905 



QL. 



TO 

MYFANWY AND MORGAN 



8694 54 



All life is seed, dropped in Time's yawning furrow, 

Which, with slow sprout and shoot, 
In the revolving world's unfathomed morrow, 

Will hlossom and bear fruit." 

MATHILDE BLIND. 



PREFACE. 

THE Editors of The Standard have kindly 
permitted me to republish the contents of 
this book, and I tender them my thanks. 

The original form of these Studies of animal 
life has been extensively altered, and, in some 
instances, the titles have been changed. 

I am again greatly indebted to my brother, 
R. Wilkins Rees. His wide and accurate 
knowledge has been constantly at my dis- 
posal, and in the preparation of these Studies 
he has given me much indispensable advice 
and assistance. 

Similarity in the habits of some of the 
animals described has made a slight similarity 
of treatment unavoidable in certain chapters. 

I may also remark that, in unfrequented 
districts where beasts and birds of prey are 
not destroyed by gamekeepers, the hare is 
as much a creature of the night as is the 
badger or the fox. 

ALFRED W. REES. 



CONTENTS. 

THE OTTER. 

I. 
THE HOLT AMONG THE ALDERS. 

PAGE 

Late fishing A summer night River voices A 
master-fisher The old mansion Lingering 
beauty The otters'* " oven " Observant 
youngsters Careful motherhood The meadow 
playground Falling leaves A swollen river 
Dabchick's oar-like wings Mysterious pro- 
ceedings Migrating salmon Hoar-fringed 
river-banks An adventure with a sheep-dog 
Slip-shod builders Signs of spring A change 
of diet Fattening trout The capture of a 
"kelt " The otter's bite "Lone wanderings. 1 -23 

II. 
THE POOL BENEATH THE FARMSTEAD. 

A song of autumn The salmon pool Angling 
difficulties Bullying a sportive fish An 
absent-minded fisherman At dawn and night- 
fall A deserted home Practical joking A 
moorhen's fate Playfulness of youth The 



x CONTENTS 

PAGE 

torrent below the fall The garden ponds 
Feasting on frogs A watcher of the night 
Hounds and hunters Lutra's discretion The 
spell of fear . . .' . . . 24-40 

III. 
THE GORGE OF ALLTYCAFN. 

The Hunt again Fury of despair A "strong 
place " The terrier's discomfiture Lutra's 
widowhood Summer drought Life at tbe 
estuary Returning to the river Scarce pro- 
vender A rare and unexpected sight The 
blacksmith's baited trap The Rock of Gwion 
Peace . 41-50 



THE WATER-VOLE. 

I. 
OUR VILLAGE HOUNDS. 

Quiet life Leisure hours A winter pastime A 
miscellaneous pack The bobtail, and his fight 
with an otter The terrier, and his friendship 
with fishermen A family party Expert 
diving Hunt membership, and the landlord as 
huntsman Fast and furious fun A rival 
Hunt The bobtail's death The terrier's 
eccentricities A pleasant study begins Brown 
rats Yellow ants Brighteye's peculiarities 
Evening sport . . . . . . 51 -67 



CONTENTS xi 

II. 
THE BURROW IN THE RIVER BANK. 

PAGB 

At dusk A picturesque home Main roads and 
lanes of the riverside people A heron's alert- 
ness A rabbit's danger signal The reed-bed 
The vole in fear The wildest of the wild 
Tell-tale footprints The significance of a 
blood-stain A weasel's ferocity Maternal 
warnings A rat-hunting spaniel An invaded 
sanctuary The terrier's opportunity The 
water-vole chatters and sings A gladsome life 
Dangers sharpen intellect . . . 68-82 

III. 
WILD HUNTING. 

An otter-hunt Fading afterglow Spiritual 
influence of night Lutra and Brighteye 
Brighteye's song Chill waters A beacon in 
the gloom A squirrel's derision A silvery 
phantom An old, lean trout Restless salmon 
Change of quarters Brighteye's encounter 

with a " red " fish 83-98 

IV. 
SAVED BY AN ENEMY. 

The " redd " in the gravel In company with a 
water-shrew Ravenous trout The salmon's 
attack An otter appears Brighteye's be- 
wilderment Increasing vigilance Playful 
minnows A new water-entrance The winter 
granary Careful harvesting The dipper's 
winter carol The robin and the wren at vespers 
Unsafe quarters Rats on the move A 
sequestered pool Icebound haunts . . 99-115 



zii CONTENTS 

V. 
THE COURAGE OF FEAR. 

PAGE 

The dawn Restlessness of spring A bold 
adventurer A sharp fight Cleared path- 
ways Differences of opinion A tight 
snuggery In defence of home A monster 
rat Temporary refuge The voles and the 
cannibal trout Family troubles A winter 
evening in the village . . . .116-129 

THE FIELD-VOLE. 

I. 
HIDDEN PATHWAYS IN THE GRASS. 

A pleasant wilderness Pitying Nature 
Hedgerow sentinels The story of the day 
Familiar signs An unknown scent The 
agony of fear A change of mood The 
weasel's raid A place of slaughter 
Autumn preparations A general panic 
Hibernation Winter sunshine The red 
bank-voles Owls and hawks . . .131-150 

II. 
THE VALLEY OF OLWEN. 

The last of winter's stores Renewed activity 
The field- vole's food A lively widow vole 
An unequal encounter First fond 
passion Ominous sounds A clumsy rabbit 
An unimportant " affair " An elopement 
Nesting time A fussy parent A fox 
pays a visit Also a carrion crow Repair- 
ing damages 151-166 



CONTENTS xiii 

III. 
A BARREN HILLSIDE. 

PAGE 

A secluded pasture Poachers and owls An 
astute magpie The vole a sire of many 
families Plague Nature's caprice Priva- 
tion and disease Unexpected destroyers 
A living skeleton Starvation and death 
An owl once more ..... 167-175 



THE FOX. 



THE LAST HUNT. 

A baffled marauder The flesh of breeding 
creatures tough and tasteless An unsavoury 
rat The arrival of the Hunt The fox sees 
his foes The view-halloo No respite, no 
mercy, no sanctuary The last hope A 
fearless vixen Defiant to the end . . 177-193 

II. 
A NEW HOME. 

Life in an artificial *' earth " Longing and 
despair Contentment of maternity 
Prisoners A way of escape Careless in- 
fancy A precocious cub First lessons 
An obedient family A fox's smile Inborn 
passion for flesh Favourite food of fox-cubs 
The huntsman's desire . . 194-209 



xiy CONTENTS 

III. 
THE CUB AND THE POLECAT. 

PAGE 

Patience and watchfulness How to capture 
field- voles Winding trails Ill-luck A 
painful surprise A fresh line of scent 
Cost of a struggle A luckless fortnight 
The old hound and the " young entry " A 
curiously shaped monster Pursued by a 
lurcher Desertion A vagrant bachelor . 210-223 

IV. 
A CRY OF THE NIGHT. 

The hunting call A recollection A joyous 
greeting A woodland bride The sting of 
a wasp Preparation of a " breeding earth " 
Meddlesome jays and magpies A rocky 
fastness on the wild west coast Vulp's 
retreat The end of a long life The fox's 
mask Memories . 224-240 



THE BROWN HARE. 

I. 
THE UPLAND CORNFIELD. 

Midsummer The leveret's birth First 
wanderings Instinct and teaching The 
" creeps " In the stubble Habits change 
with seasons The " sweet joint " of the 
rye Lessons from a net and a lurcher 
Rough methods The man-scent On the 
hills above the river-mists . . 241-260 



CONTENTS XT 

II. 
MARCH MADNESS. 

PAGE 

March winds Reckless jack-hares Courtship 
and rivalry Motherhood A harmless con- 
flict An intruding fox The faithless lover 
Maternal courage The falcon's " stoop " 
The " slit-eared " hare Countryside 
superstitions On the river island Patience 
rewarded The hare as a swimmer Blood- 
less sport Habits of the hare in wet weather 
The " form " in the root-field Bereave- 
ments Increasing caution Productiveness 
in relation to food A poacher's ruse . 261-277 

III. 
THE CHASE. 

The basset-hound Mirthful and dignified A 
method of protecting hares A suggestion 
Formidable foes " Fouling " the scent 
A cry of distress The home in the snowdrift 
The renegade cat An inoffensive life A 
devastating storm 278-291 



THE BADGER. 

I. 
A WOODLAND SOLITUDE. 

Haunts of a naturalist Why certain animals 
are unmolested Means of security Fear 
of dogs and men A place of interest The 
" nocturnal ' ' instinct Droll revelry Serious 



xvi CONTENTS 

PAGE 

pastimes Teaching by reward and punish- 
ment Animals study the disposition of 
their young Voices of the wilderness . 293-309 

II. 
HOME DISCIPLINE. 

Unwelcome attentions An old badger's watch- 
fulness A clever trick A presumptuous 
youngster Instructions in selfishness 
Harsh measures The badger and the stoat 
A long ramble 310-324 

III. 

FEAR OF THE TRAP. 

Wisdom in Nature's ways The laggard of 
the family A salutary lesson Hand-scent 
and foot-scent An old Welsh law The 
lesson of a " double " scent The sorrel as 
medicine A wild bees' nest " In grease " . 325-339 

IV. 
THE WINTER "OVEN." 

The vixen and the hounds The wounded 
rabbit Old inhabitants of the wood In 
touch with enemies Twilight romps 
Brock's quarrel with his sire A bone of con- 
tention Prompt chastisement A mournful 
chorus Wild fancies of a bachelor A 
big battle The terror of the flock Un- 
warranted suspicion Caught in the act . 340-356 



CONTENTS xvii 

V. 
HILLSIDE TRAILS. 

PAGE 

The backward " drag "Loyalty tested A 
spiteful spouse Spring cleaning Carrying 
litter to the " set " A numerous family 
An eviction Vulpicide Important news 
Old traditions of sport revived A long 
day's toil The secret history of a " draw " 
An old burrow . 357-373 



THE HEDGEHOG. 

I. 
A VAGABOND HUNTER. 

The nest in the "trash" Quaint wildlings 
Neighbours and enemies A feast Spines 
and talons The gipsy boy A vagabond's 
sport The nest in the wild bees' ruined 
home Insects killed by frost Winter 
quarters of the lizard and the snail . . 377-391 

II. 
AN EXPERIENCE IN SNAKE-KILLING. 

An iron winter March awakening A coat of 
autumn leaves The Rip Van Winkle of the 
woods Sunshine and strength Faulty eye- 
sight The hedgehog and the viper 
Worsting an enemy The moorhen's nest 
Antics of weasels and snakes The hedge- 
hog's bleat Odd and awkward courtship . 392-406 



xviii CONTENTS 

NIGHT IN THE WOODS. 
I. 

HAUNTS OF THE BADGER AND THE FOX. 

PAGE 

Wild life at night Long watching A " set " 
with numerous inhabitants The vixen and 
her cubs Tolerant badgers Vigilance A 
moorland episode "Chalking the mark" 
Fox-signs A habit of voles and rabbits 
Patience, in vain Sulky badgers The 
vixen's lair Foxes at play . . . 407-426 

II. 
THE CRAG OF VORTIGERN. 

Difficulties of night watching Powers of obser- 
vation in wild creatures Night wanderers 
dislike rain Eager helpers A tempting 
invitation Cry of young owls Philip, the 
silent watcher The fern-owl's rattle The 
leaping places of the hare Night gossip 
The meaning of the white and black mark- 
ings on a badger's head The secrets of the 
cave . .... 427-443 

INDEX . 445-448 



FULL-PAGE ILLUSTRATIONS 

From Drawings by 
FLORENCE H. LAVEROCK. 

'THE BROAD RIVER, IN- WHICH SHE HAD SPENT HER 

EARLY LIFE. " See p. 50 Frontispiece. 

'AN OPPORTUNITY CAME, WHICH, HAD SHE BEES POISED 

IN THE AIR, COULD SCARCELY HAVE BEEN MISSED." . TofaCep. 88 

'THE BIG TROUT, IN HIS TORPEDO-LIKE RUSH TO CUT OFF 

BRIGHTEYE FROM SURE REFUGE." See p. 105 . 104 

' SHE WAS HOLDING ONE OF HER OFFSPRING BY THE NECK, 

IN PREPARATION FOR FLIGHT." See p. 139 . . . ,, ,, 138 

'HE RETIRED TO A ROCKY FASTNESS ON THE WILD WEST 

COAST," ,, 238 

'WHEN THE EARLY AUTUMN MOON ROSE OVER THE CORN," ,, ,, 290 

'HE CLIMBED FROM HIS DOORWAY, AND STOOD MOTION- 
LESS, WITH UPLIFTED NOSTRILS, INHALING EACH BREATH 

OF SCENT," , 364 

'AS HE MEASURED HIS FULL LENGTH AGAINST THE TREE." 

See p. 419 .... ... 418 



THE OTTER. 



THE OTTER, 
i. 

THE HOLT AMONG THE ALDERS. 

I FIRST saw Lutra, the otter-cub, while I 
was fishing late one summer night. Slow- 
moving clouds, breaking into fantastic shapes 
and spreading out great, threatening arms 
into the dark, ascended from the horizon 
and sailed northward under the moon and 
stars. Ever and anon, low down in 
the sky, Venus, like a clear-cut diamond 
suspended from one of its many twinkling 
points, glittered between the fringes of the 
clouds, or the white moon diffused soft 
light among the wreathing vapours that 
twisted and rolled athwart the heavens. 
In the shelter of the pines on the margin 



4 THE OTTER 

of the river, a ringdove, awakened by a 
bickering mate, fluttered from bough to 
bough ; and his angry, muffled coo of 
defiance marred the stillness of the night. 
The gurgling call of a moorhen, mingling 
with the ripple of the stream over the 
ford, came from the reeds at a distant 
bend of the river. Nearer, the river, with 
varying cadence, rose and fell in uneven 
current over a rocky shelf, and then came 
on to murmur around me while I waded 
towards the edge of a deep, forbidding 
pool. In the smooth back-wash beyond the 
black cup of the pool a mass of gathered 
foam gleamed weirdly in the dark ; and, 
further away, broad tangles of river-weed, 
dotted with the pale petals of countless 
flowers, floated on the shallow trout-reach 
extending from the village gardens to the 
cornfields below the old, grey church. 

In one of the terraced gardens behind 
me a cottager was burning garden refuse ; 
tongues of flame leaped up amid billows of 
smoke, and from the crackling heap a myriad 
sparks shot out on every side. While 
the cottager moved about by the fire, his 
shadow lengthened across the river, which, 



THE HOLT AMONG THE ALDERS 5 

reflecting the lurid glare, became strangely 
suggestive of unfathomable depths. The 
moorhen called again from the reeds near 
the ford, then flew away over the fire-flushed 
river and disappeared into the gloom ; and a 
water-vole dropped with a gentle plash into 
the pool. 

Casting a white moth quietly over the 
stream, I noticed beyond the shadows a 
round mass rising from the centre of the 
current, moving against the flood, and sinking 
noiselessly out of sight. There could be no 
doubt that the shape and motion were those 
of an otter. To continue my sport would 
have been in vain with such a master-fisher 
in the pool, so I reeled in my line, and stood 
still among the ripples as they circled, 
muttering, around my knees. Presently 
the dim form of the otter reappeared a 
little further up-stream, and I caught sight 
of a glistening trout in the creature's 
mouth. 

The otter swam, with head just above 
water, towards the alders skirting the opposite 
bank, and then, turning sharply, was lost 
to sight near the overhanging roots of a 
sycamore. Immediately afterwards, a strange, 



6 THE OTTER 

flute-like whistle as if some animal, having 
ascended from the depths of the river, had 
blown water through its nostrils in a violent 
effort to breathe came from the whirlpool 
in the dense shadows of the pines : the 
otter's mate was hunting in the quiet water 
beyond the shelf of rock. Then a slight, 
rattling sound on the pebbly beach of a 
little bay near the sycamore indicated that 
the animal had landed and was probably 
devouring the captured fish. The leaping 
flames of the cottager's fire had been 
succeeded by a fitful glow, but the moon 
glided from behind the clouds and revealed 
a distinct picture of the parent otter standing 
on the shingle, in company with Lutra, her 
little cub. 



A deserted mansion to whose history, like 
the aged ivy to its crumbling walls, clung 
many a fateful legend nestled under the 
precipitous woods in the valley. Time, 
taking advantage of neglect, had made a 
wilderness of the gardens, the lawns, and 
the orchards, which, less than a century 
ago, surrounded with quiet beauty this 



THE HOLT AMONG THE ALDERS 7 

home of a typical old country squire. A 
few garden flowers still lingered near the 
porch ; but the once well tended borders 
were overgrown with grass, or occupied 
with wild blossoms brought from the fields 
by the hundred agents employed by Nature 
to scatter seed. Owls inhabited the out- 
houses, and bats the chinks beneath the 
eaves. A fox had his " earth " in the 
shrubbery beyond the moss - grown path- 
way leading from the door to the gate at 
the end of the drive. A timid wood-pigeon 
often flew across from the pines and 
walked about the steps before the long- 
closed door. Near the warped window of 
the dismantled gun-room the end of a 
large water-pipe formed a convenient burrow 
for some of the rabbits that played at dusk 
near the margin of the shrubbery. This 
water-pipe led to the river's brink ; and 
there, having been broken by landslips 
resulting from the ingress of the stream 
during flood, one of the severed parts of 
the tube formed, beneath the surface of 
the water, an outlet to a natural chamber 
high and dry in the bank. The upper 
portion of the pipe was choked with earth 



8 THE OTTER 

and leaves washed down from the fields 
by the winter rains. 

In this hollow "oven," on a heap of hay, 
moss, and leaves, brought hither by the parent 
otters through an opening they had tunnelled 
into the meadow, Lutra was born. Her 
nursery was shared by two other cubs. Blind, 
helpless, murmuring little balls of fur, they 
were tended lovingly by the dam. 

Soon the thin membrane between their 
eyelids dried and parted, and they awoke to 
a keen interest in their surroundings. Their 
chamber was dimly lit by the hole above ; 
and the cubs, directly they were able to 
crawl, feebly climbed to a recess behind the 
shaft, where they blinked at the clouds that 
sailed beneath the dome of June, and at 
the stars that peeped out when night drew 
on, or watched the limpid water as, flowing 
past the end of the pipe below, it bore 
along a twirling leaf or rolled a pebble down 
the river-bed. Occasionally a salmon-pink 
wandered across from the shallows ; for a 
moment or two the play of its tiny fins 
was seen at the edge of the pipe; and the 
cubs, excited by a sight of their future prey, 
stretched their necks and knowingly held 



THE HOLT AMONG THE ALDERS 9 

their heads askew, so that no movement of 
the fish might escape their observation. 

Among flesh-eating mammals of many 
kinds, the females display signs of intelligence 
earlier than the males. Lutra being the 
only female among the cubs, she naturally 
grew to be the most keenly observant, and 
often identified the finny visitor before her 
brothers ventured to decide that it was not 
a moving twig. 

The dam spent most of the day asleep in 
the " holt," and most of the night fishing 
in the pools. Inheriting the disposition 
of their kind, the cubs also were more 
particularly lively by night than by day. 
Directly the cold dew-mist wreathed the 
grass at the entrance of the burrow, they 
commenced to sport and play, tumbling 
over each other, grunting and fighting in 
mimic anger, or pretending to startle their 
mother directly she entered the pipe on 
returning at intervals from fishing. 

One night, while the cubs were rougher 
than ever in their fun, Lutra slipped off the 
platform and fell headlong down the pipe 
into the stream. But almost before she 
had time to be frightened she discovered 



10 THE OTTER 

that to swim was as easy as to play ; and 
she rose to the surface with a faint, flute- 
like call. She splashed somewhat wildly, 
for her stroke was not yet perfected 
by practice. Hearing the commotion and 
instantly recognising its meaning, the dam 
dived quietly and swiftly right beneath the 
cub, and bore her gently back to the plat- 
form, where the rest of the family, having 
missed their companion, had for the moment 
ceased to romp and fight. 

A few nights after this incident, the mother 
commenced in earnest to educate her young. 
Tenderly taking each in turn, she carried 
the nurslings into the water, and taught 
them, by a method and in language 
known only to themselves, how to dive and 
swim with the least possible exertion and 
disturbance. 

Henceforward, throughout the summer, 
and till the foliage on the trees near the 
pool, chilled by the rapid fall of the 
temperature every evening, became thinner 
in the breath of the early autumn wind, 
the otter-cubs fished, and frolicked, and 
slept, or were suckled by their dam. Some- 
times the whole family, together with the 



THE HOLT AMONG THE ALDERS 11 

old dog - otter, adjourned to the middle of 
the meadow, and in the tall, dew-drenched 
grass skipped like kittens, though with comical 
clumsiness rather than with the agility they 
displayed in the water. Like kittens, too, 
the cubs played with their mother, in spite 
of wholesome chastisement when they nipped 
her muzzle rather more severely than even 
long-suffering patience could allow. The 
dam was at all times loath to correct her 
offspring, but the sire rarely endured the 
familiarity of the cubs for long. Directly 
they became unduly presumptuous he 
lumbered off to the river, as if he considered 
it much more becoming to fish than to 
join in the sport of his progeny. Perhaps, 
indeed, he deemed a change of surroundings 
essential that he might forget the liberties 
taken with him by his disrespectful youngsters. 
When about three months old, Lutra 
began to show promise of that grace of 
form and motion which in later life was 
to be one of her chief distinctions. Her 
body, tail, and head gradually lengthened ; 
and, as her movements in the water became 
more sinuous and easy, she tired less rapidly 
when fishing. 



12 THE OTTER 

Autumn passed on towards winter, the 
nights were long, the great harvest of 
the leaves fell thickly on the meadow 
and the stream, the mountain springs were 
loosed in muddy torrents, and the river 
roared, swollen and turbid, past the " holt " 
under the trailing alder-twigs. The moor- 
hens came back from the ponds where they 
had nested in April and May; the wild 
duck and the teal flew south from oversea, 
and in the night descended circling to the 
pool ; a dabchick from the wild gorge 
down-river took up his abode in the sedges. 

The quick jerk of the dabchick's oar-like 
wings caused much wonder to Lutra, when, 
walking on the river-bed, she looked up 
towards the moonlit sky, and saw the 
little grebe dive like a dark phantom 
into the deep hole beneath the rocky 
ledges of Penpwll. Once the otter-cub, 
acting under an irresistible impulse, swam 
towards the bird and tried to seize him. 
She managed to grip one of his feet, as 
they trailed behind him while he dived, 
but the grebe escaped, leaving in the 
assailant's mouth only a morsel of flesh 
torn from a claw. 



THE HOLT AMONG THE ALDERS 13 

In the warm evenings of late summer 
and the first weeks of autumn, the angler 
usually visited the shingle opposite the 
water-pipe, and waded up-stream casting 
for trout. The otter- cubs, grown wiser 
than when the angler saw them near the 
sycamore, discreetly stayed at home, for 
they had been taught to regard this 
strange being, Man, known by his peculiar 
footfall and upright walk, as a dreaded 
enemy scarcely less formidable than the 
hounds and the terriers that at intervals 
accompanied him for the express purpose 
of hunting such river-folk as otters and 
rats. 

As yet Lutra had never seen the hounds, 
nor, till the following summer, was she 
to know the import of her instinctive 
timidity. Roaming, hungry, and venture- 
some, she had chanced at nightfall to 
catch a glimpse, during an occasional gleam 
of moonlight, of a large trout struggling 
frantically on the surface of the water not 
far from the angler, had heard the click of 
the reel and the swish of the landing net, 
and had concluded that these mysterious 
proceedings gave cause for fear. 



14 THE OTTER 

The end of October drew nigh; and, 
when the last golden leaves began to 
fall from the beeches, the angler ceased 
to frequent the riverside. Henceforward, 
except when a sportsman passed with his 
gun, the otters' haunt remained in peace. 

Always at break of day, however, when 
the pigeons left their roosting places in 
the pines, an old, decrepit woman tottered 
down the steps from the cottage door to 
the rock at the brim of the pool, and filled 
her pails with water. But the creatures felt 
little alarm: they had become accustomed 
to her presence in the dawn. Lonely and 
childless and poor, she knew more than any 
one else of the otters ; but she kept their 
whereabouts a secret, for the creatures lent 
an interest to her cheerless, forsaken life, 
and recalled to her halting memory the 
long past days when her husband told her 
tales of hunting and fishing as she sat, a 
young and pretty girl, at her spinning 
wheel in the light of the flickering "tallow- 
dip." 

Warm, cloudy weather continued from 
the late autumn through the winter except 
for a few days of frost and snow in 



THE HOLT AMONG THE ALDERS 15 

December so that food was never scarce, 
and Lutra thrived and grew. The great 
migration of salmon took place, but she was 
not sufficiently big and strong to grip and 
hold these monster fish. Her own weight 
hardly exceeded that of the smallest of them, 
so she had to be content with a mixed 
diet of salmon-fry and trout, varied with 
an occasional slug or snail that she chanced 
to find in the meadow. For a brief period 
after the fall of snow in December, the 
frost fettered the fields, and the moon shone 
nightly on a white waste through which 
the river flowed, like a black, uneven line, 
between its hoar - fringed banks. Then 
Lutra, bold in the unbroken stillness of 
Nature's perfect sleep, climbed the steps 
leading to a village garden, and searched 
the refuse heap for scraps discarded from 
the cottager's meagre board. She even 
wandered further, crossed the road, and 
passed under a gate into the fields near 
the outlying stables of the inn. Here 
some birds had roosted in the hazels by 
the fence, and the cub stood watching them, 
like the fox beneath the desired but distant 
grapes. 



16 THE OTTER 

A rough, mongrel sheep - dog, having 
missed his master, who had been carous- 
ing in the inn that evening, chanced to 
be trotting homeward to the farm on the 
hill, and, sniffing at the gate, discovered 
the cub in the hedgerow. With a mad 
yell the dog tore through the briars at the 
side of the gate-post ; but Lutra was equally 
quick, and by the time her enemy was in 
the field she had dodged under the bars 
and was shuffling away, as quickly as her 
short legs permitted, down the garden to 
the river. The dog turned, crashed back 
through the briars, and gained rapidly on 
the otter. He reached her just as she 
gained the top of the wall that, on a level 
with the garden, formed a barrier against 
the river-floods. Lutra felt a sharp nip on 
her flank, and was bowled over by the 
impetuous rush of her foe ; but she regained 
her feet in an instant, and jumped without 
hesitation into the water. The river was 
shallow where she fell; the dog followed 
her ; and for a moment she was in deadly 
peril. But before the sheep-dog recovered 
from his sudden plunge, Lutra swam into 
the deep water and dived straight for 



THE HOLT AMONG THE ALDERS 17 

home, leaving the plucky mongrel standing 
in the ripples, with a look of almost 
human disgust and astonishment on his 
intelligent face. He may have reasoned 
thus : " Surely I caught that otter. But 
stay, I must have been dreaming. Tis 
queer, though : I'm in the river instead of 
on the road to the farm." This, for Lutra, 
was perhaps the only noteworthy episode 
of her early life. 

The otter-cub was about nine months old 
when spring came to the valley. The water- 
weed grew in long filaments from the gravelly 
shallows. The angler, who had ceased to 
frequent the riverside at the approach of 
winter, returned to the pool, but only by 
day, and then Lutra dozed in her retreat. 
In the pines on the margin of the river the 
blue ringdoves were busy constructing the 
rude makeshift that was to serve the purpose 
of a nest. Instead of seeking how to 
construct a perfect dwelling place, these 
slipshod builders spent most of their hours 
in courtship. Sometimes, owing to the 
carelessness of the lackadaisical doves, a dry 
stick released by bill or claw would fall 
pattering among the branches, and drop, 



18 THE OTTER 

with a plash, into the river, where it would 
be borne by the current past the otter's lair. 
From every bush and brake along the 
sparkling stream the carols of joyous birds 
floated on the morning mists. The first 
green leaves of the bean peeped in the 
gardens ; the first broods of the year's 
ducklings launched forth, like heartstrong 
adventurers, into the shallows by the cottage 
walls. In the sunny glades the big, fleshy 
buds of the chestnut and the light-green, 
tapering sprouts of the sycamore expanded 
under the influence of increasing warmth. 
Finches and sparrows, on the lookout for 
flies, hovered above the ankle-deep drifts of 
leaf-mould in the lane below the trees, or 
crossed and re-crossed between the budding 
boughs. Only a few of these many signs 
were observed by Lutra, it is true, for she 
spent the day in hiding. But at dusk she 
heard the bleating of the lambs, and the 
musical note of a bell that had been slung 
round the neck of the patriarch of the flock 
in order to deter foxes from meddling with 
the new-born weaklings then under the big 
ram's care. She was made aware of the 
presence of spring by the "scent in the 



THE HOLT AMONG THE ALDERS J9 

shadow and sound in the light." The 
hatching of countless flies in the leaf-mould 
was not watched by the birds only: Lutra 
also knew that the swarms had arrived ; 
and spring was welcome if only for this. 

For months she had fed on lean and 
tasteless trout exhausted by spawning. Now, 
instead of lying under stones or haunting 
the deep basin of the pool, the trout 
rose to the surface and wandered abroad 
into the shallows. There the languid fish 
became fit for food again, and more capable 
of eluding the occasional long, stern chases of 
the otter. But Lutra was never disconcerted 
by the fact that the fish were strong and 
active ; as with all carnivorous creatures, her 
sporting instincts were so highly developed 
that she revelled in overcoming difficulties, 
especially because she felt her own strength 
growing from day to day. During winter 
the trout had fed on worms and "sundries." 
Now, their best and heartiest meals were of 
flies. Daily, at noon, swarms of ephemerals 
played over the water, and the trout rose 
from the river-bed to feed. At first they 
" sported " ravenously, rising quick and sure 
to any insect their marvellous vision might 



20 THE OTTER 

discern. Afterwards they fed daintily, 
disabling and drowning with a flip of the 
tail many an insect that fluttered at the 
surface, and choosing from their various 
victims some unusually tasty morsel, such 
as a female "February red" about to lay 
her eggs. At this time, also, the plump, 
cream-coloured larvae of the stone-fly in the 
shallows were growing within their well 
cemented caddis-cases and preparing for 
maturity. So the trout fattened on caddis- 
grubs and flies, and the otter-cub, in corres- 
ponding measure, became sleek, well-grown, 
and spirited. 

In the winter Lutra had imperceptibly 
acquired the habit of swimming and diving 
across-stream, just as an old fox, when 
hunting in the woods, quarters his ground 
systematically across-wind, and so detects the 
slightest scent that may be wafted on the 
breeze. Nature had been specially kind to 
her ; she was fashioned perfectly, and in 
the river reigned supreme. Her body was 
long, supple, and tapering; her brown fur 
was close and short, so that the water never 
penetrated to her skin and her movements 
were not retarded as they would have been 



THE HOLT AMONG THE ALDERS 21 

had she possessed the loose, draggling coat 
of an otter-hound. She seemed to glide 
with extraordinary facility even against a 
rapid current. Her skin was so tough that 
on one occasion when, by accident, she was 
carried down a raging rapid and thrown 
against a jagged rock, a slight bruise was 
the only result. Her legs were short and 
powerful, her toes webbed, and her tail 
served the purpose of a rudder. Nostrils, 
eyes, and ears all were small and water- 
tight, and set so high on the skull that, 
when she rose to breathe, little more than 
a speck could be seen on the surface, unless 
she felt it safe to raise her head and body 
further for the sake of ease in plunging deep. 
When Lutra was nine months old she 
caught her first salmon ; and, though the 
fish was only a small "kelt," returning, 
weak from spawning, to the sea, the capture 
was a fair test of the cub's prowess and 
daring. It happened thus. She was walking 
up the river-bed one boisterous night, when 
she saw a dark form hovering close to 
the surface in the middle of a deep pool. 
Her eyes, peculiarly fitted for watching 
objects immediately above, quickly detected 



22 THE OTTER 

the almost motionless fish. The eyes of the 
salmon were also formed for looking upwards, 
and so Lutra remained unnoticed by her prey. 
She stole around the hovering fish, that the 
bubbles caused by her breathing might make 
no noticeable disturbance as they rose to the 
surface, and then, having judged to a nicety 
the strength of the stream, paddled with 
almost imperceptible motion towards the 
salmon. Before the fish had time to flee 
it was caught in Lutra's vice-like jaws and 
borne, struggling desperately and threshing 
the water into foam, to the bank. There 
the otter-cub killed her victim by severing 
the vertebras immediately behind its gills. 

Otters well nigh invariably destroy large- 
sized fish by attacking them in this 
particular part. And, according to a 
similar method, stoats and polecats, when- 
ever possible, seize their victims near the 
base of the brain. In yet another way 
Lutra proved her relationship to the weasel 
tribe : just as our miniature land-otters eat 
only small portions of the rabbits they kill, 
so the cub was content with a juicy morsel 
behind the salmon's head a morsel known 
among sportsmen as "the otter's bite." 



THE HOLT AMONG THE ALDERS 23 

Soon after the cub had killed her first 
salmon she separated from her parents 
and brothers, travelled far down-river, and 
wandered alone. In the human character, 
development becomes especially marked 
directly independence of action is assumed ; 
henceforward parental guidance counts for 
comparatively little. And so it was with 
Lutra. 



THE OTTER. 
II. 

THE POOL BENEATH THE FARMSTEAD. 

LAST year, in autumn mornings, when the 
big round clouds sailing swiftly overhead 
reminded me of springtide days and joyous 
skylarks in the heavens, but when all parent 
birds were silent, knowing how dark winter 
soon would chill the world, a thrush, that 
not long since had been a fledgling in his 
nest amid a shrubbery of box, came to 
the fruit-tree near my window, and, in 
such low tones that only I could hear 
them, warbled that all in earth and sky 
was beautiful. 

To Lutra, lonely like the thrush, and, like 
the thrush, not yet aware of pain and 
hunger, the world seemed bright and filled 
with happiness. At first, like a young fox 
that, till he learns the fear of dogs and 
men, steals chickens from a coop near 



THE POOL BENEATH THE FARMSTEAD 25 

which an old, experienced fox would never 
venture, she was, perhaps, a little too 
indifferent to danger. In her perfect health 
and irresponsible freedom, she paid but 
slight attention to the alarm signals of other 
creatures of the night. 

Up-river, at a bend below a hillside farm- 
stead some distance from our village, 
is a broad, deep salmon - pool, fringed 
with alders and willows. Right across 
the upper end of this pool stretches a 
broken ledge of rock, over which, in flood, 
the waters boom and crash into a seething 
basin whence thin lines of vapour blue 
and grey when the day is dull, or gleaming 
with the colours of the rainbow when the 
sun, unclouded, shines aslant the fall 
ceaselessly arise, and quiver on the waves of 
air that catch their movement from the 
restless swirls beneath. But in dry summer 
weather the ledge is covered with green, 
slippery weed, the curving fall is smooth as 
glass, and the rapid loses half its flood-time 
strength. 

This pool, though containing some of 
the finest salmon "hovers" in the river, is 
nowadays but seldom fished. Since the 



26 THE OTTER 

old generation of village fishermen has 
passed away it seems to have gradually 
lost its popularity. The right bank of 
the river above and below the pool is for 
miles so thickly wooded that anglers prefer 
to pass up-country before unpacking their 
rods. From the left bank it is useless for 
any angler who has not made a study of 
the pool to attempt to reach the "hovers." 
Under far more favourable conditions than 
these, the throw necessary to place a fly on 
even the nearest of the "hovers" would be 
almost the longest that could with accuracy 
be made. But the angler is baffled at the 
outset by the presence of a steep slope 
behind him. 

I well remember two instances when I 
was tricked by the self-conceit which led 
me to suppose that my skill in casting was 
of no mean order. Once, while the river 
was bank-high after flood, I happened to 
be throwing an unusually long line, with 
careless ease, over the lower end of a pool, 
where, before, I had never seen a fish. I 
was, no doubt, thinking of something quite 
unconnected with fishing, otherwise I should 
not have wandered thus far from the spot 



THE POOL BENEATH THE FARMSTEAD 27 

where I generally reeled in my line. A 
salmon effectually aroused me by a terrific 
rush at my fly. I " struck " hard, and the 
fly, after a momentary check, flew up into 
the air. I am not one of those anglers who 
give rest to a salmon in the belief that, after 
rising, he requires time to recover from his 
disappointment at having failed to catch 
the lure. I believe in "sticking to" a fish, 
perhaps because the first I ever hooked was 
one I had bullied ceaselessly during the whole 
of a spring evening. And so I tried hard and 
often to tempt that sportive fish again ; but 
after the careless, easy casting which resulted 
in the rise, I could not by any means throw 
satisfactorily over the tail of the pool. How- 
ever I tried to do so, the line would double 
awkwardly as it reached the water, or would 
curl back into the rapid on the near side of 
the "hover," or the fly would splash in a 
most provoking manner as it alighted on 
the stream. So at last I left the riverside. 
Henceforth, I attempted the same long 
cast whenever I passed the pool. I lost 
many flies, and never again rose a fish. 
But I was convinced that I had dis- 
covered a " hover " new to the village fisher- 



28 THE OTTER 

men, till my old friend lanto chaffed me 
into the belief that the salmon I had seen 
was a "passenger," and, probably, a "spent 
kelt" in such a weak condition that for it 
to stay in the rough water higher up the 
pool was impossible. 

On another occasion, in early days when 
my ignorance of the river and of fishing 
sorely troubled both lanto and myself, 
as I was wading down-stream along the 
edge of a pool a grilse rose, "head and 
tail," about twenty yards below my fly. 
Using my long gaff-handle as a staff, I 
walked slowly towards the fish, casting 
carefully all the way. I was so absorbed 
in my work that I did not know I was 
moving into deep water till I found that 
my wading stockings had filled. I then 
stopped, and, lengthening my line at each 
successive "throw," sent my fly nearer and 
still nearer to the grilse. 

How I managed the long, straight cast 
that presently resulted in my fly passing 
down the "hover," I do not know. The 
grilse rose sharply at the lure, but I " struck " 
too late. I reeled in my line, and after a 
few minutes began once more to cast. Now, 



THE POOL BENEATH THE FARMSTEAD 29 

however, try as I might, I could not get 
the line out to the distance required ; it 
would not fall straight and true. In despera- 
tion I endeavoured to overcome the difficulty 
by sheer strength. I swung my arms aloft ; 
my old hickory rod creaked and groaned 
with the increasing strain, then snapped 
immediately the tension was released with 
the return of the line; and, a second after- 
wards, the grilse took my fly and bolted 
away down-stream. 

All caution left me ; I was " into a fish " 
that was enough. In haste to catch my 
rod-top as it slipped down the line from 
the butt, I made one step forward, and fell 
over head and ears into a deep hole beneath 
the shelf of rock on which I had been 
standing. When I recognised what had 
happened I was clinging to an alder-root 
near the bank; thence, breathless, I lifted 
myself till I was safe on a tree-trunk above 
the pool. My rod and cap were drifting 
rapidly away; but, after divesting myself of 
half my dripping garments, I recovered the 
rod in a back-water below the neighbour- 
ing wood. All my line had been taken out, 
the gut collar had been snapped, and the 



30 THE OTTER 

fly had undoubtedly been carried off by the 
grilse. 

In those old days of which I have else- 
where written, 1 lanto and I often resorted 
to the wide, deep pool under the farm. 
Sometimes, during summer, we were there 
before daybreak, fishing for the salmon 
that only then or in the dusk would 
deign to inspect our "Dandy" fly. And 
there, in the summer nights, we frequently 
captured, with the natural minnow, the big 
trout that wandered from the rapids to feed 
in the quiet waters by the alders. lanto 
knew the pool so well that even in the 
darkest night he would wade along the 
slippery, weed-grown shelf near the raging 
fall, to troll in the shadows above him. Had 
the old man taken one false step he would 
have entered on a struggle for life compared 
with which my own adventure after hooking 
the grilse would have been insignificant. 

For several months free, happy Lutra 
made her daytime abode in a " holt " 
among the alder-roots fringing this pool. 
She loved in the long winter nights to 

1 In " lanto the Fisherman, and Other Sketches of Country 
Life." 



THE POOL BENEATH THE FARMSTEAD 31 

hear the winnow-winnow of powerful wings 
as the wild ducks circled down towards 
the pool, the whir of the grey lag-geese 
far in the mysterious sky, and the whistle 
of the teal and the gurgle of the moorhens 
among the weeds close by the river's brim. 
Crouched on a grassy mound beside the 
rapids, she could see each movement on the 
surface of the pool. The wild ducks 
splattered and quacked as they paddled busily 
hither and thither, visiting each little bay 
and reed-clump at the water's edge. Some- 
times, surrendering themselves wholly to 
sport and play, they formed little groups 
of two or three ; and now one group, and 
then another, would race, half -swimming, 
half-flying, from bank to bank or from 
the rock to the salmon "hover" at the 
lower end of the pool. The otter remem- 
bered her experience with the dabchick, 
and believed that to capture a full - grown 
duck would tax her utmost strength and 
cause a general alarm. Once, however, 
excited by the wild ducks' sport, she 
slipped quietly from the mound, dived 
deep, and from the river-bed shot up in the 
midst of the birds just as they had con- 



32 THE OTTER 

gregated to settle a point of difference in 
a recent event, and to discuss a second 
part of their sports' programme for the night. 
As the birds, panic-stricken, scattered on 
every side, and, following each other in 
two long lines that joined in the form of 
a wedge, flew up into the starlit sky, Lutra 
watched them eagerly for a few moments ; 
then, without a ripple, she sank below the 
surface and returned to her watch on the 
mound. For a while after the ducks had 
left the pool, nothing could be heard but the 
ceaseless noise of falling water. But as the 
night drew on, a moorhen ventured from 
the shelter of the alders, and, like a tiny, 
buoyant boat, launched out into the pool. 
The otter, with appetite whetted by recent 
sport among the ducks, again left her 
hiding place and silently vanished into the 
stream. Borne by the current, she reached, 
with scarcely an effort, a point in the swirl- 
ing depths from which she could catch a 
glimpse of the dim outline of the floating 
bird. Then, rising swiftly, she gripped the 
moorhen from beneath, dived across to the 
"hover," and, having killed and skinned 
her prey, feasted at leisure. 



THE POOL BENEATH THE FARMSTEAD 33 

There were times in the second summer 
of her existence when Lutra, like the wild 
ducks, seemed to abandon every thought of 
the possibility of danger. Simply for the 
love of exercise and in enjoyment of the 
tranquil night, she played about the pool 
till the dawn peeped over the hills; then, 
tired of her frolic, she sought her secret 
" holt," and, curling her tail about her face 
and holding her hind-paws closely between 
her fore-paws, fell asleep. 

While she gambolled in the water, even 
her quickest movements were as graceful as 
those of a salmon stemming the rapids 
and leaping into the shallows above the 
rock. Diving into the depths, she avoided 
with scarcely an effort the tangled roots 
and branches, that, washed thither by 
the floods, had long been the dread 
of anglers when heavy fish were hooked. 
Ceasing all exertion as she turned into 
the current, she floated to the surface and 
was borne away down-stream. She swam 
at highest speed from the tail to the 
throat of the pool, and drifted idly back 
to the place from which she had started; 
then, changing her methods, she skirted 



34 THE OTTER 

slowly the edge of the current, and with 
one long, straight dive shot down from the 
head of the rapids to the still water near 
her "holt." 

From playing thus about the pool, the 
otter learned the power of the current, and 
how it hastened or retarded her while she 
pursued her prey. But most of all, during 
the hours of the placid night, she delighted 
to frolic in the torrent immediately below the 
rock, where, matching her strength against 
that of the river, she leaped and dived and 
tumbled through the foam, or, lying on 
her back amid a shower of spray, stretched 
wide her limbs and suffered the whirlpool 
to draw her, unresisting, into its vortex 
deep beneath the fall. 

Lutra sometimes noticed, while she drifted 
with the current, that the scent of her 
kindred lay strong at the surface not far 
from her "holt." One still, moonlit night 
the scent indicated that several full-grown 
otters had at intervals come from the 
trout-reaches down-stream, and had landed 
in a reed-bed at the lower end of the 
pool. It led away from the river through 
the valley, along by a number of stagnant 



THE POOL BENEATH THE FARMSTEAD 35 

ponds in an old garden near the farm, and 
thence to a point beyond a bend where the 
river flowed almost parallel to its course at 
the pool. As the otter, inquisitively following 
the line of the scent, came to the ponds, 
she heard the croaking of countless frogs 
hidden in the duck-weed that lay over the 
entire surface of the water. Lutra made 
ample use of the opportunity for a feast 
frogs were the greatest delicacies known to 
her, and she had never before found them to 
be so plentiful. Dawn was breaking when, 
in her onward journey, she reached the river ; 
so she drifted around the bend, dived over 
the fall, and returned to her home beneath 
the alder-roots. 

It happened that the otters whose "spur" 
(footprints) Lutra had followed to the frog- 
ponds retraced their steps towards the pool, 
and in doing so suddenly discovered that 
the scent of a man lay strong on the 
trodden grass. A villager, knowing the 
eagerness with which otters seek for frogs, 
and that they often cross a narrow neck of 
land at the bend of a stream, had for a 
time kept watch at the lower end of the 
old farm garden. He was anxious that the 



36 THE OTTER 

hounds, which, on the previous day, had 
arrived at the village, should enjoy good 
sport during their stay in the neighbour- 
hood. But he saw nothing of the animals 
he had come to watch ; as soon as they 
detected his whereabouts they retreated 
hastily to the pond at the upper end of the 
garden, gained the river, and, like Lutra, 
swam homewards around the bend. But, 
less familiar than Lutra with the strength 
of the current, they left the water as they 
approached the fall, and crept through the 
deep shadows of the alder-roots till they 
reached a point at some distance beyond the 
pool. 

These events of the night were of the 
utmost importance to the otters as 
connected with the events of the morrow. 
During the early morning the villager paid 
a second visit to the garden, and 
examined closely the soft mud at the 
margin of the ponds. The remains of the 
otters' feast the skins and the eyes of 
frogs lay in several places, and, near the 
largest of the ponds, the otters' "spur" 
showed clearly that the animals had for 
some time been busy there. Taking a 



THE POOL BENEATH THE FARMSTEAD 37 

straight course to the river above the pools, 
the watcher again detected the marks of 
the otters on the sloping bank. By the 
riverside below the garden, however, he 
failed to observe any further sign, and so 
concluded that the animals had probably 
left the water at the opposite bank. 

When, later, the Hunt crossed the bridge 
on its way up-stream, the villager told his 
story to the Master, who immediately led 
his hounds over the hill-top in the direction 
of the ponds. This unexpected movement 
drew the followers of the Hunt away from 
the river; they imagined that the hounds 
were to be taken across country to a well 
known gorge where, during a previous 
season, good sport had been obtained. 

At the farm, the Master, leaving the 
hounds to the care of the whippers-in, 
waited till the villagers and the farmers 
had congregated in the yard. He then 
addressed the crowd, telling them that otters 
had visited the garden during the night 
and probably were still in hiding there, and 
that, if good sport were desired, it would be 
wise for his followers to form two groups 
and watch the fords above and below 



38 THE OTTER 

the river-bend, while he, alone, accompanied 
the hounds to the garden ; his chief reason, 
he said, for pointing out to them the 
advisability of leaving him was that if an 
otter still remained near the pond it should 
be given every chance of reaching the river 
without molestation. The crowd, recognising 
the wisdom of the Master's remarks, moved 
off with the whippers-in to the fords ; and, 
when all was in readiness, the pack was led 
into the garden. One, and another, and 
yet another of the "young entry" soon 
gave tongue ; then, after a minute's delibera- 
tion, an old, experienced hound raised his 
head from the rushes, uttered a single deep, 
clear note, climbed the garden hedge, and 
galloped across the meadow towards the 
river. 

The rest of the hounds speedily found the 
line of the "drag," but all came to a 
check at the water's edge. They were 
taken back to the ponds, and thence to the 
pool by the farm, but the scent was weak 
above the waterfall. They again "cast" 
to the upper end of the garden, and onward 
to the river. Carefully searching every hole 
and corner in the bank, they drew down- 



THE POOL BENEATH THE FARMSTEAD 39 

stream around the bend, and at last struck 
the scent of the otters among the reeds 
below the pool. Lutra heard them tearing 
madly past, heard also the dull thud of 
human footsteps above her "holt," but she 
discreetly remained close - hidden in her 
sleeping chamber. For hours, in a pool 
beyond the trout-reach, her visitors of the 
previous night were hustled to and fro, and 
frequent cries of " Gaze ! gaze ! " and " Bubble 
avent ! " mingled with the clamour of the 
hounds. Then the commotion seemed 
suddenly to subside. After an interval the 
hounds splashed by once more among the 
alder-roots, and the thud of human footsteps 
resounded in the "holt." In the silence 
that followed, Lutra, reassured, dived 
from her " holt," and, paddling gently to 
the surface, saw the last stragglers of the 
Hunt climbing the slope towards the 
farm. 

That night no otter from the down-stream 
trout-reach wandered to the salmon-pool 
beneath the farm. The water-voles and 
the moorhens were unusually alert as they 
swam hither and thither in the little bays 
along the edge of the current. The fear of 



40 THE OTTER 

man and his loud-tongued hounds rested, 
like a spell, on the creatures of the river. 
Even Lutra felt its power; but when the 
scent of her foes became so faint as to be 
lost in the fragrance of the meadow-sweet 
along the river-bank, she ventured into the 
old garden, and, on returning to the pool, 
played again in the raging water by the 
fall. 



THE OTTER 
in. 

THE GORGE OF ALLTYCAFN. 

WHEN Lutra had attained her full size 
and strength she was wooed and won by 
a young dog-otter of her own age, and 
lived with him in a "holt" among the 
great rocks of Alltycafh. Now, again, the 
Hunt arrived in the neighbourhood. It 
was a lovely morning in May. The sun 
shone brightly; the leaves were breaking 
from their sheaths ; the birds sang blithely 
in the trees. Suddenly the otters, resting 
in their " holt," were awakened by a loud 
commotion the sounds of hurrying feet, 
reverberating in the chamber among the 
boulders, and then the music of the 
shaggy hounds, varied occasionally by the 
yap -yap of the terriers. The noise drew 



42 THE OTTER 

rapidly nearer. Presently a man, in red 
stockings and vest, blue breeches and coat, 
and a blue hunting cap bearing an otter's 
"pad" mounted in silver, poked among 
the boulders with a steelshod pole. The 
dog-otter was now thoroughly alarmed. 
He rushed from his lair, dived straight 
into the stream, headed through the seething 
current, and rose in the adjoining pool. 
Threatened by a hound, he dived again, 
walked over the gravel, and swam under 
the gnarled roots of an oak. The members 
of the Hunt stood watching the bubbles, 
filled by his breath, as they floated up and 
broke. The hounds swam pell-mell in hot 
pursuit, and the otter was forced to turn 
up-stream. Moving cautiously under the 
rocky ledges, he regained the " holt," where 
his terrified mate awaited his return. Sorely 
pressed, the dog-otter hid close, hoping to 
baffle his relentless pursuers. But a bristling, 
snarling terrier soon came down the shaft 
from the bank. Maddened, and courageous 
with the fury of despair, Lutra seized the 
intruder by the muzzle, and, in the combat 
that ensued, sorely mangled her assailant's 
lips and nostrils. Then, as her mate dived 



THE GORGE OF ALLTYCAFN 43 

out once more and swam down-stream, she 
also left the chamber. She rose immediately 
among the surrounding boulders, and hid 
in the furthest recess. With nostrils, eyes, 
and ears raised slightly above the surface 
of the water, she stayed there, unseen and 
hardly daring to breathe, and, with strained 
senses watched closely every movement of 
hounds and hunters. 

Fortunately for Lutra, the arch of the 
boulders below was shaped so peculiarly 
that the scent of her breath and body was 
sucked into a cavity and carried down- 
stream, and, passing beneath the stone, 
mingled, at the raging cataract near the 
rock, with ah* in the bubbles formed by the 
tumult of the waters. These bubbles, 
instead of bursting, were drawn into the 
vortex of a little whirlpool ; and the keen- 
nosed hounds, though suspicious, could form 
no definite opinion as to the presence of 
a second otter among the rocks. The 
terrier knew the secret, but he had been 
put out of action and sent off, post haste, 
to the nearest veterinary surgeon. Lutra 
saw her tormentors some of them of the 
pure otter-hound breed, some half otter- 



44 THE OTTER 

hound, half fox-hound, and others, again, fox- 
hounds trained for otter-hunting rushing 
backwards and forwards in the water and 
on the bank. Another terrier, led by a boy, 
strained at his leash near the river's brink. 
Women, dressed, like the men, in smart 
scarlet and blue, and as ready to wade into 
the stream as the huntsman himself, stood 
leaning on their otter-poles not far away. 
At the fords above and below the "pool," 
the dog-otter's egress was barred by outposts 
of the enemy standing and splashing, in 
complete lines, from bank to bank. Once, 
in despair, the otter actually tried to break 
through the human chain ; but a hunter 
" tailed " him for a moment, and then dropped 
him into the deeper water beyond the ford. 

The sound of horn, the shouts of men, the 
deep-toned notes of great hounds, the shrill 
yapping of eager terriers, and the splashing 
and the plunging on every side, almost 
bewildered Lutra. Fearing to move from 
her shelter, she floated in the deep basin of 
the hidden pool beside the cataract, till at last 
the commotion gradually subsided, and hounds 
and hunters passed out of sight down-stream. 

Lutra awaited her mate's return, but in 



THE GORGE OF ALLTYCAFN 45 

vain. Not till night did she venture from 
her hiding place. When, however, the stars 
appeared, she swam wearily from pool to 
pool, calling, calling, calling. She explored 
each little bay, each crevice in the rock. 
She walked up the dry bed of a tributary 
brook, and searched among the gnarled 
roots and the dry, brown grass fringing 
the gravelly watercourse. She skirted the 
meadows and the rocks where the hunters had 
beaten down the gorse and the brambles near 
her home; thence she returned to the pool. 
Hitherto she had loved the placid night; 
to her the stillness was significant of peace. 
But now that stillness was full of sadness, 
and weariness, and monotony. The shadows 
were deep within the gorge ; from the distant 
woods the hoot of an owl mocked her loneli- 
ness. She heard no glad answering cry. 
Still calling, calling, calling, she floated 
through the shadows, and out into the moon- 
light shimmering on the placid water below 
the gorge ; but she sought and called in vain. 
Lutra spent the rest of that year in widow- 
hood. In consequence of her fight with the 
terrier, and also because of her grief, her two 
little cubs were still-born. 



46 THE OTTER 

Midsummer came, and the shallows were 
almost choked with weeds. The country- 
side experienced a phenomenal period of 
drought, and for weeks the river seemed 
impure and almost fetid. Night after night, 
and steadily travelling westward, Lutra took 
short cuts across country from pool to pool. 
Late in July she reached the estuary of the 
river; and for the remaining months of 
summer fished in the bay, finding there a 
pleasant change in her surroundings. Once 
she was chased by some men in a boat, 
who shot at her as she appeared for an 
instant to breathe. Quick and watchful, she 
dived at the flash, and the pellets fell 
harmlessly overhead. Again she rose, and 
again she dived just in time to avoid the 
leaden hail. Then she doubled back towards 
the estuary, and the baffled sportsmen sailed 
away across the bay. As autumn came once 
more she returned to the river, and fed chiefly 
on the migrating eels that swarmed in the 
hollows near the bank. Presently, by many 
a nightly journey, she gained the upper 
reaches, where she lived, till the following 
spring, close to her old home. 

The winter was long and severe. In 



THE GORGE OF ALLTYCAFN 47 

January, the fields were buried in snow, the 
roads were as smooth and hard as glass, 
and the well-remembered pool beneath the 
pines was almost covered with a great sheet 
of ice. At this time another young dog- 
otter began to show Lutra considerable 
attention. The village children often saw 
the pairing otters, for the animals, hard 
pressed, had perforce to fish by day instead 
of by night. All night the trout lay dormant 
under the stones in the bed of the river, 
and only at noon did they rise to the 
surface on the lookout for hardy ephemerals 
that, in a short half hour of warmth, were 
hatched at the margin of the stream. Lutra 
and her companion followed the fish, and 
afforded a rare, unexpected sight as, bold 
with hunger, they ascended to breathe between 
the sheets of ice in the pool by the village 
gardens. At night the otters wandered over 
the snow, and sometimes visited the hill- 
side farms. There, among rotting refuse- 
heaps, they discovered worms and insects 
sheltering in genial warmth. When excep- 
tionally hungry, Lutra and her mate would 
dig into the chambers of the mole and 
the field - vole in the meadows, and search 



48 THE OTTER 

ravenously for the inmates. Among the 
roots of the spreading oaks, the otters 
found, also, such tit-bits as the larvse of 
moths and beetles. A starved pigeon fallen 
from the pine-boughs; an occasional moor- 
hen weak and almost defenceless; a wild 
duck that Lutra had captured by darting 
from beneath a root while the indiscreet 
bird was feeding, head downwards, at the 
river's brink these were among the varied 
items of the hungry otters' food. Life 
was indeed hard to maintain. And, to 
crown the misfortunes of the ice-bound 
winter, Lutra's matrimonial affairs were 
once more cruelly disturbed: her mate was 
caught hi a steel trap that Ned the 
blacksmith had baited and laid in the 
meadows near the village bridge. He had 
marked the otters' wanderings by their foot- 
prints in the snow, and had then matured 
his plans. 

The calamity occurred one morning, just 
before daybreak, as the otters were return- 
ing to the river from a visit to a hen-coop, 
where they had found an open door and 
a solitary chicken. The trap was placed on 
the grass by the verge of the stream. A 



THE GORGE OF ALLTYCAFN 49 

light fall of snow had covered it, but had 
left exposed the entrails of a chicken which, 
by coincidence, formed the tempting bait. 
Distressed and perplexed, Lutra stayed by 
the dog-otter, trying in vain to release him 
from his sufferings. The trapped creature, 
beside himself with rage and fear and pain, 
attempted to gnaw through his crunched 
and almost severed foot ; but as the dawn 
lightened the east, and before the limb could 
be freed, Ned the blacksmith was to be 
seen hurrying to the spot. Lutra dived out 
of sight, and, unable to interpose, watched, 
for a second time, a riverside tragedy. Her 
attachment, however, had not been of so 
ardent a nature that bereavement left her 
disconsolate. Before April she forgot her 
trapped friend, and was mated again. 

Lutra's new spouse had his home in the 
tributary stream of a neighbouring valley. 
So, when the snows had melted and the 
rime no longer touched with fairy finger- 
prints the tracery of the leafless boughs, 
and when Olwen the White - footed had 
come once more into the valley called after 
her name, Lutra forsook the broad river in 
which she had spent her early life, and, 
D 



50 THE OTTER 

with her companion and a promising family, 
lived contented under the frowning Rock 
of Gwion, secure in peace and solitude, 
at least for a season, from the shaggy otter- 
hounds. 



THE WATER-VOLE. 



THE WATEK-VOLE. 
i. 

OUR VILLAGE HOUNDS. 

NOT many years ago the pleasures of life 
among my neighbours here in the country 
were simpler and truer than they are to-day. 
Perhaps in that bygone time money was more 
easily made, or daily need was met with 
smaller expenditure. It may be, too, that 
family cares were then less pressing, or that 
a prolonged period of general prosperity had 
been the privilege of rich and poor alike in 
this green river-valley around my home. In 
those days, to which I often look back with 
regretful yearning, everybody seemed to have 
leisure ; the ties of friendship were not 
severed by malicious gossip ; old and young 
seemed to realise how good it was to have 
pleasant acquaintanceships and to be in the 
sunshine and the open air. Fathers played 



54 THE WATER-VOLE 

with their children in the street: one winter 
morning, when, after a heavy fall of snow 
and a subsequent frost, the ground was as 
slippery as glass, I watched a white-haired 
shopkeeper, lying prone on a home-made 
toboggan, with his feet sprawling behind for 
rudder, steer a load of merry youngsters full 
tilt down a steep lane behind his house. 
The sight was so exhilarating that I also 
forgot I was not a child ; and on the second 
journey I joined the sportive party, and 
came to grief because the shopkeeper kicked 
too quickly at a turn in the course and sent 
me with a double somersault into the ditch. 

It happened in those days that in the 
miscellaneous pack of mongrels our village 
sportsmen gathered together when they went 
rabbit-shooting among the dense coverts 
of the hillsides were two exceptionally 
clever dogs a big, shaggy, bobtail kind of 
animal, and a little, smooth-coated beast 
resembling a black-and-tan terrier. 

The big dog, Joker, lived at a farm in 
the village, and, during the leisure of summer, 
when rabbiting did not engage his attention, 
took to wandering by the river, joining the 
bathers in their sport and poking his nose 



OUR VILLAGE HOUNDS 55 

inquisitively under the alder-roots along the 
bank. While, one sultry noon, the fun in 
the bathing pool was at its height, Joker 
routed an otter from a hiding place near 
which the bathers were swimming with the 
current, and a terrific fight took place in 
the shallows before the dwrgu made good 
his escape. The dog was found to have 
been severely worsted in the fray, and was 
taken home to be nursed till his wounds 
were healed. Meanwhile, Joker's fame as 
an otter-hound was firmly established in the 
village, and he was regarded as a hero. 

The little dog, Bob, lived at the inn, and 
for years his droll ways endeared him to 
every villager, as well as to every angler 
who came to " the house " for salmon-fishing. 
He loved nothing better than a friendship 
with some unsuspecting fisherman whom he 
might afterwards use to further his own 
ends. The sight of a rod placed by the 
door in the early morning was sufficient 
promise of a day's continuous enjoyment; 
the terrier assumed possession of the rod at 
once, and kept all other curs at a distance. 
On the appearance of the sportsman, he 
manifested such unmistakable delight, and 



56 THE WATER-VOLE 

pleaded so hard for permission to follow, 
that, unless the sportsman happened to be 
one whose experiences led him to dislike the 
presence of a fussy dog by the riverside, 
the flattery rarely failed of its object. Once 
past the rustic swing -bridge at the lower 
boundary of the waters belonging to the 
inn, Bob left the sportsman to his own 
devices, and stole off into the woods to hunt 
rabbits. Unfailingly, however, he rejoined 
his friend at lunch. 

On Sundays, knowing that the report of 
a gun was not likely then to resound 
among the woods, and depressed by the 
quietness and disappointed by the nervous 
manner with which everybody well dressed 
for church resented his familiarities, he 
lingered about the street corners as the 
unemployed usually do, even in our village 
till the delicious smells of Sunday dinners 
pervaded the street. The savoury odours 
in no way sharpened his appetite, for at the 
inn his fare was always of the best; but 
they indicated that the time was approach- 
ing when the watchmaker and the lawyer 
set out together for their long weekly 
ramble through the woods. Bob knew what 



OUR VILLAGE HOUNDS 57 

such a ramble meant for him. The watch- 
maker's dog, Tip, was Bob's respected sire, 
and Tip's brother, Charlie, dwelt at a house 
in " The Square." Bob, scenting the Sunday 
dinners, went at once to call for Charlie, 
and in his company adjourned to the lane 
behind the village gardens, till the watch- 
maker and the lawyer, with Tip, were 
ready for their customary walk. 

When the water was low and anglers 
seldom visited the inn, Bob, during the 
summer week-days, followed Joker's course 
of action, and attached himself to a bathing 
party frequenting a pool below the ruined 
garden on the outskirts of the village. There, 
like Joker, he searched beneath the alder- 
roots, but without success as far as an otter 
was concerned. However, he vastly enjoyed 
himself digging out the brown rats from 
their holes along the bank not far from 
a rickyard belonging to the inn, and then 
hunting them about the pool with as much 
noise and bustle as if he were close at the 
tail of a rabbit in the furze. He was so 
fond of the water that he became a rapid, 
untiring swimmer ; and the boys trained him, 
in intervals of rat-hunting, to dive to the 



58 THE WATER-VOLE 

bottom of the river and pick up a white 
pebble thrown from the bank. Like Joker, 
also, he gained a name for pluck and ability ; 
and one night the village sportsmen, at an 
informal meeting in the "private room" of 
the inn, decided to hunt in the river on 
Wednesday evenings, with Bob and Joker 
at the head of a pack including nearly 
every game-dog in the near neighbourhood, 
except certain aristocratic pointers and setters 
likely to be spoiled by companionship with 
yelping and excited curs. 

A merrier hunting party was never in 
the world. They would foregather in the 
meadow below the ruined garden: the 
landlord, whose home-brewed ale was the 
best and strongest on the countryside; the 
curate, whose stern admonitions were the 
terror of evil-doers ; the farmer, whose skill 
in ferreting was greater than in ploughing; 
the watchmaker, whose clocks filled the 
village street with music when, simultaneously, 
they struck the hour ; the draper, whose 
white pigeons cooed and fluttered on the 
bridge near his shop; the solicitor, whose 
law was for a time thrown to the winds ; 
and a small crowd of boys ready to assist, 



OUR VILLAGE HOUNDS 59 

if required, in " chaining " the fords. There 
they would "cry" the dogs across the 
stream till the valley echoed and re-echoed 
with shouts and laughter. 

The first hunt was started in spirited fashion; 
the men walked along the bank thrusting their 
sticks into crevices and holes ; but only Joker 
and Bob entered the water, and rats and otters 
for a while remained discreetly out of view. 
Near a bend of the stream, however, Bob sur- 
prised a rat secreted by a stone, and, forcing 
it to rush to the river, followed with frantic 
speed. Here, at last, was a chase ; the other 
dogs all hurried to the spot, and the landlord, 
swinging his otter-pole, waded out to perform 
the duties of huntsman with the now up- 
roarious pack. His action proved infectious 
watchmaker, draper, lawyer, and curate 
splashed into the shallows to help in keeping 
the rat on the move; and fun was fast 
and furious till the prey, fleeing from a 
smart attack by Bob, was captured by a 
spaniel swimming under a big oak-root 
between the curate and the bank. 

I hardly think I have enjoyed any 
sport so well as those Wednesday evening 
hunts in the bygone years, when life was 



60 THE WATER-VOLE 

unshadowed and each sportsman of us felt 
within him the heart of a child. So great 
was our amusement that the village urchins 
instituted a rival Hunt in the brooks on 
Saturdays ; they notched their sticks for 
every "kill," and boasted that they beat us 
hollow with the number of their trophies. 

We had several adventures with otters, but 
the creatures always, in the end, eluded us, 
and we soon were of opinion that smaller fry 
were capable of affording better fun. Some 
seasons afterwards, when our Hunt was dis- 
banded, the shopkeepers' apprentices continued, 
with the youngsters, to work our mongrel 
hounds ; but eventually Joker's death from the 
bite of an adder put an end to their pastime, 
for the bobtail and the terrier were the only 
possible leaders of the nondescript pack. 

Bob, the terrier, was always the most in- 
teresting of our hounds. He manifested 
a disposition to use the other dogs to 
serve his purposes, just as he used the 
unsuspecting fishermen if he wished to 
go hunting in the woods. When with me 
after game on the upland farms, he often 
seemed to forget entirely that I had taken 
him to hunt, not for his own amusement only, 



OUR VILLAGE HOUNDS 61 

but also for mine. Directly he discovered 
a rabbit squatting in a clump of grass or 
brambles, perhaps ten or a dozen yards from 
a hedge, he signalled his find by barking so 
incessantly that my spaniels hastened pell- 
mell to the spot. This was just as it should 
be for Bob. Dancing with excitement, he 
waited between the clump and the hedge till 
the spaniels entered and bolted the rabbit; 
then he tore madly in close pursuit of the 
fleeing creature, and my chance of a shot 
was spoiled through the possibility of my 
hitting him instead of his quarry. 

By the riverside, his tricks were precisely 
similar. Seeing a moorhen dive, he would 
call the dogs around him, so that they might 
bring the bird again to the surface and thus 
afford him sport. The moorhen, meanwhile, 
invariably escaped ; yet Bob failed to under- 
stand that he was the only diver in the pack. 

His antics were comical in the extreme if 
a vole eluded him by diving to the lower 
entrance of its burrow beneath the surface 
of a backwater. Having missed his oppor- 
tunity, but unable to comprehend how he 
had missed it, the terrier left the water, stood 
on the roots of a tree over the entrance to 



62 THE WATER-VOLE 

the vole's burrow, and furiously barked in- 
structions to his companions swimming in the 
pool. Disgusted at last by their inattention 
to his orders, he plunged headlong into the 
stream and vanished for a few moments ; 
then he reappeared, proud of his superior 
bravery, sneezing and coughing, and with a 
mouthful of stones and soil torn from the 
bank in his desperate efforts to force his 
way to the spot whither the object of the 
chase had gone from view. 

Bob long survived the big dog Joker, and 
in his old days loved as well as ever the 
excitement of a hunt. His originality was 
preserved to the end ; stiffened by rheumatism 
and almost choked by asthma, he always, 
when in search of rabbits, ran up-hill and 
walked down-hill, thus losing both energy 
and breath that might with advantage have 
been kept in reserve. 

With the passing of the years, many changes 
have occurred to sunder the friendships formed 
during those boylike expeditions. I smile 
when I think how impossible it would be, 
now that the veneer of town life has been 
thinly spread over the life of our village, for 
the man of law to go wading, with tucked-up 



OUR VILLAGE HOUNDS 63 

trousers, after rats; how impossible, also, for 
him to frequent with me the bathing pool, 
as was sometimes his wont, and swim idly 
hither and thither, while the moon peered 
between the trees and the vague witchery 
of the summer night filled his spirit and my 
own. My youthful feelings, long preserved, 
have been irrevocably lost; and yet, if only 
for memory's sake, I would willingly hunt 
with him again, and, when night had fallen, 
swim with him once more in the dim, 
mysterious pool below the garden. But 
the old hunting party could never be com- 
plete. Death makes gaps that Time fails to 
fill. 

Those evenings were delightful, not only 
because of unrestrained mirth and innocent 
sport, but also because we took a keen interest 
in our surroundings, seeing the world of small 
things by the river-bank with eyes such as 
belonged to anglers and hunters of the old- 
fashioned, leisurely school. They marked for 
me the beginning of a pleasant study of the 
water-voles that lived in their burrows on 
the brink of the river, and were sometimes 
hunted as persistently as were the brown rats, 
but far more frequently eluded our hounds 



64 THE WATER-VOLE 

than did the noxious little brutes we particu- 
larly desired to destroy. 

Wherever they take up their quarters, about 
the farmstead during winter or hi the open 
fields during summer, brown rats are an in- 
sufferable nuisance. There is no courtesy or 
kindness in the nature of the rat ; no nesting 
bird is safe from his attacks, unless her home 
is beyond his reach in some cleft of a rock 
that he cannot scale or in some fork of a tree 
that he cannot climb. He is a cannibal even 
the young and the sick of his own kind become 
the victims of his rapacious hunger and he 
will eat almost anything, living or dead, from 
the refuse in a garbage heap to the dainty 
egg of a willow-wren in the tiny, domed nest 
amid the briars at the margin of the river. 

The water-vole is often called, wrongly, the 
water-rat, but it is of very different habits, 
and is well nigh entirely a vegetable feeder, 
and one of the most charming and most 
inoffensive creatures in Britain. To the close 
observer of Nature, differences in the char- 
acter of animals even among the members 
of one species soon become apparent. I was 
struck with manifestations of such unlike- 
ness when I kept small communities of ants 



OUR VILLAGE HOUNDS 65 

in artificial nests between slips of glass, so as 
to watch their doings in my hours of leisure. 
One nest of yellow ants contained at first a 
dozen workers and a queen; and when I 
began to study them I used to mark with 
minute spots of white the bodies of the 
particular ants under observation. These 
spots would remain till the ants had 
time for their toilet and either licked 
themselves clean or were licked clean by 
sympathetic companions. At the outset I 
found that under a magnifying glass two 
of the dozen workers were readily dis- 
tinguishable from the others because of their 
size and shape. Gradually, by detecting little 
peculiarities, I could single out the ants, 
and so had no need to mark my tiny pets 
in order to follow their movements, except 
on occasions when they clustered round 
the queen, or rested, gossiping in little 
groups, here and there in the rooms and 
passages of their dwelling. One ant was 
greedy, and, if she was the first to find a 
fresh drop of honey I had placed outside the 
nest, would feed to repletion without ever 
thinking of informing her friends of her dis- 
covery. At such times she even became 
E 



66 THE WATER-VOLE 

intoxicated, and I fancied that, when she 
did at last get home, eager enquiries made 
as to the whereabouts of the nectar met 
with incoherent replies, since the seekers for 
information generally failed to profit by what 
they were told, and had to cast about aimlessly 
for some time before finding the food. I 
also observed that another ant was perfectly 
unselfish, and not only would inform her 
companions directly she discovered honey, 
but would assiduously feed the queen before 
attending to her own requirements. And 
so my pets were separately known because 
of faults and failings or good qualities that 
often seemed quite human. 

A certain vole, living in the river-bank 
near the place where the villagers met to 
hunt, was not easily mistaken for one of his 
fellows. Whereas the general colour of a 
water-vole's coat except in the variety 
known as the black vole is greyish brown, 
which takes a reddish tinge when the light 
glances on it between the leaves, his was 
uniformly of a dark russet. In keeping with 
this shiny russet coat, his beady black eyes 
seemed to glisten with unusual lustre ; and 
so it happened that the question, " I wonder 



OUR VILLAGE HOUNDS 67 

if Brighteye is from home ? " was often 
asked as we sent our hounds to search 
among the willows on the further bank; 
and later it became a custom for the Hunt, 
before the sport of the evening was begun, 
to pass up-stream for a hundred yards or so 
in order that he might be left in peace. 

He was quite a baby water-vole when first 
I made his acquaintance, but the colour of 
his coat did not change with the succeeding 
months, and, evening after evening, when 
the noisy hounds were safe at home or 
strolling about the village street, I would 
quietly make my way back to his haunt, 
and, hidden behind a convenient tree, care- 
fully watch him. In this way I learned many 
secrets of his life, noticed many traits in 
which he differed from his companions, and 
could form a fairly accurate idea of the 
dangers that beset him, and of the joys and 
the sorrows that fell to his lot during the 
three years when his presence was familiar 
as I fished in the calm summer twilight, 
or lay motionless in the long grass near the 
place where he was wont to sit, silent and 
alert, before dropping into the back-water and 
beginning the work and the play of the night. 



THE WATER-VOLE. 

ii. 

THE BURROW IN THE RIVER-BANK. 

THE first faint shadows of dusk were creeping 
over the river when Brighteye, awakened 
by a movement on the part of his mother, 
stole from his burrow into the tall grass at 
the edge of the gravel -bank by the pool. 
His home was situated in a picturesque 
spot between the river and a woodland path 
skirting the base of a cliff-like ascent 
clothed with giant beeches and an under- 
garment of ferns and whinberry bushes. 
Alders and willows grew along the gravel- 
bank, and through the moss-tangles among 
the roots many a twisting, close - hidden 
run - way led upwards to what might be 
called a main thoroughfare, in and out of the 
grass-fringes and the ivy, above high-water 

mark. This road, extending from the far- 
es 



THE BURROW IN THE RIVER-BANK 69 

off tidal estuary to the river's source in the 
wild mountains to the north, communicated 
with all the dwellings of the riverside people, 
and had been kept clear for hundreds of 
years by wandering voles and water-shrews, 
moorhens, water-rails, and coots, and, in 
recent days, by those unwelcome invaders, 
the brown rats. Here and there it merged 
into the wider trail of the otter. Some- 
times, near a hedge, it was joined by 
the track of rabbits, bank-voles, field-voles, 
weasels, and stoats, and sometimes, where 
brooks and rills trickled over the stones 
on their way to the river, by other main 
roads that had followed the smaller water- 
courses from the crests of the hills. 

Brighteye's home might be likened to a 
cottage nestling among trees at the end of 
an embowered lane well removed from busy 
traffic ; it contained four or five chambers 
wherein the members of his family dwelt; 
and to Brighteye the tall reeds and the 
bramble thickets were as large as shrubs and 
trees are to human beings. And, like a 
sequestered cottager, he knew but little 
about the great road stretching, up-stream 
and down-stream, away from his haunts; 



70 THE WATER-VOLE 

he was content with his particular domain 
the pool, the shallows beyond, a hundred 
yards of intersected lanes, and the wide main 
road above the pool and the shallows. 

For a time Brighteye sat at the edge 
of the stream, alert for any sign of danger 
that might threaten his harmless existence. 
Then playfully he dropped into the pool, 
dived, sought the water-entrance to his 
house, climbed inside his sleeping chamber, 
and thence to the bank, where again he sat 
intently listening as he sniffed the cool 
evening air. A quick-eyed heron was stand- 
ing motionless in a tranquil backwater thirty 
yards up-stream ; the scent of the bird was 
borne down by the water, and the vole 
caught it as it passed beneath the bank. 
But he showed no trace of terror ; the heron 
was not near enough to give him any real 
cause for alarm. The rabbits stole down 
through the woods, the undergrowth crackled 
slightly as they passed, and one old buck 
" drummed " a danger signal. Instantly the 
vole dived again, for he interpreted the sound 
to mean that a weasel was on the prowl ; and, 
as he vanished, the first notes of a blackbird's 
rattling cry came to his ears. 



THE BURROW IN THE RIVER-BANK 71 

Brighteye stayed awhile in his burrow 
before climbing once more to the upper 
entrance. Then cautiously he advanced 
through the passage, and gained his look- 
out station. Not the slightest taint of a 
weasel was noticeable on the bank ; so, 
regaining confidence, he sat on his haunches, 
brushed his long, bristly whiskers with his 
fore-feet, and licked his russet body clean 
with his warm, red tongue. Then he dropped 
once more into the pool, and swam across 
to a reed-bed on the further margin. There 
he found several of his neighbours feeding 
on roots of riverside plants. He, too, was 
hungry, so he bit off a juicy flag at the spot 
marking the junction of the tender stalk with 
the tough, fibrous stem ; then, sitting upright, 
he took it in his fore-paws, and with his incisor 
teeth shaped perfectly like an adze for such 
a purpose stripped it of its outer covering, 
beginning at the severed edge, and laying 
bare the white pith, on which he greedily 
fed. 

While thus engaged, he, as usual, watched 
and listened. The spot was dangerous for 
him because of its distance from the stream, 
and because the water immediately beyond 



72 THE WATER-VOLE 

was so shallow that he could not, by diving, 
readily escape from determined pursuit. 

His meal was often interrupted for a 
few moments by some trifling incident that 
caused alarm. A moorhen splattered out 
from the willow-roots, and Brighteye crouched 
motionless, till he recognised that the noise 
made by the clumsy bird was almost as 
familiar to him as the rustle of the reeds in 
a breeze. The blue heron rose heavily from 
the backwater, and winged his slow flight 
high above the trees. Here, indeed, seemed 
reason for fear; but the great bird was not 
in the humour for killing voles, and soon 
passed out of view. Now a kingfisher, then 
a dipper, sped like an arrow past the near 
corner of the pool ; and the whiz of swift 
wings unheard by all except little creatures 
living in frequent danger, and listening with 
beating hearts to sounds unperceived by our 
drowsy senses dulled by long immunity from 
fear caused momentary terror to the water- 
vole. Each trifling sight and sound con- 
tributed to that invaluable stock of experi- 
ence from which he would gradually learn 
to distinguish without hesitation between 
friends and foes, and be freed from the 



THE BURROW IN THE RIVER-BANK 73 

pain of needless anxiety which, to Nature's 
weaklings, is at times almost as bitter as death. 

Brighteye was fated to meet with an 
unusual number of adventures, and conse- 
quently to know much of the agony of fear. 
His russet coat was more conspicuous than 
that of his soberly gowned companions, 
and he was on several occasions marked for 
attack when they escaped detection. But he 
became the wisest, shyest, most watchful vole 
along the wooded river-reach, and in time his 
neighbours and offspring were so influenced 
by his example and training that a strangely 
furtive kindred, the wildest of the wild, living 
in secrecy their presence revealed to loitering 
anglers only by tell-tale footprints on the wet 
sand when the torrent dwindled after a flood 
seemed to have come to haunt the river 
bank between the cottage gardens and the 
swinging bridge above the pool where Bright- 
eye dwelt. 

Though Brighteye's distinctive appearance 
attracted the notice of numerous enemies, 
his marked individuality was not wholly a 
misfortune, since it aroused my kindly 
interest, and thus caused him to be spared 
by the village hunting party. 



74 THE WATER-VOLE 

As he sat in the first shadows of evening 
among the reeds and the rushes, the king- 
fisher and the dipper, by which a few minutes 
before he had been startled, flew back from 
the direction of the village gardens ; and he 
quickly decided, while watching their flight, 
that somehow it must be connected with 
the dull, but now plainly audible, thud of 
approaching footsteps on the meadow-path. 
The buck " drummed " again, then the 
rustling "pat, pat" of the rabbits ceased in 
the wood, and one by one the adult voles 
feeding in the reed-bed slipped silently into 
the shallows and disappeared. 

Brighteye was loath to relinquish the juicy 
rush that he held in his fore-paws, but the 
signs of danger were insistent. After creep- 
ing through the reeds to the water's edge, 
he proceeded a little way down the bank 
till he came to a spot where the view of 
the meadow-path was uninterrupted. His 
sight was not nearly so keen as his scent 
and hearing were, but he discerned, in a 
blur of dim fields, and rippling water, and 
evening light peering through the willow- 
stoles, a number of unfamiliar moving 
objects. He heard quick, uneven footsteps, 



THE BURROW IN THE RIVER-BANK 75 

and, now and then, a voice ; and was aware 
of an unmistakable scent, such as he had 
already often noticed in the shallows and 
amid the grass. 

On several occasions, at dusk, Brighteye, 
i like Lutra the otter, had seen a trout splashing 
and twisting convulsively in terror and pain. 
Each time the trout had been irresistibly 
drawn through the shallows towards a 
peculiar, upright object on the opposite 
bank, and after this object had passed into 
the distance the vole had found that the 
familiar scent of which he was now conscious 
was mingled, at the edge of the river-bank, 
with fresh blood-stains and with the strong 
smell of fish. 

To all animals, whether wild or domesti- 
cated, fresh-spilt blood has a significance 
that can never be disregarded. It indicates 
suffering and death. Ever since, in far 
distant years, blood first welled from a 
stricken creature's wounds, Nature has been 
haunted by the grim presence of Fear. The 
hunting weasel, coming unexpectedly to a 
pool of blood, whence a wounded rabbit has 
crawled away to die in the nearest burrow, 
opens mouth and nostrils wide to inhale 



76 THE WATER-VOLE 

with fierce delight the pungent odour. Once 
I caught sight of a weasel under such 
circumstances, and was startled by the 
almost demon-like look of ferocity on the 
creature's face. 

But the hunted weaklings of the fields and 
woods read the signs of death with conster- 
nation. When the scent of the slayer is 
mingled with that of the victim it is noted 
with care, and, if often detected in similar 
conditions, is committed to memory as 
inseparable from danger. 

Brighteye had been repeatedly warned by 
his mother to avoid the presence of man, and 
had also learned to fear it because of his 
experiences with the angler and the trout. 
Alarmed at the approach of men and hounds, 
he waded out, swam straight up-stream to 
a tiny bay, and hid beneath a willow-root to 
wait till the danger had passed. He strained 
his ears to catch each different sound as the 
" thud, thud " and the patter of feet came 
nearer. Then the gravel rattled, a stone fell 
into the stream, and a shaggy spaniel poked 
his nose into a hole between the willow-roots. 
The dog drew a long, noisy breath, and 
barked so suddenly and loudly, and so close 



THE BURROW IN THE RIVER-BANK 77 

to Brighteye's ear, that the vole involuntarily 
leaped from his resting place. 

In full view of the spaniel, Brighteye passed 
deep down into the clear, unruffled pool, 
hurriedly using every limb, instead of only 
his hind-legs, and with quick strokes gained 
the edge of the current, where for an instant 
he rose to breathe before plunging deep once 
more and continuing his journey towards the 
willows on the opposite bank. As he dived 
for the second time, Bob saw him among 
the ripples, and with shrill voice headed 
the clamouring hounds, that, "harking 
forward" to his cry, rushed headlong in 
pursuit through shallow and pool. A 
stout, lichen-covered branch, weighed down 
at the river's edge by a mass of herbage 
borne thither by a recent heavy flood, 
occupied a corner in the dense shadow of 
an alder ; and the vole, climbing out of the 
water, sat on it, and was hidden completely 
by the darkness from the eager hounds. 
But his sanctuary was soon invaded; the 
indefatigable terrier, guided by the tiny 
bubbles of scent borne down by the stream, 
left the river, and ran, whimpering with 
excitement, straight to the alder. Brighteye 



78 THE WATER-VOLE 

saw him approach, dived silently, and, with 
a wisdom he had never gained from ex- 
perience, turned in a direction quite contrary 
to that in which the terrier expected him to 
flee. The vole moved slowly, right beneath 
the dark form of the terrier now swimming 
in the backwater. On, on, he went, past 
the stakes at the outlet of the pool into the 
trout-reach, and still on, by a series of dives, 
each following a brief interval for breath 
and observation among the sheltering weeds, 
till he arrived at the pool above the cottage 
gardens, where a wide fringe of brushwood 
formed an impenetrable thicket and he was 
safe from his pursuers. 

Hardly, however, was this long journey 
needed. The dog was baffled at the outset; 
and, casting about for the lost scent, he 
discovered, on the pebbles, the strong smell 
of the weasel that had wandered thither to 
quench his thirst while Brighteye was 
feeding in the reed-bed opposite. Bob 
never by any chance neglected the 
opportunity of killing a stoat or a weasel ; 
so, abandoning all thoughts of rats and 
voles, he dashed upward through the wood, 
and, almost immediately closing on his. 



THE BURROW IN THE RIVER-BANK 79 

prey, destroyed a bloodthirsty little tyrant 
that, unknown to Brighteye, had just been 
planning a raid on the burrow by the 
willow-stoles. 

Water-voles, as a rule, are silent little 
creatures ; unless attacked or frightened 
they seldom squeak as they move in and 
out of the lush herbage by the riverside. 
But Brighteye was undoubtedly different 
from his fellows : he was almost as noisy as 
a shrew in the dead leaves of a tangled 
hedgerow, and his voice was like a shrew's, 
high-pitched and continuous, but louder, so 
that I could hear him at some distance 
from his favourite resort in the reeds and the 
rushes by the willows. He seemed to be 
always talking to himself or to the flowers 
and the river as he wandered to and fro in 
search of tit-bits ; always debating with 
himself as to the chances of finding a 
tempting delicacy; always querulous of 
danger from some ravenous tyrant that 
might surprise him in his burrow, or pounce 
on him unawares from the evening sky, or 
rise, swift, relentless, eager, from the depths 
beneath him as he swam across the pool. 

When I got to know him well, my 



80 THE WATER-VOLE 

favourite method, in learning of his ways, 
was to lie in wait at a spot commanding a 
view of one or other of the narrow lanes 
joining the main road of the riverside folk, 
and there, my face hidden by a convenient 
screen of interlacing grass-stems, to listen 
intently for his approach. Generally, for 
five minutes or so before he chose to reach 
my hiding place, I could hear his shrill 
piping, now faint and intercepted by a 
mound, or indistinct and mingled with the 
swirl of the water around the stakes, then 
full and clear as he gained the summit of 
a stone or ridge and came down the 
winding path towards me. Though in 
his talkative moments Brighteye usually 
reminded me of the tiny shrew, there were 
times when he reminded me more forcibly 
of an eccentric mouse that, a few years 
before, had taken up her quarters in the 
wall of my study, and each night, for more 
than a week, when the children's hour was 
over and I sat in silence by my shaded lamp, 
had made her presence known by a bird- 
like solo interrupted only when the singer 
stayed to pick up a crumb on her way 
across the room. 



THE BURROW IN THE RIVER-BANK 81 

The times when Brighteye wandered, 
singing, singing, down the lanes and main 
road of the river-bank, were, however, 
infrequent ; and the surest sign of his 
approach, before he came in sight, was the 
continuous, gossiping twitter I have already 
described. This habit of singing and 
twittering was not connected with amorous 
sentiments towards any sleek young female; 
Brighteye adopted it long before he was of 
an age to seek a mate, and he ceased 
practising his solos before the first winter 
set in and the morning sun glanced between 
leafless trees on a dark flood swirling over 
the reed-bed where in summer was his 
favourite feeding place. 

Whether or not the other voles frequent- 
ing the burrow by the willows had shown 
their disapproval of such a habit I was 
never able to discover. One fact, however, 
seemed significant : Brighteye parted from 
his parents as soon as he was sufficiently alert 
and industrious to manage his own affairs, 
and, having hollowed out a plain, one-roomed 
dwelling, with an exit under the surface of 
the water and another near some primrose- 
roots above the level of flood, lived there for 



82 THE WATER-VOLE 

months, timid and lonely, yet withal, if his 
singing might be regarded as the sign of a 
gladsome life, the happiest vole in the shadowed 
pool above the village gardens. 

It has been supposed by certain naturalists 
that the song of the house-mouse is the result 
of a disease in its throat, and is therefore a 
precursor of death. The mouse that came to 
my study ceased her visits soon after the 
week had passed and was never seen again ; 
and I was unable to determine how her end 
was hastened. Brighteye could not, at any 
rate, have suffered seriously, else he would 
have succumbed, either to some enemy ever 
ready to prey on the young, the aged, the 
sick, and the wounded of his tribe, or to 
starvation, the well-nigh inevitable follower of 
disease in animals. He always seemed to me 
to be full of vitality and happiness, as if the 
dangers besetting his life only provided him 
with wholesome excitement, and sharpened 
his intellect far more finely than that of the 
rest of his tribe. 



THE WATER-VOLE, 
in. 

WILD HUNTING. 

ONCE, during the first summer of the water- 
vole's life, I saw as pretty a bit of wild hunt- 
ing as I have ever witnessed, and my pleasure 
was enhanced by the fact that the quarry 
escaped unharmed. Early in the afternoon, 
instead of during twilight, I, in company with 
the members of the village Hunt and their 
mongrel pack, had searched the stream and 
its banks for rats, and had enjoyed good sport. 
Suddenly, however, our ragamuffin hounds 
struck the line of nobler game: Lutra, the 
otter, was astir in the pool. 

I was not surprised, for on the previous 
night, long after the moon had risen and sleep 
had descended on the village, I, with lanto 
the fisherman, had passed the spot on return- 
ing from an angling expedition eight or ten 



84 THE WATER-VOLE 

miles up-stream, and had stayed awhile to 
watch the most expert of all river-fishers, as 
she dived and swam from bank to bank, and 
sometimes, turning swiftly into the backwater, 
landed on the shingle close by Brighteye's 
reed-bed, to devour at leisure a captured 
trout. 

Lutra soon baffled our inexpert hounds, 
and gained refuge in a "strong place" well 
behind a fringe of alder-roots, whence Bob, 
notwithstanding his most strenuous efforts, 
failed to "bolt" her. I then drew off 
the hounds, led them towards the throat of 
the pool, and for a half hour assisted them 
to work the "stale drag," till I reached a 
bend of the river where Lutra's footprints 
were still visible on the fine, wet sand at the 
brink of a rapid. 

Later, when the dogs were quietly resting 
at their homes, I returned, alone, to my 
hiding place not far from Lutra's "holt." 
As long as daylight lasted I saw nothing of 
vole or otter, though several brown rats, 
undeterred by the disturbance of the early 
afternoon, came from their burrows and 
ran boldly hither and thither through the 
arched pathways of the rank grass by the 



WILD HUNTING 85 

edge of the bank. The afterglow faded in 
the western sky around the old church 
beyond the village gardens ; and the night, 
though one by one the stars were lighted 
overhead, became so dark that I could see 
nothing plainly except the white froth, in 
large round masses, floating idly down the 
pool. I waited impatiently for the moon to 
rise, for I feared lest the faint, occasional 
plashes in the pool indicated that the otter 
had left her "holt," and would probably be 
fishing in a distant pool when an opportunity 
for observation arrived. 

The night was strangely impressive, as it 
always is to me while I roam through the 
woodlands or lie in hiding to watch the 
creatures that haunt the gloom- wrapt clear- 
ings among the oaks and the beeches. In 
the darkness, long intervals, during which 
nothing will be seen or heard, must of 
necessity be spent by the naturalist; and in 
such intervals the mind is often filled with 
what may, perhaps, be best described as the 
spiritual influence of night, when the eyes 
turn upward to the stars or to the lights of 
a lone farmstead twinkling through the trees, 
and imagination, wondering greatly at its 



86 THE WATER-VOLE 

own daring, links time with eternity, and 
the destinies of this little world with the 
affairs of a limitless universe. 

At length the rim of the full moon 
appeared above the crest of the hill behind 
the village, and gradually, as the orb 
ascended, the night became brighter, till 
the whole surface of the pool, except for a 
fleeting shadow, was clear and white, and a 
broad silver bar lay across the ripples 
between me and the reed-bed on the further 
side. For a time no sign of a living 
creature was visible ; then a brown rat 
crept along the bank beneath my hiding 
place; a dim form, which from its size I 
concluded was that of Lutra, the otter, 
crossed a spit of sand about a dozen yards 
above the reed- bed, where a moonbeam 
glanced through the alders ; and a big brown 
owl, silhouetted against the sky, flew silently 
up-stream, and perched on a low, bare branch 
of a Scotch fir beside the grass-grown 
path. 

After another uneventful interval a slight 
movement was observable in the reeds 
directly opposite. Straight in the line of 
the silver bar a water - vole came towards 



WILD HUNTING 87 

me, only the head of the little swimmer 
being visible at the apex of a V-shaped 
wake lengthening rapidly behind him. More 
than half-way across the pool a large boulder 
stood out of the water, but the vole was 
heading towards the bank above. Then, 
apparently without cause, he turned quickly 
and made straight for the stone. He had 
barely landed and run round to hide in 
a shallow depression of the stone when the 
water seemed to swell and heave immediately 
beside the boulder, and Lutra's head, with 
wide-open jaws, shot above the current. 
Disappointed, the otter vanished under the 
shining surface of the stream, came to sight 
once more in an eddy between the boulder 
and the bank, and once more disappeared. I 
was keenly interested, for every movement 
of the vole and the otter had been plainly 
discernible, so bright was the night, and so 
close were the creatures to my hiding 
place ; and, raising myself slightly, I crawled 
a few inches nearer the edge of the over- 
hanging bank. 

For a long time the vole, not daring to 
move, remained in the shadow. I had 
almost concluded that he had dived through 



88 THE WATER-VOLE 

some crevice into the dark water on the 
other side of the boulder, when he cautiously 
lifted his head to the light, and crept into 
a grass - clump on the top of the stone. 
Thence, after a little hesitation, he moved 
to the edge, as if contemplating a second 
swim. Fastidious as to his toilet, even 
in the presence of danger, he rose on his 
haunches and washed his round, furry face. 
The action was almost fatal. The brown 
owl, that had doubtless seen him by the 
grass - clump and had therefore left her 
perch in the fir-tree, dropped like a bolt and 
hovered, with wings nearly touching the silver 
stream, above the spot where she had marked 
her prey. But she was too late the vole 
had dived. Yet, even while, having alighted 
on the boulder, the owl stood baffled by the 
disappearance of the vole, an opportunity 
came, which, had she been poised in the 
air, could scarcely have been missed. Close 
to the near bank a wave rose above 
the surface of the eddy as Lutra, having 
seen the vole dive from the stone, again 
hurried in pursuit. So fast was the otter 
that the momentum carried her well into the 
shallows. But for the third time the vole 



'AN OPPORTUNITY CAME, WHICH, HAD SHE BEEN POISED IN THE AIR, COULD 
SCARCELY HAVE BEEN MISSED." 

{Tofacep. 88. 



WILD HUNTING 89 

escaped. I indistinctly saw him scramble 
out, and run, with a shrill squeak, across a 
ridge of sand, offering a second chance to the 
listening owl ; and, from his flight in the 
direction of the well known burrow, I 
concluded that the hunted creature was 
russet-coated little Brighteye. But the bird 
knew that she could not rise and swoop in 
time ; so, probably disturbed by the presence 
of the otter, she flew away down- stream 
just as Lutra, since the vole was out of 
reach, glided from the sand and philoso- 
phically turned her attention to less evasive 
trout and eels. 

Then all was motionless and silent, but 
for an occasional faint whistle as Lutra 
fished in the backwater at the throat of the 
pool, the wailing cry of the owl from 
the garden on the crest of the slope behind 
me, and the ceaseless, gentle ripple of the 
river. At last, when the voices of the otter 
and the owl were still, and when the shadows 
were foreshortened as the moon gazed coldly 
down between the branches of the fir, Bright- 
eye, having recovered from his recent fright, 
left his sanctuary by the roots of the willow, 
and wandered, singing, singing, down the 



90 THE WATER-VOLE 

white, winding run-way and out into the 
main road of the riverside people, till he 
came to a jutting branch above the river's 
brim, whence he dived into the placid pool, 
and swam away towards the reed-bed. Then 
the crossed shadows of the flags and hemlocks 
screened him from my sight. 

The first autumn in the water-vole's life 
was a season of wonderful beauty. A few 
successive frosts chilled the sap in the trees 
and the bushes near the river, but were 
succeeded by a long period when the air 
was crisp yet balmy, and not a breath of 
wind was noticeable except by the birds and 
the squirrels high among the giant beeches 
around the old garden, and when the murmur 
of summer insects was never heard by night, 
and only by day if a chance drone-fly 
or humble-bee visited a surviving clump 
of yellow ragweed by the run-way close 
to Brighteye's burrow. The elms and the 
sycamores glowed with purple and bronze, 
the ash-trees and the willows paled to lemon 
yellow, the oaks arrayed themselves in rich 
and glossy olive green ; while the beeches 
in the glade, and the brambles along the 
outskirts of the thickets, ruddy and golden 



WILD HUNTING 91 

and glittering in the brief, delicious autumn 
days, seemed to filter and yet stain the 
mellow sunshine, and to fill each nook with 
liquid shadow as pure and glorious as the 
blue and amber lights on the undulating 
hills. Spread on the bosom of the brimming 
river, and broken, here and there, by creamy 
lines of passing foam, the reflections of this 
beauty seemed to well and bubble, from un- 
fathomable deeps, around the " sly, fat fishes 
sailing, watching all." 

The water became much colder than in 
summer ; but Brighteye, protected by a warm 
covering of thick, soft fur through which the 
moisture could not penetrate, as well as by 
an over-garment of longer, coarser hair from 
which the drops were easily shaken when he 
left the stream, hardly noticed the change of 
temperature. But he well knew there were 
changes in the surroundings of his home. 
The flags in the reed - bed were not so 
succulent as they had been in early summer ; 
the branches that sometimes guided him as he 
swam from place to place seemed strangely 
bare and grey ; the clump of may- weed that, 
growing near his burrow, had served as a 
beacon in the gloom, was faded to a few 



92 THE WATER-VOLE 

short brown tufts ; and nightly in his 
wanderings he was startled by the withered 
leaves that, like fluttering birds, descended 
near him on the littered run-ways or on the 
glassy surface of the river-reach. It was 
long before he became accustomed to the 
falling of the leaves, and up to the time 
when every bough was bare the rustling 
flight of a great chestnut plume towards 
him never failed to rouse the fear first 
wakened by the owl, and to send him on a 
long, breathless dive to the bottom of the 
pool. 

Brighteye was a familiar figure to all the 
river-folk, while he, in turn, knew most of 
them, and had learned to distinguish between 
friends and foes. But occasionally he made 
a slight mistake. Though shy, he was as 
curious as the squirrel that, one afternoon 
when Brighteye was early abroad, hopped 
down the run-way to make his acquaintance, 
and frightened him into a precipitate retreat, 
then ran out to a branch above the stream 
and loudly derided the creature apparently 
drowning in the stream. 

An object of ceaseless curiosity to Bright- 
eye was a water-shrew, not more than half 



WILD HUNTING 93 

the size of the vole, that had come to dwell in 
the pool, and had tunnelled out a burrow in 
the bank above the reed-bed. Nightly, after 
supper, Brighteye made a circuit of the 
pool to find the shrew, and with his com- 
panion swam hither and thither, till, startled 
by some real or imagined danger, each of 
the playmates hurried to refuge, and was 
lost awhile to the other amid the darkness 
and the solitude of the silent hours. 

Brighteye soon became aware of the fact 
that some of the habits of the shrew were 
entirely different from his own. While the 
vole was almost entirely a vegetable feeder, the 
shrew, diving to the bed of the river, would 
thrust his long snout between the stones, 
and pick up grubs and worms and leeches 
sheltering there. With Brighteye's curiosity 
was mingled not a little wonderment, for 
the shrew's furry coat presented a strange 
contrast of black above and white beneath, 
and, immediately after the shrew had dived, 
a hundred little bubbles, adhering to the 
ends of his hair, caused him to appear like 
a silvery grey phantom, gliding gracefully, 
though erratically, from stone to stone, from 
patch to patch of water- weed, from ripple to 



94 THE WATER-VOLE 

ripple near the surface of the stream. The 
young brown trout, hovering harmlessly 
above the rocky shelves and in the sandy 
shallows, far from being a source of terror 
to Brighteye, fled at his approach, and 
seldom returned to their haunts till he 
had reached the far side of the current. 
Emboldened by the example of the shrew, 
that sometimes made a raid among the 
minnows, and desirous of keeping all 
intruders away from the lower entrance 
to his burrow, Brighteye habitually chased 
the trout if they ventured within the little 
bay before his home. But there was one 
trout, old and lean, whose haunt was behind 
a weed-covered stone at the throat of the 
pool, and of this hook-beaked, carnivorous 
creature, by which he had once been chased 
and bitten, Brighteye went in such constant 
fear that he avoided the rapid, and, directly 
he caught a glimpse of the long, dark form 
roving through the gloomy depths, paddled 
with utmost haste to his nearest landing 
place. 

Since, under the care of his mother, he 
made his earliest visit to the reed-bed, 
Brighteye had seen hundreds of giant 






WILD HUNTING 95 

salmon; the restless fish, however, did not 
stay long in the pool, but after a brief 
sojourn passed upward. Often at dusk the 
salmon would leap clear into the air just 
as Brighteye came to the surface after his 
first dive, and once so near was a sportive 
fish that the vole became confused for the 
moment by the sudden turmoil of the 
"rise," and rocked on the swell of the back- 
wash like a boat on the waves of a tossing 
sea. During the summer Brighteye had 
suffered nothing, beyond this one sudden 
fright, from the visits of the great silvery 
fish to the neighbourhood of his home ; 
and, notwithstanding his experience, he was 
accustomed to dive boldly into the depths 
of the " hovers," and even to regard without 
fear the approach of an unusually inquisitive 
salmon. Late in the autumn, however, 
Brighteye noticed, with unaccountable mis- 
giving, a distinct change in the appearance 
of these passing visitors. The silvery sheen 
had died away from their scales, and had 
been succeeded by a dark, dull red ; and the 
fish were sluggish and ill-tempered. Besides, 
they were so numerous, especially after a 
heavy rainfall, that the stream seemed 



96 THE WATER-VOLE 

barely able to afford them room in their 
favourite "hovers," and the old trout, 
previously an easy master of the situation, 
found it almost beyond his powers to keep 
trespassers from his particular haunt in mid- 
current at the throat of the pool. So 
occupied was he with this duty that he 
seldom roamed into the little bays beneath 
the alder-fringes ; and Brighteye, so long as 
he avoided the rapid, was fairly safe from 
his attack. The reed-bed, though partly 
submerged, still yielded the vole sufficient 
food ; and to reach it straight from his 
home he had to pass through the shallows, 
which extended for a considerable distance 
up-stream and down - stream from the 
gravelly stretch immediately outside the 
reeds. 

About the beginning of winter, when the 
migration of the salmon had become inter- 
mittent, and the sea-trout had all passed 
upward beyond the pool, two of the big, 
ugly "red fish," late arrivals at the "hover" 
nearest the burrow, made a close inspection 
of the pool ; then, instead of following their 
kindred to the further reaches, they fell 
back toward the tail of the stream and 



WILD HUNTING 97 

there remained. After the first week of 
their stay, Brighteye found them so ill- 
tempered that he dared not venture any- 
where near the tail of the stream ; and, as 
the big trout at the top of the pool showed 
irritation at the least disturbance, the vole 
was forced to wander down the bank, to a 
spot below the salmon, before crossing the 
river on his periodical journeys to the reed- 
bed. His kindred, still living in the burrow 
where he had been born, were similarly 
daunted ; while the shrew became the object 
of such frequent attack especially from 
the bigger of the two salmon, an old male 
with a sinister, pig-like countenance and a 
formidable array of teeth that escape from 
disaster was little short of miraculous. 

Having calculated to a nicety his chances 
of escape, and having decided to avoid 
at all times the haunts of the pugnacious 
fish, Brighteye was seldom inconvenienced, 
except that he had to pass further than 
hitherto along the bank before taking to 
the water, and thus had to risk attack from 
weasels and owls. But soon, to his dismay, 
he discovered that the salmon had shifted their 
quarters to the shallow close by the reeds. 
G 



98 THE WATER-VOLE 

He was swimming one night as usual 
into the quiet water by the reed-bed, and, 
indeed, had entered a narrow, lane-like 
opening among the stems, when he felt 
a quick, powerful movement in the water, 
and saw a mysterious form turn in pursuit 
of him, and glide swiftly away with a 
mighty effort that caused a wave to ripple 
through the reeds, while the outer stalks 
bent and recoiled as if from the force 
of a powerful blow. On the following 
night he was chased almost to the end of 
the opening among the reeds, and barely 
escaped ; but this time he recognised his 
pursuer. Afterwards, having unexpectedly 
met the shrew, he crept with his companion 
along by the water's edge as far as the 
ford, and spent the dark hours in a 
strange place, till at dawn he crossed the 
rough water, and sought his home by a 
path the further part of which he had not 
previously explored. 



THE WATER-VOLE. 

IV. 

SAVED BY AN ENEMY. 

THE days were dim and the nights long, 
and thick, drenching mists hung over 
the gloomy river. The salmon's family 
affairs had reached an important stage; and 
the "redd," furrowed in the gravel by the 
mated fish, contained thousands of newly 
deposited eggs. And, as many of the river- 
folk, from the big trout to the little water- 
shrew, continually threatened a raid on the 
spawn, the salmon guarded each approach to 
the shallows with unremitting vigilance. 

It happened, unfortunately for Brighteye, 
that, while the construction of the " redd " 
was in progress, some of the eggs 
unfertilised and therefore not heavy enough 
to sink to the bottom of the water were 
borne slowly by the current to the ford 

99 



100 THE WATER-VOLE 

below the pool, just as the shrew was 
occupied there in vain attempts to teach 
the vole how to hunt for insects among 
the pebbles. 

If Brighteye had been at all inclined to 
vary his diet, he would at that moment 
have yielded to temptation. Everywhere 
around him the trout were exhibiting great 
eagerness, snapping up the delicacies as they 
drew near, and then moving forward on the 
scent in the direction of the "redd." The 
shrew joined in the quest; and Brighteye, 
full of curiosity, swam beside his playmate 
in the wake of the hungry trout. The 
vole found quite a shoal of fish collected 
near the reeds; and for a few moments he 
frolicked about the edge of the shallow. He 
could see nothing of the old male salmon, 
though he caught a glimpse of the female 
busy with her maternal duties at the top 
of the "redd." 

After diving up-stream and along by the 
line of the eager trout, he rose to breathe 
at the surface, when, suddenly, the river 
seemed alive with trout scattering in every 
direction, a great upheaval seemed to part 
the water, and he himself was gripped by 



SAVED BY AN ENEMY 101 

one of his hind-feet and dragged violently 
down and across to the deep "hover" near 
his home. The salmon had at last outwitted 
the vole. The current was strong, and be- 
neath its weight Brighteye's body was bent 
backwards till his fore-paws rested on the 
salmon's head. Mad with rage and fright, 
he clawed and bit at the neck of his captor. 
Gradually his strength was giving way, and 
for want of air he was losing consciousness, 
when, like a living bolt, Lutra, the otter, to 
save unwittingly a life that she had erstwhile 
threatened, shot from the darkness of the river- 
bed, and fixed her teeth in the neck of the 
salmon scarcely more than an inch from the 
spot to which the vole held fast in desperation. 
In the struggle that ensued, and ended only 
when Lutra had carried her prey to shore, 
Brighteye, half suffocated and but faintly 
apprehending what had taken place, was 
released. Like a cork he rose to the surface, 
where he lay outstretched and gasping, 
while the current carried him swiftly to the 
ford, and thence to the pool beneath the 
village gardens. Having recovered suffi- 
ciently to paddle feebly ashore, he sat for a 
time in the safe shelter of a rocky ledge, 



102 THE WATER-VOLE 

unnoticed by the brown rats as they wandered 
through the tall, withered grass-clumps high 
above his hiding place. At last he got 
the better of his sickness and fright ; and, 
notwithstanding the continued pain of his 
scarred limbs, he brushed his furry coat and 
limped homeward just as the dawn was 
silvering the grey, silent pool where the lonely 
salmon guarded the "redd" and waited 
in vain for the return of her absent mate. 

Brighteye took to heart his own escape 
from death, and for several nights moped and 
pined, ate little, and frequented only a part 
of the river-bank in proximity to his burrow. 
As soon, however, as the tiny scars on his 
leg were healed, he ventured again to the 
river; and for a period danger seldom 
threatened him. While he was unceasingly 
vigilant, and always ready to seek with 
utmost haste the safety of his home, a new 
desire to take precautions against the pro- 
bability of attack possessed him. When, at 
dusk, he stole out from the upper entrance 
of his dwelling, he crouched on the grassy 
ledge at the river's brim and peered into the 
little bay below. If nothing stirred between 
the salmon " hover " and the bank, he dropped 



SAVED BY AN ENEMY 103 

quietly into the pool, inhaled a long, deep 
breath, dived beneath the willow-roots, and 
watched, through the clear depths, each 
moving fish or swaying stem of river-weed 
within the range of his vision. But not till, 
after several visits to his water-entrance, he 
was perfectly convinced of the absence of 
danger, did he dare to brave the passage of 
the pool. 

The water-entrance to the vole's burrow 
was situated about a foot below the summer 
level of the river, and in a kind of buttress 
of gravel and soil, which, at its base, sloped 
abruptly inwards like an arch. This buttress 
jutted out at the lower corner of a little 
horse-shoe bay ; and hereabouts, during 
summer, a shoal of minnows had often 
played, following each other in and out of 
every nook and cranny beneath the bank, or 
floating up and flashing in sun-flecked ripples 
faintly stirred by a breeze that wandered 
lightly from across the stream. 

Ordinarily, Brighteye found that the hole 
in the perpendicular bank served its purpose 
well ; at the slightest disturbance he could 
escape thither, and, safe from pursuit, climb 
the irregular stairway to the hollow chamber 



104 THE WATER-VOLE 

above high-water mark. But it was different 
in times of flood. If he had to flee from 
the big trout, or from the otter, when the 
stream rushed madly past his open doorway, 
he found that an interval, which, however 
brief, was sufficient to imperil his life, 
must necessarily elapse before he could 
secure a foothold in his doorway and lift 
himself into the dark recess beyond. 

Lutra had almost caught him after his 
adventure with the owl. He had, however, 
eluded the otter by diving, in the nick of 
time, from the stone to which he clung 
before the entrance, and then seeking the 
land. If he had been an instant later, she 
would have picked him off, as a bat picks a 
moth from a lighted window-pane, and he 
would never have reached the down-stream 
shallow. At that time the water, clearing 
after a summer freshet, was fairly low. 
Brighteye's danger in some wild winter flood 
would, therefore, be far greater ; so, timorous 
from his recent experiences, and sufficiently 
intelligent to devise and carry out plans by 
which he would secure greater safety, he 
occupied his spare time in the lengthening 
nights with driving a second shaft straight 



; TIIK BIG TROUT, IN HIS TORPEDO-LIKE RUSH TO CUT OFF BRIGHTEYE 
FROM SURE REFUGE." (See p. 105). 

[To face /. 104. 



SAVED BY AN ENEMY 105 

inward from the chamber to a roomy natural 
hollow among the willow-roots, and thence 
in devious course, to avoid embedded stones, 
downward to a tiny haven in the angle of 
the buttress far inside the archway of the 
bank, where the space was so confined that 
the otter could not possibly follow him. 
Even the big trout, in his torpedo-like rush 
to cut off Brighteye from sure refuge, utterly 
failed to turn, and then enter the narrow arch- 
way, in time to catch the artful vole. 

The task of digging out the second tunnel 
was exceedingly arduous ; yet, on its comple- 
tion, Brighteye, taught by the changes going 
on around him that months of scarcity were 
impending, set to work again about half-way 
between his sleeping chamber and the upper 
entrance of the burrow. Here he scratched 
out a small, semicircular "pocket," which he 
filled with miscellaneous supplies seeds of 
many kinds, a few beech-nuts, hazel-nuts, and 
acorns, as well as roots of horse-tail grass 
and fibrous river-weed. 

He was careful, like his small relative 
the field-vole, and like the squirrel in the 
woods above the river-bank, to harvest only 
ripe, undamaged seeds and nuts ; and in 



106 THE WATER-VOLE 

making his choice he was helped by his 
exquisite sense of smell. He found some 
potatoes and carrots so small that they 
had been dropped as worthless by a passing 
labourer on the river-path and selected 
the best, leaving the others to rot among 
the autumn leaves. As the "pocket" was 
inadequate to contain his various stores, 
the vole used the chamber also as a 
granary, and slept in the warm, dry 
hollow by the willow-roots. 

In the depth of winter, when the mist- 
wreaths on the stream were icy cold and 
brought death to the sleeping birds among 
the branches of the leafless alders, and 
when Lutra, ravenous with hunger, chased 
the great grey trout from his "hover," but 
lost him in a crevice near the stakes, 
Brighteye, saved from privation by his 
hoarded provender, seldom ventured from 
his home. But if the night was mild and 
the stars were not hidden by a cloud of 
mist, he would steal along his run-way 
to the main road of the riverside people, 
strip the bark from the willow-stoles, and 
feed contentedly on the juicy pith; while 
his friend, the shrew, busy in the shallows 



SAVED BY AN ENEMY 107 

near the reed-bed, searched for salmon- 
spawn washed from the "redd" by the 
turbulent flood, or for newly hatched fry no 
longer guarded by the lonely parent fish 
long since departed on her way to the 
distant sea. 

The spirit of winter brooded over the 
river valley. The faint summer music of 
the gold-crest in the fir-tops, the sweet, 
flute-like solo of the meditative thrush in 
the darkness of the hawthorn, and the 
weird, continuous rattle of the goatsucker 
perched moveless on an oak-bough near the 
river-bend, were no longer heard when at 
dusk Brighteye left his burrow and sat, 
watching and listening, on the little 
eminence above the river's brink. Even 
the drone of the drowsy beetle, swinging 
over the ripples of the shadowed stream or 
from tuft to tuft of grass beside the wood- 
land path, had ceased. But at times the 
cheery dipper still sang from the boulder 
whence the vole had dived to escape the 
big brown owl ; and, when other birds had 
gone to sleep, the robin on the alder-spray 
and the wren among the willow-stoles 
piped their glad vespers to assure a 



108 THE WATER-VOLE 

saddened world that presently the winter's 
i gloom would vanish before the coming of 
I another spring. 

j Like a vision of glory, which, in the first hour 
* of some poor wanderer's sleep, serves but to 
J mock awhile his awakened mind with recollec- 
J tions of a happy past, so had the Indian 
j summer shone on Nature's tired heart, and 
* mocked, and passed ft way. The last red rose- 
1 leaf had fluttered silently down; the last 
purple sloe had fallen from its sapless stem. 
A sharp November frost was succeeded 
by a depressing month of mist and drizzling 
rain. Then the heavens opened, and for 
day after day, and night after night, their 
torrents poured down the stony water- 
courses of the hills. The river rose beyond 
the highest mark of summer freshets, till 
the low-lying meadow above the village was 
converted into a lake, and Brighteye's 
burrow disappeared beneath the surface of 
a raging flood. 

Gifted with a mysterious knowledge of 
Nature's moods which all wild animals in 
some degree possess the vole had made 
ready for the sudden change. On the night 
preceding the storm, when in the mist even 



SAVED BY AN ENEMY 109 

the faintest sounds seemed to gain in clear- 
ness and intensity, he had hollowed out for 
himself a temporary dwelling among the 
roots of a moss-grown tree on the steep I 
slope of the wood behind the river-path, and I 
had carried thither all his winter supplies I 
from the granary where first they had been I 
stored. 

Brighteye was exposed to exceptional 
danger by his compulsory retirement from 
the old burrow in the river-bank. Stoats 
and weasels were ever on the prowl ; no 
water-entrance afforded him immediate 
escape from their relentless hostilities, and 
he was almost as liable to panic, if pursued 
for any considerable distance on land, as 
were the rabbits living on the fringe of the 
gravel-pit within the heart of the silent 
wood. If a weasel or a stoat had entered 
the vole's new burrow during the period 
when the flood was at its highest, only the 
most fortunate circumstances could have 
saved its occupant. Even had he managed 
to flee to the river, his plight would still 
have been pitiful. Unable to find security 
in his former retreat, and effectually 
deterred by the lingering scent of his 



110 THE WATER-VOLE 

pursuers from returning to his woodland 
haunts, Brighteye, a homeless, hungry little 
vagabond, at first perplexed, then risking 
all in search of food and rest, would inevit- 
ably have met his fate. 

But neither stoat nor weasel learned of his 
new abode. His burrow was high and dry 
in the gravelly soil under the tree-trunk ; and 
before his doorway, as far as a hollow at the 
river's verge, stretched a natural path of rain- 
washed stones on which the line of his scent 
could never with certainty be followed. 
\Vhile many of his kindred perished, Bright- 
eye survived this period of flood ; and when 
the waters, having cleansed each riverside 
dwelling, abated to their ordinary winter 
level, he returned to his burrow in the 
buttress by the stakes, and once more felt 
the joy of living in safety among familiar 
scenes. 

Since the leaves had fallen, the brown rats 
had become fewer and still fewer along the 
river, and, when the flood subsided, it might 
have been found that none of these creatures 
remained in their summer haunts. They had 
emigrated to the rick-yard near the village 
inn ; many of the stoats and weasels, finding 



SAVED BY AN ENEMY 111 

provender scarce, had followed in their foot- 
steps; and Brighteye and his kindred, with 
the water-shrews, the moorhens, and the 
coots, were unmolested in their wanderings 
both by night and day. 

The vole's favourite reed-bed was now 
seldom visited. Besides being inundated, it 
was silted so completely with gravel that 
to cut through the submerged stems would 
have been an arduous and almost impossible 
task. Luckily, in his journeys along the 
edge of the shallows during the flood, Bright- 
eye had found a sequestered pond, near 
an old hedgerow dividing the wood, where 
tender duckweed was plentiful, and, with 
delicious roots of watercress, promised him 
abundant food. Every evening he stole 
through the shadows, climbed the leaf-strewn 
rabbit-track by the hedge, and swam across 
the pond from a dark spot beneath some 
brambles to the shelter of a gorse-bush over- 
hanging the weeds. There he was well pro- 
tected from the owl by an impenetrable 
prickly roof, while he could readily elude, by 
diving, any stray creature attacking him from 
land. 

Winter dragged slowly on its course, and, 



112 THE WATER-VOLE 

just as the first prophecy of spring was 
breathed by the awakening woodlands, the 
warm west breezes ceased to blow, and the 
bleak north wind moaned drearily among 
the trees. Night after night a sheet of ice 
spread and thickened from the shallows to 
the edge of the current, the wild ducks came 
down to the river from the frost-bound moors, 
and great flocks of geese, whistling loudly in 
the starlit sky, passed on their southward 
journey to the coast. 

For the first few nights Brighteye left his 
chamber only when acute hunger drove him 
to his storehouse in the wood. Directly he 
had fed, he returned home, and settled once 
more to sleep. At last his supplies were 
exhausted, and he was forced to subsist 
almost entirely on the pith beneath the bark 
of the willows. The pond by the hedgerow 
was sealed with ice, and he suffered much 
from the lack of his customary food. Half- 
way between his sleeping chamber and its 
water-entrance, a floor of ice prevented ready 
access to the river; and, under this floor, a 
hollow, filled with air, was gradually formed 
as the river receded from the level it had 
reached on the first night of frost. Brighteye's 



SAVED BY AN ENEMY 113 

only approach to the outer world was, there- 
fore, through the upper doorway. All along 
the margin of the pool, as far as the swift 
water beyond the stakes, the ice-shelf was 
now so high above the river that even to a 
large animal like the otter it offered no land- 
ing place. Only at the stakes, where the dark, 
cold stream flowed rapidly between two blocks 
of ice, could Brighteye enter or leave the river. 
Partly because, if he should be pursued, the 
swiftness of the stream was likely to lessen 
his chances of escape, and partly because of a 
vague but ever-present apprehension of danger, 
he avoided this spot. It was fortunate that 
he did so ; Lutra, knowing well the ways of 
the riverside people, often lurked in hiding 
under the shelf of ice beyond the stakes, and, 
when she had gone from sight, the big, gaunt 
trout came slyly from his refuge by the 
boulder and resumed his tireless scrutiny of 
everything that passed his "hover." At last 
a thaw set in, and Brighteye, awakening on 
the second day from his noontide sleep, heard 
the great ice-sheet crack, and groan, and fall 
into the river. 

When darkness came he hurried to the 

water's brink, and, almost reckless with 
H 



114 THE WATER-VOLE 

delight, plunged headlong into the pool. He 
tucked his fore-paws beneath his chin, and, 
with quick, free strokes of his hind-legs, dived 
deep to the very bottom of the backwater. 
Thence he made a circle of the little bay, 
and, floating up to the arch before his 
dwelling, sought the inner entrance, where, 
however, the ice had not yet melted. He 
dived once more, and gained the outer 
entrance in the front of the buttress, but 
there, also, the ice was thick and firm. 
He breathed the cold, damp air in the 
hollow beneath the ice, then glided out and 
swam to land. The tiny specks of dirt, 
which, since the frost kept him from the 
river, had matted his glossy fur, seemed now 
completely washed away, and he felt delight- 
fully fresh and vigorous as he sat on the 
grass, and licked and brushed each hair into 
place. His toilet completed, he ran gaily 
up the bank to his storehouse under 
the tree, but only to find it empty. Not 
in the least disheartened, he climbed the 
rabbit-track, rustled over the hedge-bank to 
the margin of the pond, and there, as in 
the nights before the frost, feasted eagerly 
on duckweed and watercress. On the 



SAVED BY AN ENEMY 115 

following day the ice melted in the shaft 
below his chamber, and he was thus saved 
the trouble of tunnelling a third water-passage 
as a ready means of escape from the otter 
and the big trout, as well as from a chance 
weasel or stoat which, if the ice had not 
disappeared, he surely would have made 
as soon as his vigour was fully restored. 



THE WATER-VOLE, 
v. 

THE COURAGE OF FEAR. 

THE dawn, with easy movement, comes 
across the eastern hills ; the mists roll up 
from steaming hollows to a cloudless sky; 
the windows of a farm-house in the dingle 
gleam and sparkle with the light. So came 
the fair, unhesitating spring; so rolled 
the veil of winter's gloom away ; so gleamed 
and sparkled with responsive greeting every 
tree and bush and flower in the awakened 
river valley. The springs and summers of 
our life are few, yet in each radiant dawn 
and sunrise they may, in brief, be found. 

Filled with the restlessness of spring-tide 
life a restlessness felt by all wild creatures, 
and inherited by man from far distant ages 
when, depending on the hunt for his susten- 
ance, he followed the migrations of the beasts 
no 



THE COURAGE OF FEAR 117 

Brighteye often left his retreat much earlier 
in the afternoon than had been his wont, and 
stole along the river-paths even while the 
sunshine lingered on the crest of the hill and 
on the ripples by the stakes below the pool. 
Prompted by an increasing feeling of 
loneliness and a strong desire that one of 
his kindred should share with him his 
comfortable home, he occupied much of 
his time in enlarging the upper chamber of 
the burrow till it formed a snug, commodious 
sleeping place ceiled by the twisted willow- 
roots ; and, throwing the soil behind him 
down the shaft, he cleared the floor till it was 
smooth and level. Then he boldly sallied 
forth, determined to wander far in search 
of a mate rather than remain a bachelor. 
He proceeded down-stream beside the trout- 
reach, and for a long time his journey was 
in vain. He heard a faint plash on the 
surface of the water, and at once his little 
heart beat fast with mingled hope and fear; 
but the sound merely indicated that the 
last of winter's withered oak-leaves, pushed 
gently aside by a swelling bud, had fallen 
from the bough. Suddenly, from the ruined 
garden above him on the brow of the slope, 



118 THE WATER-VOLE 

came the dread hunting cry of his old 
enemy, the tawny owl. Even as the first 
weird note struck with far-spreading reson- 
ance on the silence of the night, all longing 
and hope forsook the vole. Realising only 
that he was in a strange place far from 
home, and exposed to many unknown 
dangers, he sat as moveless as the pebbles 
around him, till, from a repetition of the 
cry, he learned that the owl was departing 
into the heart of the wood. Then, silently, he 
journeyed onward. Further and still further 
past the rocky shelf where he had landed 
after his escape from the salmon, and into 
a region honeycombed with old, deserted 
rat-burrows, and arched with prostrate trees 
and refuse borne by flood he ventured, his 
fear forgotten in the strength of his desire. 

Close beside the river's brink, as the 
shadows darkened, he found the fresh scent 
of a female vole. He followed it eagerly, 
through shallow and whirlpool and stream, 
to a spit of sand among some boulders, 
where he met, not the reward of his labour 
and longing, but a jealous admirer of the 
dainty lady he had sought to woo. After 
the manner of their kind in such affairs, the 



THE COURAGE OF FEAR 119 

rivals ruffled with rage, kicked and squealed 
as if to declare their reckless bravery, and 
closed in desperate battle. Their polished 
teeth cut deeply, and the sand was furrowed 
and pitted by their straining feet. Several 
times they paused for breath, but only to 
resume the fight with renewed energy. The 
issue was, however, at last decided. Bright- 
eye, lying on his back, used his powerful hind- 
claws with such effect that, when he regained 
his footing, he was able, almost unresisted, to 
get firm hold of his tired opponent, and 
to thrust him, screaming with pain and 
baffled rage, into the pool. 

The female vole had watched the combat 
from a recess in the bank; and, when the 
victor returned from the river, she crept out 
trustfully to meet him, and licked his soiled 
and ruffled fur. But for the moment Bright- 
eye was not in a responsive mood. Though 
his body thrilled at the touch of her warm, 
soft tongue, he recognised that his first duty 
was to make his conquest sure. His strength 
had been taxed to the utmost, and, since his 
rage was expended and his tiny wounds 
were beginning to smart, he feared a second 
encounter and the possible loss of his lady- 



120 THE WATER-VOLE 

love. So, with simulated anger, he drove her 
before him along the up-stream path and 
into the network of deserted run- ways by the 
trout-reach. There his mood entirely changed; 
and soon, in simple, happy comradeship, he led 
her to his home. 

Brighteye was a handsome little fellow. 
At all times he had been careful in his toilet, 
but now, pardonably vain, he fastidiously 
occupied every moment of leisure in brush- 
ing and combing his long, fine, soft fur. 
Both in appearance and habits he was alto- 
gether different from the garbage-loving rat. 
His head was rounder and blunter than the 
rat's, his feet were larger and softer, and his 
limbs and his tail were shorter. On the under 
side his feet were of a pale pink colour, but 
on the upper side they were covered, like the 
field -vole's, with close, stiff hair set in regular 
lines from the toes to the elbows of the front 
limbs and to the ankles of the hind-legs, where 
the long, fine fur of the body took its place. 
A slight webbing crossed the toes of his hind- 
feet so slight, indeed, that it assisted him 
but little in swimming and his tiny, polished 
claws were plum-coloured. Except when he 
was listening intently for some sign of danger, 



THE COURAGE OF FEAR 121 

his small, round ears were almost concealed 
in his thick fur. His mate was of smaller 
and more delicate build this was especially 
noticeable when once I saw her swim with 
Brighteye through the clear water beneath 
the bank and she was clad in sombre brown 
and grey. 

Household and similar duties soon began 
to claim attention in and around the river- 
side dwelling. The green grass was growing 
rapidly under the withered blades that arched 
the run - ways between the river's brink 
and the woodland path; and, as the voles 
desired to keep these run-ways clear, they 
assiduously cut off all encroaching stems and 
brushed them aside. The stems dried, and 
in several places formed a screen beneath 
which the movements of the voles were not 
easily discernible. Selecting the best of the 
dry grass-stalks, the voles carried them home, 
and, after much labour, varied with much 
consultation in which small differences of 
opinion evidently occurred, completed, in 
the sleeping chamber beneath the willow- 
roots, a large, round nest. The magnitude 
of their labour could be easily inferred from 
the appearance of the nest : each grass-blade 



122 THE WATER-VOLE 

carried thither had been bitten into dozens 
of fragments, and the structure filled the 
entire space beyond the first of the exposed 
roots, though its interior, till from frequent 
use it changed its form, seemed hardly able 
to accommodate the female vole. 

in this tight snuggery, at a time when 
the corncrake's nocturnal music was first 
heard in the meadow by the pool, five 
midget water-voles, naked and blind, were 
born. Brighteye listened intently to the 
faint, unmistakable family noises issuing 
therefrom, and then, like a thoughtful dry- 
nurse, went off to find for his mate a tender 
white root of horse-tail grass. For several 
nights he was assiduous in his attentions to 
the mother vole ; and afterwards, his house- 
keeping duties being suspended, he became 
a vigilant sentinel, maintaining constant 
watch over the precious family within his 
home. 

When the baby voles were about a week 
old, a large brown rat, that on several 
occasions in the previous year had annoyed 
the youthful Brighteye, returned to the 
pool. Wandering through the run-ways, the 
monster chanced to discover the opening 



THE COURAGE OF FEAR 123 

from the bank to Brighteye's chamber, and, 
thinking that here was a place admirably 
suited for a summer resort, proceeded to 
investigate. The vole scented him immedi- 
ately, and, though the weaker animal, climbed 
quickly out and with tooth and nail fell upon 
the intruder. An instant later, the mother 
vole appeared, and with even greater ferocity 
than that of her mate joined in the keen 
affray in order to defend her home and 
family to the utmost of her powers. But 
the rat possessed great strength and cruel 
teeth, and his size and weight were such 
that for several minutes he successfully 
maintained his position. With desperate 
efforts, the voles endeavoured to pull the rat 
into the water, where, as they knew, their 
advantage would be greater than on land, 
They succeeded at last in forcing him over 
the bank, and in the pool proceeded to 
punish him to such an extent clinging to 
his neck by their teeth and fore-feet, while 
they used their hind-claws with painful effect 
on his body that, dazed by their drastic 
methods and almost suffocated, he reluctantly 
gave up the struggle, and floated, gasping, 
down the stream. 



124 THE WATER-VOLE 

The mother vole, though she and her 
spouse had proved victorious, was so 
unsettled by the rat's incursion, that, as a 
cat carries her kittens, she carried each of 
her young in turn from their nest to a 
temporary refuge in a clump of brambles. 
Still dissatisfied, she removed them thence 
to a shallow depression beside one of 
the run-ways, where, throughout the night, 
she nursed them tenderly. At daybreak 
she took them back to the warmth and the 
comfort of the nest. Shortly afterwards, 
when their eyes were opened and they were 
following the parent voles on one of their 
customary night excursions, the mother 
found herself face to face with a far more 
formidable antagonist than the rat. 

The baby voles, like the offspring of 
nearly all land animals that have gradually 
become aquatic in their habits, were at first 
strangely averse from entering the water, 
and had to be taken by their parents into 
the pool. There the anxious mother, firm 
yet gentle in her system of education, 
watched their every movement, and 
encouraged them to follow her about the 
backwaters and shallows near their home. 



THE COURAGE OF FEAR 125 

But if either of them showed the faintest 
sign of fatigue, the mother dived quietly 
and lifted the tired nursling to the surface. 
Late one evening, while the parent voles 
were busy with their work of family training, 
the old cannibal trout suddenly appeared, rose 
quickly at one of the youngsters swimming 
near the edge of the current, but, through 
a slight miscalculation, failed to clutch his 
prize. The mother vole, ever on the alert, 
plunged down, and, heedless of danger, 
darted towards her enemy. For a second 
or two she manoeuvred to obtain a grip, 
then, as she turned to avoid attack, the 
jaws of the trout opened wide, and, like 
a steel trap, closed firmly on her tail. 
Maddened with rage and pain, she raised 
herself quickly, clutched at the back of her 
assailant, and buried her sharp, adze-shaped 
teeth that could strip a piece of willow- 
bark as neatly as could a highly tempered 
tool of steel in the flesh behind his gills. 
So sure and speedy was her action, that she 
showed no sign of fatigue when she reached 
the surface of the water, and the trout, 
his spinal column severed just behind his 
gills, drifted lifelessly away. 



126 THE WATER-VOLE 

Though the young voles, in the tunnelled 
buttress of the river-bank, lived under the 
care of experienced parents ever ready and 
resolute in their defence, and became as shy 
and furtive as the wood-mice dwelling in 
the hollows of the hedge beside the pond, 
they were not always favoured by fortune. 
The weakling of the family died of disease ; 
another of the youngsters, foraging alone in 
the wood, was killed by a bloodthirsty weasel ; 
while a third, diving to pick up a root of 
water-weed, was caught by the neck in the 
fork of a submerged branch, and drowned. 

During the autumn and the winter the 
survivors remained with their parents; the 
burrow was enlarged and improved by the 
addition of new granaries for winter 
supplies, new water-entrances to facilitate 
escape in times of panic, and a new, com- 
modious sleeping chamber, strewn with hay 
and withered reeds, at the end of a long 
tunnel extending almost directly beneath 
the river-path. The supplies in the 
granaries were, however, hardly needed: 
the winter was exceptionally mild, and the 
voles were generally able to obtain duck- 
weed and watercress for food. Often, on 



THE COURAGE OF FEAR 127 

my way to the ruined garden, I noticed 
their footprints indistinctly outlined on 
the gravel, but deep and triangular where 
the creatures climbed through soft and 
yielding soil along the path leading to the 
pond in the pasture near the wood. 

When spring came once more, and 
the scented primroses gleamed faintly in 
the gloom beside the upper entrance to 
the burrow, and the corncrake, babbling 
loudly, wandered through the growing grass 
at the foot of the meadow-hedge, the house- 
hold of the voles was broken up. The 
young ones found partners, and, in homes 
not far from the burrow by the willow- 
stoles, settled down to the usual life of the 
vole, a life of happiness and yet of peril. 

For still another year Brighteye's presence 
was familiar to me. I often watched him 
as he sat at the water's edge above the 
buttress, or on the stone in mid-stream, or 
on the half-submerged root of a tree washed 
into an angle of the pool above the stakes, 
and as, after his usual toilet observances, he 
swam thence across the reed-bed opposite 
the " hover " where, in autumn, the breeding 
salmon lurked. 



128 THE WATER-VOLE 

Then, for many months, I lived far from 
the well loved village. But one winter 
evening, after a long journey, I returned. 
The snow, falling rapidly, blotted out the 
prospect of the silent hills. The village 
seemed asleep; the shops were closed for the 
weekly holiday ; not a footfall could be 
heard, not even a dog could be seen, down 
the long vista of the straggling street. The 
white walls of the cottages, and the white 
snow-drifts banked beside the irregular 
pavements, were in complete contrast to the 
radiant summer scene on which my eyes 
had lingered when I left the village. My 
feeling of cheerlessness was not dispelled 
even by the warmth and comfort of the 
little inn. Oppressed by the evidences of 
change, which in my disappointment were, 
no doubt, much exaggerated, I left the inn, 
and, heedless of the piercing cold and the 
driving snow, made my way towards the 
river. As I approached the stakes below 
the pool, a golden-eye duck rose from beside 
the bank, and on whistling wings flew 
swiftly into the gloom. I crouched in the 
shelter of a holly tree, and waited and 
watched till the cold became unendurable ; 



THE COURAGE OF FEAR 129 

but no other sign of life was visible ; the 
pool was deserted. 

In summer I returned home to stay, and 
then, as of old, I often wandered by the 
river. Evening after evening, till long 
after the last red glow had faded from the 
western hill-tops, I lingered by the pool. 
The owl sailed slowly past; the goatsucker 
hawked for moths about the oaks ; the trout 
rose to the incautious flies; the corncrake 
babbled loudly in the long, lush meadow 
grass. A family of voles swam in and out 
of the shallows opposite my hiding place ; 
but none of the little animals approached 
the buttress near the stakes. Frequently 
I saw their footprints on the sandy margin, 
but never the footprints of Brighteye. 
Somehow, somewhere, he had met relentless 
fate. 



THE FIELD-VOLE. 



THE FIELD-VOLE. 



HIDDEN PATHWAYS IN THE GRASS. 

THE sun had set, the evening was calm, and 
a mist hung over the countryside when a field- 
vole appeared at the mouth of his burrow 
in a mossy pasture. The little grey creature 
was one of the most timorous of the feeble 
folk dwelling in the pleasant wilderness of 
the Valley of Olwen. His life, like that of 
Brighteye, the water-vole, was beset with 
enemies ; but Nature had given to him, as 
to the water-vole, acute senses of sight, and 
smell, and hearing, and a great power of 
quick and intelligent action. He had lived 
four years, survived a hundred dangers, and 
reared twenty healthy families ; and his wits 
were so finely sharpened that he was 
recognised by a flourishing colony, which 

188 



134 THE FIELD-VOLE 

had gradually increased around his moss- 
roofed home, as the wisest and most wide- 
awake field-vole that ever nibbled a turnip 
or harvested a seed. 

For a moment the vole sat in the mouth 
of the burrow, with nothing of himself visible 
but a blunt little snout twitching as he sniffed 
the air, and two beady eyes moving restlessly 
as he peered into the sky. Suddenly he 
leaped out and squatted beside the nearest 
stone. A robin, disturbed in his roosting 
place by another of his kind, flew from the 
hedge in furious pursuit of the intruder, and 
passed within a few inches of the burrow. 
The vole, alarmed by the rush of wings, 
instantly vanished ; but soon, convinced that 
no cause for fear existed, he again left his 
burrow and for several minutes sat motion- 
less by the stone. 

He was not, however, idle a field- vole 
is never idle save when he sleeps but he was 
puzzled by the different sounds and scents 
and sights around him ; they had become 
entangled, and while he watched and listened 
his mind was trying to pick out a thread of 
meaning here and there. What was the cause 
of that angry chatter, loud, prolonged, in- 



HIDDEN PATHWAYS IN THE GRASS 135 

sistent, in the fir plantation at the bottom 
of the field ? Some unwelcome creature, bent 
on mischief perhaps a weasel or a cat was 
wandering through the undergrowth, and the 
blackbirds, joined by the finches, the wrens, 
and the tits, were endeavouring to drive it 
from the neighbourhood. Gradually the 
noisy birds followed the intruder to the far 
end of the slope ; then, returning to their 
roosting places, they squabbled for the choice 
of sheltered perches among the ivied boughs. 
Silence fell on upland and valley ; and the 
creatures of the night crept forth from bank 
and hedgerow, and the thickets of the wood, 
to play and feed under the friendly protec- 
tion of the fast-gathering gloom. But the 
field-vole would not venture from his lair 
beside the stone. 

A convenient tunnel, arched with grass- 
bents, led thither from the burrow, the post 
of observation being shaped through frequent 
use into an oval "form." The vole, though 
anxious to begin his search for food, was 
not satisfied that the way was clear to 
the margin of the fir plantation, for the air 
was infused with many odours, some so 
strong and new that he could easily have 



136 THE FIELD-VOLE 

followed their lines, but others so faint and 
old that their direction and identity were 
alike uncertain. From the signs that were 
fresh the vole learned the story of field-life 
for the day. Horses, men, and hounds had 
hurried by in the early morning, and with 
their scent was mingled that of a fleeing 
fox. Later, the farmer and his dog had 
passed along the hedge, a carrion crow had 
fed on a scrap of refuse not a yard from the 
stone, and a covey of partridges had " dusted " 
in the soft soil before leaving the pasture by 
a gap beside a clump of furze. Blackbirds, 
thrushes, yellow - hammers, and larks had 
wandered by in the grass, a wood-pigeon and 
a squirrel had loitered among the acorns 
under the oak, and a hedgehog had led her 
young through the briars. Rabbits, too, had 
left their trails in the clover, and a red bank- 
vole had strayed near the boundaries of the 
field-vole's colony. Their signs were familiar 
to the vole from experience; he detected 
them and singled them out from the old 
trails with a sense even truer than that of 
the hounds as they galloped past in the 
morning's chase. 

There was one distinct scent, however, that 



HIDDEN PATHWAYS IN THE GRASS 137 

baffled him. At first he believed it to be 
that of a weasel, but it lacked the pungent 
strength inseparable from the scent of a 
full-grown " vear." 

Gathering courage as the darkness deepened, 
the field-vole rustled from his lair, ran 
quickly down the slope, and crept through 
a wattled opening into the wood. He found 
some fallen hawthorn berries among the 
hyacinth leaves that carpeted the ground, and 
of these he made a hasty meal, sitting on 
his haunches, and holding his food in his 
fore-paws as he gnawed the firm, succulent 
flesh about the kernel of the seed. Then, 
with a swift patter of tiny feet on the leaf- 
mould, he ran down to a rill trickling over 
a gravelly bed towards the brook, stooped 
at the edge of a dark pool in the shadow 
of a stone, and lapped the cool, clear water. 
Thence he made for the edge of the wood, 
to visit a colony of his tribe which in spring 
had migrated from the burrows in the 
uplands. Half-way on his journey, he again 
suddenly crossed the line of the unknown 
scent, now mingled with the almost over- 
powering smell of a full-grown weasel. The 
mystery was explained : the strange trail in 



138 THE FIELD-VOLE 

the upland meadow had evidently been that 
of a young "vear" passing by the hedge 
to join its parent in the wood. 

For a moment the vole stood petrified 
with terror; then he sank to the earth, 
and lay as still as the dead leaves beneath 
him. But there was no time to be lost; 
the " vears " were returning on their trail. 
In an agony of fear the mouse turned back 
towards his home. He ran slowly, for his 
limbs almost refused their office of bearing 
him from danger. Reaching the mouth 
of his burrow with great difficulty, he 
dropped headlong down a shallow shaft 
leading to one of the numerous galleries. 
Then, lo ! his mood immediately changed ; 
his reasoning powers became strong and 
clear; his parental instincts whispered that 
his family, like himself, was in peril. 
Squeaking all the while, he raced down one 
tunnel, then down another, turned a sharp 
corner beneath an archway formed by the 
roots of a tree that had long ago been felled ; 
and there, in a dry nest of hay and straw, 
he found his mate with her helpless little 
family of six blind, semi-transparent sucklings 
only three days old. He heard on every 







WAS HOLDING ONE OF HER OFFSPRING BY THE NECK, IN 
PREPARATION FOR FLIGHT." (See p. 139). 

[To facef. 



HIDDEN PATHWAYS IN THE GRASS 139 

side the quick scamper of feet as, alarmed 
by his cries, the voles inhabiting the side 
passages of the burrow scurried hither and 
thither in wild efforts to remove their young 
to some imagined place of safety. 

His mate, like her neighbours, had 
already taken alarm. At the moment of 
his arrival she was holding one of her off- 
spring by the neck, in preparation for flight. 
The next instant an ominous hiss reverberated 
along the hollow passages ; the mother vole, 
with her suckling, vanished in the darkness 
of the winding gallery; and the weasels 
descended into the labyrinth of tunnels 
hollowed out beneath the moss. 

Again an almost overwhelming fear 
possessed the hunted vole, his limbs 
stiffened, his condition seemed helpless. He 
crawled slowly hither and thither, now pass- 
ing some fellow-creature huddled in the corner 
of a blind alley ; now lifting himself above 
ground to seek refuge in another part of the 
burrow ; now pausing to listen to cries of 
pain which indicated how thoroughly the 
"vears" were fulfilling their gruesome work. 
It seemed that the whole colony of voles 
was being exterminated. 



140 THE FIELD-VOLE 

Bewildered, after an hour of unmitigated 
dread, he quitted the place of slaughter, 
where every nook and corner reeked of 
blood or of the weasels' scent, and limped 
through the grass towards the hedge. In 
a hollow among the scattered stones he 
stayed till terror no longer benumbed him, 
and he could summon courage to seek an 
early meal in the root-field beyond the 
pasture. Directly the day began to dawn, 
he cautiously returned to his burrow. 
Though numerous traces of the havoc of 
the night remained, he knew, from the 
staleness of the weasels' scent, that his foes 
had departed. 

At noon his mate came again to her nest, 
and searched for her missing offspring. But 
the taint of blood on the floor of the 
chamber told her only too well that hence- 
forth her mothering care would be needed 
solely by the young mouse that she had 
rescued in her flight. The day passed 
uneventfully; the weasels did not repeat 
their visit. At nightfall the mother mouse, 
stealing into the wood, found both her 
enemies caught in rabbit-traps set beside 
the "runs" among the hawthorns. 



HIDDEN PATHWAYS IN THE GRASS 141 

For a while peace reigned in the under- 
ground dwellings of the mossy pasture, 
and the young field-vole thrived amazingly ; 
from the very outset fortune favoured him 
above the rest of his species. After the 
wholesale destruction that had taken place, 
little risk of overcrowding and its attendant 
evils remained, and, for the lucky mice sur- 
viving the raid, food was plentiful, even 
when later, in winter, they were awakened 
by some warm, bright day, and hunger, 
long sustained, had made them ravenous. 
Kweek, having no brother or sister to 
share his birthright, was fed and trained 
in a manner that otherwise would have 
been impossible, while his parents were 
particularly strong and healthy. These 
circumstances undoubtedly combined to 
make him what he eventually became 
quick to form an opinion and to act, and 
able, once he was fully grown, to meet in 
fight all rivals for the possession of any 
sleek young she-vole he happened to have 
chosen for his mate. 

Soon after his eyes were open, the adult 
voles of the colony began to harvest their 
winter supplies. Seeds of all kinds were 



142 THE FIELD-VOLE 

stored in shallow hiding places under 
stones, or under fallen branches or in 
certain chambers of the burrow set apart 
for that especial purpose ; and as each 
granary was filled its entrance was securely 
stopped by a mound of earth thrown up by 
the busy harvesters. 

The first solid food Kweek tasted was the 
black, glossy seed of a columbine, which 
his mother, busily collecting provender, 
chanced to drop near him as she hurried to 
her storehouse. Earlier in the night, just 
outside the burrow, he had watched her 
with great curiosity as she daintily nibbled 
a grain of wheat brought from a gateway 
where the laden waggons had passed. He 
had loitered near, searching among the grass- 
roots for some fragment he supposed his 
mother to have left behind, but he found 
only a rough, prickly husk, that stuck 
beneath his tongue, nearly choked him, 
and drove him frantic with irritation, till, 
after much violent shaking and twitching, 
and rubbing his throat and muzzle with his 
fore-paws, he managed to get rid of the 
objectionable morsel. Something, however, 
in the taste of the husk so aroused his 



HIDDEN PATHWAYS IN THE GRASS 143 

appetite for solid food, that when his 
mother dropped the columbine seed he 
at once picked it up in his fore-paws, and, 
stripping off the hard, glossy covering, 
devoured it with the keen relish of a new 
hunger that as yet he could not entirely 
understand. His growth, directly he learned 
to feed on the seeds his mother showed 
him, and to forage a little for himself, was 
more rapid than before. Nature seemed in 
a hurry to make him strong and fat, that 
he might be able to endure the cold and 
privation of winter. 

By the end of November, when at night 
the first rime-frosts lay on the fallow, and 
the voles, disliking the chill mists, seldom 
left their burrow, Kweek was already bigger 
than his dam. He was, in fact, the equal 
of his sire in bone and length, but he was 
loose-limbed and had not filled out to 
those exact proportions which, among voles 
as among all other wildlings of the field, 
make for perfect symmetry, grace, and 
stamina, and come only with maturity and 
the first love season. 

When about two months old, Kweek, for 
the first time since the weasels had visited 



144 THE FIELD-VOLE 

the burrow, experienced a narrow escape 
from death. The night was mild and 
bright, and the vole was busy in the littered 
loam of the hedgerow, where, during the 
afternoon, a blackbird had scratched the 
leaves away and left some ripe haws 
exposed to view. Suddenly he heard a 
loud, mocking call, apparently coming from 
the direction of the moon : " Whoo-hoo ! 
Whoo-hoo-o-o-o ! " It was a strangely 
bewildering sound; so the vole squatted 
among the leaves and listened anxiously, 
every sense alert to catch the meaning of 
the weird, foreboding voice. " Whoo-hoo ! 
Whoo-hoo-o-o-o ! " again, from directly 
overhead, the cry rang out into the night. 
A low squeak of warning, uttered by the 
father vole as he dived into his burrow, 
caused the young mice foraging in the 
undergrowth to bolt helter-skelter towards 
home. Kweek, joining in the general panic, 
rushed across the field, and had almost dis- 
appeared underground when he felt the 
earth and the loose pebbles falling over him, 
and at the same time experienced a sharp 
thrill of pain. Fortunately, his speed saved 
him but only by an inch. The claws of 



HIDDEN PATHWAYS IN THE GRASS 145 

the great brown owl, shutting like a vice 
as the bird " stooped " on her prey, laid 
hold of nothing but earth and grass, though 
one keen talon cut the vole's tail as with 
a knife, so that the little creature squealed 
lustily as he ran along the gallery to seek 
solace from his mother's companionship in 
the central chamber beyond. Yet even there 
he was not allowed to remain in peace. 
Maddened by the scent of a few drops of 
blood coming from his wound, the adult 
voles chased him from the burrow, and 
drove him out into the field. Luckily for 
him the brown owl had meanwhile flown 
away with another young vole in her claws. 
Kweek remained in safety under the haw- 
thorns till the grey dawn flushed the 
south-east sky ; then, his injured tail having 
ceased to bleed, he ventured without fear 
among his kindred as they lay huddled 
asleep in the recesses of their underground 
abode. 

The year drew to its close, the weather 
became colder, and an irresistible desire for 
long- continued rest took possession of Kweek. 
His appetite was more easily satisfied than 
hitherto ; hour after hour, by night as well 



146 THE FIELD-VOLE 

as by day, he drowsed in the snug corner 
where lay the remains of the nest in which 
he had been born. Winter, weary and 
monotonous to most of the wildlings of the 
field, passed quickly over his head. Scarce- 
broken sleep and forgetfulness, when skies 
are grey and tempests rage such are 
Nature's gifts to the snake, the bee, and 
the flower, as well as to the squirrel in the 
wood and the vole in the burrow beneath 
the moss. Occasionally, it is true, when at 
noon the sun was bright and spring seemed 
to have come to the Valley of Olwen, the 
snake would stir in his retreat beneath the 
leaves, the bee would crawl to and fro in 
her hidden nest, the flower would feel the 
stir of rising sap, the squirrel would venture 
forth to stretch cramped limbs by a visit 
to some particular storehouse the existence 
of which, as one among many filled with 
nuts and acorns, he happened to remember 
and the vole would creep to the entrance 
of his burrow, and sit in the welcome 
warmth till the sun declined and hunger 
sent him to his granary for a hearty meal. 
These brief, spring-like hours, when the 
golden furze blossomed in the hedge-bank 



HIDDEN PATHWAYS IN THE GRASS 147 

near the field-vole's home, and the lark, 
exultant, rose from the barren stubble, 
were, however, full of danger to Kweek if 
he but dared to lift his head above the 
opening of his burrow. 

On the outskirts of the wood, in a rough, 
ivy-grown ridge where, years ago, some trees 
had been felled, a flourishing colony of bank- 
voles little creatures nearly akin, and almost 
similar in shape and size, to the field-voles 
dwelt among the roots and the under- 
growth. These bank-voles, probably because 
they lived in a sheltered place screened 
from the bitter wind by a wall of gorse and 
pines, moved abroad in the winter days far 
more frequently than did the field-voles. For 
several years a pair of kestrels had lived in 
the valley, and had reared their young in a 
nest built on a ledge of rock above the 
Cerdyn brook and safe beyond the reach of 
marauding schoolboys. The hen - kestrel, 
when provender became scarce, would 
regularly at noon beat her way across the 
hill-top to the ridge where the red voles 
lived, and, watching and waiting, with keen 
eyes and ready talons, would remain in the 
air above the burrow as if poised at the 



148 THE FIELD-VOLE 

end of an invisible thread. Chiefly she was 
the terror of the bank- voles ; but often, 
impatient of failure, she would slant her 
fans and drift towards the burrows in the 
mossy pasture, hoping to find that the grey 
voles had awakened for an hour from their 
winter sleep. 

Once, when the breeze blew gently from 
the south and the sun was bright, Kweek, 
sitting on a grassy mound, saw a shadow 
rapidly approaching, and heard a sharp 
swish of powerful wings. Though drowsy 
and stiff from his winter sleep, he was 
roused for the moment by the imminence 
of danger, and, barely in time, scurried to 
his hole. A fortnight afterwards, when, 
again tempted out of doors by the mildness 
of the weather, the vole was peeping 
through an archway of matted grass, the 
hawk, with even greater rapidity than 
before, shot down from the sky. Had it 
not been that the long grass screened an 
entrance on the outskirts of the burrow, 
Kweek would then have met his fate. He 
fell, almost without knowing what was 
happening, straight down the shaft; and 
the sharp talons of the hawk touched 



HIDDEN PATHWAYS IN THE GRASS 149 

nothing but grass and earth, and the end 
of a tail already scarred by the claws of 
the owl. Next day, as, moving along the 
galleries to his favourite exit, the vole 
passed beneath the shaft, he saw, straight 
overhead, the shadowy wings outstretched, 
quivering, lifting, gliding, pausing, while 
beneath those spreading fans the baleful 
eyes gleamed yellow in the slant of the 
south-west sun, and the cruel claws, indrawn 
against the keel-shaped breast, were clenched 
in readiness for the deadly "stoop." Fasci- 
nated, the vole stayed awhile to look at 
the hovering hawk. Then, as the bird 
passed from the line of sight, he continued 
his way along the underground passage to 
the spot where he usually left his home by 
one of the narrow, clean-cut holes which, 
in a field-vole's burrow, seem to serve a 
somewhat similar purpose to that of the 
" bolts " in a rabbit's warren ; and there he 
again looked out. The hawk still hovered 
in the calm winter ah*, so Kweek did not 
venture that day to bask in the sun out- 
side his door. As soon as he had fed, and 
shaken every speck of loose loam from his 
fur, and washed himself clean with his tiny 



150 THE FIELD-VOLE 

red tongue, he once more sought his cosy 
corner and fell asleep. 

Presently a pink and purple sunset faded 
in the gloom of night, and a heavy frost, 
beginning a month of bitter cold, lay over 
the fields. In continuous slumber Kweek 
passed that dreary month, till the daisies 
peeped in the grass, the snowdrops and the 
daffodils thrust forth their sword-shaped 
leaves above the water-meadows, and the 
earliest violet unfolded its petals by the 
pathway in the woods. 



THE FIELD-VOLE, 
ii. 

THE VALLEY OF OLWEN. 

EASTWARD, the sky was covered with pale 
cobalt ; and in the midst of the far-spreading 
blue hung a white and crimson cloud, like a 
puff of bright-stained vapour blown up above 
the rim of the world. Westward, the sky was 
coloured with brilliant primrose ; and on the 
edge of the distant moorlands lay a great 
bank of mist, rainbow - tinted with deep 
violet, and rose, and orange. For a space 
immediately on each side of the mist the 
primrose deepened into daffodil a chaste yet 
intense splendour that seemed to stretch into 
infinite distances and overlap the sharply 
defined ridges of the dark horizon. The 
green of the upland pasture and the brown 
of the ploughland beyond were veiled by 
a shimmering twilight haze, in which the 



152 THE FIELD-VOLE 

varied tints of the sky harmoniously blended, 
till the umber and indigo shadows of night 
loomed over the hills, and the daffodil flame 
flickered and vanished over the last red ember 
of the afterglow. Thus the first calm day of 
early spring drew to its close. 

Kweek, the little field-vole, asleep in his 
hidden nest beneath the moss, was roused by 
the promise that Olwen, the White-footed, 
who had come to her own beautiful valley 
among our western hills, whispered as she 
passed along the slope above the mill-dam 
in the glen. He uncurled himself on the 
litter of withered grass-bents that formed 
his winter couch, crept towards the nearest 
bolt-hole of his burrow, and peeped at the 
fleecy clouds as they wandered idly over- 
head. He inhaled long, deep breaths of 
the fresh, warm air ; then, conscious of new, 
increasing strength, he continued his way 
underground to the granary in which, some 
months ago, his mother had stored the 
columbine seeds. But the earth had been 
scratched away from the storehouse door, 
and nothing remained of the winter supplies. 
Hungry and thirsty, yet not daring to roam 
abroad while the sun was high, the vole 



THE VALLEY OF OLWEN 153 

moved from chamber to chamber of his 
burrow, washed himself thoroughly from the 
tip of his nose to the tip of his tail, then, 
feeling lonely, awakened his parents from 
their heavy sleep, and spent the afternoon 
thinking and dreaming, till the sun sank 
low in the glory of the aureolin sky, and 
the robin's vesper trilled wistfully from the 
hawthorns on the fringe of the shadowed 
wood. Becoming venturesome with the 
near approach of night, but still remembering 
the danger that had threatened him before 
the last period of his winter sleep, he lifted 
himself warily above the ground, and for a 
little while stayed near the mound of earth 
beside the door of his burrow. Cramped 
from long disuse, every muscle in his body 
seemed in need of vigorous exertion, while 
with each succeeding breath of the cool 
twilight air his hunger and thirst increased. 

Determined to find food and water, 
Kweek started towards the copse. No 
beaten pathway guided his footsteps ; wind 
and rain, frost and thaw, and the new, 
slow growth of the grass, had obliterated 
every trail. But by following the scent of 
the parent voles that had already stolen into 



154 THE FIELD-VOLE 

the wood, he reached in safety the banks of 
the rill. Having quenched his thirst, he 
scratched the soft soil from beneath a stone 
and satisfied his hunger with some succulent 
sprouts of herbage there exposed to sight. 
Soon, tired from his unwonted exertion, 
and feeling great pain through having torn 
the pads of his feet which, like those of all 
hibernating animals, had become extremely 
tender from want of exercise he crept 
home to his burrow, and rested till the 
soreness had gone from his limbs, and he 
felt active and hungry again. 

For the vole, guided as he was by 
his appetite, the most wholesome vegetable 
food was a ripe, well-flavoured seed. It 
contained all that the plant could give; leaf 
and stalk were tasteless compared with it, 
and were accepted only as a change of diet, 
or as a medicine, or as a last resource. 
Next to a seed, he loved a tender root, or 
a stem that had not yet thrust itself 
through the soil, and was therefore crisp and 
dainty to the taste. But the vole did 
not subsist entirely on vegetable food. 
Occasionally, when the nights were warm, 
he surprised some little insect hiding in the 



THE VALLEY OF OLWEN 155 

moss, and pounced on his prey almost as 
greedily as the trout in the stream below 
the hill rose to a passing fly. And just 
as the cattle in the distant farm throve 
on grain and oil-cake, and the pheasant 
in the copse near by on wood-ants' "eggs," 
and the trout in the Cerdyn brook on 
ephemerals hatched at the margin of the 
pool, so Kweek, the field-vole, abroad in 
the nights of summer, grew sleek and well 
conditioned on good supplies of seeds and 
grubs. But now, worn out by long 
privation, he was tired and weak. 

Gradually, from the bed of winter death, 
from the rotting leaf-mould and the cold, 
damp earth, the fresh, bright forms of 
spring arose. The purple and crimson 
trails of the periwinkle lengthened over 
the stones ; then the spear-shaped buds, 
prompted by the flow of pulsing sap, lifted 
themselves above the glossy leaves and 
burst into flowers. The dandelion and the 
celandine peeped from the grass; the 
primrose garlanded each sunny mound on 
the margin of the wood; and the willow 
catkins, clothed with silver and pearly grey, 
waved in the moist, warm breeze as it 



156 THE FIELD- VOLE 

wandered by the brook. The queen-ant, 
aroused by the increasing warmth, carried 
her offspring from the deep recess where, 
in her tunnelled nest, she had brooded over 
them while the north-east wind blew 
through the leafless boughs, and laid 
them side by side in a roomy chamber 
immediately beneath the stone that 
screened the spot to which, in the autumn 
dusk, the father vole resorted that he 
might watch and wait before the dark- 
ness deepened on the fields and woods. 
The bees from the hives in the farm 
garden, and innumerable flies from their 
winter retreats in the hedgerows, came 
eagerly to the golden blossoms of the furze 
near the bank-voles' colony. The bees 
alighted with care on the lower petals of 
the flowers, and thence climbed quickly 
to the hidden sweets; but the flies, heed- 
less adventurers, dropped haphazard among 
the sprays, and were content to filch 
the specks of pollen dust and the tiny 
drops of nectar scattered by the honey- 
bees. A spirit of restlessness, of strife, of 
strange, unsatisfied desire, possessed all 
Nature's children; it raised the primrose 



THE VALLEY OF OLWEN 157 

from amid the deep-veined leaves close- 
pressed on the carpet of the grass, it tuned 
the carols of the robin and the thrush, it 
caused the wild jack-hare to roam by 
daylight along paths which hitherto he had 
not followed save by night. Kweek felt 
the subtle influence; long before dark he 
would venture from his home, steal through 
the "creeps," which had now become 
evident because of frequent "traffic," and 
visit the distant colonies of his kindred 
beyond the wood. 

Of the flourishing community living in 
the burrow before the weasels' raid none 
survived but Kweek and his parents. One 
night, however, the father vole, while 
foraging near the hedgerow, was snapped 
up and eaten by the big brown owl from 
the beech-wood across the valley. In the 
woodlands the greatest expert on the ways 
of voles was the brown owl. His noiseless 
wings never gave the slightest alarm, and 
never interfered with his sense of hearing 
so acute that the faint rustle of a leaf or a 
grass-blade brought him, like a bolt, from 
the sky, to hover close to the earth, 
eager, inquisitive, merciless, till a movement 



158 THE FIELD-VOLE 

on the part of his quarry sealed its 
doom. 

The mother vole, feeling lonely and more 
than ever afraid, wandered far away, and 
found another mate in a sleek, bright-eyed 
little creature inhabiting a roomy chamber 
excavated in the loose soil around a heap 
of stones on the crest of the hill. Kweek, 
nevertheless, remained faithful to the place 
of his birth. Though most of his time was 
spent near the colony beyond the wood, he 
invariably returned to sleep on the shapeless 
litter which was all that now remained of 
the neat, round nest in which he had been 
nursed. 

Kweek's frequent visits to his kindred 
beyond the wood led to numerous adventures. 
Every member of the colony seemed suddenly 
to have turned to the consideration of house- 
hold affairs, and a lively widow-vole flirted 
so outrageously with bachelor Kweek that, 
having at last fallen a victim to her per- 
sistent attentions, he was never happy save 
in her company. Unfortunately a big ruffian 
mouse also succumbed to the widow's wiles, 
and Kweek found himself awkwardly placed. 
He fought long and stubbornly against his 



THE VALLEY OF OLWEN 159 

rival, but, unequally matched and sorely 
scratched and bitten, was at last forced 
to rustle away in the direction of his 
burrow as quickly as his little feet could 
carry him. He slept off the effects of his 
exhaustion and the loss of a little blood 
and fur, then returned, stealthily, to his 
well-known trysting place, but found, alas ! 
that his fickle lady-love had already regarded 
with favour the charms of the enemy. 
Kweek caught a glimpse of her as she 
carried wisps of withered grass to a hole 
in the middle of the burrow, and at once 
recognised that his first fond passion had 
hopelessly ended. 

Fortune continued to treat him unkindly : 
that night, while returning homewards, 
he was almost frightened out of his wits 
by the shrieks of some little creature 
captured by the cruel owl, and, immediately 
afterwards, a rabbit, alarmed by the same 
ominous sounds and bolting to her warren 
in the wood, knocked him topsy-turvy as 
he crouched in hiding among the leaves. 
These adventures taught him salutary 
lessons, and henceforth the confidence of 
youth gave place to extreme caution; he 



160 THE FIELD-VOLE 

avoided the risk of lying near a rabbit's 
"creep," and was quick to discern the 
slightest sign, such as a shadowy form above 
the moonlit field, which might indicate the 
approach of the slow-winged tyrant of the 
night. 

Among animals living in communities it 
is a frequent custom for a young male, if 
badly beaten in his first love episode by a 
rival, to elope with a new spouse, and seek 
a home at some distance from the scene of 
his defeat. Kweek suffered exceedingly 
from his disappointment ; it was a shock 
to him that he should be bullied and 
hustled at the very time when his passion 
was strongest and every prospect in his 
little life seemed fair and bright. 

For a time he dared not match himself 
against another of the older voles. But in 
an unimportant squabble with a mouse of 
his own age, he soon proved the victor, 
and, finding his reward in the favour of a 
young she-vole that had watched the quarrel 
from behind a grass-tuft, ran off with her 
at midnight to his old, deserted burrow in 
the pasture. After thoroughly examining the 
various galleries in the underground labyrinth, 



THE VALLEY OF OLWEN 161 

the fastidious little pair dug out a clean, 
fresh chamber at right angles to the main 
tunnel, and, contented, began in earnest the 
duties of the year. 

April came; and often, as he sat by his 
door, Kweek watched the gentle showers 
sweep by in tall pillars of vapour through 
the moonbeams falling aslant from the 
illumined edges of an overhanging cloud, 
and through the shadows stretching in long, 
irregular lines between the fallow and the 
copse ; and night after night the shadows 
near the copse grew deeper, and still deeper, 
as the hawthorn leaf-buds opened to the 
warmth of spring. 

The grass-spears lengthened ; the moss 
spread in new, rain-jewelled velvet-pile over 
the pasture floor; the woodbine and the 
bramble trailed their tender shoots above 
the hedge; a leafy screen sheltered each 
woodland home ; and even the narrow path 
from the field-voles' burrow to the corner 
of the copse led through a perfect bower 
of half-transparent greenery. The birds 
were everywhere busy with their nests in 
the thickets ; sometimes, in the quiet 
evening, long after the moon had risen 
L 



162 THE FIELD- VOLE 

and Kweek had ventured forth to feed, 
the robin and the thrush, perched on a 
bare ash-tree, sang their sweet solos to the 
sleepy fields ; and, with the earliest peep 
of dawn, the clear, wild notes of the missel- 
thrush rang out over the valley from the 
beech -tree near the river. The rabbits 
extended their galleries and dug new 
" breeding earths " in their warren by the 
wood; and often, in the deep stillness of 
the night, the call-note of an awakened bird 
echoed, murmuring, among the rocks 
opposite the pines far down the slope. 

During the past few weeks great events 
had happened in the new-made chamber of 
the field-voles' burrow. Hundreds of dry 
grass-bents, bleached and seasoned by the 
winter frosts and rains, had been collected 
there, with tufts of withered moss, a stray 
feather or two dropped from the ruined nest 
of a long-tailed titmouse in the furze, and 
a few fine, hair-like roots of polypody fern 
from the neighbouring thicket. And now, 
their nursery complete, four tiny, hairless 
voles, with disproportionate heads, round 
black eyes beneath unopened lids, wrinkled 
muzzles, and abbreviated tails helpless 



THE VALLEY OF OLWEN 163 

midgets in form suggestive of diminutive 
bull-dog puppies lay huddled in their tight, 
warm bed. It was a time of great anxiety 
for Kweek. While his mate with maternal 
pride went leisurely about her duties, doing 
all things in order, as if she had nursed 
much larger families and foes were never 
known, he moved fussily hither and thither, 
visiting his offspring at frequent intervals 
during the night, creeping into the wood 
and back along his bowered path, scamper- 
ing noisily down the shaft if the brown owl 
but happened to hoot far up in the glen, and 
doing a hundred things for which there was 
not the slightest need, and which only served 
to irritate and alarm the careful mother- vole. 

Kweek inherited his timorous disposition 
from countless generations of voles that 
by their ceaseless watchfulness, had survived 
when others had been killed by birds and 
beasts of prey; and though, in his zeal for 
the welfare of his family, he often gave a 
false alarm, it was far better that he should 
be at all times prepared for the worst than 
that, in some unguarded instant, death 
should drop swiftly from the sky or crawl 
stealthily into his hidden home. 



164 THE FIELD- VOLE 

During spring, more frequently than at 
any other season, death waited for him and 
his kindred in the grass, in the air, in the 
trees along the hedge-banks, and on the 
summit of the rock that towered above 
the glen. Vermin had become unusually 
numerous in the valley, partly because in 
the mild winter their food had been 
sufficient, and partly because the keeper, 
feeble with old age, could no longer shoot 
and trap them with the deadly certainty 
that had made him famous in his younger 
days. Bold in the care of their young, the 
vermin ravaged the countryside, preying 
everywhere on the weak and ailing little 
children of Nature. But fate was indulgent 
to Kweek ; though his kindred in the colony 
beyond the wood, and the bank-voles in 
the sheltered hollow near the pines, suffered 
greatly from all kinds of enemies, he and 
his mate still managed to escape unhurt. 

One night a fox, prowling across the 
pasture, caught sight of Kweek as he 
hurried to his lair. Suspicious and crafty, 
Reynard paused at one of the entrances to 
the burrow, thrust his sharp nose as far as 
possible down the shaft, drew a long, deep 



THE VALLEY OF OLWEN 165 

breath, and commenced to dig away the soil 
from the mouth of the hole. Suddenly 
changing his mind perhaps because the 
scent was faint and he concluded that his 
labour would not be sufficiently repaid 
he ceased his exertions and wandered off 
towards the hedge. Next day a carrion 
crow, seeing the heap of earth that lay 
around the hole, and shrewdly guessing 
it to mean a treat in store, flew down from 
an oak-tree, and hopped sideways towards 
the spot. He peered inquisitively at the 
opening, waddled over to another entrance, 
returned, and listened eagerly. Convinced 
that a sound of breathing came from mid- 
way between the two holes he had examined, 
he moved towards the spot directly above 
the nest, tapped it sharply with his beak, 
and again returned to listen near the 
entrance. But all his artifice was quite in 
vain; the voles would not bolt; they were 
not even inquisitive; so presently, baffled 
in his hopes of plunder, he moved clumsily 
away, stooped for an instant, and lifted 
himself on slow, sable pinions into the air. 

The mother vole, assisted in question- 
able fashion by meddlesome Kweek, spent 






166 THE FIELD-VOLE 

several hours of the following night in 
repairing the damage done by the fox. 
She drew most of the soil back into the 
shaft, and then, where it accumulated in 
the passage beneath, made the opening 
towards the inner chamber slightly narrower 
than before. Soon, moistened and hardened 
by the constant " traffic " of tiny feet nearly 
always damp with dew, the mound of earth 
formed a barrier so artfully contrived that 
even a weasel might find it difficult to 
enter the gallery from the bottom of the 
shaft. 






THE FIELD-VOLE, 
in. 

A BARREN HILLSIDE. 

LIVING a secluded life in the pasture with 
his little mate, Kweek escaped the close 
attention paid by the "vermin" to his 
kindred in the colony beyond the wood. 
The brown owl still remembered where he 
dwelt, but, loath to make a special nightly 
journey to the spot, seldom caused him 
the least anxiety. She seemed to content 
herself with a strict watch over the bank 
inhabited by the red voles, and over the 
fields on the far side of the copse, where 
the grey voles, notwithstanding that they 
supplied her with many a delicious supper, 
were becoming numerous. She awaited an 
almost certain increase among the "small 
deer" of the pasture, before commencing 
her raids on the grey voles there. As 

167 



168 THE FIELD-VOLE 

events proved, however, her patience was 
unrewarded. 

Kweek's first experience in rearing a 
family ended disastrously. Two of the 
nurslings died a few hours after birth ; one, 
venturing from the nest too soon in the 
evening, was killed by a magpie; and two, 
while sitting out near the hedge, were 
trampled to death by a flock of sheep 
rushing, panic-stricken, at the sight of a 
wandering fox. By the middle of May, 
when another vole family of six had 
arrived, the number of vermin in the valley 
had perceptibly diminished. The old, 
asthmatic keeper in charge of the Cerdyn 
valley died, and a younger and more energetic 
man from a neighbouring estate came 
to take his place. Eager to gain the 
favour of his master by providing him good 
sport in the coming autumn, the new 
keeper ranged the woods from dawn till 
dusk, setting pole -traps in the trees, or 
baiting rabbit-traps in the "creeps" of 
stoat or weasel, and destroying nests, as 
well as shooting any furred or feathered 
creature of questionable character. The big 
brown owl from the beech -grove, the kestrel 



A BARREN HILLSIDE 169 

from the rock on the far side of the brook, 
the sparrow-hawk from the spinney up- 
stream, together with the weasels, the stoats, 
the cats, the jays, and the magpies all in 
turn met their doom. 

A pair of barn-owls from the loft in the 
farm suffered next. These owls were great 
pets at the old homestead. For many years 
they had lived unmolested in their gloomy 
retreat under the tiles, and regularly at 
nightfall had flown fearlessly to and fro 
among the outbuildings, or perched on the 
ruined pigeon-cote watching for the rats to 
leave their holes. 

The farmer, less ignorant than the 
keeper, recognised the owls as friends, and 
treated them accordingly. They were his 
winged cats, and assisted to check the 
increase of a plague. Like the brown owl, 
they knew well the habits of the voles ; but 
their attention was diverted by the rats and 
the mice at the farm, and they seldom 
wandered far afield except for a change 
of diet or to stretch wings cramped by a 
long summer day's seclusion. The rats, 
however, were far from being exterminated; 
and so, when a little child who was all 



170 THE FIELD-VOLE 

sunshine to his parents in the lonely home- 
stead died from typhoid fever, the village 
doctor, fearing an epidemic, advised that the 
pests should be utterly destroyed. Loath to 
use strychnine, since he knew that in a 
neighbouring valley some owls had died 
from eating poisoned rats, the farmer sought 
the aid of the village poachers, who, with 
their terriers and ferrets, thoroughly searched 
the stacks and the buildings. During the 
hunt it was noticed that about a score of 
rats took refuge in a narrow chamber under 
the eaves. The farmer, directing operations 
in another part of the yard, was unaware 
of what had occurred. The poachers, know- 
ing nothing of the presence of the owls, 
pushed a terrier through the opening beneath 
the rafters of the loft, and blocked the hole 
with the rusty blade of a disused shovel. 
For a few moments the quick patter of tiny 
feet indicated that the terrier was busily 
engaged with his task ; then cries of rage 
and terror came from the imprisoned dog, 
while with these cries were mingled the 
sounds of flapping wings. When at last 
the poachers unstopped the hole and dragged 
the terrier out, they found that every rat 



A BARREN HILLSIDE 171 

had been killed, and that the place was 
thickly strewn with the feathers of two 
dying owls. 

During the rest of the summer, Kweek 
led a strangely peaceful life, having little 
to fear beyond an occasional visit from 
Reynard, or from an astute old magpie 
that, evading with apparent ease the keeper's 
gun and pole-traps, lived on till the late 
autumn, when, before a line of beaters, he 
broke cover over some sportsmen waiting 
for their driven game. As soon as the 
leaves began to fall and exhausted Nature 
longed for winter's rest, the burrow in the 
pasture became the scene of feverish 
activity. Kweek was now the proud sire 
of five or six healthy families, and the 
grand-sire of many more. Even the 
youngest voles were growing fat and 
strong; and, when the numerous members 
of the colony set about harvesting their 
winter stores, ripe, delicious seeds were 
plentiful everywhere along the margin of 
the wood. 

The winter was uniformly mild, with 
exception of one short period of great 
cold which brought a thorough, healthful 



172 THE FIELD-VOLE 

sleep to the voles ; and in the earliest 
days of spring, when the love-calls of 
chaffinches and tits were heard from 
almost every tree, Kweek and his tribe 
resumed their work and throve amazingly. 
Every circumstance appeared to favour 
their well-being. But for the fox, that 
sometimes crouched beside an opening to 
the burrow and snapped up an incautious 
venturer peeping above ground, a young 
sheep-dog, whose greatest pleasure in life 
seemed to be found in digging a large 
round hole in the centre of the burrow, 
and an adder, that stung a few of the 
weaklings to death, but found them 
inconveniently big for swallowing, the voles 
were seldom troubled. Their numbers, 
and those of every similar colony in the 
neighbourhood, increased in such a fashion 
that, before the following autumn, both the 
pasture and the near ploughland were 
barren wastes completely honeycombed 
with their dwellings. Every grass-root in 
the pasture was eaten up ; every stalk in 
the cornfield was nibbled through so that 
the grain might be easily reached and 
devoured; and the root-crops potatoes, 



A BARREN HILLSIDE 173 

turnips, and mangolds on the far side of 
the cornfield were utterly spoiled ; and in 
the hedgerows and the copse the leaves 
dropped from the lifeless trees, each of 
which was marked by a complete ring 
where the bark was gnawed away close to 
the ground. 

But capricious Nature, as if regretting 
the haste with which she had brought into 
the world her destructive little children, 
and desiring, even at the cost of untold 
suffering and the loss of countless lives, to 
restore the pleasant Cerdyn valley to its 
beauty of green fields and leafy woods, 
sent her twin plagues of disease and 
starvation among the voles, till, like the 
sapless leaves, they withered and died. 
And from far and near the hawks and the 
owls, the weasels, the stoats, and the foxes 
hastened to the scene. The keeper, at a 
loss to know whence they came, and 
not understanding the lesson he was 
being taught, bewailed his misfortune, but 
dared not stay their advent. At almost 
any hour of the day, five or six kestrels 
might be seen quartering the fields or 
hovering here and there among the burrows. 



174 THE FIELD- VOLE 

And, long before dark, the stoats and the 
weasels, as if knowing that, fulfilling a 
special mission, they were now safe from 
their arch-enemy, the keeper, hunted their 
prey through the " trash " of the hedge-banks, 
or in and out of the passages underground. 
The farm labourers, in desperate haste, 
dug numerous pitfalls, wide at the bottom 
but narrow at the mouth, and trapped 
hundreds of the voles, which, maddened by 
hunger but unable to climb the sloping 
sides, attacked one another all at last 
dying a miserable death. Not only did the 
customary enemies of the voles arrive on the 
scene: Nature called to her great task a 
number of unexpected destroyers sea-gulls 
from the distant coast, a kite from a 
wooded island on a desolate, far-off mere, 
and a buzzard from a rocky fastness, rarely 
visited save by keepers and shepherds, near 
the up-country lakes. Food had gradually 
become scarce even for the few hundred 
voles that yet remained. No longer were 
they to be seen at play together, in little 
groups, during the cool, hazy twilight, that, 
earlier in the year, shimmered like a 
wonderful afterglow on the mossy pasture- 



A BARREN HILLSIDE 175 

floor. Now their only desire was for food 
and sleep. 

Unnoticed by a passing owl, Kweek, worn 
to a skeleton by sickness and privation, 
crawled from his burrow into the moon- 
light of a calm, clear autumn night, and 
lay in the shadow of the stone where the 
old male vole had watched and listened for 
the cruel "vear." A big blow-fly, attracted, 
with countless thousands of his kind, to the 
place of slaughter and decay, had gone to 
sleep on the side of the stone, and Kweek, 
in a last desperate effort to obtain a little 
food, moved forward to secure his prize ; but 
at that moment his strength failed him, his 
weary limbs relaxed, and the dull, grey 
film of death overspread his half-closed eyes. 

The owl, hearing a faint sound like the 
rustle of a dry grass-bent, quickly turned 
in her flight ; then, slanting her wings, 
dropped to the ground, and presently, 
with her defenceless quarry in her talons, 
flew away towards the woods. 



THE FOX. 



THE FOX. 
i. 

THE LAST HUNT. 

A DARK and wind-swept night had fallen 
over the countryside when Reynard left the 
steep slope above the keeper's cottage, and 
stole through gorse and brambles towards 
the outskirts of the covert, where a narrow 
dingle, intersected by a noisy rill and thickly 
matted with brown bracken, divided the furze 
from some neighbouring pine-woods. 

For months nothing had occurred to dis- 
turb the peace of his woodland home. Once, 
about a year ago, he had fled for his life 
before the hounds; and again, during the 
last autumn, while lying hidden in the ditch 
of the root-crop field above the pines, he 
had been surprised by two sheep-dogs that 
nipped him sorely before he could make 
good his escape. But at no other time had 

170 



180 THE FOX 

he been in evident peril, and so, though 
naturally cunning and suspicious, he had 
grown bolder, and better acquainted with 
the neighbourhood of cottage and farmstead 
than were certain members of his family 
living on the opposite side of the valley, 
among thickets hunted regularly, where 
guns and spaniels might be heard from 
early morning till close of day. 

Here and there, as the fox crept stealthily 
among the blackthorns and the gorse-bushes, 
he stopped for a moment on the scent of a 
rabbit; but the night was not such as to 
induce Bunny to remain outside her cosy 
burrow hi the bank. He examined each 
"creep" in the tangled clumps along his 
way, and sometimes, resting on his haunches, 
sniffed the air and listened intently for any 
sign to indicate the presence of a feeding 
coney; but even the strongest taint was 
"stale," and no sound could be detected 
that might betray the whereabouts of any 
creature feeding in the grass. Disappointed, 
the fox turned towards the uplands and 
crossed the hedgerow into the nearest stubble. 
Louping leisurely along, he surprised and 
killed a sleeping lark. Further on he crossed 






THE LAST HUNT 181 

the scent of a hare, but Puss was doubtless 
some distance away, feeding in a quiet 
corner of the root-crop field. Reynard now 
instinctively made for the farmyard among 
the pines, trusting meanwhile that luck 
would befriend him. Across the gap, by 
the side of the hedgerow, and through an 
open gateway, he went, seeking spoil every- 
where, but finding none. With all his senses 
alert, he climbed the low wall around the 
yard, peeped into the empty cart-house, and 
stealthily approached an open shed. There, 
unluckily, the dogs were sleeping on a load 
of hay in the furthest corner. Careful not 
to arouse his foes, the fox retreated, and, 
passing the pond at the bottom of the yard, 
moved silently towards another shed, in 
which, as he knew from a former visit, 
the poultry roosted. Though the door 
was shut, an opening for the use of the 
fowls seemed to afford the possibility of 
success. With difficulty Reynard managed 
to squeeze himself in, only, however, to no 
purpose. Just beyond the door lay a loose 
coil of wire, brought home by the labourers 
after fencing and thrown here out of the 
way. The fox, fearing a trap, reluctantly 



182 THE FOX 

abandoned his project, returned to the bank 
by the pond, and crept down the lane to a 
spot where the ducks were housed in a 
neat shelter built in the wall. But here he 
found everything securely fastened. At this 
moment a door of the farmstead creaked 
loudly, the light of a lantern flooded the 
yard, and the baffled marauder sprang over 
the wall and trotted across the field towards 
the wood. 

His pace soon slackened when he found 
himself free from pursuit; and before he 
reached the end of the meadow he had 
regained all his cool audacity and was 
busily planning a visit to the cottage at 
the foot of the dingle. Hardly had his 
thoughts turned once more to hunting when 
fortune favoured him. A hen from the 
farmyard had laid her eggs in the hedge- 
row bordering the wood, and was brooding 
over them in proud anticipation of one day 
leading home a healthy family, thus causing 
an agreeable surprise to the farmer's wife. 
The fox almost brushed against her as he 
sprang over the hedge, and she paid to 
the utmost the penalty of indiscretion. 

After feasting royally on the eggs, the fox 



THE LAST HUNT 183 

took up the dead bird, and moved slowly 
away through the trees towards his home. 
Re-entering the covert, he was met by a 
prowling vixen that, in company with her 
four young cubs, inhabited an "earth" not 
many yards away. Reckless through hunger 
and maddened by the scent of blood, she 
attacked him savagely, bullied him out of 
the possession of the dead fowl, and bore 
her prize away in triumph to her den. The 
fox endured his ill-treatment with the sub- 
mission of a Stoic he happened to be the 
pugnacious vixen's mate, and the sire of her 
family. Soon recovering from the chastise- 
ment, he set off, and skirted the covert as 
far as the cottage garden. Finding the gate 
of the hen-coop closed, he sprang on the 
water-butt, climbed to the roof of the shed, 
and tried to enter the coop from above; but 
there, as at the farm, he feared a trap, and 
dared not creep beneath the loose wire netting 
overhanging the shed. As he jumped from 
the coop to the wall of the stye, he caught 
sight of several rats scampering to their 
holes. Lying flat on the wall, he awaited 
patiently their re-appearance. At last one of 
them ventured out beneath the door of the 



184 THE FOX 

cot, and was instantly killed. But, much to 
his chagrin, Reynard found the carcass a 
decidedly doubtful tit-bit, and so, having 
conveyed it gingerly to the margin of the 
covert, he scratched a shallow hole among 
the rotting leaves, and buried his prey, that, 
perhaps, its flavour might improve with 
keeping. Afterwards, till the sky lightened 
almost imperceptibly, and a steel-blue bar, 
low down beneath the clouds, first signalled 
the coming of day, he lay motionless 
among the undergrowth near a warren hi 
the dingle. Then an unsuspecting rabbit 
hopped out into the grass, and Reynard, 
his watch rewarded, disappeared with his 
spoil into the wilderness of the gorse. 

Dawn was breaking over the hills. Blue 
smoke curled up into the sky from the lodge 
cottage at the foot of the tree-clad slope. 
The door of the cottage stood wide open, 
and the scent of the wood-fire hung on 
the chill, damp air filling the narrow lane. 
A blackbird flew into the apple-tree over- 
looking the thatch, shook the moisture from 
his wings, and cleaned his bright orange bill 
on a bough. Then his full, reed-like music 
floated over the fields. The skylarks soared 



THE LAST HUNT 185 

above the upland pastures, and a shower of 
song descended to the valley out of the 
pearl-blue haze just lifting in a cloud from 
the hill-top. Presently the blackbird flew 
from the apple-tree to feed beside the hedge, 
and the larks dropped from the mist 
into the grass. But for the crackle of the 
cottage fire as the keeper busied himself 
with the preparation of his morning meal, 
and the rustle of a withered leaf as the 
blackbird moved to and fro in the ditch, 
not a sound disturbed the silence of the 
dawn. Soon the haze lifted, leaving the 
dew thick on the grass by the ditch, and on 
the moss and the ivy in the hedgerow bank. 
The larks soared once more into the sky ; a 
robin sang wistfully in the ash ; a brown 
wren, with many a flick of her tiny wings 
and many a merry curtsy, hopped in and 
out among the trees, trilling loudly a gleeful 
carol. The tits flew hither and thither, 
twittering to each other as they flew. The 
hedge-sparrows' metallic notes sounded clear 
amid all the varied music, as the birds, 
moving among the hazels and gently flirting 
their wings, pursued their coy mates from 
bough to bough. Through the raised curtain 



186 THE FOX 

of the mist the sun a white globe hardly 
too brilliant to be boldly looked at illumined 
the dewy fields with its faint beams, 
till the cloud-streaked sky became a clear 
expanse, and the blue and brown country- 
side glowed with the splendour of a perfect 
morning. The wind changed and freshened, 
so that the call of a farm labourer to his 
team and the constant voice of the river 
were distinctly heard in the level valley 
below the wood. 

As the morning advanced, signs of unusual 
stir and bustle were apparent in the neigh- 
bourhood of the lodge. Messengers came 
and went between the cottage and the 
mansion at the bend of the river, or between 
the mansion and the distant village. The 
keeper appeared at his door, and, after 
satisfying himself that the lane seemed clean 
and well-kept, walked off briskly in the 
direction of the " big house." Scarlet-coated 
horsemen, and high-born maids and matrons, 
with all the medley of the Hunt in their 
train, cantered along the winding road 
a mirthful, laughter-loving company. There 
were the General, stout and inelegant, wont 
to take his fences carefully, who changed his 



THE LAST HUNT 187 

weight-carrying mount thrice during the day, 
and liked a gateway better than a thorny hedge, 
and for the last fifteen years had never been 
in at the death ; and his wife, the leader of 
fashion, but not yet the leader of the Hunt ; 
the Major, an old shekarry from India, who 
still could ride as straight and fast as any 
man in the west; and his niece, the belle of 
the countryside, whose mettlesome hunter 
occasionally showed a sudden fondness for 
taking the bit between his teeth, and carrying 
his mistress, with reckless abandon, over 
furrow and five-barred gate and through the 
thickest hedgerow anywhere, so long as 
he had breath and the music of the hounds 
allured him onward in his impetuous career. 
The sun glanced between the trees as they 
passed the cottage door. Then came the 
Magistrate's Clerk, faultlessly attired, with 
florid face and glittering eyeglass, who, in 
an ambitious youth, finding his name too 
suggestive of plebeian blood, changed a 
vowel in it, and thereby gave an aristocratic 
flavour to the title of his partnership, and 
who acquired, with this new dignity, the 
taste for a monocle, a horse, and a good 
cigar. Following were the members of the 



188 THE FOX 

medley the big butcher on his sturdy 
pony, the " dealer " on his black, raw-boned 
half-bred, the publican on his stolid old mare, 
farmers, drovers, after-riders, on cropped and 
uncropped mounts more accustomed to the 
slow drudgery of labour than to the rollicking, 
hard-going hunt ; and after them the crowd 
on foot village children, farm labourers, 
and apprentices from forge and counter. 
Riding side by side, and earnestly conversing, 
were the " vet," whose horse at the last hunt 
bolted and left him clinging to a bough, and 
the shopkeeper, whose grave attire and sober 
mien seemed strangely out of keeping with 
the bright, hilarious throng. These were 
soon met by the main party from the meet, 
and hounds and hunters sped away in the 
direction of the hillside covert, while the 
onlookers adjourned to the uplands, whence 
an almost uninterrupted view of the valleys 
for miles around might be enjoyed, and the 
movements of the fox and his enemies 
followed more closely than from the hollows 
beneath the woods. 

Reynard, abundantly satisfied with his 
supper of eggs and early breakfast of rabbit, 
was lying asleep in a tuft of grass at the top 



THE LAST HUNT 189 

of the thicket when the huntsman passed 
down the dingle after the meet. Awakened 
by the noise that reached him from below, 
he arose, stretched his limbs, and listened 
anxiously the clatter of hoofs seemed to 
fill the valley. Suddenly, from the outskirts 
of the wood, came the deep, sonorous note 
of a hound, followed by the sharp rebuke of 
the whipper-in ; Jollity, the keen-nosed puppy, 
was "rioting" on the cold scent near the 
stream. Peering between the bushes, the 
fox could as yet see nothing moving in the 
covert, but a few minutes afterwards his 
sharp eye caught a glimpse of a hound leap- 
ing over the bank above the gorse, followed 
by another, and another, and yet another, 
till the place seemed alive with his foes. 

Whither should he flee? The dingle was 
occupied ; men and horses were everywhere 
in the lane; and the hounds were closing 
in above the gorse. The far side of the 
covert offered the only chance of escape, 
and thither he must hie, else the hounds, 
now pouring down the slope, would cut off 
his retreat. Quickly he threaded his way 
through the gorse, by paths familiar only to 
himself and the rabbits, till he reached the 



190 THE FOX 

bank by the willows ; but, even while he ran, 
the full chorus of the hounds echoed from 
hillside to hillside, as, having "struck the 
line," they tore madly in pursuit. He reached 
the edge of the covert at a point furthest 
from his foes then, as he crossed the 
meadow, a single red-coated horseman, stand- 
ing sentinel far up the hillside, gave the 
"view-halloo," and over the brow of the 
slope streamed the main body of the Hunt. 

It was at once evident to Reynard that by 
skirting the margin of the covert he could 
not for the present escape, so he headed 
down-wind towards the opposite hill, hoping 
to find refuge in a well-known " earth " amid 
the thickets. To his surprise he found the 
entrance "stopped" with clods and prickly 
branches of gorse, and had perforce to con- 
tinue his flight. Having well out-distanced 
his pursuers, he stayed to rest for a while near 
the stream that trickled by the hedgerow ; 
then, with the horrid music of the hounds 
again in his ears, he turned, by a long 
backward cast, in the direction of his home. 

But he was wholly unable to shake off 
his pursuers. For four long hours he was 
hustled from covert to covert, and hillside 



THE LAST HUNT 191 

to hillside, finding no respite, no mercy, no 
sanctuary. Breathless, mud-stained, footsore, 
and sick with fright, his draggling "brush" 
and lolling tongue betraying his distress, he 
sought at last the place he had long avoided, 
and, entering the mouth of the den where 
the vixen and her cubs were hiding, lay there, 
almost utterly exhausted. Some minutes 
elapsed, during which no sound but that of 
his laboured breathing, and of the tiny suck- 
lings busy by the side of the dam, disturbed 
the stillness. 

Suddenly, a deep- voiced hound broke through 
the bushes and bayed loudly before the 
entrance. His fellow joined him, and their 
foreboding clamour reverberated in the 
chamber. Terrified, the fox crawled slowly 
into the recess of the den. Presently a 
shaggy terrier came down the tunnel, and 
bit him sorely on the flank. He scarcely 
had the courage to turn on the aggressor; 
but the enraged vixen, thrusting her mate 
aside, quickly routed the daring intruder, 
and followed his retreat to the very 
mouth of the " earth, " where she turned 
back, threatened by the great hounds that 
stood without. But even the reckless courage 



192 THE FOX 

of maternity was unavailing. Soon the noise 
of blows and of falling earth was heard, as the 
passage was gradually opened by brawny 
farm labourers, working with spade and pick, 
and assisted in their task by the eager hunts- 
man, who ever and anon thrust a long 
bramble-spray into the tunnel and thus ascer- 
tained the direction of its devious course. 

At last the tip of the fox's "brush " was 
seen amid the soil and pebbles that had fallen 
into the chamber. The huntsman had cut 
two stout hazel rods ; these he now thrust into 
the hollow, one along either flank of the fox ; 
then, grasping their ends firmly about the 
exposed tail, he drew poor Reynard from his 
hiding place, and thrust him, defiant to the 
last, and with his teeth close-locked on one 
of the hazel rods, into an old sack requisi- 
tioned at the nearest farm. The vixen met 
a similar fate, while the sleek, furry little 
cubs, treated with the utmost gentleness, were 
wrapped together in the Master's handker- 
chief and given to the care of an attendant. 

Reynard's life was nearing its close. In 
the meadow behind the keeper's cottage the 
hounds were summoned by the huntsman's 
horn, and the bag was opened. The scene 



THE LAST HUNT 193 

that followed marred, for some of us at 
least, the beauty of the bright March morning. 
The vixen and her cubs were carried away, 
and found a new home in an artificial 
"earth" prepared for their reception near a 
distant mansion. 



THE FOX. 
n. 

A NEW HOME. 

WHEN the vixen recovered from the excite- 
ment and distress consequent on her 
capture, she found herself in a commodious, 
well ventilated chamber, circular in shape 
and slightly above the level of two low and 
narrow passages leading into the covert. 
The sack had been opened at the entrance 
of one of these passages, and the vixen 
had crawled through the darkness till, 
rinding further retreat impossible, she had 
lain down, with wildly beating heart, on 
the floor of her hiding place. 

Her senses seemed to have forsaken her. 
Had she dreamed? Often, during the 
warm, quiet days of a bygone summer, 
while lying curled in a cosy litter of dry 
grass-bents which she had neatly arranged 

194 



A NEW HOME 195 

by turning round and round, and with her 
sensitive black muzzle pressing or lifting 
into shape each refractory twig she had 
dreamed of mouse-hunting and rabbit- 
catching; her body had moved, her limbs 
twitched, her ears pricked forward, and 
her nostrils quivered as the delightful 
incidents of past expeditions were recalled. 
And when, with a start, she had awakened, 
as some venturesome rabbit frisked by 
her lair, or a nervous blackbird, startled by 
her movements, made the woodlands ring 
with news of his discovery, she had retained 
for a moment the impressions of her vivid 
dreams. But never in her sleep had she 
been haunted by such a bewildering sense 
of mingled dread and anger, such an awful 
apprehension of the presence of men and 
hounds, as that which had recently possessed 
her. Now, however, all was mysteriously 
tranquil ; the full-toned clamour of the 
hounds and the sharp, snarling bark of the 
terriers had ceased ; no longer was she 
confined and jostled in the stuffy, evil- 
smelling sack that yielded to, and yet 
restrained, her every frantic effort to regain 
liberty. Her heart still beat violently, as 



196 THE FOX 

though at any moment it might break; 
and she crept back towards the entrance, 
where she might breathe the free, fresh air. 

Suddenly she realised, to the full, that 
the day's bitter experiences were not a 
dream the scent of the human hand 
remained on her brush, her fur was damp 
and matted with meal- dust, and, alas ! her 
little ones were missing from her side. She 
was furious now ; at all risks she would 
venture forth on the long, straight journey 
back towards home; her helpless cubs might 
still be somewhere under the bushes 
perchance in sore need of warmth and food, 
and whining for their dam. 

With every mothering instinct quickened, 
the vixen crept down the slanting passages 
in the direction of a faint moonlight 
glimmer beyond. Reaching the end of the 
tunnel, she, in her impetuosity, thrust her 
muzzle into a mass of prickles the "earth" 
had been stopped with a branch of gorse. 
Baffled for the time, she returned to the 
central chamber; then cautiously, for her 
eyes and nostrils were smarting with pain, 
she tried the other outlet, but here, too, a 
gorse-bush baulked her exit. Now, however, 



A NEW HOME 197 

a faint, familiar scent seemed to fill the 
passage, some tiny creatures moved and 
whimpered, and, with almost savage joy, 
the vixen discovered her cubs, alive and 
unharmed, huddled together near the furze. 
Quickly she carried them, one by one, into 
the chamber; then, lying beside the little 
creatures, which, though blind and helpless, 
eagerly recognised the presence of their 
mother, she gathered them between her 
limbs, covered them with her soft, warm 
brush, and, in a language used only amid 
the woodlands, soothed and comforted 
them, while they nestled once more beneath 
her sheltering care. When she had fed 
them and licked them clean from every 
taint of human touch, and when she had 
shaken herself free from dust and removed 
from her brush the man-scent left by the 
huntsman's right hand while "drawing" her, 
she became more collected in her mind and 
more contented with her strange, new 
situation. 

Leaving her cubs asleep, she moved along 
the passage, determined, if possible, to 
explore the thickets in hope of finding a 
young rabbit or a few field-voles where- 



198 THE FOX 

with to satisfy her increasing hunger. The 
entrance was still blocked with furze, but 
just in the spot where she had found her 
cubs a couple of dead rabbits lay, and from 
one of these, though after much misgiving, 
she made a hearty meal. She endeavoured, 
but vainly, to dig a shallow trench in which 
to hide the rest of her provisions ; the floor 
of the artificial " earth " was tiled, and only 
lightly covered with soil. Her efforts to 
scratch out a tunnel around the furze-bush 
proved alike unavailing, so she returned to 
her cubs, lay down between them and the 
narrow opening from the chamber, and slept. 

That night and the following day were 
spent in drowsy imprisonment, till, towards 
the afternoon, the vixen began to feel the 
pangs of thirst and made fresh efforts to 
escape. As she was endeavouring to dislodge 
the tile nearest the furze, she heard the 
tramp of heavy feet and the sound of human 
voices. 

"They be nice cubs," said the "whip" to 
the huntsman ; "as nice a little lot as ever 
I clapped eyes on. If only they can give 
us such a doing as the old vixen gave us 
twice last December, they'll pass muster. 



A NEW HOME 199 

Them Gwyddyl Valley foxes be always I | 
reg'lar fliers. Their meat ain't got too easy- \ 
like ; that's why, maybe, they're always in I 
working order. Any road, their flags o'/ 
distress (tongues) don't flop over their/ 
grinders without the hounds trim 'em hagd^. 
on a straight, burning scent." " Well, we'll 
give 'em a good start, whatever happens," 
replied the huntsman ; " here's two more 
bunnies for the larder. If the old girl 
shifts her quarters, find out her new "earth," 
and feed her well. I shouldn't like to be 
near the guv'nor if the young uns turn out 
mangy when we hustle 'em about a bit in 
the autumn." 

The voices ceased, the furze-bushes were 
removed from the tunnel entrances, a cold, 
steady current of air filled the chamber 
and the passages, and the vixen knew 
that a way had been made for her escape. 
She was not, however, so foolhardy as to 
venture forth while the scent of her foes 
remained strong in the thicket; she lingered, 
in spite of extreme thirst, till the shadows 
of evening deepened perceptibly in her 
underground abode. 

When the vixen stole out into the grass, 



200 THE FOX 

the pale moon was brightening in the 
southern sky, and a solitary star glimmered 
faintly above the tree-tops. A thrush sang 
his vesper from the bare branch of an oak 
near by, and a blackbird, startled by the 
sight of a strange form squatting beside the 
brambles, sounded his shrill alarm and 
dipped across the clearing towards a clump 
of blackthorn bushes. As soon as she heard 
the blackbird's warning, the vixen vanished; 
but, presently reappearing, she trotted across 
the open space and sat beneath the thorns. 
For some minutes she remained motion- 
less in the dark patch of shadow, listening 
intently ; then, passing slowly down a 
narrow path, she reached a trickling stream- 
let that fell with constant music from stone 
to stone between luxuriant masses of moss 
and lichen; and there, at a gravelly pool 
among the boulders, she cautiously stooped 
to drink. With exceeding care, she now pro- 
ceeded to make a thorough inspection of the 
covert. The night was so calm and bright 
that the rabbits were feeding everywhere on 
the margin of the thickets, but the vixen 
passed them by with nothing but a casual 
glance ; her mind, for the present, was not 



A NEW HOME 201 

concerned with hunting. After skirting the 
covert, she turned homewards by a pathway 
through the trees. 

At the end of the path she paused, with 
head bent low and hackles ruffled along the 
spine the scent of another vixen lay fresh 
on the ground. The peculiar taint told 
her a complete story. The strange vixen 
was soon to become a mother, and 
probably, in anticipation of the event, 
inhabited an " earth " close by. Casting 
about like an experienced hound, she 
picked up the trail, and followed it into 
a great tangle of heather, brambles, and 
fern, where the scent led, by many a 
devious turn, to the spreading roots of a 
beech, beneath which a disused rabbit 
warren had been prepared for the little 
strangers presently to be brought into the 
world. The dwelling place was empty. 

Retracing her steps as far as the spot 
where first she had struck the trail, then 
turning sharply towards the clearing, the 
crafty creature hastened back to the " earth," 
determined to remove her cubs without 
delay to the newly discovered abode. One 
by one she bore her offspring thither, hold- 



202 THE FOX 

ing them gently by the loose skin about 
their necks, and housed them all before 
the dispossessed tenant returned from a 
slow and wearisome night's hunting. The 
evicted vixen, seeking to enter her home, 
speedily recognised that in her distressed 
condition she was no match for her savage, 
active enemy, and so, reluctantly retiring, 
took up her quarters in the artificial "earth." 

Henceforth, through all the careless hours 
of infancy, till summer ended and the nights 
gradually lengthened towards the time of 
the Hunter's Moon, the stillness of the 
woodlands was never broken by the ominous 
note of the horn, or by the dread, fascinat- 
ing music of the hounds in full cry. Three 
of the cubs grew stout and strong, but the 
fourth was a weakling whether from injury 
at the hands of the huntsman or from some 
natural ailment was not to be determined. 
He died, and mysteriously disappeared, on 
the very day when the rest of the cubs 
first opened their eyes in the dim chamber 
among the roots of the beech. 

Vulp was the only male member of the 
happy woodland family. His indulgent sisters 
tolerated his bouncing, familiar manners as 



A NEW HOME 203 

if they were born to be his playthings 
he was so serious and yet so droll, so 
stupidly self-assertive and yet so irresistibly 
affectionate ! He seemed to take his 
pleasures sadly, wearing, if such be possible 
to a fox, an air of melancholy disdain; 
and yet his beady eyes were ever on the 
look-out for mischief, and for the chance of 
a helter-skelter romp with his sisters round 
and round the chamber, or to the entrance 
of the "earth," where the sprouts of the 
green grass and the flowers of the golden 
celandine sparkled as the sunlight of the 
fresh spring morning flickered between the 
trees. 

As yet, Vulp was unacquainted with the 
wide, free world. It seemed very wonderful 
and awe-inspiring, as he sat by the mouth 
of the tunnel in the shadow of an arching 
spray of polypody and, for sheer lack of some- 
thing better to do, half lifted himself on his 
hind-legs to rub his lips against the edge of a 
fern, or to peep, with a feeling that his where- 
abouts were a secret, between the drooping 
fronds. His mother restrained his rashness ; 
once, when he actually thrust his head beyond 
the ferns, she with a stern admonition 



204 THE FOX 

warned him of his mistake ; and he promptly 
withdrew to her side, frightened at his own 
boldness, but grunting in well assumed defi- 
ance of the imagined danger from which he 
had fled. 

This, in fact, was the first lesson learned 
that a certain sign from the vixen meant 
"No," and that disobedience was afterwards 
punishable according to the unwritten laws of 
woodland life. Another sign that he learned 
to obey meant " Come." It was a low, deep 
note, gentle and persuasive ; and directly Vulp 
heard it he would hasten to his mother to 
be not only fed but also cleansed from every 
particle of dirt. Such toilet operations were 
not always welcome to the youngsters, and 
were sometimes vigorously resented. But 
the vixen had a convincing method of 
dealing with any refractory member of her 
family ; she would hold the cub firmly 
between her forefeet while she continued her 
treatment, or administered slight, well-judged 
chastisement by nipping her wayward offspring 
in some tender spot, where, however, little 
harm could be the result. 

The cubs were ten days old when they 
opened their eyes, but more than three weeks 



A NEW HOME 205 

passed before they were allowed beyond the 
threshold of their home. Then, one starlight 
night, their mother, having returned from 
hunting, awoke them, and, withholding their 
usual nourishment, gave the signal " Come." 
The obedient little family followed her along 
the dark passage, and ventured, close at her 
heels, into the grass-patch in the middle of 
the briar-brake. Vulp was slightly more 
timid than his sisters were ; even at that early 
age he showed signs of independence and 
distrust. While the other cubs played 
" follow-my-leader " with the dam, he hung 
back, hesitating and afraid. Even an unusual 
show of affection by his mother failed to 
reassure him. A rabbit dodged quickly across 
a path, and immediately he stood rigid with 
fright. Hardly had he recovered before an 
owl flew slowly overhead. Enough ! He 
paused, motionless, till the awful presence had 
disappeared; then darted, with astonishing 
speed, straight towards the " earth," and 
vanished, with a ridiculously feeble " yap " of 
make-believe bravado, into the darkness of 
the den. Confidence, however, came and 
increased as the days and the nights went by, 
till, at the close of a week's experiences, Vulp 



206 THE FOX 

was as bold in danger as either of his play- 
mates. He learned to trust his mother 
implicitly, and, in her absence, became the 
guardian of the family when some fancied 
alarm brought fear. He was always last in 
learning his lessons ; but, as if to make 
amends, he always profited most by the 
teaching. 

Happy, indeed, were those hours of inno- 
cence filled with sleep, and love, and play. 
Till Vulp was six weeks old, he was wholly 
unconscious of that ravenous hunger for flesh 
which was fated to make him the scourge of 
the woodlands. Nevertheless, his instincts 
were slowly developing, and so, when on a 
second occasion the old buck rabbit that 
had frightened him in the thicket bolted 
before his eyes across the path, the little fox 
bristled with rage and, but for his mother's 
presence, would doubtless have tried to pursue 
the exasperating coney. Invariably, when 
the night was fine, the cubs gambolled about 
the vixen on the close-cropped sward beyond 
the den, climbing over her body, pinching 
her ears, growling and grunting, tugging at 
each other's brushes, and in general behaving 
just as healthy, happy fox-cubs might be 



A NEW HOME 207 

expected to behave ; while the patient, careful 
mother looked on approvingly save when, 
uniting in one strong effort, they endeavoured 
to disjoint her tail by pulling it over her back 
and smiled, as only a fox can smile, with 
eyes asquint and a single out-turned fang 
showing white beside the half-closed lip. 

A great event occurred when the mother 
first brought home her prey that she might 
educate her youngsters in the matter of 
appetite and prepare them for an independent 
existence. The victim was an almost full- 
grown rabbit. Laying it down close to the 
entrance of the " earth," the vixen called her 
cubs, and instantly they rushed from the den, 
tumbling over each other in their haste, till 
they gained the spot where she was waiting. 
At that moment, however, they caught sight 
of the strange grey object in the grass, and, 
leaping back, bolted round to their mother's 
side. Then, feeling safe under her care, they 
cautiously advanced in a row to sniff 
the rabbit, and wondered, yet instinctively 
guessed, at the meaning of the situation. 
The vixen growled, and, picking up her prey, 
carried it to the bramble-clump. The cubs 
followed, making all sorts of curious noises 



208 THE FOX 

in mimicking their dam, and evincing the 
utmost inquisitiveness as to the reason of 
her unexpected conduct. Presently, having 
succeeded in arousing their inborn passion for 
flesh, the vixen resorted to a neighbouring 
mound, and left her offspring in possession 
of the dead animal, on which they immediately 
pounced, tooth and nail. How terribly in 
earnest they became, how bold and reckless 
in their vain attempt to demolish the subject 
of their wrath ! Vulp fastened his needle-like 
teeth in the throat, and each of his sisters 
gripped a leg, while together they jerked, 
strained, scolded, and threatened, till the 
mother, fearing lest the commotion would 
betray their whereabouts to some lurking foe, 
rated her noisy progeny and in anger drove 
them away. But as soon as she had gone 
back to her seat among the grass-bents, the 
youngsters returned to their work. Anyhow, 
anywhere, they hurled themselves on the dead 
creature, sometimes biting each other for 
sheer lack of knowing exactly what else they 
should bite, and sometimes simply for the 
excitement of a family squabble. 

At last, their unwonted exertions began to 
tire them; then the careful vixen, desirous 



A NEW HOME 209 

of bringing the lesson to its close, " broke up " 
her prey and divided it among her hungry 
children. They fed daintily, choosing from 
each portion no more than a morsel, and 
soon afterwards, exhausted by excitement and 
fatigue, and forgetful of their differences, 
were fast asleep, huddled together as usual 
in the roomy recess of the den. For a while 
the vixen remained to satisfy her hunger ; 
then, having buried a few tit-bits of her 
provender, she also retired to rest ; and silence 
brooded over the woodlands till the break of 
day set every nesting bird atune. 

The vixen proved to be an untiring teacher, 
and the education of the cubs occupied a part, 
at least, of every night. The young foxes 
were growing rapidly, and accompanied their 
dam in her wanderings about the thickets. 
She never went far afield, food being easily 
procured at that time of year, particularly 
as in a certain spot additional supplies for the 
larder were frequently forthcoming because 
of the vigilance of the huntsman, whose one 
desire was to fit the cubs to match his 
hounds in the first "runs" of the coming 
season. 



THE FOX. 

in. 

THE CUB AND THE POLECAT. 

THE young fox's education, varied and 
thorough, steadily proceeded. Though the 
vixen-cubs were slightly quicker to learn, 
they were more excitable, and consequently 
did not benefit fully by each lesson. Vulp 
soon began to hunt for his own sport and 
profit. In the meadow above the wood he 
would sit motionless, his eyes fixed on the 
ground, till the voles came from their burrows 
to play beneath the grass -bents ; then, with 
a quick rush, he would secure a victim 
directly its presence was betrayed by a 
waving stalk. With the same patience he 
would watch near a rabbit warren, till one 
of the inhabitants, hopping out to the mound 
before her door, gave him the sure chance 
of a kill. But in the wheat-fields on the 



THE CUB AND THE POLECAT 211 

slope his methods were altogether different. 
To capture partridges required unusual 
cunning and skill, and such importance did 
the vixen attach to this branch of her field- 
craft, that, before initiating her youngsters 
into the sport of hunting these birds at 
night, she instructed them diligently in the 
methods of following by scent, training them 
how to pursue the winding trail left by the 
larks that fed at evening near their sleeping 
places, or by the corncrakes that wandered 
babbling through the green wheat. Vulp's 
first attempt to capture a partridge chick 
resulted in failure. The vixen-cubs " fouled " 
the line he had patiently picked out in the 
ditch around the cornfield, and, " casting " 
haphazard through the herbage, alarmed the 
sleeping birds, and sent them away to a 
secure hiding place in the clover. But his 
second attempt was crowned with success, 
and he proudly carried his prey into a 
sequestered nook amid the gorse, where he 
enjoyed a quiet rneal. 

The cub was fully six months old before 
he knew the precise difference between stale 
and fresh scent, or between the scent of one 
creature and that of another, and how to 



212 THE FOX 

hunt accordingly; and several years, with 
many dangers and hair-breadth escapes, were 
destined to pass before he became expert in 
avoiding or baffling the numerous enemies 
chiefly dogs, and men, and traps that 
threatened his life. And yet, during the 
first few months of his existence, he 
gained sufficient knowledge for the needs 
of the moment; and when August drew on 
towards the close of the summer, and he 
was three parts grown, he had so extended 
his nightly rambles that the "lay of the 
land" was familiar for miles around the 
covert. His outdoor existence for now he 
was wont to sleep in a lair among the gorse 
and the bracken, instead of in the stuffy 
"earth" gave him strength in abundant 
measure, while his scrupulously clean habits, 
the care with which he removed even the 
slightest trace of a burr from his sleek, 
brown coat, and the plentiful supplies of fresh 
food which he was able to obtain, naturally 
preserved him from mange and similar ailments 
to which carnivorous animals are always prone. 
For the present, indeed, life meant nothing 
more to him than the sheer enjoyment of 
vigorous health, at home by day amid the 



THE CUB AND THE POLECAT 213 

grateful shadows of the bushes and the trees, 
or basking in the sun, and abroad at night 
in the cold, clear air of the dewy uplands. 

Just as sportsmen occasionally meet with 
a run of ill-luck, when for some apparently 
unaccountable reason they either fail to find 
game, or fail to kill it, and, to intensify the 
annoyance, an accident occurs that leaves a 
bitter memory, so Vulp, during one of his 
long rambles over the countryside, failed 
entirely to find sport, and gained a decidedly 
unpleasant experience. If only his mother 
had not taught him that in a season of 
scarcity a weasel might reasonably be con- 
sidered an article of food ! One summer 
night, as he started on his usual prowl, the 
covert seemed strangely silent. With the 
exception of a solitary rabbit that bolted to 
its burrow when the young fox crossed the 
clearing, and another that disappeared in 
similar fashion when nothing more than a 
slight crackle of a leaf betrayed Vulp's 
whereabouts near a bramble-clump, every 
animal had apparently deserted the thickets. 
So, leaving his accustomed haunts, he crossed 
the furze-clad dingle, and watched near a 
large warren in the open. But there, again, 



214 THE FOX 

not a rabbit could be seen. A field-vole 
rustled by over the leaves; the cub made 
a futile effort to capture it, stood for an 
instant listening to its movements, then thrust 
his nose into the herbage in another vigorous 
but vain attempt; the vole, like the rabbits, 
had sought refuge underground. An owl, 
that had frightened the cub about five months 
before when first he ventured outside his 
home, rose from the hedge, and flew slowly 
down the valley with a little squealing 
creature in her talons ; she, at any rate, had 
not hunted in vain. 

At last Vulp struck a fresh line of scent 
which, though particularly strong and unin- 
viting, he took to be that of a weasel. It 
was mingled with the faint odour of a 
field-vole that, doubtless, had been pursued 
and carried away by its persistent enemy. 
The cub followed the trail, hoping to secure 
both hunter and victim, but it soon led him 
to a hole in the hedgerow, and there abruptly 
ceased. He was about to turn from the 
spot, when the eyes of the supposed weasel 
suddenly gleamed at the mouth of the hole, 
but disappeared when the presence of the 
cub was recognised. The fox, retreating to 



THE CUB AND THE POLECAT 215 

a convenient post of observation behind a 
tuft of grass, settled down to await his 
opportunity. A few minutes elapsed, and 
the pursued creature came once more in 
sight. It appeared like a shadow against 
the sky, lifted its nose inquiringly, quitted 
the burrow, sat bolt upright for a moment, 
then, reassured, proceeded towards the 
covert on the opposite side of the path. 
With a single bound, the cub cleared the 
grass-tuft, reached out at his prey, missed 
his grip, bowled the animal over, and, turning 
rapidly, caught it across the loins instead of 
by the throat. Unfortunately for himself, 
the fox had made a slight miscalculation. 
With a scream of rage and pain, the polecat 
for such the creature proved to be turned 
on the aggressor, and instantly fastened its 
formidable teeth, like a steel trap, on his 
muzzle. Vulp had been taught that his fangs, 
also, were a trap from which there should 
be no escape, and so he held on firmly, 
trying meanwhile to shake the life from his 
victim. He pressed the polecat to the 
ground, and frantically endeavoured to dis- 
engage its hold by thrusting his fore-paws 
beneath its muzzle ; but every effort alike 



216 THE FOX 

was useless. A scalding, acrid fluid emitted 
by the polecat caused the lips and one of 
the eyes of the cub to smart unbearably, 
and the offensive odour of the fluid grew 
stronger and stronger, till it became almost 
suffocating. At last the polecat convulsively 
trembled as its ribs and spine were crushed 
in the fox's tightening jaws, its teeth relaxed 
their hold, and the fight was over. 

Sickened by the pungent smell, and with 
muzzle, lips, and right eye burning horribly 
from his wounds and the irritant poison, Vulp 
hastily dropped his prey, and ignominiously 
bolted from the scene of the encounter. 
Soon, however, he stopped ; the pain in his eye 
seemed beyond endurance. He tried to rub 
away the noxious fluid with his paws, but his 
frantic efforts only increased the irritation by 
conveying the poison to his other eye and 
to his wounds. He rolled and sneezed and 
grunted in torment ; he drew his muzzle and 
cheeks to and fro on the ground, wrestling 
with the great Earth-Mother for help in 
direst agony. He could not open his eyes ; 
he stumbled blindly against a tree-trunk, and 
at last became entangled in the prickly 
undergrowth. This was Nature's method 



THE CUB AND THE POLECAT 217 

of succour she forced her wildling to 
remain quiet, in helpless exhaustion, till the 
pain subsided and life could once again be 
endured. Panting and sick, the cub lay out- 
stretched among the thorns, while the tears 
flowed from his eyes and the froth hung on 
his lips. Presently, however, relieved by the 
copious discharge, he recovered his senses, 
and, miserably cowed, with head and brush 
hanging low, returned before dawn to the 
covert. But the vixen in fury drove the 
cub away; the scent still clung to him, 
and rendered him obnoxious even to his 
mother. In shame he retired to a dense 
"double" hedge of hawthorn, where he hid 
throughout the day, till he could summon 
sufficient courage at dusk to hunt for some 
dainty morsel wherewith to tempt his sickened 
appetite. But before taking up his position 
above the entrance to a rabbit warren, he 
drank at the brook, dipped his tainted fore- 
paws in the running water, and, sitting by 
the margin, removed from his face, as far as 
possible, the traces left by the previous night's 
conflict. Repeatedly, at all hours of the 
day and the night, he licked his paws and 
with them washed his wounded muzzle and 



218 THE FOX 

inflamed eyes; but so obstinately did the 
offensive odour cling to him that a fortnight 
elapsed before the last vestige of the nuisance 
disappeared. Meanwhile, he narrowly escaped 
the mange ; and, to add to the discomfort of 
his wounds, he experienced, now that his 
mother's aid was lacking, some difficulty in 
obtaining sufficient fresh food. 

At length he recovered, and new, downy 
hair clothed the wounds and the scratches on 
his muzzle and throat. Sleek and strong once 
more, he was welcomed as a penitent prodigal 
by the relenting vixen, and, having in the 
period of his solitary wanderings learned 
much about the habits of the woodland folk, 
was doubtless able to assist his mother in 
the future training of the vixen-cubs. 

In that luckless fortnight he had acquired 
a taste for young pheasants, had picked up 
a few fat pigeon-squabs belonging to the 
last broods of the year, and had sampled 
sundry articles of diet frogs, slugs, snails, 
a young hedgehog or two, and a squirrel 
that, overcome with inquisitiveness, descended 
from the tree-tops to inspect the young fox 
as he dozed among the bilberries carpeting the 
forest floor. 



THE CUB AND THE POLECAT 219 

Another incident occurred, to which, at the 
time, the cub attached considerable import- 
ance. He had killed what seemed to be a 
large, heavy rabbit, which, though evidently 
possessed of a healthy appetite, was almost 
scentless, and differed in taste from any he had 
hitherto captured. He was not particularly 
hungry, so he buried the insipid flesh, and 
resolved never to destroy another rabbit that 
did not yield a full, strong scent. Shortly 
afterwards, when, under the eye of the bright 
August moon, Vulp and the vixen were 
hunting in the wheatfields, he detected a 
similarly weak scent along the hedgerow, and 
learned from his wise mother it was that of 
a doe-hare about to give birth to her young, 
and therefore hardly worth the trouble 
of following. The vixen further explained 
that, except when other food was scarce, 
creatures occupied, or about to be occupied, 
with maternal cares even the lark in the 
furrow and the willow-warbler in the hole 
by the brook were far less palatable than 
at other times. The cub was also told how, 
just before he came into the world, the 
hounds had chased his mother from the 
thicket, and how old Reveller, the leader 



220 THE FOX 

of the pack, had headed the reckless puppies, 
and, rating them for their discourtesy, had 
led them away to scour another part of the 
covert. 

With the advance of autumn, a great change 
passed over the countryside. The young fox 
now found it necessary to choose his paths 
with care as he wandered through the dark- 
ness, lest the rabbits should be warned of his 
approach by the crisp rustle of his " pads " on 
the leaves that had fallen in showers on the 
grass. Hitherto he had associated the presence 
of man with that of something good for food. 
An occasional dead rabbit was still to be 
found near the old "earth," and, strange to 
relate, the man-scent leading to the place 
was never fresher or staler than that of the 
rabbit. In another spot a wood-clearing 
not far from the keeper's lodge the strong 
scent of pheasants always seemed to indicate 
that the birds had ventured thither in numbers 
to feed, and there, too, the man-scent was 
strong on the grass. The tracks of innumer- 
able little creatures intersected the clearing 
in all directions, and, if but for the sport 
of watching the pheasants, the pigeons, the 
sparrows, and the voles playing and quarrelling 



THE CUB AND THE POLECAT 221 

in the undergrowth or partaking of the food 
provided by the keeper, the fox loved to lurk 
in the gorse near by. He evinced little real 
alarm even at the sight of man, though he 
felt a misgiving and instinctively knew that 
he must hide or keep at a distance till the 
curiously shaped monster had gone. The 
vixen warned him repeatedly; and she her- 
self, after giving the signal " Hide ! " would 
slink away, and wander for miles before return- 
ing to her family, if only the measured foot- 
fall of a poacher or a farm labourer sounded 
faintly through the covert. 

But soon the young fox learned, in a 
way not to be misunderstood, that the 
presence of man meant undoubted danger. 
One day in October, as he was intently 
watching the movements of a sportsman 
in the copse, a big cock pheasant rose 
with a great clatter from the brambles, 
a loud report rang through the covert, 
and a shaggy brown and white spaniel 
dashed yelping into the bushes. Darting 
impetuously from his lair, the cub easily 
outdistanced the dog, and quickly found 
refuge in an adjoining thicket, where he 
remained in safety during the rest of the 



222 THE FOX 

day. Night brought him another adventure. 
While crossing a pasture towards a wooded 
belt on the hillside, he discovered, to his 
surprise, that a man was creeping stealthily 
towards him through the shadows. A 
moment later, a great lurcher came bound- 
ing over the field. The fox turned, made 
for the hedgerow, and gained the friendly 
shelter of the hawthorns just as the dog 
crashed into the ditch. The frightened 
creature now ran along the opposite side 
of the hedge in a straight line towards 
the wood, and for a second time narrowly 
escaped the lurcher's teeth ; but, by keeping 
close to the ditch and among the prickly 
bushes on the top of the hedge-bank, he at 
last succeeded in baffling his long-legged 
foe and reached the wood unharmed. 

Vulp had thus awakened to the dangers 
which, during winter and the earliest days 
of spring, were always to beset him. But the 
apprehensions caused by his little affair with 
the spaniel, and even by his narrow escape 
from the lurcher, were trifling compared with 
the dread and distress of being driven for 
hours before the hounds. And so full of 
perils was the first winter of his life that 



THE CUB AND THE POLECAT 223 

nothing but a combination of sheer luck 
with great endurance could then have 
sufficed to save him from destruction. 
Quickly, one after the other, the young 
vixens were missing from the thickets ; 
soon afterwards, three of the cubs belong- 
ing to the litter that had been reared in 
the artificial "earth" disappeared; and an 
old fox, the sire of that litter, was killed 
after a long, wearisome chase almost to the 
cliffs on the distant coast. 

One dark and dismal night in December, 
Vulp, on returning to the home thickets, 
failed to find his dam. Her trail was fresh ; 
she had evidently escaped the day's hunt ; 
but all his efforts to follow her met with 
no sort of success. Nature had brought 
about a separation ; in the company of an 
adult fox, whose scent lay also on the 
woodland path, the vixen had departed from 
her haunts. The fox-cub remained, however, 
among the woodlands where he had learned 
his earliest lessons, and, for another year, 
hunted and was hunted a vagrant bachelor. 



THE FOX. 

IV. 

A CRY OF THE NIGHT. 

ONE starlit night, when in early winter 
the snow lay thick on the ground, Vulp 
heard the hunting call of a vixen prowling 
through the pines. A similar call had 
often reached his ears. Not long after 
his dam deserted him, the cry had come 
from a furze-brake on a neighbouring hill- 
top, and, hastening thither, he had wandered 
long and wearily, recognising, though with 
misgiving, his mother's voice. But the exact 
meaning of the call, not being a matter 
for his mother's teaching, was unknown to 
him at the time. Now, however, he was 
a strong, well fed, fully developed fox, able 
to hold his own against all rivals, and the 
cry possessed for him a strange, new 
significance : " The night is white ; man 

224 



A CRY OF THE NIGHT 225 

is asleep; I hunt alone!" Almost like a 
big brown leaf he seemed to drift across 
the moonlit snow, nearer and nearer to the 
pines. He paused for a moment to sniff 
the trail ; then, with a joyous " yap " of 
greeting, he bounded over the hedge, reached 
the aisles of the wood, and gambolled 
again like a big, wind-blown leaf about 
the sleek, handsome creature whose call 
he had heard. The happy pair trotted 
off to hunt the thickets, till, just before 
dawn, Vulp, eager to show his skill and 
training, surprised two young rabbits sitting 
beneath a snow-laden tangle of briar and 
gorse, and gallantly shared the spoil with 
his woodland bride. They feasted long and 
heartily, afterwards journeying to the banks 
of a rill, that, like a black ribbon, flowed 
through the glen ; and there, crouching 
together at the margin, they lapped the 
water with eager, thirsty tongues. 

Presently, happening to glance behind 
along the line of the trail, Vulp caught 
sight of another fox, a rival for the vixen's 
affections, crouching in some bracken scarcely 
a dozen yards away. With a low grunt of 
rage, he dashed into the fern, but the watchful 



226 THE FOX 

stranger simply moved aside, and frisked 
towards the vixen as she still crouched at 
the edge of the stream. In response to 
this insulting defiance, Vulp hurled him- 
self on the intruder, and bowled him over 
into the snow. The fight was fast and 
furious; now one gained the advantage, 
then the other. The grass beneath them 
became gradually bared of snow by their 
frantic struggles, and marked here and there 
by a bunch of fur or a spot of blood. At 
last the rival fox, his cheek torn badly 
beneath the eye, showed signs of exhaustion ; 
his breath came in quick, loud gasps; and 
Vulp, pressing the attack, forced him to flee 
for life to a thicket on the brow of the 
slope. There he dwelt and nursed his 
wounds, till, when the snow melted, the 
huntsman's " In-hoick, in-hoick, loo-loo-in- 
hoick!" resounded in the coverts, and he 
was routed from his lair for a last, half- 
hearted chase, that ended as Melody pulled 
him down at a ford of the river below the 
woods. 

During the period of their comradeship 
a period of privation for most of Nature's 
wildlings Vulp taught the vixen much of 



A CRY OF THE NIGHT 227 

the lore he had learned from his mother, 
while the vixen imparted to him the know- 
ledge she herself had gained when a cub. 
He taught her how to steal away from the 
covert along the rough, rarely trodden paths 
between the farm-labourers' cottages where 
the scent lay so badly that the hounds were 
unable to follow directly the first faint notes 
of a horn, or the dull thud of galloping hoofs, 
or the excited whimper of a " rioting " puppy, 
indicated the approach of enemies. She 
taught him to baffle his foes by chasing 
sheep across the stubbles, and then passing 
through a line of strong scent where his 
own trail could not readily be distinguished ; 
also that to cross the river by leaping from 
stone to stone in the ford was as sure a 
means of eluding pursuit as to swim the 
pools and the shallows. He taught her, 
when hard pressed, to leap suddenly aside 
from her path, run along the top rail of a 
fence, return sharply on her line of scent, and 
follow, with a wide cast, a loop-shaped trail, 
which, with a tangent through a ploughed 
field or dry fallow, was usually sufficient to 
check pursuit till the scent became faint and 
cold. And gradually each of these woodland 



228 THE FOX 

rovers grew acquainted with the peculiar 
whims and habits of the other. Vulp loved 
to follow stealthily the trail of the rabbit, and 
then to lie in wait till some imagined cause of 
alarm sent Bunny back through the " creep " 
and almost straight into her enemy's open 
jaws. The vixen preferred to hide in the 
brambles to leeward of a burrow till an 
unsuspecting rabbit crept out into the open. 
Vulp, since his adventure with the polecat, 
bristled with rage whenever he crossed the 
track of a weasel, but never dreamed of 
following; polecat and weasel were the same 
animal for aught he knew to the contrary. 
The vixen, however, was not daunted by the 
unpleasant memory of any such adventure; 
having chanced to see a weasel in the act of 
killing a vole, she had recognised a rival and 
acted accordingly. And so Vulp's repeated 
warnings to his mate on this matter produced 
no effect beyond making her slightly more 
careful than she had hitherto been to obtain 
a proper grip when she pounced on her savage 
little quarry. The vixen was exceedingly 
fond of snails, and would eagerly thrust a 
fore-paw into the crannies of any old wall 
or bank where they hibernated ; but Vulp 



A CRY OF THE NIGHT 229 

much preferred to scratch up the moss in a 
deserted gravel-pit, and grub in the loosened 
soil for the drowsy blow -flies and beetles 
that had chosen the spot for their winter 
abode. This was the reason for such different 
tastes: the vixen, when a cub, had often 
basked in the sun near a snails' favourite 
resort, and had there acquired a liking for 
the snails ; while the fox, on the other hand, 
had times out of number amused himself, 
in the first summer of his life, by leaping 
and snapping at the flies as they buzzed 
among the leaves when the mid-day sun 
was hot, and at the beetles as they boomed 
along the narrow paths in the thicket near 
the " earth " when the moon rolled up 
above the hedge, and the dark, mysterious 
shadows of intersecting boughs fore- 
shortened on the grass. But Vulp knew 
well, from an unpleasant experience, the 
difference between a fly and a wasp. 

One day in August, as he lay in his out- 
door lair, the brightness and heat of the 
sunshine were such that his eyes, blinking 
in the drowsiness of half-awakened slumber, 
appeared like mere slits of black across 
streaked orbs of yellow, and gave no indica- 



230 THE FOX 

tion of the fiery glow that lit the round, 
distended pupils when he peered at night- 
fall through the tangled undergrowth. His 
tongue lolled out, and he panted like a 
tired hound, but from thirst rather than 
weariness. The flies annoyed him greatly, 
now settling on his brush, till with a flick 
of his paw he drove them away, then, 
nothing daunted, alighting on his back, his 
ears, his haunches, till his fur wrinkled and 
straightened in numberless uneasy movements 
from the tormenting tickling of the little 
pests. Presently, with a shrill bizz of rapid 
wings, a large, yellow-striped fly passed close 
to his ears. He struck down the torment- 
ing insect with a random flip of his paws, 
snapped at it to complete the work of 
destruction, and proceeded leisurely to eat 
his victim. To his utter surprise, he 
seemed to have captured a living, angry 
thorn, which, despite his most violent efforts 
to tear it away with his paws, stuck in his 
lip, and produced a smarting, burning 
sensation that was intolerable. He rolled 
on the ground and rubbed his muzzle in 
the grass, but to no purpose. No wonder, 
then, that subsequently his manner towards 



A CRY OF THE NIGHT 231 

an occasional hibernating wasp among the 
moss-roots in the gravel-pit was deferential 
in the extreme! 

Vulp and his mate soon learned that in 
rabbit-hunting it was exceedingly profitable 
to co-operate. Thus, while the vixen "lay 
up " near a warren, Vulp skirted the copse 
and chased the conies home towards his 
waiting spouse. After considerable practice, 
the trick paid handsomely, and food was 
seldom lacking. The vixen possessed, 
perhaps, a slightly more delicate sense of 
smell than the fox. Frequently she 
scented a rabbit in a clump of fern or gorse 
after Vulp had passed it by; suddenly 
stopping, she would tell her lord of her 
discovery by signs he readily understood, 
and then, while he kept outside the tangle, 
would pounce on the coney in its retreat, 
or start it helter-skelter into his very jaws. 
But of all the tricks and the devices she 
taught him, the chief, undoubtedly, were 
those concerned with the capture of hens and 
ducks from a neighbouring farmstead. An 
adult fox, as a rule, does not pay frequent 
visits to a farmstead ; but Vulp, like his 
sire, was passionately fond of poultry, and 



232 THE FOX 

so, in after years, the vixen's instructions 
caused him to become the dread of every 
henwife in the district. Undoubtedly he 
would have been shot had he not been 
the prize most sought for by the Master 
of the Hounds, who cared little for the 
frequent demands made on his purse by 
the cottagers, so long as the fox that 
slaughtered the poultry gave abundant 
sport when running fast and straight 
before the pack. 

The months drifted by, and signs of 
spring became more and more abundant 
in the valley. About the beginning of 
March, Vulp deserted the "earth" prepared 
by himself and the vixen for their prospective 
family, and took up his abode among the 
hazels and the hawthorns in a thick-set hedge 
bounding the woods. 

In preparing the "breeding earth," Vulp 
and the vixen observed the utmost care in 
order that its whereabouts should not be 
discovered. The chosen site was a shallow 
depression, scratched in the soil by a fickle- 
minded rabbit that had ultimately fixed on 
another spot for her abiding place. This 
depression was enlarged; a long tunnel 



A CRY OF THE NIGHT 

was excavated as far as the roots of an oak, 
and there broadened. Then another long 
tunnel was hollowed out towards the 
surface, where it opened in the middle of 
a briar-brake. The foxes worked systema- 
tically, digging away the soil with their 
fore-paws, loosening an occasional stubborn 
stone or root with their teeth, and thrust- 
ing the rubbish behind them with their 
powerful hind-legs. As it accumulated, 
they turned and pushed it towards the 
mouth of the den, where at last a fair-sized 
mound was formed. When the burrow 
had been opened into the thicket, the crafty 
creatures securely "stopped" the original 
entrance, so that, when the grass sprouted 
and the briar sprays lengthened in the 
woodlands, the "earth" would escape all 
notice, unless a prying visitor penetrated 
the thicket and discovered the second 
opening then, of course, the only one 
leading to the den. 

When summer came, and the under- 
growth renewed its foliage, and the grass 
and the corn grew so tall and thick that 
Vulp could roam unseen through the 
fields, he left his haunts amid the wood- 



234 THE FOX 

lands at the first peep of dawn, and as 
long as daylight lasted lay quiet in a snug 
retreat amid the gorse. There all was 
silent; no patter of summer rain from 
leaves far overhead, no rustle of summer 
wind through laden boughs, prevented 
him hearing the approach of a soft-footed 
enemy ; no harsh, mocking cry of jay 
or magpie, bent on betraying his where- 
abouts, gave him cause for uneasiness and 
fear. Of all wild creatures in the fields 
and woods, he detested most the meddle- 
some jay and magpie. If he but ventured 
by day to cross an open spot, one of these 
birds would surely detect and follow him, 
hopping from branch to branch, or swoop- 
ing with ungainly flight almost on his 
head, meanwhile hurling at him a thousand 
abuses. Unless he quickly regained his 
refuge in the gorse, the blackbirds and the 
thrushes would join in the tantalising 
mockery, till it seemed that the whole 
f countryside was aroused by the cry of 
" Fox ! fox ! " After such an adventure, 
it needed the quiet and solitude of night 
to restore his peace of mind; and even 
when he had escaped the din, and lay 



A CRY OF THE NIGHT 235 

in his couch among the bleached grass 
and withered leaves, his ears were 
continually strained in every direction to 
catch the least sound of dog or man. 
When in the winter he ran for life before 
the hounds, and tried by every artifice to 
baffle his pursuers, these "clap-cats" of 
the woods would jeer him on his way. 
Once, when he ventured into the river, 
and headed down-stream, thinking that the 
current would bear his scent below the 
point where he would land on the opposite 
bank, the magpie's clatter caused him 
the utmost fear that his ruse might not 
succeed. But luckily the hounds and the 
huntsman were far away. The birds, 
however, were not the only advertisers of 
his presence ; the squirrel, directly she 
caught sight of him, would hurry from her 
seat aloft in fir or beach, to the lowest 
bough, and thence though more wary of 
Vulp than of Brighteye, the water-vole 
fling at him the choicest assortment 
of names her varied vocabulary could 
supply. Still, for all this irritating 
abuse Vulp had only himself and his 
ancestry to blame. The fox loved as an 



236 THE FOX 

article of diet a plump young fledgling 
that had fallen from its nest, or a tasty 
squirrel, with flesh daintily flavoured by 
many a feast of nuts, or beech-mast, or 
eggs. It was but natural that his sins, 
and those of his forefathers, should be 
accounted to him for punishment, and 
that it should become the custom, in 
season and out of season, when he was 
known to be about, for all the woodland 
folk to hiss and scream, and expostulate 
and threaten, and to compel his return to 
hiding with the least possible delay. Thus 
it happened that he scarcely ventured, 
during the day, to attack even a young 
rabbit that frisked near his lair, lest, 
screaming to its dam for help, it should 
bring a very bedlam about his ears. 

While roaming abroad in the summer 
night, Vulp gradually became acquainted 
with all sorts of vermin- traps used by the 
keepers. Once, treading on a soft spot 
near a rabbit "creep," he suddenly felt a 
slight movement beneath his feet. Spring- 
ing back, he almost managed to clear the 
trap ; but the sharp steel teeth caught him 
by a single claw and for a moment held 



A CRY OF THE NIGHT 237 

him fast. He wrenched himself loose, 
and retired for a while to examine his 
damaged toe-nail. Then, reassured, he 
again approached the trap, so that he might 
store up in memory the circumstances of 
his near escape. He learned his lesson 
thoroughly, and never afterwards did the 
smell of iron, or the slightest taint of the 
trapper's hand, escape him. He even 
walked around molehills ; they reminded him 
too much of the soft soil about the trap. 
And, for the same reason, he avoided tread- 
ing on freshly excavated earth before the 
holes of a rabbit warren. 

The succeeding years of Vulp's eventful 
life were in many respects similar to the 
year that began with his courtship of the 
sleek young vixen in the white wilderness 
of the winter fields. His fear of men and 
hounds increased, while his cunning became 
greater with every passing day. He never 
slept on a straight trail, but cast about, 
returned on the line of his scent, and leaped 
aside, before retiring to sleep in his retreat 
amid the bracken. Often he heard the wild, 
ominous cry of the huntsman, " Eloa-in-hoick, 
hoick - hoick, cover - hoick ! " as the hounds 



238 THE FOX 

dashed into the furze; and the loud "Tally- 
ho!" as he himself, or, perchance, a less 
fortunate neighbour, broke into sight before 
the loud - tongued pack. And more than 
once, from a safe distance, he heard the awful 
" Whoop ! " that proclaimed the death of one 
of his kindred. 

As the years wore on, Vulp gradually 

wandered far from his old home. The 

countryside, for twenty or thirty miles around, 

was known as intimately to him as a little 

garden, nestling between sunny fruit-tree 

walls, is known to the cottager who makes 

it the object of his daily care. His ears 

> were torn by thorns and fighting; his 

\ russet coat was streaked with grey along 

\ the spine. At last, when age demanded ease 

\and comparative safety from the long, hard 

chase over hill and dale, he retired to a 

rocky fastness on the wild west coast, and 

there, far above the leaping waves and 

dashing spray, lived his free, lonely life. 

And there he died. 

It was a bright, hot day in July. Lying 
among the boulders on the shore, I watched 
through a field-glass the antics of some birds 
that wheeled and soared above the cliffs, 




; HE RETIRED TO A ROCKY FASTNESS ON THE WILD WEST COAST." 

[To /acef. 



A CRY OF THE NIGHT 239 

when, to my surprise, I saw Vulp crawl 
slowly along a shelf of rock above a deep, 
dark cavern. His movements, somehow, 
appeared unnatural. Instead of crouching, 
with legs bent under him and brush curled 
gracefully about his "pads," to bask, his 
eyelids half-closed, in the sun, he lay on his 
side. Guided by a companion, who, with 
waving hand, directed my course as I climbed, 
I gradually mounted the steep ascent, and 
peeped over the edge of the rock on which 
the fox lay. Despite my excessive caution, 
he was aware of my presence. Slowly and 
drowsily he lifted his head, uttered a feeble 
half-grunt, half-whine of alarm, and for 
a moment bared his teeth defiantly. I 
remained absolutely still. Then his head 
fell back, and with a tremor of pain he 
stretched a stiffened limb. I crawled across 
the ledge to a rugged path among the cliffs, 
and descended to the shore. Next day I 
found him on the rock again, lying in the 
same position, but dead, while far up in the 
blue the sea-birds circled and called, and 
far below, at the edge of the flowing tide, 
the crested billows leaped and sang. 

His " mask " hangs above my study door. 



240 THE FOX 

It has been placed there not as a thing 
of beauty. The hard, set pose devoid of 
grace, the bent, dried ears once ever on 
the alert, the glassy, artificial eyes in sockets 
once tenanted by living balls of fire that 
glowed in the darkness of the night all 
are unreal and expressionless. Yet the 
"mask" suggests a hundred pictures, and 
when I turn aside and forget for a moment 
the unreality of this poor image of death, I 
wander, led by fancy, among the moonlit 
woods, where the red mouse rustles past, and 
the mournful cry of the brown owl floats 
through the beeches' shadowed aisles. Then 
I hear a sudden wail, that echoes from hill- 
side to hillside, as the vixen calls to Vulp : 
"The night is white; man is asleep; I hunt 
alone 1 " And the fox, standing at the edge 
of the clearing, sends back his sharp, glad 
answer, " I come ! " 






THE BBOWN HARE. 



THE BROWN HARE. 

i. 

THE UPLAND CORNFIELD. 

IN midsummer, when the sun rises over the 
hillside opposite my home its first bright 
beams glance between the branches of a giant 
oak in the hedgerow of a cornfield above 
the wooded slope, and sparkle on my study 
window. And when at evening the valley 
is deeply shadowed, the light seems to linger 
in benediction on the same cornfield, where 
the great oak - tree, no longer silhouetted 
darkly against a golden dawn, shines faintly, 
with a radiance borrowed from the west, 
against the pearl-blue curtain of the waning 
day. Except during the early morning or 
at dusk, the cornfield does not stand out 
conspicuously in the landscape. The eye is 
attracted by the striking picture of the wood- 
land wall stretching across the slope from 



244 THE BROWN HARE 

the brink of the river, or by the lower 
prospect of peaceful meadows and orchards 
through which the murmuring stream wanders 
towards the village bridge ; but the peaceful 
uplands beyond rarely greet the vision. 
For many years I was wont to look from 
my window only at the woods and the 
meadows, and somehow I was accustomed 
to imagine that the line of my vision was 
bounded by the top of the wood. It was 
not till more than usual interest had been 
awakened in me concerning the wild life 
inhabiting the cornfield, that my eyes were 
daily turned in the direction of the uplands, 
where, every evening, the rooks disappear 
from sight on their way to the tall elms in 
a neighbouring valley. 

Except during harvest, the cornfield is 
seldom visited by the country folk. It lies 
away from the main road, and the nearest 
approach to it is by a grass -grown lane 
leading from some ruined cottages to a farm- 
stead in the middle of the estate. Many years 
ago, it was a wilderness of furze and briar, 
one of the thickest coverts on the country- 
side, affording safe sanctuary for fox and 
badger. But gradually it has been reclaimed, 






THE UPLAND CORNFIELD 245 

till now only a belt of undergrowth, scarcely 
twenty yards wide, stretches along the horizon 
between the upper hedgerow and the wheat. 

Here, one starry April night, in a snug 
"form" prepared by the mother hare, a 
leveret was born. The "form" was hardly 
more than a depression in the rank grass, 
to which, for some time past, the doe had 
been in the habit of resorting at dawn, that 
she might hide secure through the day, 
till the dusk brought with it renewed 
confidence, and tempted her away into the 
open meadows beyond the cornfield, where 
the young clover grew green and succulent. 
A thick gorse-bush, decked with a wealth 
of yellow bloom, grew by the side of the 
" form," and, all around, the matted grass and 
brambles made a labyrinth, pathless, save for 
the winding "run" by which the hare 
approached or left her home. 

Unlike the offspring of the rabbit born 
blind and naked in an underground nest 
lined with its parent's fur the leveret was 
covered with down, and her eyes were open, 
from the hour of birth. Nature had fitted 
her for an existence in the open air. At 
first she was suckled by day as well as by 



246 THE BROWN HARE 

night, but as she grew older she seldom felt 
the want of food till dark. While light 
remained, she squatted motionless by her 
mother's side in the "form," protected by 
the resemblance in colour between her coat 
and the surrounding herbage, where the 
browns and greys of last autumn might still 
be seen among the brambles, with here and 
there a weather-worn stone or the fresh castings 
from a field-vole's burrow. In the gloaming, 
she followed her mother through the " creeps " 
amid the furze-brake, and sometimes to the 
edge of the thicket as far as the gap, where 
she learned to nibble the tastiest leaves in 
the grass. But soon after nightfall, she was 
generally alone for some hours while the doe 
wandered in search of food. 

Before daybreak, the doe always returned 
to suckle her little one. Often in the quiet 
night, the leveret, feeling lonely or afraid, 
would call in a low, tremulous voice for 
help. If the doe was within hearing she 
immediately responded; but frequently the 
cry, "leek, leek," did not reach the roaming 
hare, and the leveret, crouching in the under- 
growth, had to wait till she heard her mother's 
welcome call. Soon the little home in the 



THE UPLAND CORNFIELD 247 

thicket was deserted, and the leveret 
accompanied her mother on her nightly 
journeys till the fields and the woods for 
miles around became familiar. 

About a month after her birth, the leveret, 
having grown so rapidly that she was able 
to take care of herself, parted from her 
mother, and, crossing the boundary hedge of 
the estate, took up her quarters on the 
opposite side of the valley. The doe and 
her leveret had lived happily in the corn- 
field and the meadows above the wood. The 
mother had attended with utmost solicitude 
to the wants of her offspring, allowing no 
intruder among her kindred to trespass on 
her own particular haunts, and careful to 
select for each day's hiding place some 
sequestered spot where a human footstep 
was seldom heard, and the noise of the farm- 
yard sounded faint and remote. 

The leveret had learned, partly through a 
wonderful instinct and partly through her 
mother's teaching, how to act when there 
was cause for alarm. Immediately on detect- 
ing the presence of an intruder, she lay as 
still as the stone beside the ant-heap near, 
trusting that she would not be distinguished 



248 THE BROWN HARE 

from her surroundings. But if flight was 
absolutely necessary, she sped away towards 
the nearest gap, and thence over pasture and 
cornfield, always up-hill if possible, out- 
distancing any probable pursuer by the 
marvellous power of her long hind-limbs. 

During the late summer and the early 
autumn, nothing occurred to endanger the 
leveret's life. The corn grew tall and slowly 
ripened. Amid its cool shadows the leveret 
dwelt in solitude. Her " creeps " were out 
of sight beneath the arching stalks. A 
gutter for winter drainage, dry and over- 
grown with grass, formed a tunnel in the 
hedge-bank between the corn and the root- 
crop field beyond ; and through this gutter 
the leveret, when at night she grew hungry, 
could steal into the dense tangle of thistles 
and nettles fringing the turnips, thence, 
between the ridges under the wide-spread- 
ing leaves, to the narrow pathway dividing 
the rape from the root- crop, and across the 
field to a furrow where sweet red carrots, 
topped with dew-sprinkled plumes, tempted 
her dainty appetite. 

When the calm night was illumined, but 
not too brightly, by the moon and stars, 



THE UPLAND CORNFIELD 249 

the leveret would venture far away from 
her retreat to visit a cottage garden where 
the young lettuces were crisp and tender. 
Her depredations among the carrots and 
lettuces were scarcely such as to deserve 
punishment. She ate only enough of the 
lettuces to make a slight difference in the 
number of seeding plants ultimately devoured 
by the cottager's pig, or thrown to the refuse- 
heap ; and from the great pile of carrots, to 
be gathered and stored in the peat-mound 
by the farmstead, the few she destroyed 
could never by any chance be missed. 
On all the countryside she was the most 
inoffensive creature the harmless gipsy of 
the animal world, having no fixed abode, 
her tent-roof being the dome of the sky. 

As autumn advanced, the reapers came to 
the corn. She heard them enter by the 
gate; and presently, along the broad path 
cut by the scythe around the field, the great 
machine clanked and whirred. All day the 
strange, disturbing noise continued, drawing 
gradually nearer the spot where the leveret 
lay. Through the spaces between the stalks 
she watched the whirling arms swinging over, 
and the horses plodding leisurely by the edge 



250 THE BROWN HARE 

of the standing wheat. At last, but almost 
too late, she leaped from her "form" as the 
cruel teeth cut through the stalks at her 
side ; and, taking the direction of her " creep," 
rushed off towards the nearest gap and 
disappeared over the brow of the hill. 

In the middle of the night she wandered 
back to the wheat-field. The scene before 
her eyes revealed a startling change. The 
corn stood in "stocks" on the stubble; no 
winding paths led here and there through a 
silent sanctuary, where countless waving, 
nodding plumes, bent and released by a 
gentle-flowing wind, had shimmered in the 
bright radiance of the harvest moon, when, 
coming home late at night from the marsh 
across the hill, she had stayed for a while 
on the mound by the gate, and tiptoe, with 
black-fringed ears moving restlessly, had 
listened to some ominous sound in the farm- 
yard. The prickly stubble felt strange to 
her feet, so, carefully picking her way by 
the ditch, she crossed to the nearest gate 
and ambled down the lane. But the change 
noticed in the wheat- field seemed to have 
passed over the whole countryside. It was 
more and more pronounced during the 



THE UPLAND CORNFIELD 251 

following week, till, in October, the late 
harvest had all been cleared. The habits of 
the hare altered with the season. Having 
at last grown accustomed to the varied con- 
ditions of her life, she sometimes frequented 
the old tracks over the upland, but rarely 
resorted to the " forms " in which she had 
lain amid the summer wheat. 

October brought her an experience which 
might have proved disastrous, but which, 
fortunately, resulted in nothing more than a 
passing fright. In the stalk of the rye occurs 
a knot, forming a slight bulge know r n to the 
peasantry as the " sweet joint." Rabbits and 
hares are extremely fond of this succulent 
morsel, and, in consequence, the rye-crop, if 
near a large warren, is in danger of being 
totally destroyed. Puss one night had wan- 
dered far to a field, where, some time before, 
she had discovered a patch of standing rye. 
The few remaining stalks were hard and unin- 
viting, but there were some delicious parsnips 
among the root-crops. At dawn she settled 
down to hide between the rows of swedes 
close by, and remained secreted for the day ; 
but towards evening a sportsman came in at 
the gate, and, with a low word of command 



252 THE BROWN HARE 

and a wave of the arm, "threw off" his brace 
of red setters to range the field. Working 
systematically to right and left, the dogs 
sought eagerly for game. Soon the hare 
was scented, and while Juno, with stiffened 
" stern " and uplifted paw, stood almost over 
her, Random, "backing" his companion, set 
towards the furrow where Puss, perfectly 
rigid, and with ears well over her shoulders, 
crouched low, prepared for instant flight. 
Step by step the sportsman, with gun in 
readiness, moved towards Juno, cautioning 
her against excitement; while Random, 
sinking on his haunches, awaited patiently 
the issue of events. Suddenly, convinced 
that in flight lay her surest chance of escape, 
the hare leaped from her "seat," and with 
the utmost speed, though from the ease 
of her motions appearing to run slowly, 
made her way towards the hedgerow. There 
was a quick rush behind her as she 
started from the furrow, and then a loud, 
rasping exclamation from the sportsman, but 
nothing more ; no shot was fired. She 
owed her life to several circumstances. The 
dogs were young, and in strict training ; 
their master, knowing the natural fondness 



THE UPLAND CORNFIELD 253 

of "first season" setters for "chasing fur," 
had purposely refrained from killing the hare, 
and had turned his attention to the behaviour 
of his dogs. Then, again, he cherished a 
certain fondness for Puss, believing her to 
be the most persecuted, as well as the most 
innocent and interesting, of Nature's wildlings 
in the wind-swept upland fields. 

Henceforward, but for one other incident, 
the life of the hare was singularly uneventful 
till the early spring. That incident occurred 
within a week of her escape from the setters, 
and once more her luck was due to the humanity 
of him who had found her among the turnips. 
The farm-lands frequented by the leveret were 
a favourite resort of many of her kind, and 
when moving about in the darkness of the night 
she often found signs of their presence near the 
gaps and gateways. The sportsman, knowing 
well that after harvest the poaching instincts 
of the peasantry and of the professional village 
"mouchers" would receive fresh stimulus, 
determined to forestall his enemies, and render 
futile some, at least, of their endeavours. So it 
came about that one night a keeper, assisted by 
several of the guests at the " big house " in the 
valley, and having previously made every 



254 THE BROWN HARE 

preparation for the event, placed a net near 
each gate and before each likely gap within a 
radius of hah a mile from the heart of the 
estate. 

Unless hard pressed, a hare seldom leaves a 
field except by certain well-known openings in 
the hedgerow. Unlike the rabbit, she will not 
readily leap over any obstacle beneath which 
she can crawl ; and whereas the " creep " of 
a rabbit through a gateway or a hedgerow is 
well-nigh invariably at right angles to the 
line of that gateway or hedgerow, the " creep " 
of a hare tends sideways and is sometimes 
slightly curved. To net hares successfully it is 
necessary to know their habits ; and the keeper, 
having served a lifelong apprenticeship in field- 
craft, was prepared for every emergency. His 
object at this time was not to kill the hares, 
but simply to educate them, to warn them 
thoroughly once for all against the wiles of 
their worst enemy, the poacher. 

As Puss was busily feeding in the dewy 
clover, she heard the quick, continuous gallop 
of a dog. This time, however, she had not 
to deal with Juno, the setter, but with a 
trained lurcher, borrowed for the occasion 
from a keeper who had captured the animal 



THE UPLAND CORNFIELD 255 

during a poaching affray. The leveret, 
peeping over the grass-tops, saw the dog 
coming rapidly on. He was over and past 
her in an instant. As he turned, she started 
off straight towards an opening where some 
sheep had partly broken down the hedge. 
The lurcher closed in, and drove her thither 
at tremendous speed. She strained every 
nerve, and, gaining the ditch, blundered 
blindly through the gap, and fell, helpless 
and inert, entangled completely within the 
treacherous folds of the unseen net. Her 
piteous cries, tremulous, wailing, heart- 
rending similar to the cries of a suffering 
infant were borne far and wide on the 
wind. The keeper soon reached the spot, and, 
placing his hand over her mouth to stop 
the cries, tenderly extricated the frightened 
creature from the treacherous meshes and 
allowed her to go free. For a few seconds, 
she lay in abject fright, panting and unable 
to move. Then, hearing the cries of another 
hare entangled in a bag-net some distance 
away, she bounded to her feet, and darted 
off somewhere, anywhere, so long as she 
might leave the awful peril behind. 
Bewildered, but with every instinct assisting 



256 THE BROWN HARE 

her in the desire for life, she ran along by 
the hedgerow, and, unexpectedly catching 
sight of a familiar gate, crouched and 
passed quickly through the "creep" beneath 
the lowest bar. But here, again, a net was 
spread ; again the hare fell screaming and 
struggling into the meshes ; and again the 
keeper released her. Exhausted by intense 
excitement and fear, she crawled into the 
" trash " in the ditch, and kept in hiding, 
not daring the risk of another capture. 
Luckily for Puss, the lurcher had already 
hunted the field in which she was now 
secreted, and so the timid creature remained 
undisturbed beneath the fern. When her 
wildly throbbing heart had been quieted by 
rest and solitude, she stole from her hiding 
place to nibble the clover at the side of the 
path. Towards dawn, she journeyed to a 
wide stretch of moorland on the opposite 
hills, and there made a new "form" on a 
rough bank that separated a reedy hollow 
from the undulating wilderness of heather 
and fern. 

The leveret's adventures were destined to 
effect a considerable change in her habits. 
She was being roughly taught that to pre- 



THE UPLAND CORNFIELD 257 

serve her life she must be ever cautious and 
vigilant. Though danger threatened her by 
day and by night, she lived beyond the usual 
period of a hare's existence, partly because 
her early education was thorough and severe. 
Thus taught, she would pause for an instant 
at every gap and gateway before she passed 
through, and, if she found a net in her path, 
would turn aside, creep along by the hedge, 
and seek an exit at another place. 

The perils to which she had been exposed 
created a feeling of intense restlessness, which 
harassed her throughout the winter months, 
and caused her to travel long distances, by the 
loneliest lanes and fields, to and from the 
moorland where now she had made her home. 
She remembered the scent of a human being 
since her experiences with the keeper, and, her 
powers of smell being wonderfully acute, was 
able to detect even the faintest signs which 
indicated that her dread enemy man had 
crossed her path. One night she smelt 
the touch of a hand on the grass-bents 
near her "form," and found also that the 
herbage had been moved aside. Though 
the scent was faint the intruder having 
visited the spot soon after the leveret had 



258 THE BROWN HARE 

set out in quest of food the cautious 
creature forsook her lair, and spent the day 
in a sheltered retreat beside a heap of dry 
and withered leaves near the outskirts of 
a copse on the slope overlooking the moor. 

Gradually she grew big and strong, becoming 
unusually fat as the autumn advanced, so that 
she would be able, if required, to withstand the 
rigour and the waste of a severe winter. Her 
coat was thick and beautifully soft, for pro- 
tection against cold and damp. But while 
she increased in weight, she remained in hard 
condition because of her long journeys and 
frequent change of quarters. 

It happened, however, that her first winter 
was helpful to the welfare of animal life in 
general. The heavy rains, it is true, greatly 
distressed the leveret. The nights were so 
dark, and the constant patter of the rain 
so interfered with even her highly trained 
powers of hearing, that, while the wet 
weather lasted, she seldom dared to leave 
the neighbourhood of her favourite resort, 
but crouched in the grass at the margin 
of the copse, and tried to obtain a meal 
as best she could from the sodden herbage. 

Though on certain occasions Puss might 



THE UPLAND CORNFIELD 259 

have been discovered in hiding on the 
marsh, yet there, whenever possible, she 
chose a dry spot for her "seat." She 
loved, best of all, the undulating hills far 
above the river-mists, which, chilled at 
nightfall by an occasional frost, descended 
on the fields like crystal dust, and almost 
choked her if she chanced to pass within 
these wreathing drifts that brought dis- 
comfort and disease to man and beast alike. 
But the want of exercise so affected 
her, that, when again the weather was fine 
and she ventured from her lab*, she found 
herself unable to cover the usual distance 
of her nightly rambles. As the first cold 
glimmer of the dawn appeared in the 
south-eastern sky, she started back, in 
alarm at her fatigue, to complete the 
remaining mile of her journey home. Her 
weakness soon became apparent. Then, 
finding herself powerless to proceed, she 
turned reluctantly aside, and crouched, 
with Nature's mimicry for her protection, 
on the brown ploughland where the winter 
wheat was thrusting up its first green 
sprouts above the soil. But after a few 
days she was well and strong again. She 



260 THE BROWN HARE 

suffered far less from the short, sharp 
frost that bound the countryside with its 
icy fetters, than from the rains. The frost 
scarcely interfered with her movements ; 
indeed, it made exercise more than ever 
necessary. Forced to seek diligently for 
her food, she found it in a deserted 
stubble ; there, when the sheep lay sleep- 
ing in the bright winter moonlight, she 
would squat beside them, nibbling the 
turnips scattered over the field as provender 
for the flock. 



THE BROWN HARE. 
ii. 

MARCH MADNESS. 

MARCH came in "like a lion." The wind 
whistled round the farmstead on the hill, and 
through the doorway of the great kitchen, 
and down the open chimney. It woke up 
the old, grey-haired farmer who dozed on 
the " skew " in the ingle-nook by the crackling 
wood-fire ; it almost made him feel young 
again with the vigour of the boisterous spring. 
It sang in the key-hole of the door between 
the passage and the best parlour; the mat 
at the threshold flapped with a sound as of 
pattering feet ; and the gaudy calendars on 
the wall flew up like banners streaming in 
the breeze. The old man turned, and eagerly 
watched the hailstones, as they dropped tinkling 
on the roofs of the outhouses, or, driven aslant 



262 THE BROWN HARE 

by the wind, crashed hissing against the 
ground, and, rebounding, rolled across the 
pebbled yard. The labourers came home to 
the mid-day meal, and, pausing at the door, 
shook the hail from their garments. 

" Lads," said the farmer, " I've been spared 
to hear the whisper of another spring." 

"God be thanked!" said the hind, "for 
seasonable weather at last. Every man to 
his trencher ! the broth is in the bowls." 

Out on the marsh the reeds beat in the 
wind. Every grass-fibre twisted and swung; 
the matted tussocks, drooping over stagnant 
pools near which the snipe, with ruffled 
feathers, probed the soil in search of food, 
were shaken and disentangled, so that the 
bleached blades of last year's growth fell 
apart, and exposed the fresh young sprouts 
rising from the bed of winter's death. Over 
the wide waste the March wind drove 
furiously, with blessing in the guise of 
chastisement, while, far above, the grey-blue 
clouds whirled fast across a steely sky, till 
the ashen moon gazed coldly on the waning 
day, as one by one the stars flashed 
overhead, the clouds rolled down into the 
pink and silver west, and the song of the 



MARCH MADNESS 263 

wind became only a murmur in the leafless 
willows by the brook. 

With the advent of March, a great change 
passed over the wild life of the uplands. 
The jack-hares threw aside their timidity, 
and wandered, reckless of danger, over the 
marsh, across the stubbles, and through the 
woods. Even in broad daylight, they frisked 
and quarrelled, in courtship and rivalry. 

The leveret was now full-grown, and 
Nature's mothering instincts were strong 
within her. One evening, as she louped 
along her accustomed trail towards the 
turnip-field, she discovered a suitor following 
in her wake. Half in misgiving, hah in 
wantonness, she turned aside and hid in the 
ditch. Presently she felt a soft touch on 
her neck : the jack-hare was pushing his way 
through the undergrowth. For a moment 
she stopped to admire him as the moonlight 
gleamed on a white star in the centre of 
his forehead. Then away she jumped, 
dodging round the bushes and hither and 
thither among the grassy tangles, while her 
admirer followed, frisking and leaping in 
sportive gaiety. Another jack-hare now 
came along the hedgerow. In utter mischief, 



264 THE BROWN HARE 

Puss called " leek, leek, leek," as if pretending 
to be in distress and in need of help. 
"Leek, leek," came the low response, as, 
quickening his pace, the second hare sprang 
into the fern. But his audacity was not to 
go unchallenged. The first suitor immediately 
showed himself, and, making a great pretence 
of reckless bravery, prepared to give the 
second a warm reception. The doe-leveret, 
apparently indifferent, but nevertheless keenly 
interested in the combat, crouched on a little 
knoll by the path, while the jack-hares, sitting 
on their haunches, boxed and scratched, and 
rolled over each other in a singularly harm- 
less conflict, neither suffering more than the 
loss of a few tufts of fur. The comedy 
might, however, have had a tragic ending. 
Presently one of the combatants the hare 
that had come late on the scene became 
slightly exhausted, and, ignominiously yielding 
to his rival's superior dexterity, ran back 
towards the distant hedge. Almost at once 
a fox crept out from the furze at the 
corner of the field, and trotted away on the 
scent of the fleeing hare, while Puss and 
her mate made off in the direction of a 
more secluded pasture. 



MARCH MADNESS 265 

A month passed a month of general 
hilarity and indiscriminate fighting among all 
the hares in the district and then, within 
a neat, dry "form," that Puss, with a 
mother's solicitude, had made in a carefully 
selected spot on a mound where the grass 
was tall and thick, her little leveret was 
"kittled." The doe-hare tended her offspring 
as carefully as she herself had been tended 
a year before. Her faithless lover had gone 
his own way. But Puss cared little for his 
desertion : she wished to live alone, under 
no monopoly as far as her affections were 
concerned, though for the time her leveret 
wholly engaged her mothering love. 

So strong was her strange new passion that 
she was ready, if needs be, to brave death 
in defence of her young. And, not long 
after the leveret's birth, the mother's courage 
was tested to the utmost. A peregrine falcon, 
from the wild, rocky coast to the west, 
came sailing on wide-reaching wings across 
the April sky. Puss was resting in a clump 
of brambles not far from her "form," and 
saw the big hawk flying swiftly above. Any 
movement on her part would have instantly 
attracted the attention of her foe, so she 



266 THE BROWN HARE 

squatted motionless, while her leveret also 
instinctively lay still in its "form." But 
the keen eyes of the falcon detected the 
young hare, and the bird descended like a 
stone on his helpless victim. Instantly, 
the doe rushed to the rescue, and, effectu- 
ally warding the attack, received the full 
force of the "stoop" on her shoulders. As 
the hawk rose into the air, the doe felt 
a sharp pain in one of her ears the 
big talons, closing in their grasp, had 
ripped it as with the edge of a knife. 
She screamed, then, grunting savagely, 
leaped hither and thither around the leveret, 
meanwhile urging it to escape into the 
adjacent thicket. The bird, aloft in the 
air, seemed perplexed, and eventually pre- 
pared to "stoop" again. In the nick of 
time, Puss vanished with her little one 
beneath an impenetrable tangle of friendly 
thorns, while the baffled peregrine proceeded 
on his way. 

For some weeks, the hare languished under 
the effects of the falcon's blow. When her 
leveret was old enough to find food for itself, 
she rested, forced by the wound to live 
quietly in hiding, till the scar healed and 



MARCH MADNESS 267 

life once more became enjoyable. But she 
always bore the marks of the talons, and so 
was spoken of by the country folk as "the 
slit- eared hare." 

The superstitious recalled the tales of a 
by-gone century, and half believed the hare 
to be a witch in disguise, for she seemed 
to bear a charmed life, and, though known 
everywhere in the parish, successfully eluded 
to the end all the devices that threatened her. 
No matter how artfully the wire noose was 
set above the level of the ground in her 
" run," she brushed it by and never blundered 
into the treacherous loop. A net failed even 
to alarm her : it might almost be imagined 
that she became an experienced judge of any 
such contrivance, and knew every individual 
poacher by the method with which his toils 
were spread across her path. 

Not having bred during the year in which 
she was born, Puss had thrived, and weighed 
about nine pounds in the late autumn of 
her second season. But according to popular 
opinion she was much heavier. Will, the 
cobbler, who was fond of coursing, stoutly 
maintained, to a group of interested listeners 
in the bar-parlour of the village inn, that she 



268 THE BROWN HARE 

seemed like a donkey when she escaped 
from his greyhound into the wood. 

Family cares again claimed the hare's 
attention in July; and, having taken to 
heart her experience with the peregrine, she 
left the uplands and made her home in the 
thickets of a river-island. At that time 
the river was low, and, on one side of the 
island, the bed of the stream had become a 
dry, pebbly hollow, save for a large pool fed 
by the back-water at the lower end, where 
the minnows played, and whither the big 
trout wandered from the rapids to feed during 
the hot summer nights. 

Late one afternoon, when long shadows 
lay across the mossy bank of the river beyond 
the tall beeches standing at the entrance to 
the island thickets, Puss was waiting for the 
dusk, and dozing meanwhile, but with wide- 
open eyes, beside her leveret. Since there 
was another little mouth besides her own 
requiring food, she generally felt hungry long 
before nightfall, and so, when the afterglow 
began to fade in the west, was wont to 
steal away to the clover above the woods 
that fringed the long, still pool up-stream. 

As the day wore on, the hare heard the 



MARCH MADNESS 269 

unmistakable tread of human feet approach- 
ing through the woods. The sounds became 
increasingly distinct; then a pebble rattled 
and splashed into the water as the intruder 
walked across the river-bed. He passed close 
to the "form," and, turning down-stream, 
was lost to sight amid the bushes. At 
intervals, the hare imagined that the faint, 
muffled sounds of footsteps came from the 
distance; but again the sounds drew near, 
ceasing, however, when the man was a few 
yards from the nest. 

I can complete the story. Since spring 
I had been studying the wild life of this 
lonely island below the rocky gorge extend- 
ing hither from the village bridge. The 
wood-wren, the willow- wren, and the garden- 
warbler had nested in the thickets, and every 
evening I had visited the place to pry on 
their doings, and to note how the flowers in 
glad succession blossomed and faded their 
presence in this lonely sanctuary known only 
to myself, and to the birds, bees, and butter- 
flies, and to the little shrews that rustled 
over the dry leaves beneath. But now the 
garden-warblers had left for the copse on 
the far side of the river, and the wood- 



270 THE BROWN HARE 

wrens and the willow- wrens had retreated to 
the inner recesses of the thickets, where, amid 
the luxuriant verdure of midsummer, their 
movements baffled my observation. 

On the July evening, as I lay in the matted 
grass at the edge of the copse by the pebbles, 
watching a whitethroat among the bushes 
opposite, my eye happened to rest for an 
instant on a patch of bare mud immediately 
before me. There, to my surprise, I dis- 
covered the footprints of the hare. The five 
toes of the fore-feet, and the four toes of 
the hind-feet, were as clearly outlined as if 
each impression had been taken in plaster. 
And yet, when I stood up to look at the 
spot, the marks seemed to have wholly dis- 
appeared. On nearer examination I found 
that the track of the hare was in the direction 
of the island. From their shape, and the 
distance between each, the footprints indicated 
that the movements of the hare had not 
been hurried. Similar footprints were visible 
in a straight line between the bank and the 
island. Only one conclusion seemed possible 
the hare had crossed to the island early that 
morning, after the heavy shower that had 
fallen just before dawn. It would have been 



MARCH MADNESS 271 

contrary to her habits had she crossed later ; 
and, had she passed the place at any time 
before, the rain would have washed away 
the marks in such an open spot, or, at 
any rate, would have blurred them beyond 
recognition. 

After placing a white stone by the foot- 
prints to indicate their whereabouts, I 
searched along the river-bed for signs that 
would show a track towards the bank ; but 
not a single mark could be found pointing 
in that direction. It was obvious that the 
hare had not left the island till, at any rate, 
some hours after the rain. Then, however, 
the sun would have been so high that Puss 
would have been loath to leave her lair. 
Faintly discernible beside a large pebble, one 
other footprint appeared, leading like the 
rest towards the island. The mark was old, 
and had been saved from obliteration by the 
sheltering stone; but it suggested that the 
hare had made her home not far away. 
Taught by experience, I decided not to 
penetrate the copse and risk disturbing its 
probable tenant. I approached it only so 
far as to examine another bare place in a 
line with the footprints on the mud, where, 



272 THE BROWN HARE 

to my delight, I found fresh footprints 
similar to those at the dried-up ford, together 
with other and much smaller marks 
undoubtedly made by a tiny leveret. 

I now recrossed the ford and went home. 
But before nightfall I returned, and, hiding 
behind the hedgerow on the bank, watched, 
unseen, the approach to the island. My 
patience was soon rewarded. Just as the 
dusk was deepening over the woodlands, 
" the slit-eared hare " left her " form " and 
stood in full view by the ford. There, 
having lazily stretched her long, supple limbs, 
she played awhile with her leveret, some- 
times pausing to nibble a few clover-leaves 
as if to direct the little one's attention 
towards its suitable food. Then she ambled 
leisurely across the river-bed, and, with 
graceful, swinging gait, passed through the 
meadow beyond while her offspring dis- 
appeared within the thickets of the island. 

The hot weather broke up in July, and 
henceforth, till late September, rain descended 
almost every day. The shower that had 
revealed the whereabouts of the hare was the 
first sign of the change. On the following 
night, a thunderstorm broke over the country- 



MARCH MADNESS 273 

side, washed down the soil from the pastures, 
and sent the river roaring in flood through 
the gorge. While on the far side of the 
island the main torrent raged past beneath 
the willows, the divided stream under the 
near bank formed salmon-pools and trout- 
reaches, where, before, the pebbles had been 
bare and dry. 

Anxious to know how the flood would 
interfere with the movements of the hare, 
I came back on the following evening to 
my hiding place by the hedgerow. In the 
dusk, Puss appeared at the margin of the 
copse, and moved down the bank to the 
edge of the stream. There she paused, 
apparently perplexed, and called to her 
leveret. Presently the young hare joined 
her mother at the water's edge, and both 
hopped along the brink, seeking a dry place 
by which they might reach the field on the 
slope. Finding none, they adjourned to the 
mossy bank where I had seen the leveret's 
footprints. Then the doe went down boldly 
to the stream, called to her companion, 
waded in, and swam across. Ascending into 
the field, she shook the water from her fur, 
and again called repeatedly. The young 



274 THE BROWN HARE 

one hesitated, and ran to and fro crying 
piteously, "leek leek." Suddenly, in the 
excitement, it missed its footfall and fell 
into the river. Bewildered, but hearing its 
mother's call, it swam down the pool 
through the still water below the little 
rapid, and landed on the opposite bank, 
where it joined its parent, and, follow- 
ing her example, shook the water from its 
downy limbs. Soon both disappeared within 
the wood; and, satisfied with my evening's 
sport, I turned homewards across the 
fields. 

During the rest of the summer, the hare 
frequented the rough pastures skirting the 
ploughlands, and visited the cornfields only 
when the weather was dry. Hares suffer 
little discomfort in rainy weather, if only 
the fine fur beneath the surface of the coat 
remains dry after a shower they can easily 
shake off any outside moisture. But they 
dislike entering damp places where the 
vegetation is tall and their fur may get 
matted and soaked by the raindrops collected 
on the herbage. In wet weather hares may 
often be found in cover, especially near thick 
furze-brakes on a well drained hillside, but 



MARCH MADNESS 275 

their presence in such a situation may imply 
that they sought shelter before the rain began 
to fall. 

In September, for the third time during 
the year, Puss was occupied with family 
affairs. Now, three tiny leverets were 
"kittled," and the nest occupied an almost 
bare place on the top of a ridge in the 
root-field where last season the succulent 
carrots grew. The hare had been greatly 
distressed by the unusually wet summer, 
and one of her leverets was in conse- 
quence a weakling; another leveret was 
killed by a prowling polecat while the 
mother wandered from the " form " ; and 
only the third grew up robust and 
strong. 

The approach of winter brought Puss many 
strange experiences, from some of which she 
barely emerged with her life. When the 
season was passed, it had become more 
than ever difficult to approach her; she 
would slip away to cover directly her keen 
senses detected the presence of a stranger 
in the field where she lay in her "form." 
As she grew older, her leverets sometimes 
numbered four or five, but as a rule she 



276 THE BROWN HARE 

gave birth to three only, her productiveness 
being probably dependent on the ease with 
which she obtained food. 

One day in February, just before bringing 
an early little family into the world, she 
almost met her death. A village poacher, 
ferreting on the hillside, chanced to see her, 
as she lay not far off in a patch of clover. 
Without waste of time, he proceeded to 
attempt the capture of the hare by a well- 
known trick. Thrusting a stake into the 
ground, he placed his hat on it, and strolled 
unconcernedly away. Then, as though he 
had changed his mind, he walked round the 
clump, in ever narrowing circles, gradually 
closing on his prey. Meanwhile, the hare, 
her attention wholly diverted by the impro- 
vised scarecrow, remained motionless, baffled 
by the artifice. Suddenly she felt the touch 
of the man's hand. The poacher had thrown 
himself down on the tuft, hoping to clutch 
the hare before she could move. But in 
endeavouring to look away from the spot, 
and, at the same time, measure the distance 
of his fall, he had miscalculated the hare's 
position. She sprang up, and with ears 
held low sped away towards the wood, 



MARCH MADNESS 277 

leaving the poacher wild with rage at the 
failure of his ruse, and vowing vengeance 
on the timid creature, whose life, at such 
a time, would hardly, even to him, have 
been worth an effort. 



THE BROWN HARE. 

in. 

THE CHASE. 

OF all the hounds employed in the chase of 
the hare, the basset promises to become the 
prime favourite among some true - hearted 
sportsmen who love sport for its own sake, 
and not from a desire to kill. He is a loose, 
lumbering little fellow resembling his relative, 
the dachshund low and long, with out-turned 
legs, sickle-shaped " flag," and features which, 
in repose, seem to suggest that he has borne 
the grief and the care of a hundred years, 
but which, when the huntsman comes to 
open the kennel doors, are radiant with 
delight. Mirthfulness and dignity seem to 
seek expression in every movement of the 
quaint, old - fashioned little hound, and in 
every line of his face. As for his music 
who would expect such a deep, bell- 

878 



THE CHASE 279 

like note from this queer midget among 
hunters, standing not much higher than the 
second button of the huntsman's legging? 
Withal, he is a merry, lively little fellow, 
with a good nose for the scent of a rabbit or 
a hare, and, when in fit condition, is able to 
follow, follow, follow, if needed, from earliest 
dawn till the coming of night. The chase 
being ended, he with his companions, Harle- 
quin and Columbine, and all the stragglers of 
the panting pack, will surround the tired hare, 
and will wait, bellowing lustily, but without 
molesting the quarry, till the Master appears 
and calls them to heel. 

If the ten to twenty sportsmen often to 
be found in a village would combine, each 
keeping a basset for the common Hunt, they 
might derive the utmost pleasure from follow- 
ing their pets afield, and incidentally would 
assist to prevent the extermination of an 
innocent wildling of our fields and wood- 
lands. For the sake of the sport shown by 
the basset-hounds, many of the farmers near 
the villages, who dearly love to hear the deep 
music of a pack in full cry, would protect 
Puss from those more cunning and powerful 
enemies of hers, who, lurcher in leash or gun 



280 THE BROWN HARE 

in hand, steal along the hedgerows at night- 
fall, so that, from a secret transaction there - 
after with some local game-dealer, they may 
get the wherewithal for a carouse in the 
kitchen of the " Blossom " or the " Bunch 
of Grapes." 

One morning in December, when the rime 
lay thick on the fields, and the unclouded 
sun, rising in the steel-blue sky, cast a 
radiance over the glittering countryside, our 
village basset-hounds found the " cold " scent 
of the hare in the woods above the church, 
where Puss had sheltered beside a prostrate 
pine-trunk before returning to her " form " at 
dawn. After endeavouring in vain for some 
time to discover the direction of her "run," 
they set off, "checking" occasionally, across 
the stubble, through the root-crop field, and 
down over the fallow to the bottom of the 
dingle. There, near a bubbling spring, 
Puss had hidden since daybreak. Hearing 
the far-off music, she slipped out of the field 
unobserved, till, reaching the uplands, she was 
seen to pass leisurely by in the direction of 
the furze-brake. 

Directly the bassets came to the spring, a 
chorus of deep sounds announced that the 



THE CHASE 281 

quarry had been tracked to her recent lair. 
All through the morning they continued their 
quest; they streamed in a long, irregular 
line up the hillside, their black and tan and 
white coats gaily conspicuous in the sunlight ; 
they trickled over the hedgerows, and dotted 
the furrows of the deserted ploughlands ; they 
moved in "open order" through the copse, 
and plodded along by the furze -brakes or 
through the undergrowth where the sharp- 
thorned brambles continually annoyed and 
impeded them ; they worked as if time needed 
not to be taken into the slightest account. 
The least scent met with loud and 
hearty recognition; fancy ran riot with the 
excited puppies; the atmosphere at every 
turn seemed to betray the near presence of 
Puss. But every condition of weather and 
fortune was against good sport. The ground 
was steadily thawing in the warmth of the 
sun, and the rising vapour, trembling in the 
light, seemed to carry the scent too high for 
accurate hunting. 

So the hare ambled along her line of flight 
a wide, horse-shoe curve that began and 
ended in the fallow on the slope. When 
a considerable distance had been placed 



282 THE BROWN HARE 

between herself and her pursuers, she ceased 
to hurry. Indeed, the music of horn and 
hounds seemed almost to fascinate the 
creature, and frequently she lingered for a 
few moments to listen intently to the clamour 
of her enemies. A farm labourer, who tried 
to " grab " her as she passed down the grassy 
lane, said that she " was coming along as cool 
as a cucumber. Sometimes she'd sit down to 
tickle her neck with her hind-feet. Then 
she'd give a big jump, casual-like, to one side 
of the path, and sit down again, with her ears 
twitching and turning as if she thought there 
was mischief in every flutter of a leaf or 
creak of a bough." 

Frightened almost out of her wits by the 
labourer's sudden and well-nigh successful 
endeavour to secure her, Puss rushed back 
along the lane, crossed a gap, and sped over 
the uplands once more, leaving her usual 
horseshoe line of flight, and taking a much 
greater curve towards the fallow. But 
gradually her pace slackened as she dis- 
covered she was no longer followed ; and 
then, not far from her lair by the spring, she 
paused to rest. The music of the hounds 
was faint, distant, and intermittent ; and at 



THE CHASE 283 

last it entirely ceased. Somewhat exhausted 
towards the end of her journey, she had 
withheld her scent, and had thus completely 
outwitted her slow but patient pursuers. 

Once, and once only, towards the end of 
January, she found herself chased by her 
more formidable foes, the beagles. At first 
she eluded them by stealing off without 
yielding the faintest scent; but she was 
" viewed " in crossing the meadow, and the 
hounds, making a long, wide cast, "picked 
up " as soon as a slight, increasing taint in 
the air was perceptible, then followed for 
several miles. But, ultimately, they were 
baffled, and Puss made good her escape. 

It had happened that, after creeping 
through a gutter in the hedgerow of a stubble, 
she had come in sight of a flock of sheep 
grazing on the opposite side. Like Vulp, the 
fox, she knew how to hinder the chase by 
mingling her scent with that of other animals ; 
so without hesitation she passed through the 
flock, and made straight for an open gateway 
in the far corner of the field. When the 
beagles, in hot pursuit, appeared on the 
scene, the startled sheep, rushing away, took 
the line of the hunted hare through the 



284 THE BROWN HARE 

opening, and thus "fouled" the scent so 
thoroughly that the hunt came to a " check." 
After the hare had left the fields frequented 
by the sheep, she took the direction of a 
path leading over a wide bog towards the 
woodland. On the damp ground the scent 
lay so badly, that when, some time later, the 
beagles crossed her line, they were unable, 
even after repeated " casts," to follow her 
track. Presently the impatient huntsman, 
with hounds at heel, moved away to the 
nearest road and relinquished his quest. 

Luckily for Puss, the harriers never visited 
her neighbourhood, and only on special 
occasions was coursing permitted on the 
estate. If at night a lurcher entered the 
field in which she grazed amid the clover, 
her knowledge of the poacher's artifices 
immediately prompted her to slip over the 
hedge and past the treacherous nets. Her 
life, beset with hidden dangers, was pre- 
served by a chain of wonderfully favourable 
circumstances, that befriended her even when 
the utmost caution and vigilance had been 
unavailing. 

Once, so mild was the winter that the 
hare's first family for the year came into the 



THE CHASE 285 

world in January. A few weeks afterwards, 
when she was about to separate from her 
leverets, an incident occurred that might have 
been attended with fatal results. A poacher, 
prowling along the far side of the hedgerow, 
and occasionally stopping to peep through 
the bushes for partridges "jugging" in the 
grass-field, caught sight of the leverets 
nibbling the clover near a small blackthorn. 
In the feeble afterglow, he was uncertain 
that the objects before him were worth the 
risk of a shot, so he crawled towards a gap to 
obtain a nearer view. To his astonishment, 
when he reached the gap nothing was visible 
by the thorn-bush ; the leverets had vanished 
in the ferns. But the poacher was artful and 
experienced. He hid in the undergrowth of 
the ditch, where, after waiting awhile, and 
seeing no sign of movement in the grass, he 
gave utterance to a shrill cry like that of a 
young hare in distress. Five minutes passed, 
and the cry was repeated tremulous, 
prolonged, eloquent of helpless suffering. 
At intervals, the same artifice was employed, 
but apparently without success. 

The poacher was about to crawl from his 
hiding place, when suddenly, close beside the 



286 THE BROWN HARE 

hedgerow, the head of the doe hare came 
into sight. Startled, in spite of expectation, 
by her sudden appearance, and excited as he 
recognised the "slit-eared hare," the poacher 
involuntarily moved to grasp his gun. He 
looked down for an instant to make sure 
that his gun was in readiness, but when he 
lifted his eyes again the hare was gone. Do 
what he might, not another glimpse of his 
quarry was to be obtained, and so, half 
believing that he had seen a witch or that 
he had dreamed, he stole away into the 
darkening night. 

Deceived by the poacher's cries, the doe- 
hare had hurried home, but had found her 
young alive and well. Then, scenting danger, 
she had vanished with her offspring into the 
nearest bramble-clump, and in the deep shadow 
of the hedgerow had led them safely away. 

During the last year of her life, she fre- 
quented the hawthorn hedges and the furze 
brakes of an estate diligently "preserved" 
by a lover of Nature as a sanctuary whither 
the furred and feathered denizens of the 
countryside might resort without fear of 
hounds or poachers, and where a gun was 
never fired except at vermin. The winter 



THE CHASE 287 

was severe ; on two occasions snow lay thick 
on the ground for more than a week. But 
Puss was fairly comfortable; she had her 
"form" on a dry, rough heap of stones, 
gathered from the fields and thrown into a 
disused quarry near the woods ; and for 
four or five nights she remained at home, 
the snow covering her completely but for a 
breathing hole in the white walls of her 
tiny hut. At last, impatient of confinement, 
and desperately hungry, she broke through 
the snow-drift, and sought the nearest root- 
crop field, where, after scratching the snow 
from a turnip, she was able to make a hearty 
meal. While returning slowly towards the 
wood through the soft, yielding snow that 
rendered her journey difficult and tiresome, 
she unexpectedly discovered, near the hedge 
beyond the furrows, a tasty leaf or two of 
the rest-harrow, together with a few yellow 
sprouts of young grass where a stone had 
been kicked aside by a passing sheep 
these were the tit-bits of her provender. 

In the early morning, the hare, too cautious 
to re-enter the " form," which, now that its 
surroundings were torn asunder, had become 
a conspicuous rent in the white mantle of 



288 THE BROWN HARE 

the old quarry, crept over the hedge into 
the woods, and, moving leisurely beneath 
the snow-laden undergrowth, where her deep 
footprints could not easily be tracked, selected 
a suitable spot for a new " form " in the 
friendly shelter of a fallen pine. 

But even in this woodland sanctuary she 
encountered an enemy. A cat from the 
farm on the hill, having acquired poaching 
habits, had strayed, and taken up her abode 
among the boulders at the foot of a wooded 
precipice adjoining the lower pastures of the 
estate. In a gallery between these boulders, 
she had made her nest of withered grass and 
oak-leaves, where, at the time of which I 
write, she was occupied with a family of 
kittens. The wants of the kittens taxed 
the mother's utmost powers ; she prowled 
far and wide in search of food, and was as 
much a creature of the night as were the 
fox and the polecat that also lived among 
the rocks. 

There is no greater enemy of game than 
the renegade cat. She is far more destructive 
than a fox. Many animals that can evade 
Reynard are helpless in the grip of a foe 
armed so completely as to seem all fangs 






THE CHASE 289 

and talons. The special method of slaughter 
adopted by the cat towards a victim of her 
own size is cruel and repulsive in the extreme. 
Grasping it with her fore-claws and holding 
it with her teeth, she lies on her back and 
uses her hind-claws with such effect that 
often her prey is lacerated to death. 

Roaming at night in the shadow, the cat 
came unexpectedly on the scent of the hare 
and traced it to the " form," but the desired 
victim was not at home. The cat returned 
to the spot before dawn, and lurked in hiding 
beneath the hawthorns. The hare, however, 
was not to be easily trapped. Coming into 
the wood against the wind, she fortunately 
detected the enemy's presence quite as readily 
as the cat had discovered her "form" amid 
the grass-bents. With ears set close, and 
limbs and tail twitching with excitement, 
the cat crouched ready for the deadly leap. 
But the hare suddenly sprang aside from her 
path, climbed the hedgerow, and disappeared, 
outpacing with ease the cat's half-hearted 
attempt at pursuit. 

At length the "slit-eared hare" met her 
death, in a manner befitting the wild, free 
existence she had led among the hills and 
T 



290 THE BROWN HARE 

the valleys. Her dead body was brought 
me by the head keeper of the woodland 
estate, and, as it rested on my study table, 
I gazed at it almost in wonder. The russet 
coat, turning grey with age, was eloquent of 
the brown earth, the sere leaf, and the 
colourless calm of twilight, and told me of 
the creature's times and seasons. The big, 
dark eyes, their marvellous beauty and ex- 
pressiveness dimmed by death, and the long, 
sensitive ears, one ripped by the falcon's 
talon and both slightly bent at the tip 
with age, were suggestive of persecution, 
and of a haunting fear banished only with 
the coming of night, when, perchance, the 
early autumn moon rose over the corn, and 
the hare played with her leverets among the 
shadowy " creeps." My hands rested on the 
fine, white down that took the place of 
the russet coat where Nature's mimicry was 
needed not; it was pure and stainless, like 
the lonely wildling's inoffensive life. 

A terrible thunderstorm had raged over the 
countryside all the evening and throughout 
the night. Ben, the carter, coming home to 
the farm with his team, had dropped at the 
very threshold of the stable, blasted in a 







"WHEN* THE EARLY AUTUMN MOON ROSE OVEK THE CORN.'' 

[To face p. 



THE CHASE 291 

lurid furnace of sudden fire. A labourer's 
cottage had been wrecked ; many a stately 
forest tree had been rent or blighted; the 
withering havoc had spread far and wide 
over the hills. On the following morning, 
the keeper, going his rounds, had found the 
dead hare beside a riven oak. 



THE BADGER. 



THE BADGER, 
i. 

A WOODLAND SOLITUDE. 

EVEN in our own densely peopled land, 
there are out of the way districts in which 
human footsteps are seldom heard and 
many rare wild creatures flourish un- 
molested. Near such parts the naturalist 
delights to dwell, in touch, on one side, 
with subjects that deserve his patient study, 
and, on the other side, with kindly country 
folk, who, perhaps, supply him with food, 
and are the means of communication 
between him and the strenuous world. In 
this western county, however, the naturalist, 
in order to gain expert knowledge, does not 
need to live on the fringe of civilisation. 
Here, among the scattered upland farms 
around the old village, creatures that would 
elsewhere be in daily danger because of 



296 THE BADGER 

their supposed attacks on game are almost 
entirely free from persecution. In several of 
our woods, polecats seem to be more numerous 
than stoats, and badgers are known, but 
only to the persistent observer, to be more 
common than foxes; and both polecats 
and badgers are seldom disturbed, though 
the farmers may regularly pass their burrows. 

The immunity of such animals from 
harm is, to some extent, the result of the 
farmer's lack of interest in their doings. 
He strongly resents the presence of too 
many rabbits on his land, "scratching" 
the soil, spoiling the hedges, and devour- 
ing the young crops, and, therefore, cherishes 
no grudge against their enemies so long as 
his stock is unmolested. He is no ardent 
protector of game, and, if a clutch of 
eggs disappears from the pheasant's nest he 
has chanced to discover in the woods, thinks 
little about the incident, and concludes that 
Ned the blacksmith's broody hen has probably 
been requisitioned as a foster-mother, and that 
some day he will know more of the true state 
of affairs when he visits the smithy at the 
cross-roads. 

Another circumstance to which the 



A WOODLAND SOLITUDE 297 

badger hereabouts is indebted for security 
is that terriers are not the favourite dogs 
of the countryside. When shooting, the 
sportsman prefers spaniels, particularly 
certain " strains " of black and brown 
cockers untiring little workers with a 
keen, true power of scent which for many 
years have been common in the neighbour- 
hood ; and the farmer's sheep-dog is unfitted 
for any sport except rabbiting. Here and 
there, among the poaching fraternity, may 
be found a mongrel fondly imagined by 
its owner to be a terrier a good rabbit 
"marker," and wonderfully quick hi killing 
rats, but no more suited than the sportman's 
spaniel for "lying up" with a badger. 

Undoubtedly, however, the security of 
some of our most interesting wild animals, 
and especially of the badger, is to be 
accounted for by their extreme shyness. 
They venture abroad only when the 
shadows of night lie over the woods. For 
countless years, dogs and men have been 
their greatest foes, and their fear of them 
is found to be almost as strong in remote 
districts as where, near towns, their 
existence is continually threatened. Wild 



298 THE BADGER 

life in our quiet valley will be deemed of 
unusual interest when I say that less than 
six hours before writing these lines I 
visited a badger's "set" a deep under- 
ground hollow with several main passages 
and upper galleries, where, as I have 
good reason to believe, a fox also dwells 
an otter's "holt" beneath gnarled alder- 
roots fringing the river-bank, and another 
fox's " earth," all on the outskirts of a 
wooded belt not more than a mile from 
my home, and all showing signs of having 
long been inhabited. 

Unless systematically persecuted, the fox, 
the otter, and the badger cling to their 
respective haunts with such tenacity that, 
season after season, they prowl along the 
same familiar paths through the woods or 
by the river, and rear their young in the 
same retreats. This is the case especially 
with the badger; from the traditions of the 
countryside, as well as from the careful 
observation of sporting landowners, it may 
be learned that for generations certain 
inaccessible "sets" have seldom, if ever, 
been uninhabited. Always at nightfall the 
"little man in grey" has climbed the 



A WOODLAND SOLITUDE 299 

slanting passage from his cave-like chamber, 
ten or if among the boulders of some 
ancient cairn even from twenty to thirty 
feet below the level of the soil, and sniffed 
the cool evening air, and listened intently 
for the slightest sound of danger, before 
departing on his well worn trail to hunt 
and forage in the silent upland pastures. And 
with the first glimpse of light, when the 
hare stole past towards her "form," and the 
fox, a shadowy figure drifting through the 
haze of early dawn, returned to the dense 
darkness of the lonely wood, he has sought 
his daytime snuggery of leaves and grass 
industriously gathered from the littered 
glades. 

In a deep burrow at the foot of a hill, 
about a quarter of a mile from a farmstead 
built on a declivity at a bend of the broad 
river, Brock, the badger, was born, one 
morning about the middle of spring. Three 
other sucklings, like himself blind and wholly 
dependent on their parents' care, shared 
his couch of hay and leaves. Day by day, 
the mother badger, devoted to their welfare, 
fed and tended her unusually numerous off- 
spring, lying beside them on the comfortable 



300 THE BADGER 

litter, while the sire, occupying a snug corner 
of the ample bed, dozed the lazy hours 
away; and evening after evening, when 
twilight deepened into darkness as night 
descended on the woods, she arose, shook 
a few seed-husks from her coat, and with 
her mate adjourned to an upper gallery 
leading to the main opening of the "set," 
whence, assured that no danger lurked in 
the neighbourhood of their home, both stole 
out to forage in the clearings and among the 
thickets on the brow of the hill. 

Just as with Lutra, the little otter-cub 
in the " holt " above the river's brim, the 
first weeks of babyhood passed uneventfully, 
so with Brock, the badger, nothing of interest 
occurred till his eyes gradually opened, and 
he could enjoy with careless freedom the 
real beginning of his woodland life. Even 
thus early, what may be called the nocturnal 
instinct was strong within him. He was 
alert and playful chiefly at night, when, deep 
in the underground hollow, nothing could 
be heard of the outer world but the 
indistinct, monotonous wail of the wind in 
the upper passages of the "set." Droll, 
indeed, were the revels of the young badgers 



A WOODLAND SOLITUDE 301 

when the parents were hunting far away. 
The little creatures, awakened from a heavy 
sleep that had followed the last fond atten- 
tions of their mother, were loath to frolic 
at once with each other in the lonely, 
silent chamber. In their parents' absence 
they felt unsafe ; that mysterious whisper 
of admonition, unheard but felt, which is 
the voice of the all-pervading spirit of the 
woods forever warning the kindred of the 
wild, bade them be quiet till the dawn 
should bring the mother badger to the lair 
once more. So, huddled close, they were 
for a time satisfied with a strangely 
deliberate game of " King of the Castle," 
the castle being an imaginary place in the 
middle of their bed. Towards that spot 
each player pushed quietly, but vigorously, 
one or other gaining a slight advantage now 
and again by grunting an unexpected 
threat into the ear of a near companion, 
or by bestowing an unexpected nip on the 
flank of the cub that held for the moment 
the coveted position of king. Withal 
this was a sober pastime, unless Brock, the 
strongest and most determined member of 
the family, chanced to provoke his play- 



302 THE BADGER 

mates beyond endurance, and caused a 
general, reckless scramble, in which tiny 
white teeth were bared and tempers were 
uncontrolled. 

As the night wore on, it almost invari- 
ably happened, however, that the " Castle " 
game gave place to a livelier diversion akin 
to "Puss in the Corner," when, on feeble, 
unsteady legs, the " earth-pigs " romped in 
pursuit of each other, or squatted, grunting 
with excitement, in different spots near the 
wall of their nursery. But, tired at last, 
they ceased their gambols an hour or so 
before dawn, lay together in a warm, panting 
heap, and slept, till, on the return of their 
mother to the "set," they were gathered to 
the soft comfort of her folded limbs, and 
fed and fondled to their hearts' content. 

Though Brock grew as rapidly as any 
young badger might be expected to grow, a 
comparatively long time passed by before he 
and the other small members of the family 
ventured out of doors. Repeatedly they were 
warned, in a language which soon they 
perfectly understood, that, except under the 
care of their parents, a visit to the outer 
world would end disastrously; so, while the 



A WOODLAND SOLITUDE 303 

old ones were abroad, the little creatures 
dared not move beyond the opening to the 
dark passage between the chamber and the 
gallery above. Sometimes, following their 
dam when she climbed the steep passage to 
her favourite lookout corner within a mouth 
of the burrow, they caught a glimpse of 
the sky, and of the trees and the bracken 
around their home ; but a journey along the 
gallery was never made before the twilight 
deepened. 

The purpose of such close confinement was, 
that the young badgers should be taught, 
thoroughly and without risk, the first prin- 
ciples of wood- craft, and thus be enabled to 
hold their own in that struggle for existence, 
the stress of which is known even to the 
strong. Obedience, ever of vital importance 
in the training of the forest folk, was imparti- 
ally exacted by the mother from her offspring. 
It was also taught by a system of immediate 
reward. The old badger invariably uttered a 
low but not unmusical greeting when she 
returned to her family at dawn. Almost 
before their eyes were open, the sucklings 
learned to connect this sound with food and 
comfort, and at once turned to the spot from 



304 THE BADGER 

which it proceeded. Later, when the same 
note was used as a call, they recognised that 
its meaning was varied ; in turn it became, 
with subtle differences of inflection, an 
entreaty, a command, and a warning that 
it would be folly to ignore ; but, whatever it 
might indicate, they instinctively remembered 
its first happy associations, and hurried to their 
mother's side. Hardly different from the call, 
when it conveyed the idea of warning, was 
a note of definite dissent, directing the 
youngsters to cease from squabbling, and to 
become less noisy in their rough-and-tumble 
play. After they had learned each minute 
difference in the call notes, their progress in 
education was largely determined by that love 
of mimicry which always prompts the young 
to imitate the old ; and in time they acquired 
the tastes, the passions, and the experiences 
of their watchful teachers. 

While prevented from wandering abroad, 
they nevertheless were not entirely ignorant 
of what was happening in the woods. They 
were not quickly weaned ; it was necessary, 
before the dam denied them Nature's first 
nourishment, that they should have ready 
access to the brook that trickled down the 



A WOODLAND SOLITUDE 305 

hillside hollow not far from the "set." But 
meanwhile, young rabbits, dug from the 
breeding " stops " of the does, were frequently 
brought to them, and the badgers were 
encouraged to gratify a love for solid food 
which nightly became stronger. 

In this part of the education of their young, 
the parent badgers adopted methods similar to 
those of the fox and other carnivorous animals. 
When first the mother badger brought a rabbit 
home, she placed it close beside her cubs, so 
that they could not fail to be attracted by its 
scent. For a moment, aware of something 
new and strange, they showed signs of timidity, 
and crouched together in the middle of the 
nest; but the presence of their mother reassured 
them, and they sniffed at the warm body with 
increasing delight. The dam seemed to know 
each trifling thought passing through their 
minds ; and, observing their eager interest, she 
dragged the rabbit into a corner of the bed, 
making great show of savagery, as if guard- 
ing it from their attacks. Time after time, 
she alternately surrendered and withdrew her 
victim, till the tempers of the little animals, 
irritated beyond control by her tantalising 
methods, blazed out in a free fight among 



306 THE BADGER 

themselves for possession of the prize. The 
mother now retired to a corner of the " set," 
and listened attentively to all that happened, 
till they had finished their quarrel, and Brock, 
the middle figure in a group of tired young- 
sters, lay fast asleep with his head on the 
rabbit's neck. Then she turned, climbed 
quietly to the upper galleries, and, stealing 
out among the shadows of the wood, came 
again to the breeding "stop," where she 
unearthed and devoured a young rabbit that 
had been suffocated in the loose soil 
thrown up during her former visit. After 
quenching her thirst at the brook in the 
hollow, she journeyed to the upland fields, 
crossed the scent of her mate in the gorse, 
and then " cast " back across the hillside, 
making a leisurely examination of each 
woodland sign, to satisfy herself that no 
danger lurked in the neighbourhood of her 
home. 

For the badger, as for the tiny field-vole 
in the rough pastures of the Cerdyn 
valley, the various scents and sounds were 
full of meaning, and constituted a record 
of the night such as only the woodland 
folk have learned fully to understand. The 



A WOODLAND SOLITUDE 307 

smell of the fox lay strong on a path 
between the oaks; with it was mingled the 
scent of a bird ; and a white feather, caught 
by a puff of wind, fluttered in the grass : 
young Reynard, boldest of an early family 
in the " earth," had stolen a fowl from a 
neighbouring farmyard near the river, and 
had carried it not slung over his shoulders, 
as fanciful writers declare, but with its 
tail almost touching the soil into the 
thicket beyond the wood. Rabbits had 
wandered in the undergrowth ; and, near a 
large warren, the stale, peculiar odour of a 
stoat that had evidently prowled at dusk 
lingered on the dewy soil. The signs of 
blackbirds and pigeons among the loose 
leaf-mould were also faint; as soon as 
night had fallen, the birds had flown to 
roost in the branches overhead. The short, 
coughing bark of an old fox came from the 
edge of the wood ; and then for some time 
all was quiet, till the musical cry of an 
otter sounded low and clear from the river 
beneath the steep. 

These familiar voices of the wilderness 
caused the badger no anxiety; they told 
her of freedom from danger ; they were to 



308 THE BADGER 

her assuring signals from the watchers of 
the night. But the howl of a dog in a 
distant farmstead, and the bleat of a restless 
sheep in the pasture on the far side of the 
hill, told her a different stoiy ; they 
reminded her, as the smell of the fowl had 
done, that man, arch-enemy of the wood- 
land people, might in any capricious 
moment threaten her existence, seeking to 
destroy her even while by day she 
slumbered in her chamber under the roots 
of the forest trees. 

She crossed the gap, where the river-path 
joined the down-stream boundary of the 
wood, then, with awkward, shambling stride, 
climbed the steep pasture, and for a few 
moments paused to watch and listen in the 
deep shadows of the hedge on the brow of 
the slope. A rabbit, that had lain out all 
night in her "seat" beneath the briars, 
rushed quickly from the undergrowth, and 
fled for safety to a burrow in the middle 
of the field. A small, dim form appeared 
for a moment by a wattled opening between 
the pasture and the cornfield above, then, 
with a rustle of dry leaves, vanished on the 
further side a polecat was returning to her 



A WOODLAND SOLITUDE 309 

home in a pile of stones that occupied a 
hollow on the edge of the wood. 

Day was slowly breaking. A cool wind, 
blowing straight from the direction of a 
homestead indistinctly outlined against the 
dawn, stirred the leaves in the ditch, and 
brought to the badger's nostrils the pungent 
scent of burning wood the milkmaid was 
already at work preparing a frugal breakfast 
in the kitchen of a lonely farm. Fearing 
that with the day the birds would mock 
her as she passed, and thus reveal her 
whereabouts to some inquisitive foe, the 
badger sought the loneliest pathway through 
the wood, and returned, silently but hastily, 
to her home. 



THE BADGER, 
ii. 

HOME DISCIPLINE. 

DURING the mother badger's absence from 
home, an unlooked-for event almost the 
exact repetition of an incident in the train- 
ing of Vulp, the young fox had happened 
in the education of her cubs. Her mate, 
hunting in an upland fallow, had been 
surprised by a poacher, and, long before day- 
break, had discreetly returned to the "set." 
The success he had met with had enabled him 
to feed to repletion, so he was not tempted 
by the dead rabbit carried home by the 
mother and left in the chamber. Fearing to 
leave his hiding place, he wisely determined 
to devote the time at his disposal, before 
settling to sleep, to his children's instruction. 
With a grunt like that of the mother 
when she greeted her offspring, he at once 



HOME DISCIPLINE 311 

aroused the slumbering youngsters, and 
then, heedless of their attentions, as, mis- 
taking him for the dam, they pressed at 
his side, he laid hold of the rabbit and 
dragged it into a far corner. Full of 
curiosity, the cubs followed, but with well 
assumed anger he drove them away. As if 
in keen anticipation of a feast, he tore the 
dead animal into small pieces which he 
placed together on the floor of the chamber. 
This task complete, he retired to his 
accustomed resting place, and listened while 
the cubs, overcoming their timidity, ventured 
nearer and nearer to the dismembered 
rabbit, till, suddenly smelling the fresh 
blood, they gave way to inborn passion, 
and buried their teeth in the lifeless flesh. 
An inevitable quarrel ensued ; Brock and 
his companions could not agree on the 
choice of tit-bits, and a medley of discordant 
grunts and squeals seemed to fill the chamber, 
though now and again it partly subsided, 
as two or three of the cubs, having fixed 
on the same portion of the rabbit, tugged 
and strained for its possession so intent on 
the struggle that they dared not waste their 
breath in useless wrangling. 



312 THE BADGER 

The old badger, satisfied that his progeny 
gave excellent promise of pluck and strength, 
was almost dropping off contentedly to sleep, 
when one of the excited combatants, retreat- 
ing from the fray, backed unceremoniously, 
and awoke him with an accidental blow on 
the ribs. This was more than the crusty 
sire could endure, and he administered such 
prompt and indiscriminate chastisement to 
the youngsters, that, in a subdued frame of 
mind, they forgot their differences, forgot 
also the toothsome remnants of their feast, 
and nestled together in bed, desiring much 
that their patient dam would come to 
console them for the ill-usage just received. 

On returning to the "set," the mother 
badger stayed for a few minutes at the 
edge of the mound before the main entrance, 
and, rearing herself on her hind-legs, rubbed 
her cheek against a tree-trunk, and sniffed the 
air for the scent of a lurking enemy. Then, 
satisfied that all was safe, she entered the 
deep chamber, and was greeted by the 
little creatures that for an hour had 
expectantly awaited her arrival. Unusually 
boisterous in their welcome, they instantly 
disregarded the presence of their sire ; and 



HOME DISCIPLINE 313 

such, already, was the magic effect of the 
meal of raw flesh on their tempers, that, 
with an eagerness hitherto unknown, they 
followed every movement of their dam, till, 
submitting to their importunities, she lay 
beside them, and fed and fondled them to 
sleep. 

Almost nightly, she brought something 
new with which to tempt their appetites 
young bank-voles dug from their burrows on 
the margin of the wood, weakling pigeons 
dropped from late nests among the leafy 
boughs, snakes, and lizards, and, chiefly, 
suckling rabbits unearthed from the shallow 
holes which the does had " stopped " with 
soil thrown back into the entrance when 
they left to feed amid the clover. 

Though young rabbits, in breeding " stops " 
barely a foot below the level of the ground, 
were never safe from the badger's attack, a 
flourishing colony dwelt within the precincts 
of the "set." Early in spring, when the 
badgers were preparing for their expected 
family, a doe rabbit, attracted by the great 
commotion caused by their efforts to remove 
the big heap of soil thrown up at the entrance 
to their dwelling, hopped quietly out of the 



314 THE BADGER 

fern, and sat for a long time watching from 
between the bushes the occasional showers of 
loam which indicated the progress of the 
work. Judged by the standard of a rabbit, 
Bunny was a fairly clever little creature, 
and the plans she formed as she hid in 
the undergrowth seemed to show that she 
possessed unusual forethought. She waited 
and watched for several nights, till the 
badgers had ceased to labour, and the 
mound before the " set " remained apparently 
untouched. Then, one evening, after she had 
seen the badgers go off together into the 
heart of the wood, she entered, and moved 
along the gallery, pausing here and there to 
touch the walls with her sensitive muzzle. 
Coming to a place where a stone was 
slightly loosened, she began to dig a shaft 
almost at right angles to the roomy gallery, 
and for a time continued her work undis- 
turbed; but an hour or so before dawn she 
retired to sleep in a thicket, some distance 
beyond the plain, wide trail marking the 
badger's movements to and from the nearest 
fields. 

The badgers, on returning home, were 
sorely puzzled at the change that had taken 



HOME DISCIPLINE 315 

place during their absence. To all appearance, 
a trick had been played on them, for, whereas 
their house had been left neat and tidy at 
dusk, there was now a pile of earth obstructing 
the main passage. However, they accepted 
the situation philosophically, and completed 
the rabbit's work by clearing the gallery and 
adding to the heap beyond the entrance. 

Night after night, the wily rabbit watched 
for the badgers' departure, carried on her 
work, and gave them a fresh task for the early 
morning, till a short but winding burrow, 
some depth below the level of the ground, 
formed an antechamber where the little family 
to which she presently gave birth was reared 
in safety. 

Though the badgers, aware that the shallow 
" stops " in the woods were more easily 
unearthed than this deeper burrow near the 
mouth of the "set," did not seek to disturb 
their neighbours, the mother rabbit, directly 
her family grew old enough to leave the nest, 
became increasingly vigilant, and, when about 
to lead them to or from their dwelling, was 
ever careful to be satisfied that all was quiet 
in the chambers and the galleries below. 
Generally she ventured abroad before the 



316 THE BADGER 

badgers awoke from the day's sleep, came 
back during their absence, and once more 
stole out to feed when they had returned 
and were resting in their snuggery. The 
danger that lurked in her surroundings 
supplied a special excitement to life, and 
she never heard without fear the ominous 
sounds that vibrated clearly through every 
crack and cranny when the badgers occasion- 
ally arose from their couch, stretched their 
cramped limbs, shook their rough grey coats, 
and grunted with satisfaction at the feeling of 
health and strength which nearly all wild 
animals delight occasionally to express. 

The forest trees had donned their verdure ; 
the tall bracken had lifted its fronds so far 
above the grass that the mother rabbit no 
longer found them a convenient screen 
through which to peer at the strange antics 
of the old badgers as they came from their 
lair and sat in the twilight on the mound by 
the entrance of their home ; and the rill in the 
dingle, which, during winter and early spring, 
leaped, a clear, rushing torrent, on its way to 
the river below the steep, had dwindled to a 
few drops of water, collected in tiny pools 
among the stones, or trickling reluctantly 



HOME DISCIPLINE 317 

down the dank, green water-weed. The 
young badger family had grown so strong 
and high-spirited that their dam, weakened 
by motherhood, and at a loss to restrain 
their increasing desire for outdoor air and 
exercise, determined to wean them, and to 
teach them many lessons, concerning the 
ways of the woodland people, which she 
had learned long ago from her parents, or, 
more recently, from her own experiences as 
a creature of the dark, mysterious night. 

Brock, in particular, was the source of 
considerable anxiety to her. He was the 
leader in every scene of noisy festivity; 
she was repeatedly forced to punish him 
for following her at dusk to the mound 
outside the upper gallery, and for dis- 
obedience when she condescended to take 
part in a midnight romp in the underground 
nursery. He tormented the other members 
of the family by awakening them from sleep 
when he desired to play, also by appropri- 
ating, till his appetite was fully appeased, 
all the food his dam brought home from 
her hunting expeditions, and, again, by 
picking quarrels over such a trifling 
matter as the choice of a place when 



318 THE BADGER 

he and his little companions wished to 
rest. 

Nature's children are wilful and selfish ; and 
in their struggle for existence they live, if 
independent of their parents, only so long as 
they can take care of themselves. Among 
adult animals, however, selfishness seems to 
become inoperative in the care they take 
of their offspring. But though the mother 
badger was unselfish towards her little ones, 
she spared no effort to instruct them in 
the ways of selfishness. 

The night of Brock's first visit to the 
woods was warm and unclouded. For an 
hour after sunset, he played about the 
gallery by the door, while his mother, a 
vigilant sentinel, remained motionless and 
unseen in the darkness behind. Now and 
again, he heard the rabbits moving in the 
burrow, but they, aware of his presence, 
stayed discreetly out of view. Under his 
mother's guidance, or even if his playmates 
had been bold enough to accompany him, 
he would at once have been ready to 
explore the furthest corner of the rabbit- 
hole. But the old badger was too big, and 
the youngsters were too timid, to go with him 






HOME DISCIPLINE 319 

into the mysterious antechamber; so, after 
repeated attempts to explore the passage as 
far as the bend, and finding to his dis- 
comfort that there the space became 
narrower, he gave up the idea of prying on 
the doings of his neighbours, and contented 
himself with droll, clumsy antics, such as 
those by which wild children often seek to 
convince indulgent parents that they are 
eager and fearless. 

As the darkness deepened, the dog- 
badger, after hunting near the outskirts 
of the wood, returned to the "set." His 
manner indicated that he was the bearer 
of an important message. He touched 
his mate on the shoulder ; then, as she 
responded to his greeting, he thrust his head 
forward so that she could scent a drop of 
blood clinging to his lip ; and, while she 
sniffed enquiringly along the fringe of his 
muzzle, he seemed to be assuring her that his 
message was of the utmost consequence. 
As soon as she understood his meaning, 
he vanished into the gallery, and for a few 
moments was evidently busy. Faint squeals 
and grunts, which gradually became louder 
and louder, proceeded from the central 



320 THE BADGER 

chamber, and, again, from the inner passages ; 
and presently the big badger appeared in 
sight, driving his family before him, and 
threatening them with direst punishment if 
they attempted to double past him and 
thus regain their dark retreat. 

Wholly unable to appreciate the real 
position of affairs, Brock, perplexed and 
frightened, found himself hiding among the 
ferns and brambles outside the " set," while 
the sire, standing in full view on the mound, 
and grunting loudly, forbade the return of 
his evicted family. Unexpectedly, too, the 
mother badger, when the little ones looked 
to her for sympathy in their extraordinary 
treatment, took the part of the crusty 
old sire, and snapped and snarled directly 
they attempted to move back towards the 
mound. Utterly bewildered and much in 
fear, since their dam, hitherto the object of 
implicit trust, had suddenly deserted their 
cause, the young badgers crouched together 
under the bushes, and watched distrustfully 
each movement of their parents. The sire 
stuck to his post on the mound, and, with 
hoarse grunts, varied occasionally by thin, 
piping squeals that did not seem in the 



HOME DISCIPLINE 321 

least to accord with his wrathful demeanour, 
continued to keep them at a distance. 

Soon the dam moved slowly away, climbed 
the track towards the top of the wood, and 
then called to the cubs as they sat peering 
after her into the darkness. Released from 
discipline, and eagerly responsive to her 
cry, they lurched after her, and followed 
closely as she led them further and still 
further from home. Presently, the dog- 
badger overtook his family. His manner, 
as well as the dam's, had changed ; and 
though great caution was exercised as they 
journeyed along paths well trodden, and free 
from twigs that might snap, or leaves that 
might rustle, and though silence was the 
order of the march, the little family 
proud parents and shy, inquisitive children 
seemed as happy as the summer night was 
calm. The distant sound of a prowling 
creature, heard at times from the margin 
of the wood, caused not the slightest alarm 
to the cubs: the intense nervousness always 
apparent in young foxes was not evinced 
by the little badgers. 

In comparision with the fox-cubs, they 
were not easily frightened; they already 



322 THE BADGER 

gave promise of the presence of mind which, 
later, was often displayed when they were 
threatened by powerful foes. Brock, neverthe- 
less, betrayed astonishment when a dusky form 
bolted through the whinberry bushes close 
by ; and several moments passed before he 
was able, by his undeveloped methods of 
reasoning, to connect the scent of the flying 
creature with that of the rabbits often carried 
home by his mother, and, therefore, with 
something good for food. 

At the top of the wood, the old badgers 
turned aside and led the way through a 
thicket, where, in obedience to their mother, 
the youngsters came to a halt, while their 
sire, proceeding a few yards in advance, 
sniffed the ground, like a beagle picking up 
the line of the hunt. Having found the 
object of his search, he called his family 
to him, that they might learn the meaning 
of the various signs around. But the 
doings of the woodland folk could not 
yet be learnt by the little badgers, as 
by the experienced parents, from trifling 
details, such as the altered position of a leaf 
or twig, the ringing alarm-cry of a bird, 
the fresh earth-smell near an upturned 



HOME DISCIPLINE 323 

stone, or the taint of a moving creature in 
the grass. Beside them lay a small brown 
and white stoat, its head almost severed 
from its body by a quick, powerful bite, 
and, just beyond, the motionless form of a 
half-grown rabbit, unmarked, save by a 
small, clean-cut wound between the ears. 
The scent of both creatures was noticeable 
everywhere around, and with it, quite as 
strong and fresh, the scent of the big male 
badger. Walking up the path, soon after 
nightfall, the badger had arrived on the 
scene of a woodland tragedy, and had 
found the stoat so engrossed with its 
victim that to kill the bloodthirsty little 
tyrant was the easy work of an instant. 
Afterwards, mindful of the education of his 
progeny, he had hurried home to arrange 
with his mate a timely object lesson in 
wood-craft. 

The stoat was left untasted, but the rabbit 
was speedily devoured ; and then the badger 
family resorted to the riverside below the 
" set," where the cubs were taught to lap the 
cool, clear water. Thence, before returning 
home, they were taken to a clearing in the 
middle of the wood, and, while the sire 



324 THE BADGER 

went off alone to scout and hunt, the 
mother badger showed them how to find 
grubs and beetles under the rotting bark 
of the tree-butts, in the crevices among the 
stones, and in the soft, damp litter of the 
decaying leaves. 



THE BADGER, 
in. 

FEAR OF THE TRAP. 

NIGHT after night, the cubs, sometimes 
under the protection of both their parents, 
and sometimes under the protection of only 
the dam, roamed through the by-ways of 
the countryside. From each expedition 
they gleaned something of new and 
unexpected interest, till they grew wise in 
the ways of Nature's folk that haunt the 
gloom the strong, for ever seeking 
opportunities of attack ; the weak, for ever 
dreading even a chance shadow on the 
moonlit trail. 

A strange performance, which, for quite a 
month, seemed devoid of meaning to the cubs, 
but which, nevertheless, Brock soon learned 
to imitate, took place whenever the tainted 
flesh of a dead creature was found in the way. 

325 



326 THE BADGER 

The old badgers at once became alert, moved 
with the utmost caution, smelt but did not 
touch the offensive morsel, and, instead of 
seizing it, rolled over it again and yet again, 
as if the scent proved irresistibly attractive. 
One of the cubs, that had always shown an 
inclination to act differently from the way 
in which her companions acted, and often 
became lazy and stupid when lesson-time 
arrived, was destined to pay dearly for neglect- 
ing to imitate her parents. Lagging behind 
the rest of the family, as in single file they 
moved homeward after a long night's hunting 
in the fallow, she chanced to scent some 
carrion in the ditch, turned aside to taste it, 
and immediately was held fast in the teeth 
of an iron trap. Hearing her cries of pain 
and terror, the mother hastened to the spot, 
and, for a moment, was so bewildered with 
disappointment and anger that she chastised 
the cub unmercifully, though the little creature 
was enduring extreme agony. But directly the 
old badger recovered from her fit of temper, 
she sought to make amends by petting and 
soothing the frightened cub, and trying to 
remove the trap. Finally, after half an hour's 
continuous effort, she accidentally found that 



FEAR OF THE TRAP 327 

the trap was connected by a chain with a 
stake thrust into the ground. Quickly, with 
all the strength of her muscular fore-paws, she 
dug up the soil at the end of the chain, and 
then, with powerful teeth, wrenched the stake 
from its position. Dragging the cruel trap, 
the young badger slowly followed her dam 
homeward, but when she had gone about 
a hundred yards pain overcame her, and 
she rolled down a slight incline near the 
hedge. For a few minutes, she lay helpless ; 
then, grunting hoarsely, she climbed the 
ditch, and continued her way in the direction 
of a gap leading into the wood. There, as 
she gained the top of the hedge, the trap 
was firmly caught in the stout fork of a 
thorn-bush. Further progress was impossible ; 
all her frantic struggles failed to give her 
freedom. The dam stayed near, vainly 
endeavouring to release her, till at dawn a 
rustle was heard in the hedge, and a labourer 
on his way to the farm came in sight above 
a hurdle in the gap. Reluctantly, the old 
badger stole away into the wood, leaving 
the cub to her fate. It came a single blow 
on the nostrils from a stout cudgel and 
all was over. 



328 THE BADGER 

The lesson thus taught left a salutary 
impression on the minds of the other cubs. 
From it they learned that the presence of 
stale flesh was somehow associated with the 
peculiar scent of oiled and rusty iron, or 
with the taint of a human hand, and was 
fraught with the utmost danger. They some- 
how felt that their dam acted wisely in rolling 
over any decaying refuse she happened to find 
on her way ; and later, when Brock, seizing an 
opportunity to imitate his mother, sprang 
another trap, which, closing suddenly beneath 
his back, did no more harm than to rob him 
of a bunch of fur, they recognised how a 
menace to their safety might be easily and 
completely removed by the simple expedient 
taught them by their careful parent. 

Though she invariably took the utmost 
precaution against danger from baited traps, 
the old she-badger was nevertheless surprised, 
almost as much as were the cubs, at the 
incidents just described. At various times 
she had sprung more than a dozen traps, 
but in each case her attention had been 
directed to the trap only by the scent of 
iron, or of the human hand. However faint 
that scent might be, and however mingled 



FEAR OF THE TRAP 329 

with the smell of newly turned earth or of 
sap from bruised stalks of woodland plants, 
she immediately detected it, rolled on the 
spot, and then noted the signs around the 
disturbed leaf-mould, and the foot- scent of 
man leading back among the bilberry bushes, 
or down the winding paths between the oaks, 
where, occasionally, she also found faint traces 
of the hand-scent on bits of lichen, or on 
rotten twigs, fallen from the grasp of her 
enemy as he clutched the tree-trunks in his 
steep descent towards the riverside. But 
never before had she seen a baited trap. Her 
dam had never seen one ; her grand- dam had 
been equally ignorant ; and yet both, like 
herself, had always rolled on any tainted flesh 
they chanced to come across on their many 
journeys. 

For generations, in this far county of 
the west, the creatures of the woods, except 
the fox, had never been systematically 
hunted. The vicissitudes of history had 
directly affected the welfare of wild animals. 
The old professional hunting and fighting 
classes had become unambitious tenant 
farmers ; and, partly through the operations 
of an old Welsh law regarding the equal 



330 THE BADGER 

division of property, the land beyond the 
feudal tracts of the Norman Marches were, 
in many instances, broken up into small 
freeholds owned by descendants of the 
princely families of bygone ages. But 
hard, incessant work was the lot of tenant 
and freeholder alike. When the aims and 
the experiences of the old fighting and 
sporting days had passed away, and nothing 
was left but ceaseless toil, these essentially 
combative people, to whom violent and 
continuous excitement was the very breath 
of life, became, for a while at least, 
knavish and immoral, sunk almost to one 
dead social level, and totally uninteresting 
because, in their new life of peaceful tillage 
a life far more suited to their English 
law-givers than to themselves they were 
apparently incapable of maintaining that 
complete, vigilant interest in their ordinary 
surroundings which makes for enlightenment 
and success. 

Having lost the love of " venerie " 
possessed by their forefathers, the farmers 
cared little about any wild creatures but 
hares and rabbits; a badger's ham was to 
them an unknown article of food. The fear 



FEAR OF THE TRAP 331 

of a baited trap had, therefore, probably 
descended from one badger to another since 
days when the green-gowned forester came 
to the farm, from the lodge down-river, and 
sought assistance in the capture of an 
animal for the sport of an otherwise dull 
Sunday afternoon in the courtyard of the 
nearest castle; or even since ages far 
remote, when a badger's flesh was esteemed 
a luxury by the earliest Celts. 

Unbaited traps, in the " runs " of the rabbits, 
had at intervals been common for centuries ; 
but now the carefully prepared baits and the 
unusually strong traps seemed to indicate 
nothing less than an organised attack on 
other and more powerful night hunters. 
The badger's fears, however, were hardly 
warranted. Five traps had been placed in 
the wood by a curious visitor staying at 
the village inn. In one of these, Brock's 
sister had been caught ; but the owner of 
the trap knew nothing beyond the fact that 
it had mysteriously disappeared from the spot 
where he had seen it fixed. Another was 
sprung by Brock ; two at the far end of the 
wood were so completely fouled by a fox 
that every prowling creature carefully avoided 



332 THE BADGER 

the spot ; while in the fifth was found a 
single blood-stained claw, left to prove the 
visit of a renegade cat. 

It may well be imagined that a large and 
interesting animal like the badger, keeping 
for many years to an underground abode so 
spacious that the mound at its principal 
entrance is often a quite conspicuous land- 
mark for some distance in the woods, would 
be subject to frequent and varied attacks 
from man, and thus be speedily exterminated. 
It may also be imagined that the habits of 
following the same well worn paths night 
after night, of never ranging further than a 
few miles from the "set," and of living so 
sociably that the community sometimes 
numbers from half-a-dozen to a dozen 
members, apart from such lodgers as foxes, 
rabbits, and woodmice, would all combine 
to render the creature an easy prey. 

But if the badger's ways are carefully 
studied, the very circumstances which at 
first seem unfavourable to him are found 
to account for much of his immunity 
from harm. The depth of his breeding 
chamber and the length of the connecting 
passages are, as a rule, indicated by the size 



FEAR OF THE TRAP 333 

of the mound before his door. The fact 
that he regularly pursues the same paths in 
his nightly excursions enables him to become 
familiar, like the fox, with each sight and 
scent and sound of the woods, so that any- 
thing strange is at once noticed, and danger 
avoided. His sociability is a distinct gain, 
because he receives therefrom co-operation 
in his sapping and mining while he aims to 
secure the impregnability of his fortress; 
and his tolerance of cunning and timid 
neighbours gains for him this advantage : 
sometimes in the dusk, before venturing 
abroad, he receives a warning that danger 
lurks in the thickets around his home 
perhaps from a double line of scent 
indicating that the fox has started on a 
journey and then hurriedly turned back, 
or from numerous cross-scents at the mouth 
of the burrow, where the rabbits and the 
woodmice have passed to and fro, deterred 
by fear in their frequent attempts to reach 
feeding places beyond the nearest briar- 
clumps. His methods, however, when 
either his neighbours or the members of his 
own family become too numerous, are 
prompt and drastic. 



334 THE BADGER 

Shy, inoffensive, and, for a young creature 
unacquainted with the responsibilities of a 
family, deliberate to the point of drollery 
in all his movements, Brock grew up 
beneath his parents' care ; and, with an 
intelligence keener than that possessed by 
the other members of the little woodland 
family, learned many lessons which they 
failed to understand. When his mother 
called, he was always the first to hasten to 
her side. Each incident of the night, if of 
any significance, was explained to her 
offspring by the mother. Often Brock was 
the only listener when she began her story, 
and the late arrivals heard but disconnected 
parts. 

Beautiful beyond comparison were those 
brief summer nights, silent, starlit, fragrant, 
when the badgers led their young by 
many a devious path through close-arched 
bowers amid the tangled bracken, or under 
drooping sprays of thorn and honeysuckle 
in the hidden ditches, or through close 
tunnels, as gloomy as the passages of their 
underground abode, in the dense thickets 
of the furze. Sometimes they wandered in 
the corn and root- crop, or in the hayfield 



FEAR OF THE TRAP 335 

where the sorrel, a cooling medicinal herb 
for many of the woodland folk, grew long 
and succulent ; and sometimes they descended 
the steep cattle-path on the far side of the 
farm, where the big dor-beetles, as plentiful 
there as in the grass-clumps of the open 
pasture, were easily struck down while they 
circled, droning loudly, about the heaps of 
refuse near the hedge. 

Once, late in July, when the badgers 
were busily catching beetles by the side of 
the cattle-path, Brock, thrusting his snout 
into the grass to secure a crawling insect, 
chanced to hear a faint, continuous sound, 
as of a number of tiny creatures moving to 
and fro in a hollow beneath the moss- 
covered mound at his feet. He listened 
intently, his head cocked knowingly towards 
the spot whence the sound proceeded ; then, 
scratching up a few roots of the moss, he 
sniffed enquiringly, drawing in a long, deep 
breath, at the mouth of a thimble-shaped 
hole his sharp claws had exposed. 

Unexpectedly, and without the help of the 
dam, he had discovered a wild-bees' nest. 
His inborn love of honey was every whit as 
strong as a bear's, and he recognised the 



336 THE BADGER 

scent as similar to that of insects known by 
him to be far more tasty than beetles ; so, 
without a moment's hesitation, he began 
to dig away the soil. The nest was soon 
unearthed, and the little badger, completely 
protected by his thick and wiry coat from 
the half-hearted assaults of the bewildered 
bees, greedily devoured the entire comb, 
together with every well-fed grub and 
every drop of honey the fragile cells con- 
tained. His eagerness was such that these 
spoils seemed hardly more than a tempting 
morsel sufficient to awaken a desire for the 
luscious sweets of the wayside storehouses. 
He carefully hunted the hedgerow, as far as 
a gate leading to a rick-yard, and at last, 
close to a stile, found another nest, which, 
also, he quickly destroyed. 

Henceforth, till the end of August, there 
were few nights during which he did not 
find a meal of honey and grubs. The 
summer was fine and warm, a lavish 
profusion of flowers adorned the fields and 
the woods, and humble-bees and wasps were 
everywhere numerous. As if to taunt the 
badgers with inability to climb, a swarm of 
tree-wasps lived in a big nest of wood-pulp 



FEAR OF THE TRAP 337 

suspended from a branch ten feet or so 
above the "set," and, every afternoon, the 
badgers, as they waited near the mouth of 
their dwelling for the darkness to deepen, 
heard the shrill, long continued humming of 
the sentinel wasps around the big ball in 
the tree surely one of the most appetising 
sounds that could ever reach a badger's ears. 
But the wasps that had built among the 
ferns near the river-path, and in the hollows 
of the hedges, were remorselessly hunted 
and despoiled. Their stings failed to pene- 
trate the thick coat and hide of their 
persistent foes, while a chance stab on the 
lips or between the nostrils seemed only to 
arouse the badgers from leisurely methods 
of pillage to quick and ruthless slaughter of 
the adult insects as well as of the immature 
grubs. But Brock never committed the 
indiscretion of swallowing a full-grown 
wasp. With his fore-paws he dexterously 
struck and crippled the angry sentinels that 
buzzed about his ears, and, with teeth bared 
in order to prevent a sting on his tender 
muzzle, disabled the newly emerged and 
sluggish insects that wandered over the 
comb. 

Y 



338 THE BADGER 

As autumn drew on, the cubs grew 
strong and fat on the plentiful supplies of 
food, which, with their parents' help, they 
readily found in field and wood. Brock gave 
promise of abnormal strength, and was already 
considerably heavier than his sister. They 
fared far better than the third cub, a little 
male, that, notwithstanding a temper almost 
as fiery as Brock's, was worsted in every dis- 
pute and frequently robbed of his food, and 
still, never owning himself beaten, persisted 
in drawing attention to his success whenever 
he happened on something fresh and tooth- 
some. At such times, instead of hastily and 
silently regaling himself, he made a great 
a-do, grunting with rage and defiance, like a 
dog that guards a marrow-bone but will not 
settle down to gnaw its juicy ends. 

Brock's brother was so often deprived of 
his legitimate spoils, that, while his surliness 
was increased, his bodily growth was checked. 
He was small and thin for his age ; and so, 
when a kind of fever peculiar to young 
badgers broke out in the woodland home, 
he succumbed. His grave was a shallow 
depression near the path below the "set," 
whither his parents dragged his lifeless body, 



FEAR OF THE TRAP 339 

and where the whispering leaves of autumn 
presently descended to array him in a red 
and golden robe of death. 

The other young badgers quickly recovered 
from their fever; and by the end of October 
all the animals were, as sportsmen say, " in 
grease," and well prepared for winter's cold 
and privation. The old badgers became more 
and more indisposed to roam abroad ; and, 
whereas in summer they sometimes wandered 
four or five miles from the "set," they now 
seldom went further than the gorse-thicket 
on the fringe of the wood. 



THE BADGER. 

IV. 

THE WINTER "OVEN." 

THE badger-cubs, while not so well provided 
against the cold as were their parents, grew 
lazy as winter advanced, and spent most of 
their time indoors on a large heap of fresh 
bedding, that had been collected under the 
oaks and carried to a special winter " oven " 
below the chamber generally occupied in 
summer. Here, the sudden changes of tem- 
perature affecting the outer world were hardly 
noticeable ; and so enervating were the warmth 
and indolence, that the badgers, in spite of thick 
furs and tough hides, rarely left their retreat 
when the shrill voice of the north-east wind, 
overhead in the mouth of the burrow, told 
them of frost and snow. 

About mid-winter, the first of two changes 
took place in the colour of the young badgers' 



THE WINTER "OVEN" 341 

coats ; from silver-grey it turned to dull 
brownish yellow, and the contrasts in the 
pied markings of the cheeks became increas- 
ingly pronounced. This change happened a 
little later with Brock than with his sister. 
Eventually, late in the following winter, the 
young female, arriving at maturity, donned 
a gown of darker grey, and her face was 
striped with black and white ; shortly after- 
wards, Brock, too, assumed the livery of a 
full-grown badger. 

Meanwhile, till events occurred of which 
the second change was only a portent, all 
remained fairly peaceful in the big burrow 
under the whins and brambles. Occasion- 
ally, in the brief winter days, Brock was 
awakened from his comfortable sleep by the 
music of the hounds, as they passed by on 
the scent of Vulp, the fleetest and most 
cunning fox on the countryside, or by the 
stamp of impatient hoofs, as the huntsman's 
mare, tethered to a tree not far from the 
" set," eagerly awaited her rider's return from 
a "forward cast" into the dense thicket 
beyond the glade. 

One afternoon in late winter, a young 
vixen, that, without knowing it, had completely 



342 THE BADGER 

baffled her pursuers, crept, footsore and travel- 
stained, into the mouth of the " set," and lay 
there, panting loudly, till night descended, 
and she had sufficiently recovered from her 
distress to continue her homeward journey. 
Now and again, the sharp report of a shot- 
gun echoed down the wood; and once, late 
at night, when Brock climbed up from the 
"oven" to sit awhile on the mound before 
his door, the scent of blood was strong in 
the passage leading to the rabbit's quarters. 
Unfortunate bunny! Next night, stiff and 
sore from her wounds, she crawled out into 
the wood, and Vulp and his vixen put an 
end to her misery long before the badgers 
ventured from their lair. 

Winter, with its long hours of sleep, 
passed quietly away. Amid the sprouting 
grasses by the river-bank, the snowdrops 
opened to the breath of spring; soon after- 
wards, the early violets and primroses decked 
the hedgerows on the margin of the wood, 
and the wild hyacinths thrust their spike- 
shaped leaves above the mould. The 
hedgehogs, curled in their beds amid the 
wind-blown oak-leaves, were awakened by 
the gentle heat, and wandered through 



THE WINTER "OVEN" 343 

the ditches in search of slugs and snails. 
One evening, as the moon shone over the 
hill, the woodcock, that for months had 
dwelt by day in the oak-scrub near the 
" set," and had fed at night in the swampy 
thickets by the rill, heard the voice of a 
curlew descending from the heights of the 
sky, and rose, on quick, glad pinions, far 
beyond the soaring of the lark, to join a 
great bird-army travelling north. Regularly, 
as the time for sleep drew nigh, the old 
inhabitants among the woodland birds the 
thrushes, the robins, the finches, and the 
wrens squabbled loudly as they settled to 
rest: their favourite roosting places were 
being invaded by aliens of their species, 
that, desirous of breaking for the night 
their northward journey, dropped, twittering, 
into every bush and brake on the margin of 
the copse. And into Nature's breast swept, 
like an irresistible flood, a yearning for 
maternity. 

The vixen, that once had rested inside 
the burrow to recover from her " run " 
before the hounds, remembered the sanctuary, 
returned to it, and there in time gave 
birth to her young ; and, though almost 



344 THE BADGER 

in touch with such enemies as the badger 
and the fox, a few of the rabbits that had 
been reared during the previous season hi 
the antechamber of the " set " enlarged their 
dwelling place, and were soon engaged in 
tending a numerous offspring. The timid 
wood-mice, following suit, scooped out a 
dozen tiny galleries within an old back 
entrance of the burrow, and multiplied 
exceedingly. But, while all other creatures 
seemed bent on family affairs, Brock's parents, 
following a not infrequent habit of their 
kindred, deferred such duties to another 
season. 

As spring advanced, food became far more 
abundant than in winter, and the badgers' 
appetites correspondingly increased. Directly 
the evening shadows began to deepen, parents 
and cubs alike became impatient of the long 
day's inactivity, and adjourned together to 
one or other of the entrances, generally to 
the main opening behind the big mound. 
There, unseen, they could watch the rooks 
sail slowly overhead, and the pigeons, with 
a sharp hiss of swiftly beating wings, drop 
down into the trees, and flutter, cooing loudly, 
from bough to bough before they fell asleep. 



THE WINTER "OVEN" 345 

Then, after a twilight romp in and about the 
mouth of the burrow, the badgers took up 
the business of the night, and wandered away 
over the countryside in search of food, some- 
times extending their journeys even as far 
as the garden of a cottage five miles distant, 
where Brock distinguished himself by over- 
turning a hive and devouring every particle 
of a new honeycomb found therein. 

Autumn, beautiful with pearly mists and 
red and golden leaves, again succeeded 
summer, and the woods resounded with the 
music of the huntsman's horn, as the hounds 
" harked forward " on the scent of fleeing 
fox-cubs, that had never heard, till then, the 
cries of the pursuing pack. 

One morning, Brock lay out in the under- 
growth, though the sun was high and the 
rest of his family slept safely in the burrow. 
At the time, his temper was not particularly 
sweet, for, on returning to the " set " an hour 
before dawn, he had quarrelled with his sire. 
Among the dead leaves and hay strewn on 
the floor of the chamber usually inhabited by 
the badgers in warm weather, was an old bone, 
discovered by Brock in the woods, and carried 
home as a plaything. For this bone Brock 



346 THE BADGER 

had conceived a violent affection, almost like 
that of a child for a limbless and much dis- 
figured doll. He would lie outstretched on 
his bed, for an hour at a time, with his toy 
between his fore-feet, vainly sucking the 
broken end for marrow, or sharpening his 
teeth by gnawing the juiceless knob, with 
perfect contentment written on every line of 
his long, solemn face. If disturbed, he would 
take the bone to the winter "oven" below, 
and there, alone, would toss it from corner 
to corner and pounce on it with glee, or, 
with a sudden change of manner, would 
grasp it in his fore-paws, roll on his back, 
and scratch, and bite, and kick it, till, tired 
of the fun, he dropped asleep beside his 
plaything ; while overhead, the rabbits and 
the voles, at a loss to imagine what was 
happening in the dark hollows of the 
"earth," quaked with fear, or bolted helter- 
skelter into the bushes beyond the mound. 

When, just before the quarrel, Brock 
sought for his bone, as he was wont to do 
on returning home, he scented it in the litter 
beneath a spot completely overlapped on 
every side by some part or other of his 
recumbent sire. For a few moments, he was 



THE WINTER "OVEN" 347 

nonplussed by the situation; then, desperate 
for his plaything, he suddenly began to 
dig, and, in a twinkling, was half buried 
in the hay and leaves ; while to right and 
to left he scattered soil and bedding that 
fell like a shower over his mother and 
sister. Before the old dog-badger had 
realised the meaning of the commotion, 
Brock had grabbed his treasure, and, with- 
drawing his head from the shallow pitfall he 
had hurriedly fashioned, had caused his 
drowsy parent to roll helplessly over. This 
was more than a self-respecting father could 
possibly endure in his own home and among 
his own kin, so, with unexpected agility, 
as he turned in struggling to recover his 
balance, he gripped Brock by the loose skin 
of the neck, and held him as in a vice from 
which there seemed no escape. Brock, doubt- 
less thinking that his right to the bone was 
being disputed, strove vigorously to get hold 
of his sire, but the grip of the trap- like jaws 
was inflexible, and kept him firmly down till 
his rage had expended itself, and he was 
cowed by his parent's prompt, easy show of 
tremendous power. When, at last, the old 
badger relinquished his hold, Brock shook 



348 THE BADGER 

himself, and sulkily departed from the " set," 
followed to the door by his relentless chastiser. 
An hour before noon, Brock heard the 
note of a horn sounding far distant, but 
really coming only from the other side of 
the hill succeeded by the eager baying of 
a pack of foxhounds. Then, for a while, all 
was silent, but soon the cries of the hounds 
broke out again, away beyond the farm by 
the river. Evidently something was amiss. 
Brock, though hardly, perhaps, alarmed, 
shifted uneasily in his retreat under the 
yellow bracken, and finally, almost fascinated, 
lay quiet, watching and listening. Presently 
the ferns parted; and a fox-cub appeared in 
full view, treading lightly, his tongue lolling 
out, his jaws strained far back towards his 
ears, and his face wearing the look of a 
creature of excessive cunning, though for the 
time frightened nearly out of his wits. The 
fox-cub paused an instant, turned as if to 
look at something in the dark thickets by 
the glen, climbed the mound, and, after 
another hasty glance, entered his home 
among the outer chambers of the "set." 
Unknown, of course, to Brock, the leading 
hounds were running mute on the fox- cub's 



THE WINTER "OVEN" 349 

scent down the path by the river. They 
swerved, and lost the line for a moment, 
then, "throwing their tongues," crashed 
through the briars into the fern ; and at 
once Brock was surrounded. 

Luckily, he had neither been punished too 
severely by his sire, nor had exhausted him- 
self in hotly resisting the chastisement. For a 
few seconds, however, as the hounds pressed 
closely in the rough-and-tumble fray, trying 
to tear him limb from limb, he was discon- 
certed. But quickly regaining his self-posses- 
sion, he began to make the fight exceed- 
ingly warm for his assailants. A hound 
caught him by the leg; turning, he caught 
the aggressor by the muzzle. His strong, 
sharp teeth crashed through nose and lip 
clean to the bone, and the discomfited 
hound, directly one of the pack had 
" created a diversion," made off at full 
speed, running "heel," and howling at the 
top of his voice. One after another, Brock 
served two couples thus, till the wood was 
filled with a mournful chorus altogether 
different from the usual music of the 
hounds. 

Little hurt, except for a bruise or two on 



350 THE BADGER 

his loose, rough hide, and feeling almost as 
fresh as when the attack began, Brock, 
with his face to the few foes still remaining 
to threaten him hoarsely from a safe 
distance, retired with dignity to the mound, 
and disappeared in the tunnel just as 
reinforcements of the enemy hastened up 
the slope. 

Henceforth, even in leafy summer, he 
seldom remained outside his dwelling during 
the day, and any fresh sign of a dog in the 
neighbourhood of his immediate haunt never 
failed to fill him with rage and apprehension. 

Since the time when their silvery-grey 
coats had turned to brownish-yellow, the 
badger cubs had become more and more 
independent of their parents; and before 
long, familiar with the forest paths, they 
often wandered alone. Yet so regular was 
their habit of returning home during the 
hour preceding dawn, that, unless some- 
thing untoward happened, the last badger to 
reach the "earth" was rarely more than a 
few minutes after the first. Towards the 
end of autumn, however, the female cub 
seemed to have lost this habit; on several 
occasions dawn was breaking when she sought 



THE WINTER "OVEN" 351 

her couch ; and one morning she was 
missing from the family. Her regular 
home-coming had given place to meeting, 
in a copse over the hill, a young male 
badger reared among the rocks of a glen 
up-stream ; and by him she had at last 
been led away to a home, which, after 
inspecting several other likely places, he had 
made by enlarging a rabbit burrow in a 
long disused quarry. 

Brock was in no hurry to find himself a 
spouse; he waited till the end of winter. 
Meanwhile, the colour of his coat changed 
from yellow to full, dark grey, and 
simultaneously a change became apparent in 
his disposition. Wild fancies seized him ; 
from dusk to dawn he wandered with 
clumsy gait over the countryside, little 
heeding how noisily he lumbered through 
the undergrowth. The gaunt jack-hare, 
that, crying out in the night, hurried past 
him, was not a whit more crazy. 

At one time, Brock met a young male 
badger in the furze, attacked him vigorously, 
and left him more dead than alive. At 
another time, he even turned his rage 
against his sire. The old badger was by no 



352 THE BADGER 

means unwilling to resent provocation : he, 
too, felt the hot, quick blood of spring in 
his veins. The fight was fierce and long 
no other wild animal in Britain can inflict 
or endure such punishment as the badger 
and it ended in victory for Brock. His 
size and strength were greater than his 
father's ; he also had the advantage of youth 
and self - confidence ; but till its close the 
struggle was almost equal, for the obstinate 
resistance of the experienced old sire was 
indeed hard to overcome. Brock forced 
him at last from the corner where he stood 
with his head to the wall, and hustled him 
out of doors. Then the victor hastened to 
the brook to quench his thirst, and, returning 
to the "set," sought to sleep off the effects 
of the fight. When he awoke, he found 
that the mother badger had gone to join her 
evicted mate. The inseparable couple pre- 
pared a disused part of the " set " for future 
habitation; there they collected a heap of 
dry bedding, and, free from further interrup- 
tion, were soon engaged with the care of a 
second family. 

For nearly a week after his big battle, 
Brock felt stiff and sore, and altogether too 



THE WINTER "OVEN" 353 

ill to extend his nightly rambles further 
than the boundaries of the wood. But 
with renewed health his restlessness 
returned, and he wandered hither and 
thither in search of a mate to share his 
dwelling. A knight-errant among badgers, 
he sought adventure for the sake of a lady- 
love whose face he had not even seen. 

Sometimes, to make his journeys shorter 
than if the usual trails from wood to wood 
had been followed, he used the roads 
and by-ways leading past the farmsteads, 
and risked encounter with the watchful 
sheep-dogs. For this indiscretion, he almost 
paid the penalty of his life. Crossing a 
moonlit field on the edge of a covert, he 
saw a flock of sheep break from the hurdles 
of a fold near the distant hedge, and run 
panic-stricken straight towards him. Long 
before he had time to regain the cover, they 
swept by, separating into two groups as 
they came where he stood. Immediately 
afterwards, he saw that one of the sheep 
was lying on her back, struggling frantically, 
while a big, white - ruffed collie worried 
her to death. The dog was so engrossed 
with his victim that the badger remained 



354 THE BADGER 

unnoticed. Having killed the sheep, the dog 
sat by, panting because of his exertions, and 
licking the blood from his lips. Suddenly, 
raising his head, he listened intently, his ears 
turned in the direction of the fold. Then, 
growling savagely, he slunk away, with his 
tail between his legs, and disappeared within 
the wood. 

He had scarcely gone from sight, when 
the farmer and his boy climbed over the 
hedge near the field and hastened across 
the pasture. They saw the sheep lying 
dead, and, not far from the spot, the 
badger lumbering off to the covert. In- 
stantly believing that Brock was the cause 
of their trouble, they called excitedly for 
help from the farm, and dashed in pursuit. 
As Brock gained the gap by the wood, he 
felt a sharp, stinging blow on his ribs. On 
the other side of the hedge, he reached an 
opening in the furze, and the sticks and 
stones aimed at him by his pursuers, as he 
turned downwards through the wood, fell 
harmlessly against the trees and bushes. 
The noise he made when crashing through 
the thickets was, however, such a guide to 
his movements, that he failed to baffle the 



THE WINTER "OVEN" 355 

chase till he reached a well worn trail 
through the open glades. Luckily for him, 
as he emerged from cover a cloud obscured 
the moon, and he was able to make good 
his escape by crossing a deep dingle to the 
lonely fields along his homeward route, 
where, in the shadows of the hedges, though 
now the moon again was bright, he could 
not easily be seen. 

It was fortunate for the badger, not only 
that the moon was hidden by a cloud 
as he crossed the dingle when fleeing 
from the wood, but also that his home 
was distant from the scene of the tragedy 
in the upland pasture near the farm. A 
hue-and-cry was raised, and for days the 
farmer's boy searched the wood around the 
spot where Brock had disappeared, hoping 
there to find the earth-pig's home. Other 
sheep were mysteriously killed on farms 
still further from the badger's "earth"; 
then watchers, armed with guns, lay out 
among the cold, damp fields to guard the 
sleeping flocks; and the collie, a beautiful 
creature whose character had hitherto been 
held above reproach, was shot almost in the 
act of closing on a sheep he had already 



356 THE BADGER 

wounded, close to the corner of a field where 
a shepherd lay in hiding. 

The farmer and his boy were chaffed so 
unmercifully for this story of the badger was 
now considered a myth that they grew to 
hate the very name of " earth-pig," and to 
believe that after all they must have 
chased through the wood some incarnation 
of Satan. 



THE BADGER, 
v. 

HILLSIDE TRAILS. 

SEVERAL times during his search for a mate, 
Brock struck the trail of a female badger, and 
followed its windings through the thickets 
and away across the open fields towards the 
the distant valley, only, however, to lose 
it near some swollen brook or on some 
well trodden sheep-path. The female had 
evidently come to a little copse on the 
crest of a rugged hill overlooking the river, 
and, after skirting a pond where wild duck 
sheltered among the flags, had retraced her 
steps. Brock's most frequented tracks led 
close to the spot where the stranger's return 
trail joined the other near an opening from 
an almost impenetrable gorse-cover into a 
marshy fallow. There, late one night, he 
found, as he crossed the opening, that the 

357 



358 THE BADGER 

female badger had travelled forward, but had 
not yet returned. Revisiting the spot some 
minutes afterwards, he discovered that the 
backward "drag" was strong on the damp 
grass. He followed it quickly, and, in a 
stubble beyond the gorse, came up at last 
with the object of his oft-disappointed quest. 
She was a widow badger, older and more 
experienced than Brock, but smaller and of 
lighter build. 

Perhaps because she wished to test the 
loyalty of her new lover, and to find whether 
he would fight for her possession with any 
intruder, she resisted his advances, and refused 
to go with him to his home. So he followed 
her far away to her own snug dwelling on 
the fringe of the moorlands. Thence, with 
the first streak of dawn in the south-eastern 
sky, he hurried back to his lair. 

Early next evening, Brock went forth to 
meet his lady-love ; and throughout the long 
night and for nights afterwards he wandered 
at her side, till, concluding that no other 
suitor was likely to appear, she accompanied 
him to his home, and entered on the season's 
house-keeping in the central chamber of the 
great " set " where he had been born. There 



HILLSIDE TRAILS 359 

they lived happily, and without the slightest 
annoyance from the old badgers ; and, since 
the time of the spring "running" was over, 
they wandered no further afield than in the 
cold winter nights. Filled with the joy of 
the life-giving season, they often romped 
together in the twilight for half an hour at 
a time, chasing one another in and out of 
the entrances to the " set," or kicking up the 
soil as if they suddenly recollected that their 
claws needed to be filed and sharpened, or 
standing on their hind-feet and rubbing their 
cheeks delightedly against a favourite tree 
grunting loudly in their fun the while, and 
in general behaving like droll, ungainly little 
pigs just escaped from a stye. At last, 
their frolic being ended, they " bumped " 
away into the bushes, and, meeting on the 
trail beyond, proceeded soberly towards the 
outskirts of the wood. 

As in the previous spring, the big burrow 
was soon the scene of family affairs other 
than those of the badgers. By the end of 
February, there were cubs in the vixen's den, 
and both the wood-mice and the rabbits 
were diligently preparing for important family 
events. Brock's companion, unlike himself 



360 THE BADGER 

was not accustomed to a house inhabited 
by other tenants. None but members of 
her own family had dwelt in the "earth" 
near the moor; and, being somewhat ex- 
clusive in her ideas, she strongly resented 
the presence of the vixen in any quarter of 
her new abode. A little spiteful in her 
disposition, she lurked about the passages, 
and by the mound outside the entrance, 
intending to give her neighbour "a bit of 
her mind " at the first opportunity. But 
since she did not for the present care to enter 
the vixen's den, that opportunity never came 
till her own family arrangements claimed her 
undivided attention, and effectually prevented 
her from following the course of action she 
had planned. 

In the first week of April, the badger's 
spring-cleaning began in downright earnest. 
The old bedding of fern, and hay, and 
leaves was cleared entirely from the winter 
"oven," and, after a few windy but rainless 
days and nights, when the refuse of Nature's 
woodland garden was dry, new materials for 
a cosy couch were carried to the lair, and 
arranged on the floor of the roomy chamber 
where Brock's mother had brought him 



HILLSIDE TRAILS 361 

into the world. The badgers' methods of 
conveying the required litter were quaintly 
characteristic, for the animals possessed the 
power of moving backward almost as easily 
and quickly as forward. They collected a 
pile of leaves, and, grasping it between their 
fore-legs, made their way, tail first, to the 
mound, and thence, in the same manner, 
along their underground galleries, as far as 
the place intended for its reception, strewing 
everywhere in the path proofs of their 
presence, quite sufficient for any naturalist 
visiting their haunts. 

On a dark, wet night rather less than a 
fortnight after they had completed their 
preparations, when Brock returned to his 
home for shelter from the driving storm, 
three little cubs were lying by their mother's 
side. 

The training of the badger-cubs during 
the first two months was left wholly 
to their dam; but afterwards Brock shared 
the work with his mate, teaching the 
youngsters, by his example, how to pro- 
cure food, and, at the same time, to detect 
and to avoid all kinds of danger. In 
so doing, he simply acted towards his cubs 



362 THE BADGER 

as his sire had acted towards him. Apart 
from family ties, however, his life that of 
a strong, deliberate animal, self-possessed in 
peril and in conflict, yet shy and cautious to 
a fault was of extreme interest to both 
naturalist and sportsman. 

Five young foxes, as well as the vixen, now 
dwelt in the ante-chamber near the main 
entrance of the "set," and the presence of 
this numerous family became, for several 
reasons, so objectionable to the she-badger, 
that, about the middle of May, the antipathy 
which, since her partnership with Brock, she 
had always felt towards the vixen, was united 
with a fixed determination to get rid of her 
neighbours. She was too discreet, however, 
to attempt to rout them during the day, 
when some dreaded human being might be 
attracted by the noise ; so she endeavoured 
to surprise the vixen and her cubs together 
at night. 

For a while, she was unsuccessful. She 
happened to frighten them by an impetuous, 
blustering attack in the rear, from which 
they easily escaped ; thus her difficulties had 
been increased, since the objects of her 
aversion became loath to stay in the " earth " 



HILLSIDE TRAILS 363 

after nightfall. But at last, probably more 
through accident than set purpose, the 
badger out-manoeuvred the wily foxes. 

Lying one evening in the doorway, she 
heard the vixen, followed by the young foxes, 
creeping stealthily from the den. Retreating 
quickly, she barred their exit, thus compelling 
them to return to their lair; then she took 
up her position in the neck of the passage, 
and waited patiently till midnight before 
commencing her assault. At last, in the 
dense darkness, she crawled along the winding 
tunnel, and, directly, the den was the scene 
of wild confusion and uproar, as its inmates 
leaped and tumbled over each other in their 
frantic efforts to escape. For a few minutes, 
the advent of danger unnerved them ; then, as 
if peculiarly fascinated by the grim, motion- 
less enemy blocking their only outlet, they 
began an aimless, shuffling dance, baring 
their teeth and hissing as they lurched from 
side to side. Their suspense was soon ended. 
The badger, emerging partly from the passage, 
gripped one of the cubs by a hind-leg, and 
dragged it backwards along the passage to the 
thicket outside, where, after worrying her 
victim unmercifully, she ended its life by 



364 THE BADGER 

crushing its skull, above the muzzle, into 
fragments between her teeth. 

Once more, but this time furious with the 
taste of blood, she hurried to the den ; and 
the scene of fear and violence was repeated. 
Her third visit was futile : the vixen with 
the other cubs had bolted into the main 
gallery, and escaped thence to the wood, 
through an old opening, almost choked with 
withered leaves, at the back of the "set." 

They never returned, but the following 
spring a strange vixen from the rocks across 
the valley came to the burrow, gave birth to 
her young, and, in due course, without loss, 
was evicted by Brock's relentless mate. 

On the night after the death of the fox- 
cubs, when Brock was led by the she-badger 
to the spot where her victims lay, he noticed 
that man's foot-scent was strong on the grass 
around, and also that his hand-scent lingered 
on the fur of the slain animal. Often, during 
the succeeding two months, he was awakened 
in the day by quick, irregular footsteps over- 
head; and later, when he climbed from his 
doorway, and stood motionless, with uplifted 
nostrils, inhaling each breath of scent, he 
found that the dreaded signs of man were 




"HE CLIMBED FROM HIS DOORWAY, AND STOOD MOTIONLESS, ' 
UPLIFTED NOSTRILS. INHALING EACH BREATH OF SCENT.' 



{To face p. 364. 



HILLSIDE TRAILS 365 

numerous on the trail, on the near beech- 
trunk, and even on the mound before the 
"set." Once, on returning home with his 
family, he was greatly alarmed to discover 
that in the night the man had visited his 
haunts, and that a dog had passed down 
the galleries and disturbed the bed on which 
he slept. Henceforward, he used the main 
opening as an exit only, and invariably 
entered the "set" by the opening through 
which the vixen had escaped from his 
mate, passing, on his way, the mouth of a 
side-gallery connected with the apartments 
occupied by his old sire and dam, together 
with their present family. Eventually, 
through these precautions, he saved his 
principal earthworks from destruction. 

Had Brock been able to ascertain the 
meaning of man's frequent visits to the 
neighbourhood of his dwelling, he would have 
sorely lamented the killing of the young foxes 
by the female badger. In the eyes of the 
Hunt, vulpicide was an unpardonable crime, 
whether committed by man or beast; and, 
when the dead fox- cubs were shown to the 
huntsman, he vowed vengeance on the slayer. 
Because of a recent exchange, between the 



366 THE BADGER 

two local Hunts, of certain out-lying farms, 
it happened that this huntsman was not he 
who in past seasons had tethered his horse 
near the " set " while he " drew " the cover 
on foot. The new-comer soon discovered the 
" earth " ; but after a brief examination, from 
which he concluded, because of the strong 
taint still lingering, that it was tenanted by 
a fox, he walked away towards the farm. 
Fearing a reprimand from the Master if the 
mysterious slaughter of the foxes could not 
be explained, he made careful enquiries of 
the farmers, by whom he was told of the 
badger and the sheep, as well as of the 
poacher who had seen Brock's sire in the 
upland fields two years ago ; but he laughed 
at the first tale, and for want of adequate 
information paid no heed to the second. 
Nevertheless, when he again visited the 
"earth," and, stooping, saw the withered 
leaves and fern, and detected, not now the 
scent of a fox, but the scent of half a dozen 
badgers, his sluggish brain began to move 
in the right direction. Stories he had heard 
by the lodge fireside when he was a lad, 
casual remarks dropped by followers of the 
Hunt, questions asked him by an inquisitive 



HILLSIDE TRAILS 367 

boy-naturalist he slowly remembered them 
all ; and then the revealing light dawned 
on his mind, that no animal but a badger 
could with ease have broken the limbs of a 
fox- cub, and cracked the skull as though it 
were a hazel-nut. Filled with a sense of 
self-importance, befitting the bearer of a 
momentous message, the huntsman rode 
away in the breathless summer twilight to 
the country house where the Master lived, 
and presently was shown into the gun-room 
to wait till dinner was over. 

The Master prided himself on his love of 
every kind of sport ; and before the huntsman 
had finished a long, rambling story of the 
woodland tragedy he had formed his plans 
for the punishment of the offender and 
was writing a brief, urgent letter to a 
distant friend. As the result, a few days 
afterwards three little terriers, specially 
trained for "drawing" a badger, arrived at 
the Master's house, and were accommodated 
in a vacant " loose-box " in the stables. 
Late at night, one of these was introduced 
to the "set," and from the experiment the 
Master was led to believe that, though the 
place, as he surmised, was empty of its usual 



368 THE BADGER 

tenants at the time, it held sure promise of 
sport for an " off" day, as soon as the otter- 
hounds, now about to hunt in the rivers of 
the west, had departed from the neighbour- 
hood. Meanwhile, according to his strictest 
orders, the little terriers were well fed, 
regularly exercised, and kept from quarrel- 
ling, and their coats were carefully brushed 
and oiled that they might be as fit as 
fiddles for the eventful "draw." 

The Master was a rigid disciplinarian in 
all matters concerned with sport. His 
servants, one and all, from the old, white- 
haired family butler down to the little 
stable-boy, idolised him, but never presumed 
to disobey his slightest command. For many 
years before he came to live at the mansion, 
the Hunt had fallen into a state of extreme 
neglect; the pack was one of the worst in 
the kingdom, the subscriptions were irregular, 
the kennel servants were ill-paid, the poor 
cottagers never received payment for losses 
when Reynard visited their hen-coops, and 
even the farmers began to grumble at need- 
less damage to their hedges, and to refuse 
to " walk " the puppies. But the new Master 
had changed all this. He bore his share, 



HILLSIDE TRAILS 369 

but no more, of the expense caused by the 
reforms he at once introduced, and he 
reminded his proud yet stingy neighbours 
that the pack existed for their sport as 
much as for his own, that arrears were 
shown in his secretary's subscription-books, 
and that, unless the funds were augmented, 
he would reconsider the step he had taken 
in accepting the Mastership. Useless servants, 
useless hounds, and merely ornamental 
members of the Hunt, alike disappeared ; and 
with system and discipline came season after 
season of prosperity, contentment, and justice, 
till it seemed that the best old traditions of 
British sport were revived in a community 
of hard-working, rough-riding fox-hunters, 
among the isolated valleys of the west. 

As might be inferred from the personality 
of the Squire, everything was in apple-pie 
order on the glorious summer morning when 
he and his huntsmen made their way down 
river to the wood inhabited by Brock. A 
complete collection of tools crowbar, earth- 
drill, shovels, picks, a woodman's axe, and a 
badger-tongs that had been used many years 
ago to unearth a badger in a distant county, 
and ever since had occupied a corner in 
2 A 



370 THE BADGER 

the Squire's harness-room had already been 
conveyed to the scene of operations, together 
with a big basket of provisions and a cask 
of beer, it being one of the Squire's axioms 
that hard work deserved good hire. Four 
brawny labourers were also there ; and, near 
by, each in leash, the three little terriers lay 
among the bilberries. Punctually at the time 
appointed, the work of the day began. A 
terrier was led to the main entrance of the 
"set," but, to the dismay of the huntsman, 
he refused to enter. When, however, he 
was brought to the entrance that artful 
Brock had lately used, he at once became 
keenly excited, dragged at his leash, and, on 
being freed, disappeared in the darkness of 
the burrow. The Master knelt to listen ; and 
presently, as the sound of furious growls and 
barks came from the depths, he arose, saying : 
"Now, my men, we may begin with picks 
and shovels; our badger is at home." 

What followed, from that early summer 
morning till twilight shadows fell over the 
woods, and men and dogs, completely beaten, 
wended their way homewards along the river- 
path, may best be told, perhaps, in a bare, 
simple narrative of events as they occurred. 



HILLSIDE TRAILS 371 

When the terrier went "to ground," he 
crawled down a steep, winding passage into 
a hollow, from twelve to fifteen feet below 
the entrance. Thence, guided by the scent 
of a badger, he climbed an equally steep 
passage, to a gallery about six feet below the 
surface. Following the gallery for a yard 
or so, he came to a spot where it was joined 
by a side passage, and here, as well as in 
the gallery beyond, the scent was strong. 
He chose the side passage, crept down a 
slight declivity, and came where Brock's sire 
had, a few minutes before, been lying asleep, 
while his mate and cubs occupied the centre 
of the chamber. Awakened by the approach 
of the terrier, the she-badger and her offspring 
had hurried to another chamber of the " set," 
and the male had retreated to a blind alley 
recently excavated back towards the main 
gallery. The terrier, keeping to the line he 
had struck at the sleeping place, found the 
male badger at work there, throwing up a 
barrier between himself and his pursuing 
enemy, and at once diverted his attention 
by feinting an attack in the rear. For two 
hours, the game little dog, avoiding each 
clumsy charge and yet not giving the badger 



372 THE BADGER 

a moment's peace, remained close by, while 
the men cut further and further into the 
" set," till they stood in the first deep chamber 
through which the terrier had passed. Then 
the terrier came out to quench his thirst, 
and was led away by the huntsman to the 
river, while the second dog was speedily 
despatched to earth, that the badger might 
be allowed no breathing space during which 
he could bury himself beyond the reach of 
further attack. The second dog, on coming 
to the junction of the passage and the gallery, 
chose the alternative line of scent in the 
gallery, and wandered far away into the 
chamber where Brock, whose family had 
descended some time before to the winter 
" oven," awaited his coming. When the faint 
barking of the second terrier told that the 
badger had seemingly shifted his quarters to 
an almost incredible distance from the trench, 
the faces of the Squire and his assistants 
evinced no little surprise. For a moment, 
the men were inclined to believe that the 
dog was "marking false," but, presently, 
their doubts were dispelled, and their hopes 
revived, as the sounds indicated that the 
terrier, contesting hotly every inch of the 






HILLSIDE TRAILS 373 

way, was retreating towards them before his 
enraged enemy. The labourers resumed work, 
though not with the confidence of the early 
morning, when their task seemed lighter 
than the experienced Master would admit. 
Hour after hour they toiled ; the dogs 
were often changed ; and at last the trench 
was long enough to be within a yard or so 
of the spot where the dog was engaged. 
Then, to the mortification of the sportsmen, 
the sounds of the conflict suggested another 
change: Brock was retiring leisurely to his 
chamber. The earth-drill was soon put into 
play, and the badger's position discovered, 
but directly afterwards the animal again 
moved, this time to the deep " oven " below. 
Night was now rapidly closing over the 
woods, and the weary, disappointed men and 
dogs reluctantly gave up their task. The 
Squire admitted that on this occasion, at 
any rate, he was fairly and squarely beaten. 
Brock and his mate are still in possession of 
the old burrow beyond the farm ; and Brock's 
sire, a patriarch among badgers, lives, as the 
comrade of another old male, among the 
boulders of a rugged hillside a mile from 
the "set." 



THE HEDGEHOG. 



THE HEDGEHOG, 
i. 

A VAGABOND HUNTER. 

AT the lower end of our village, the 
valley is joined by a deep ravine through 
which a sequestered road hidden by haw- 
thorn hedges, and crossed by numerous water- 
courses where the hillside streams, dropping 
from rocks of shale, ripple towards a trout- 
brook feeding the main river winds into the 
quiet country. The rugged sides of the ravine 
are thickly clothed with gorse and brambles, 
and dotted with hazels, willows, and oaks. 
This dense cover is inhabited by large numbers 
of rabbits ; in a sheltered hollow half-way 
up the slope a badger has dug his " set " ; and 
in the pastures above the thickets a fox may 
be seen prowling on almost any moonlit night. 
Past the gorge, the glen opens out in rich, 
level pastures and meadows bounded on either 

877 



378 THE HEDGEHOG 

side by the hills. The nearest farmsteads 
are built high among the sunny dingles 
overlooking the glen, and the corn and the 
root-crops are grown on the slope beyond 
the broad belts of gorse and bramble. 

In winter, the low-lying lands are seldom 
visited by the peasantry, except when the 
dairymaid drives the cattle to and fro, or the 
hedger trims the undergrowth along the 
ditches. Though the sportsman with gun and 
spaniels and the huntsman with horse and 
hounds are frequently heard in the thickets, 
they never visit the " bottom," unless the 
partridges fly down from the stubble, or the 
hare, pursued by the beagles, takes a straight 
line from the far side of the glen to a sheep- 
path leading up the gorge. And in summer, 
except when the fisherman wanders by the 
brook, and the haymakers are busy in the 
grass, the glen is an undisturbed sanctuary, 
given over to Nature's wildlings, where, in 
safety, as far as man is concerned, they tend 
their hidden young. 

In this quiet, windless place, on the day 
when first the haymakers came to the 
meadows, five little hedgehogs were born 
in a nest among the roots of a tree, deep 



A VAGABOND HUNTER 379 

in the undergrowth of a tangled hedgerow. 
The nest was made of dry grass and leaves, 
and with an entrance so arranged amid the 
"trash," that, when the parent hedgehogs 
went to or from their home, they pushed 
their way through a heap of dead herbage, 
which, falling behind them, hid the passage 
from inquisitive eyes. 

It may be asked why such a warm retreat 
was necessary, inasmuch as the hedgehog 
sucklings came into the world in the hottest 
time of the year. Nature's reasons were, how- 
ever, all-sufficient; the little creatures, feeble 
and blind, needed a secure hiding place, 
screened from the changeful wind of night 
and from every roving enemy. The hay- 
makers, moving to and fro amid the swathes, 
knew nothing of the hedgehogs' where- 
abouts; but when the dews of night lay 
thick on the strewn wild flowers, the parent 
"urchins," leaving their helpless charges 
asleep within their nest, wondered greatly, 
while they hunted for snails and slugs in the 
ditch, at the quick change that had passed 
over the silent field. 

For a week or more, the spines sprouting 
from round projections on the bodies of the 



380 THE HEDGEHOG 

young hedgehogs were colourless and blunt, 
and so flexible that they could have offered no 
defence against the teeth or the claws of an 
enemy ; while every muscle was so soft and 
feeble that not one of the little animals was 
as yet able to roll itself into the shape of a 
ball. The spines, however, served a useful 
purpose: they kept the tender skin beneath 
from being irritated by the chance touch of 
the mother hedgehog's obtrusive quills. 

Soon the baby hedgehogs' eyes opened 
wide to the pale light filtering between the 
leaves at the entrance to the chamber, and 
their spines, gradually stiffening, assumed a 
dull grey colour. Then, one still, dark night, 
the little creatures, with great misgiving, 
followed their parents from the nest, and 
wandered for a short distance beside the 
tangled hedge. Presently, made tired and 
sleepy and hungry by exercise and fresh air, 
they were led back to their secret retreat, 
where, after being tended for a few moments 
by their careful mother, they fell asleep, 
while their parents searched diligently for 
food in the dense grass-clumps left by the 
harvesters amid the briars and the furze. 

Henceforth, every night, they ventured, 



A VAGABOND HUNTER 381 

under their mother's care, to roam afield, 
their journeys becoming longer and still 
longer as their strength increased, till, familiar 
with the hedgerow paths, they were ready 
and eager to learn the rudiments of such 
field-craft as concerned their unpretending 
lives. 

A glorious summer, far brighter than is 
usual among the rainy hills of the west, 
brooded over the countryside. The days 
were calm and sunny, but with the coming 
of evening occasional mists drifted along 
the dingles and scattered pearl-drops on 
the after-math ; and the nights were warm 
and starlit, filled with the silence of 
the wilderness, which only Nature's children 
break. The "calling season" for the hare 
had long since passed, and for the fox it 
had not yet arrived ; so the voices of the 
two greatest wanderers on the countryside 
were not at this time heard. 

A doe hare had made her "form" hardly 
twenty yards from the hedgehogs' nest, 
and night after night, just when the 
"urchins" moved down the hedge from 
the old tree-root, she ambled by on her 
way to the clover-field above the heath. 



382 THE HEDGEHOG 

Once, a little before dawn, a fox, coming 
to drink at the brook, detected the scent 
of the hedgehogs near a molehill, followed 
it to the litter of leaves by the tree, and 
caused considerable alarm by making a 
vigorous attempt to dig out the nest; but, 
probably because of the dampness of the 
loamy soil, he failed to determine the exact 
whereabouts of the hedgehog family ; and, 
after breaking a tooth in his vain efforts to 
cut through a tough, close-fibred root, he 
made his way along the hedge, and soon 
disappeared over the crest of the moonlit 
hill. But the next night, when the wind 
blew strong, and the rain pattered loudly 
on the leafy trees, he came again to the 
" urchins' " haunt. The doe hare had long 
since rustled by, and the hedgehogs were 
busy munching a cluster of earthworms 
discovered in a heap of refuse not far from 
the gate, when Reynard stole over the 
fence-bank, and sniffed at the nest. Not 
finding the family at home, he followed 
their scent through the ditch, and soon 
surprised them. To kill one of the tiny 
"urchins" was the work of a moment; 
then, made eager by the taste of blood, the 



A VAGABOND HUNTER 383 

fox turned on the mother hedgehog and 
tried to fix his fangs in the soft flesh 
beneath the armour of her spines. But, 
feeling at once his warm breath, she, with a 
quick contraction of the muscles, rolled her- 
self into a prickly ball, and remained proof 
against his every artifice. He was a young 
fox, not yet learned in the wiles of Nature's 
feebler folk, and so, when he had recovered 
from his astonishment, he pounced on the 
rigid creature, and, thoughtlessly exerting all 
his strength, endeavoured to rend her in 
pieces with his powerful jaws. He paid 
dearly for his temerity. The prickly ball 
rolled over, under the pressure of his fore- 
paws, the sharp points of the spines entered 
the bare flesh behind his pads, and as, almost 
falling to the ground, he bit savagely to 
right and left in the fit of anger which 
now possessed him, his mouth and nostrils 
dripped blood from a dozen irritating 
wounds. Thoroughly discomfited, he leaped 
back into the field, where, sick with pain, 
he endeavoured to gain relief by rubbing 
his muzzle vigorously in the grass and 
against his aching limbs. Then, sneezing 
violently, and with his mouth encrusted 



384 THE HEDGEHOG 

with froth and loam, he bolted from the 
scene of his unpleasant adventure, never 
pausing till he reached his "earth" on the 
hillside, in which, hidden from the mocking 
gaze of other prowlers of the night, he could 
leisurely salve his wounds with the moisture 
of his soft, warm tongue, and ponder over 
the lessons of his recent experience. 

By far the most intelligent and powerful 
enemy of the young hedgehogs was the 
farmer's dog; but, as he slept in the barn 
at night, and generally accompanied the 
labourers to the upland fields by day, they 
escaped, for a while, his unwelcome 
attentions. Foes hardly less dreaded, 
because of their insatiable thirst for blood, 
were two polecats living in a hole half-way 
up the wall of a ruined cottage not far 
from the hillside farmhouse. The polecats, 
however, were so occupied with the care 
of a family, that, finding young rabbits 
plentiful in the burrows on the heath, 
they seldom wandered into the open fields, 
till the little " urchins," ready, at the first 
sign of danger, to curl themselves within 
the proof-armour of their growing spines, 
were well able to resist attack. 



A VAGABOND HUNTER 385 

The hedgehogs were about three months 
old, and summer, brief and beautiful, was 
passing away, when an incident occurred 
that might have proved disastrous, though, 
fortunately, it resulted only in a practical 
joke, such as Nature often plays on the 
children of the wilds. One cairn, dark 
night, while they were busy in the grass, a 
brown owl, hunting for mice, sailed slowly 
by. Now, the brown owl, in spite of 
proverbial wisdom gained during a long 
life in the dim seclusion of the woods, is 
occasionally apt to blunder. Her character, 
indeed, seems full of quaint contradictions. 
As she floats through the moonlight and 
the shadows of the beech-aisles of Dollan, 
she appears to be a large bird, with a 
philosophic contentment of mind an 
ancient creature that, shunning the fellow- 
ships of the garish modern day and loving 
the leisure and the solitude of night, dreams 
of the past. But, beneath its loose feathery 
garments, her body, hardly larger than 
that of a ringdove, is altogether out of 
proportion to her long, narrow head and 
wide-spreading talons. Visions of the past 
may come to her, as, blinking at the light 
2 B 



386 THE HEDGEHOG 

of day, she sits in the hollow of the tree, 
but at night she is far too wide-awake to 
dream. And so great are the owl's powers 
of sight and hearing, and so swift is her 
"stoop" from the sky to the ground, that 
the bank-vole has little chance of escape 
should a single grass-stalk rustle underfoot 
when she is hovering near his haunt. Far 
from being shy and retiring in her 
disposition, the brown owl, directly night 
steals over the woodlands, is so fearless 
that probably no animal smaller than the 
hare can in safety roam abroad. 

As the owl flew slowly past the fence, she 
heard the faint sound of a crackling shell the 
hedgehogs were feeding on snails. She could 
barely distinguish a moving form in a tangle of 
briars, but its position discouraged attack ; so 
she flew away and continued to hunt for mice. 
Presently, returning to the spot, the owl 
was once more attracted by the sound of some 
creature feeding in the grass ; and, detecting 
a slight movement beside the briars, she 
swooped towards the ditch, grasped one of 
the " urchins " in her claws, and rose into the 
air. Her quarry, feeling the sudden grip of 
the sharp talons, made a desperate, convulsive 



A VAGABOND HUNTER 387 

movement, and the owl found, to her astonish- 
ment, that her grasp had shifted, and that 
she was holding, apparently, a hard bunch of 
thorns. Nevertheless, she tightened her grasp ; 
but an unendurable twitch of pain, as the 
spines entered her flesh immediately above 
the scales of her talons, caused her to drop 
the hedgehog into the leaf-mould of the ditch. 
Immediately afterwards, she herself, eager to 
find out the cause of her discomfiture, dropped 
also to the earth, and, standing beside the 
hedgehog, clawed savagely at the motionless 
creature, seeking some defenceless point among 
the bristling spines. At last, her patience 
exhausted, the owl gave up the ineffectual 
assault, and glided away into the gloomy 
night. Unhurt, but for a slight wound 
inflicted when first the bird descended, the 
hedgehog crawled back to the brambles, 
where the rest of her family were still busy 
with the snails, and joined them in their 
feast. 

Autumn's sere leaves had fallen from the 
trees, and the hedgehogs had found such a 
plentiful supply of all kinds of food that 
they were ready for their winter sleep, 
when a gipsy boy, the proud possessor of a 



388 THE HEDGEHOG 

terrier trained for hunting hedgehogs, set 
forth in haste one evening from his tent by 
the wayside above the farm. The boy was 
smarting from cruel blows inflicted by his 
drunken parents, who, after unusual success 
in disposing of baskets and clothes-pegs, had 
spent much of the day's profit in a carouse at 
the village inn. Having escaped a continu- 
ance of his parents' brutalities, and eluded 
their ill-conducted pursuit, the young gipsy, in 
the company of his only friend, soon forgot his 
miseries as his thoughts turned to a vagabond's 
rough sport in the stillness of the harvest 
night. Thrusting a long stick here and there 
into the briars, he strolled along by the fence, 
till his dog, diligently beating in line amid 
the undergrowth, gave a quick yelp of delight, 
and, an instant later, a curled-up hedgehog 
rolled down into the ditch. The boy placed 
the animal in his ragged handkerchief, the 
corners of which he was proceeding to tie 
together when the terrier again attracted 
attention with unmistakable signs of a " find." 
For a few brief minutes sport was keenly 
exciting, but at last all the "urchin" family, 
with the exception of one member, were 
captured, and the boy, now thoroughly happy, 






A VAGABOND HUNTER 389 

his pockets and handkerchief heavy with 
spoil, turned homewards through the dark- 
ness. Next morning, the slain hedgehogs, 
baked in clay among the hot ashes of a fire 
of rotten twigs, formed the principal item in 
the gipsies' bill of fare, and the terrier enjoyed 
the remnants of the meal. 

The hedgehog surviving the gipsy's raid 
was a young female, that, while the terrier 
beat the fence, remained quietly munching 
a large lob-worm at the foot of a mound 
a dozen yards away, and so knew nothing 
of the fate of her kindred. 

The last weeks of the year passed un- 
eventfully, as far as her little life was 
concerned ; then, as the nights grew longer 
and the cold increased, she set about 
preparing in earnest for her long, deep 
sleep. 

In a sheltered spot close to the wood- 
lands, where, a month before, a badger had 
unearthed a wild bee's nest, she collected 
a heap of withered oak-leaves, hay, and 
moss, and with these simple materials 
made a large, snug nest, a winter house 
so constructed that the rain might trickle 
down to the absorbent soil beneath. For 



390 THE HEDGEHOG 

a little while, however, she did not enter 
into her unbroken rest. Still, nightly, she 
roamed abroad, moving in and out of the 
dried herbage everywhere strewn in her 
paths among the tree-roots, till the sapless 
leaves impaled on the sharp points of her 
spines formed such a cluster that she lost 
all semblance of a living creature. Insects 
were becoming rarer and still rarer as the 
year drew to its close, and those surviving 
the frosts retired to countless secret 
chambers at the roots of the moss and 
under the tough bark of the trees. The 
lizards sought shelter in warm hollows 
deep below the piles of stones left here 
and there by the labourers, when, every 
spring, they cleared the freshening fields. 
And the big round snails, the luscious 
tit-bits of the hedgehog's provender, crept 
into the holes of the red mice and into the 
chinks of walls and banks, where, protected 
by their shells, each being fastened to its 
resting place by a neat rim of hardened 
glue, they lived unconscious of decay and 
gloom. Then the hedgehog, having 
become drowsier and still drowsier with 
privation and cold, ceased to wander from 



A VAGABOND HUNTER 391 

her nest at dark, and began that slumber 
which was to last till the sweet, warm 
breath of spring awoke her, and other 
wildlings of the night, to a life among the 
early primroses and violets. 



THE HEDGEHOG. 
II. 

AN EXPERIENCE IN SNAKE-KILLING. 

THE many changes of winter passed over 
the countryside ; tempests raged, rain beat 
down in slanting sheets or enveloped the 
fields in mist, snow fell heavily and then 
vanished before the breath of a westerly 
breeze, black frost held the fields for days 
in an iron clutch, and sometimes, from 
late dawn to early dusk, the sun shone 
clearly in the southern sky. The sportsman 
with his spaniels wandered by the hedge, 
the huntsman with his beagles chased the 
hare across the sodden meadows, and the 
report of a gun or the note of a horn 
echoed among the surrounding hills. But 
in spite of changing weather and dangers 
from unresting foes, the hedgehog slept 
peacefully within her nest of withered 



AN EXPERIENCE IN SNAKE-KILLING 393 

leaves till awakened by the whisper of the 
warm south-western wind. 

It was a calm day towards the end 
of March when the hedgehog awoke. 
Gradually, since the winter solstice, the 
shadows of noon, cast from the wooded 
slope across the meadows in the glen, had 
become shorter ; and now, when the sun 
reached its meridian, its beams fell directly 
on the spot where the hedgehog rested 
among the littered leaves. She felt the 
strange and subtle influence of spring, and 
crawled feebly from her retreat. The light 
above her nest was far too brilliant for 
her eyes, which had been closed for three 
long months, and were at best only 
accustomed to the gloom of night, so 
she sought the shadow of a tree-trunk 
near, and there, for a while, remained 
quite motionless. With the leaves of 
last autumn still clinging thickly to her 
spines, she seemed an oddly fashioned 
creature belonging to a distant age, a 
little Rip Van Winkle of the woods, with 
a new, quick world of unfamiliar joys and 
sorrows claiming her half-conscious life. 
Extremely feeble from cold and privation, 



394 THE HEDGEHOG 

and knowing, as all Nature's wildlings seem 
to know, that sunlight brings with it 
health and strength, she presently left the 
shadow of the tree-trunk, and, closing her 
eyes, basked in complete enjoyment of the 
balmy day. The heat and the gentle 
wind soon dried her armour of spines and 
surcoat of leaves. Stealing in through the 
tunnel left open when the hedgehog came 
forth from her sleep, the wind cleansed 
and ventilated the nest, and soon all traces 
of winter's mustiness had vanished from 
both herself and her home. By sundown, 
the "urchin" had gained strength that 
enabled her to wander slowly into the 
meadow, where she found sufficient food to 
stay her growing hunger. 

During the first few nights, her appetite, 
though keen, was easily satisfied, for the 
digestive organs, unaccustomed to their work, 
could not retain much nutriment, and hours 
of slumber seemed necessary after every 
trifling meal. But gradually her powers were 
restored, till almost any kind of fresh animal 
matter that came in her way was greedily 
devoured. A spider sleeping in a folded leaf, 
a fly hiding beneath a stone, a snail, a slug, 



AN EXPERIENCE IN SNAKE-KILLING 395 

a worm, a frog, a weakling bird fallen from 
an early nest, a lizard, or a snake all alike 
were welcome as she thrust her damp, blunt 
snout, that looked like a little fold of 
black rubber, here and there amid the 
herbage. 

Her eyesight was faulty she had no great 
need of it; her enemies were few, and she 
did not live the life of the hunted that fear 
each footfall on the grass; but, as if to 
balance all deficiencies, her sense of smell 
was singularly acute, so that she could follow 
with ease the trail of a beetle or of an 
earthworm in its windings over the soil. 
The eggs and young of the lark, the 
corncrake, the partridge, or of any other 
bird that built on the ground, were never 
safe once the hedgehog had crossed the 
lines of scent left by the parents around 
their nest. Even the robin and the wren, 
nesting in holes along the hedge, and the 
field-mouse in its chamber sheltered by the 
moss, were at any time likely to have 
their family affairs most cruelly upset; The 
wild -bee's sting could not save her honeyed 
cells and helpless grubs, and the sharp-fanged 
adder, writhing from the hedgehog's sudden 



396 THE HEDGEHOG 

bite, would hurl itself in vain against the 
prickly ball that instantly confronted each 
counter attack. 

The hedgehog's first experience of snake- 
killing occurred late one evening, when she 
discovered a viper, some distance from its 
hole, coiled asleep on a bare patch of soil 
where the sunlight had lingered at the close 
of day. Her manner instantly changed ; she 
became eager and alert. Pausing only a 
second to make sure of her attack, she bit 
the snake sharply near the neck, then, with- 
drawing her head and limbs into the shelter 
of her spines, rolled over, an inanimate ball. 
The viper, mad with pain, thrust back its 
head from its sinuous coils, rose, and struck 
with open jaws at its assailant. Its fangs 
closed strongly, but failed to get a grip, and 
the smooth underside of its throat glanced 
past the hedgehog's slanting prickles with 
such force that the whole body of the snake 
was lifted from the ground, and fell, like a 
bent arrow, about a yard behind its foe. 
Again the snake rose, and struck with no 
effect ; but this time the stroke, coming from 
the rear, was met by the sharp points of the 
spines, and the adder's mouth dropped blood 



AN EXPERIENCE IN SNAKE-KILLING 397 

from a clean-cut wound on the upper edge 
of the palate. Repeatedly, the snake, hissing 
loudly and fighting for its life, attacked its 
armoured enemy at first dashing itself 
senselessly against the sharp points of the 
hedgehog's spines, then, with caution, swaying 
to and fro its bleeding head and snapping 
harmlessly at an apparently unguarded spot, 
till, from sheer exhaustion and pain, and 
with its store of poison almost exhausted, 
it retired from the unequal combat and 
slowly wriggled into the grass. Presently, the 
"urchin" uncoiled, and, as soon as the 
inquisitive little snout discovered the where- 
abouts of the snake, started in pursuit. 
With a hard, firm bite, she luckily managed 
to break the backbone of the viper ; then, at 
once, she again assumed the shape of a ball. 
Desperate now, the snake expended all its 
remaining strength in wild attacks, till, limp 
and helpless, and utterly at the mercy of 
the hedgehog, it lay outstretched. Then 
the relentless hedgehog, assured that her 
prey was quite defenceless, severed almost 
every bone in its body, tore the scales from 
the flesh, and fed to repletion. 

Such a struggle often happens in the 



398 THE HEDGEHOG 

fields and the woodlands. During the 
first few weeks of life, the hedgehog, if its 
parents are absent, may be at the adder's 
mercy ; but, later, the tables are completely 
turned, the once helpless creature becomes 
the strong aggressor, and is revenged by 
removing, not only an enemy, but a rival 
subsisting on food often similar to that 
which is its own. 

For a while after her awakening, the 
hedgehog fed chiefly on the big earth- 
worms which, induced by the increasing 
warmth, forsook the deep recesses of their 
burrows, and tunnelled immediately beneath 
the grass-roots, coming forth at night to lie 
outstretched amid the undergrowth. She 
had, of necessity, to match their fear by her 
excessive cunning. They frequently detected 
her presence by the slight vibrations of the 
soil beneath her soft, slow-moving feet, and 
hurriedly withdrew from her path, but more 
often she surprised and captured them by 
the simple artifice of waiting and watching 
beside the burrows where scent was fresh, 
and where, notwithstanding the noises reach- 
ing her from above, she could readily dis- 
tinguish the sounds of stretching, gliding 



AN EXPERIENCE IN SNAKE-KILLING 399 

bodies moving to the surface through the 
tortuous passages below. 

She soon became a wanderer, deserting 
her winter nest, and roaming nightly 
further and yet further from the valley 
meadows, till she reached a rough pasture 
at the end of the glen. In a thick 
hedgerow skirting a secluded pond among 
alders and willows, she found food unex- 
pectedly varied and plentiful. Luscious 
snails, with striped yellow and brown 
shells, were so common in the ditch beyond 
a certain cattle-path, that, even after a 
whole day's fast, her hunger was quickly 
appeased. 

April drew near, the leaves of the trees 
expanded, and the voice of the night 
wind in the branches changed from a moan 
to a whisper. At noon, flies came forth to 
bask on the stones; the furze, decked with 
yellow flowers, was visited by countless 
bees ; and bronze-winged beetles crept 
among the thorny branches of the hawthorn 
and the sloe. The hedgehog knew little 
of the pulsing life of mid-day, but at dusk 
she sometimes found a tired fly, or bee, 
or beetle, hiding in the matted grass 



400 THE HEDGEHOG 

beneath the gorse, and so was made aware 
of summer's near approach. 

Among the flags and the rushes of the 
pond, a pair of fussy moorhens built their 
nest on an islet of decayed vegetation 
clustered round a stone. At all hours of 
the day, the birds sailed gaily hither and 
thither, or wandered, happy and impulsive, 
along the margin of the pool. No care 
had they, and the solitude of their retreat 
seemed likely never to be disturbed, till, 
one moonlit night, the fox, that last year 
had killed the baby hedgehog in the glen, 
stole through the shadows of the alders, 
caught the scent of the moorhens, and 
approached the nest where the female was 
brooding over her eggs. The bird had 
watched the fox's movements since first 
he appeared on the bank beyond the trees. 
Quietly she dropped into the pond beside 
the nest, dived, came up on the far side of 
the islet, and stayed there, with only her 
head above the surface of the water. She 
saw, with fear, the fox approach her nest, 
and recognised that it was hardly possible 
for her treasures to be saved, when, 
suddenly, her mate, having doubtless 



AN EXPERIENCE IN SNAKE-KILLING 401 

watched the marauder as closely as she 
herself had done, walked out of a reed- 
clump two or three yards from her hiding 
place, and, in full view of the fox, swam 
slowly to and fro, beating his wings as if 
in mortal pain. Without the slightest 
hesitation, Reynard, thinking to obtain an 
easy prize, plunged into the pond, but the 
bird just managed to elude him, and to 
flutter into another reed-clump a short 
distance away. Completely deceived by the 
ruse, the fox was drawn further and further 
from the nest, till he reached a distant 
corner of the pond, when, to his astonish- 
ment, the moorhen vanished, leaving him to 
a vain search which at last so much 
annoyed him that, instead of returning 
along the bank towards the nest, he crossed 
the glen, trotted up the cattle-path, and 
entered the dense thicket on the slope. 

With most wild creatures, fear seems 
to be a feeling that quickly comes and 
quickly goes. But over some of Nature's 
weaklings, fear seems to throw a spell that 
remains long after the danger has passed ; 
as, for instance, in the case of a rabbit 
hunted by a stoat, or of a vole pursued by 



402 THE HEDGEHOG 

a weasel. The animal trembles with fright, 
cries as if in pain, and limps, half-paralysed, 
towards its home, some time after its pursuer 
may have turned aside to follow a line of 
scent leading in a quite opposite direction. 
Now and then, a young rabbit is so over- 
come by fright, that the sly, watchful carrion 
crow obtains, with little trouble, an unex- 
pected meal. The birds of the hedgerow 
finches, robins, and the like are also subject 
to the distressing influence of fear, directly 
they catch sight of a hungry weasel "per- 
forming" in the ditch. When the weasel 
sets itself to lure any such creatures, its 
movements are remarkably similar to the 
contortions of a snake ; and the birds, 
fascinated as their enemy's strange actions 
are rapidly repeated, flutter helplessly from 
spray to spray, till one or other becomes 
a victim and the weasel ambles off with 
its prey. Then, released from the spell, 
the birds proceed to mob the bloodthirsty 
tyrant, and, at times, with such effect that 
he is compelled, before making good his 
escape, to resort to stratagems similar to 
those that previously held the birds enthralled. 
Reynard seems to have learned from the 



AN EXPERIENCE IN SNAKE-KILLING 403 

weasel's manoeuvres, for he, too, is wont to 
entice the rabbits towards him by extra- 
ordinary methods, twirling round, like a cat, 
in pursuit of his tail, and affording such a 
spectacle to any onlookers that they must 
needs, from sheer curiosity, find out the 
meaning of a woodland farce, which, alas ! is 
often followed by a tragedy. It is not known 
that the fox ever succeeds in fascinating the 
moorhen ; the bird, directly she caught sight 
of his circling form, would probably dive, and 
in the cool refuge of the water, her sharp 
eyes peeping from between the flags, would 
wisely conclude that such an unaccountable 
display meant danger. It is, however, 
tolerably certain that the influence of fear 
seldom causes a nesting bird, or a breeding 
mammal, to become helpless in the presence 
of an enemy, though when family cares 
are over the conditions might be entirely 
reversed. Even such timid creatures as 
rabbits and hares sometimes strenuously 
defend their young from the attacks of 
weasels and stoats. 

As the fox trotted up the hillside path, 
the moorhen joined her mate in the tangle 
of the reeds, and, without fear, wandered 



404 THE HEDGEHOG 

over the marshy ground in the neighbour- 
hood of her nest. Then she swam out 
across the narrow channel, and settled down, 
in fancied security, to brood once more over 
her speckled eggs. She had just taken her 
accustomed position, when the hedgehog, 
pushing the reeds aside, became aware of the 
strong scent on the margin of the pond. 
The hungry "urchin's" intelligence, though 
limited, at once suggested that the scent of 
a mothering bird might lead to a clutch of 
delicious eggs, or to a brood of plump and 
juicy nestlings. Following the trail, the 
hedgehog came to the marshy ground at the 
margin of the narrow passage where the bird 
had crossed, and, with head erect, sniffed the 
tainted wind blowing gently shorewards from 
the brooding moorhen. In her eagerness, she 
lifted herself slightly at the edge of the bank, 
missed her footing, and fell into the pond, not 
more than two or three feet from the moorhen. 
The bird, hearing the splash, dived instantly ; 
her mate again came quickly to the scene and 
tried to lead the enemy away, but the hedge- 
hog, heedless of every artifice, paddled slowly 
to the platform of dry flags, and helped herself 
to a repast more appetising than any she had 



AN EXPERIENCE IN SNAKE-KILLING 405 

recently enjoyed, while the birds, flapping 
their wings, circled angrily about the pond, 
and pecked vigorously, but vainly, at the 
marauder's prickly coat. 

Late the next evening, the hedgehog 
discovered a fledgling thrush hidden in the 
grass beyond the alders. In response to 
the cry of the young bird, the mother 
thrush flew straight to the spot, and, with 
a lucky blow struck full at the hedgehog's 
snout, so intimidated her enemy that she 
curled up immediately and allowed the 
fledgling to escape unharmed. 

The tender grass was reaching up to 
seed, the may blossom was burdening the 
air with rich perfume, and summer had 
almost come, when, late one night, the 
hedgehog, hunting among the shadows 
of the trees, chanced to hear a low, bleat- 
ing sound, like the voice of a leveret call- 
ing to the mother hare out feeding hi the 
clover. She had never heard that sound 
before, but its meaning, nevertheless, 
was plain, and without hesitation she 
replied. Again the sound broke the 
stillness, as a dim form lifted itself clumsily 
from the ditch and came towards her. 



406 THE HEDGEHOG 

Presently she felt an inquiring touch, and, 
turning, found herself face to face with a 
male hedgehog that had followed her path 
through the undergrowth. Nature had not 
been lavish in his adornment; like the 
female, he was a plain little creature, brown 
and grey, fitted to sleep unnoticed among 
the wind-blown leaves and twigs beside a 
sheltering mound. 

Theirs was an odd and awkward court- 
ship its language a medley of unmusical 
squeals and grunts ; and if a difference 
arose it was settled by one curling up 
into a ball till the other had forgotten 
the quarrel. But soon they became good 
friends, hunted together all night and slept 
together all day, while the year drew on 
to summer and then, almost imperceptibly, 
declined. Devoting much of their attention 
to domestic affairs, they built a large, dry 
nest among the foxgloves near the stream; 
where, towards the end of hay harvest, three 
naked little " urchins " came into the world, 
to be reared, just as the mother hedgehog 
herself had been reared, till autumn merged 
into winter, and winter's cold induced each to 
go in loneliness and build a snuggery for sleep. 



NIGHT IN THE WOODS. 



NIGHT IN THE WOODS, 
i. 

HAUNTS OF THE BADGER AND THE FOX. 

COMPARATIVELY little seems to be known of 
the night side of wild life in this country. 
Night watching involves prolonged exposure, 
unremitting vigilance, absolute quietness ; 
and yet, to the most alert observer, it often 
results in nothing but disappointment and 
vexation. 

Some time ago, during the moonlit nights 
of several months, I kept watch, near a 
"set" inhabited by half-a-dozen badgers, a 
vixen and her cubs, a rabbit and her 
numerous progeny, and a solitary little buck 
wood-mouse, whose close acquaintanceship I 
made after I had captured him in a butterfly- 
net placed as a spring-trap above his narrow 
run- way in the grass. This " set " which I 
have already partly described, in writing of 



410 NIGHT IN THE WOODS 

Brock, the badger seemed to be the common 
lodging house of the wood. Its numerous 
inhabitants, though not on terms of friend- 
ship, were, apparently, not at enmity. The 
wood-mouse and the rabbits, while entering 
or leaving the underground passages, and 
wandering through the paths in the wood, 
took care to avoid their powerful neighbours ; 
the foxes, believing that out of sight is out 
of mind, avoided with equal care all chances 
of encountering the badgers ; and the badgers, 
sluggish in movement and tolerant in dis- 
position, refrained from evicting the foxes or 
digging out the rabbits. 

In the undergrowth, but away from the 
well worn tracks used by the creatures as 
they stole out to feed, I had chosen three 
hiding places, representing in their relative 
positions the corners of a triangle the 
centre of which was the main entrance to 
the "set." I was thus able, whatever might 
be the direction of the wind, to lie to lee- 
ward and obtain a clear view of the principal 
opening, while I incurred but slight risk of 
detection, unless the rabbits or the wood- 
mouse crept into the brambles. 

It was during the last week of watching 



HAUNTS OF THE BADGER AND FOX 411 

that my patience received its best rewards. 
Almost regularly then, as the shadows 
deepened before moonrise, the rabbits stole 
out, and, sometimes with no hesitation, 
sometimes after much cautious reconnoitring 
and sniffing the air and " drumming " alarm 
signals on the mound before their door, 
hopped along the paths towards the clover- 
fields outside the wood. Soon after the 
rabbits appeared, the wood-mouse timidly 
peeped around the corner of the entrance, 
and, seeing nothing of his enemy, the 
brown owl, disappeared, with a rustle, 
among the dead leaves that filled a hollow 
where the old, disused workings of the 
" set " had " shrunk." 

On several occasions, the vixen led forth 
her cubs long before the badgers came in 
view, and while the light yet lingered on 
the crests of the neighbouring hills. The 
little family went away silently to a dense 
furze-brake about a hundred yards distant 
on the lower edge of the wood, and, till 
the sun had gone down, remained close- 
hidden in a lair that I afterwards discovered 
amid the long grass in the heart of the 
thicket. 



412 NIGHT IN THE WOODS 

More frequently, however, I saw nothing 
of the vixen till nightfall, though the cubs, 
impatient of confinement, now and again 
visited the mound outside the " set," and 
for a few moments played together on the 
bare soil thrown up by the hard-working 
badgers, as, in spring, they enlarged their 
breeding chamber. But, in the first calm 
hour of night, when the red after- 
glow had faded from the hills, and the 
moon, ascending cloudless in the southern 
sky, cast long, mysterious shadows down 
the aisles of the wood, the fox-cubs and 
their dam came boldly out, and, instead of 
moving off towards the furze, adjourned to 
a rill close by, whence, after quenching 
their thirst, they repaired to a glade above 
the "set," and in this favourite playground 
frisked and romped, unremittingly guarded 
from danger by their devoted mother. My 
presence unsuspected, I watched them, little 
dim figures, flitting to and fro. 

When they had gone far up the winding 
pathway to the cornfields, and the silence 
was no longer broken by their low cries 
of dissembled rage and fear, I sometimes 
lingered in my hiding place ; and as on the 



HAUNTS OF THE BADGER AND FOX 413 

grass I lay, looking towards the stars that 
twinkled between the motionless leaves of 
the trees above me, my thoughts went back 
to a time long before our village had been 
built beside the river; before Giraldus 
Cambrensis had journeyed hence with the 
pilgrim band towards Sant Dewi's shrine ; 
before the great Crag of Vortigern, across 
the near dingle, had resounded with the 
blare of the trumpets of war; before even, 
in the primitive hut-circle on the opposite 
hill, wild little children had played about 
the twilight fires kindled in readiness for the 
home-coming of the weary hunters a time 
when the fox, the badger, and the tiny 
mouse had nightly journeyed through the 
woods, and the call of the gaunt wolf to his 
mate had weirdly echoed and re-echoed in 
the valley, startling the innocent hare in 
the open waste above the slope, and the 
busy beaver on the dam below in the pool 
at the bend of the river. 

The badgers or "earth-pigs" as the 
country folk have named them were the 
original occupants of the " set," unless, 
however, the earliest excavations had been 
made by the ancestors of the old doe-rabbit 



414 NIGHT IN THE WOODS 

now inhabiting a side apartment. The foxes 
and the wood-mouse might have been 
looked upon as interlopers, but they often 
played the part of scouts and sentinels, 
quick to give alarm to the tolerant, easy- 
going badgers, in case of imminent danger 
from the visit of a dog or a man to the 
neighbourhood of their retreat. 

The badgers were more irregular as to 
the time when they left the " set " than 
were any of the other inhabitants. Perhaps 
they suspected a human presence, because 
of some peculiar vibration in the earth 
through a false step of mine. Perhaps, 
during certain conditions of the atmosphere, 
a taint borne from me, on a wave rather 
than a current of air, to the wide archway 
beneath the tree-roots in front of the main 
entrance, and then drawn down into the 
draughty passages was detected by them 
immediately they passed beyond the stagnant 
atmosphere of the blind-alley where they 
slept. Evening after evening, one of the 
old badgers would appear at the mouth 
of the " set," and, with snout uplifted in 
the archway of the tree-roots, would stay 
as motionless, but for the restless twitching 



HAUNTS OF THE BADGER AND FOX 415 

of the alert nostrils, as were the trees and 
the stones around his home, while I, not 
even daring to flick an irritating gnat from 
my forehead or neck, would wait and long 
for the philosopher in grey to make up his 
slow-moving mind. 

With regard to the badger's habit of 
staying for some time in the doorway of 
his home, it may be mentioned that years 
afterwards, when one night I compared my 
notes with those of a companion who had 
hidden near the main opening of the "set" 
while I had watched by a hole higher in 
the wood, I found that each entrance had, 
simultaneously and for long, been occupied 
by a vigilant badger ; and, as both animals 
were full-grown "greys," I concluded that 
parent badgers not unusually took ample 
precautions against surprise before allowing 
their cubs to venture out into the night. 

Once away from the " set," the old male 
badger seemed to lose suspicion of any 
obnoxious presence. Then, lumbering after 
him, every member of his family would 
appear in full view on the mound, and, 
with little fits and starts of pretended rage 
and fright, would roll over and over each 



416 NIGHT IN THE WOODS 

other, rush helter-skelter back to the 
underground dwelling and out again, and 
round and round the tree-trunks. A 
favourite trick, indulged in by young and 
old alike, was that of raising themselves on 
their hind-legs close beside a broad beech- 
trunk near the " set," and then, on tip-toe, 
stretching out their fore-claws to the 
fullest extent and scratching vigorously at 
the bark. 

This trick irresistibly reminded me of an 
incident connected with a shooting expedition 
to the moors, when, one evening, after much 
gossip in the ingle-nook, I accompanied my 
jolly host to the barn, and there, much to 
the merriment of all concerned, acted as 
judge, while, by the light of a lantern, the 
farmer measured and recorded the height of 
his wife, as well as of each of his six 
children and his servants, against the oaken 
door-post, and finally insisted that he him- 
self, a veritable giant, should submit to the 
test, and gave orders for a chair to be 
fetched that "mother," a stout little woman 
of some sixty inches in height and, also, 
in circumference, might mount to the level 
necessary for "chalking his mark," 



HAUNTS OF THE BADGER AND FOX 417 

One day a keen naturalist and sportsman, 
whose acquaintance I had recently formed, 
proposed to join me in my vigil near the 
badger's home. In the declining afternoon, 
we left the village, crossed the bridge, and 
made a detour of the river path. As we 
passed along, I showed him an otter's "holt" 
under a shelving bank, where, on the fine, 
wet sand, the prints of the creature's pads 
were fresh and clearly outlined. We then 
visited an " earth " within the wood, in which 
dwelt a lonely old fox I had often watched 
as he stole along the rabbit-tracks towards 
the Crag of Vortigern ; and there I pointed 
out how crafty Reynard, having selected a 
convenient rabbit burrow, had blocked up 
every hole but one, in a thick clump of 
brambles with soil thrown out in digging, 
and how the grass and the ground-ivy had 
luxuriantly covered the bare mounds, and so 
encroached on the fox's winding track through 
the wood and about the bramble clump, that 
even to an experienced visitor the only fox- 
sign likely to be detected was in the loose 
arrangement of the bents and the twigs by 
the arch of the run-way as it entered the 

thicket. 

2 D 



418 NIGHT IN THE WOODS 

Rabbits, as well as water-voles and field- 
voles, are particularly careful to nibble 
off wind-blown or sprouting twigs that 
encroach on their tracks through the 
undergrowth ; but foxes, otters, and badgers 
simply brush them aside as they pass. 

The sun had not yet gone down when 
we arrived at the "set." I had planned an 
early visit, so that my friend might have an 
opportunity of examining the much 
frequented track-ways, the footprints of 
the badgers on the soft earth of the 
mound, and the scratches on the tree-trunk 
where the badgers had sharpened their 
claws and incidentally measured them- 
selves. These numerous claw-marks were 
especially interesting, and, on a certain tree 
by the "set," they formed irregular lines 
extending from a foot above the ground to 
a height of three feet or rather more. The 
lowest scratches had been made by the cubs 
seated on their haunches and facing the 
tree; a little higher, the marks were those 
of the parent animals while in a similar 
position ; after a space in which a few 
abrasions occurred, the marks showed how 
the cubs had gradually grown till they 




"AS HE MEASURED HIS FULL LENGTH AGAINIT THE TREE." (See p. 419). 

[To face p. 41 



HAUNTS OF THE BADGER AND FOX 419 

could reach within a few inches of the 
clear, deep furrows scratched by the old 
male badger as he measured his full length 
against the tree. 

After making observations with the utmost 
wariness, we hurried away, so that, before 
dusk, our scent might evaporate, and become 
almost imperceptible in the vicinity of the 
principal entrance to the lonely burrow. 

After a second ramble by the riverside, we 
returned in the face of the wind, and at 
twilight began our silent watch. A robin 
sang plaintively from the hawthorns on the 
outskirts of the wood ; the rooks sailed slowly 
above us, and then, gossiping loudly of the 
day's events, congregated around their nests 
in the great elms dimly outlined against 
the pearly southern sky; the wood-pigeons 
dropped one by one into the beech-trees 
near us ; and a jay, uttering his harsh 
alarm, hopped in and out of some young 
hazels fringing the glade beyond the " set." 
Presently, a brown owl, in a group of tall 
pines near the little rill that made faint 
music in the woods, began to mutter and 
complain, in those low, peculiar notes that 
are often heard before she leaves her 



420 NIGHT IN THE WOODS 

day-time resting place. Then no sound 
disturbed the stillness but the far-off cawing 
of the rooks, and the only creatures visible 
were some rabbits playing in the moonlit 
glade, and a glow-worm shining with her 
soft green light on a bramble spray within 
my reach. 

Nearly half an hour passed by, and no 
sign of life came from the badgers' home. 
Then the familiar white and black striped 
head, framed in the darkness beneath the 
gnarled tree -root, suddenly appeared, and 
as suddenly vanished. Another half-hour 
went by, and yet another, but no further 
sign was given. My companion, unused to 
such a long vigil, shifted uneasily, and 
protested that he was tingling with cramp 
and longing for sleep ; presently, unable to 
endure his discomfort, he arose, and stretched 
his limbs before settling down again amid 
the briars. 

Our patience was in vain. Once more the 
badger came in sight, but my companion did 
not see what I myself had noticed, for sleep 
had sealed his tired eyes, and when I nudged 
him he awoke with such a start that the 
badger instantly withdrew into the burrow. 



HAUNTS OF THE BADGER AND FOX 421 

By the glow-worm's lamp, I found from 
my watch that midnight had long passed; 
and so, since the hour was towards dawn 
and the moon was not favourable for close 
observation of the " earth-pigs," even if they 
crossed the open glade, I whispered to my 
friend that the proceedings, in which his 
interest had manifestly waned, were over for 
the night. His disappointment was keen, 
and though to me the night seemed warm, 
he, accustomed to a tropical climate, 
chattered with the cold. He had not even 
noticed the first appearance of the " earth- 
pig," and henceforth night watching held no 
charm for him. 

My own disappointment, if only for my 
friend's sake, was also keen ; but, on the 
evening following those hours of fruitless 
watching, I discovered the vixen's lair in the 
furze-brake, and learned why she resorted 
thither with her cubs, before the badger 
family had awakened from their day-dreams, 
or the pale glow-worm's rays had lit up the 
dew-besprinkled spider-webs. 

Knowing that badgers are, as the country 
folk say, pwdu (pouty) creatures, likely to 
sulk at home for several nights if they 



422 NIGHT IN THE WOODS 

consider it unsafe to roam abroad, I carefully 
examined the mound of earth and the beech- 
trunk near the "set," that I might learn 
whether the animals had been out of doors 
since my previous visit. On the soil, fresh 
footprints could be seen, their outlines clearly 
lit and deeply shadowed as the sun sank in 
the west, and, in some of the scratches on 
the beech, the pith had barely changed its 
colour from creamy white to the faintest 
tinge of brown. I concluded, therefore, that 
the badgers had been out, as usual, some 
time before the dawn. My eyes, however, 
were not sufficiently trained to detect any 
sure evidence of the recent movements of 
the vixen and her cubs. 

Walking along the tracks, I chanced to 
notice that the path by which the vixen sought 
the shelter of the furze-brake branched off at 
a sharp angle, and led into the thicket at a 
bend that was hidden from my sight while 
I watched near the "set." Picking my way 
in a line straight through the tangle and 
parallel with this path, I came to an opening 
where the grass was beaten down for about 
six square yards more particularly for two 
or three yards in the part nearest the spot 



HAUNTS OF THE BADGER AND FOX 423 

at which the tunnelled run-way entered it. 
Along the margin of this open place, I could 
find no second entrance ; everywhere at the 
foot of the surrounding gorse-bushes the 
long grass grew in an unbroken line, except 
close to the mouth of the run-way. There 
I found a shallow depression, not unlike the 
"form" of a hare, but longer and broader, 
and I determined to keep strict watch 
evening after evening, till I learned the 
reason for the occasional visits of the vixen 
and her cubs to the brake. But I little 
imagined that the secret would quickly be 
disclosed, for it was my belief that, should 
the vixen venture to the mouth of the " set " 
before the gloom was deepening into night, 
she would cross the line of my scent, and 
either move away from the direction of the 
furze-brake or return to her underground 
chamber. And yet previous experiences led 
me to hope that, if certain atmospherical 
conditions should prevail, the scent would 
probably become so weak that she would 
recognise no cause for alarm. 

It was the work of a few minutes for 
me to make couch of grass and twigs behind 
a screen of broken furze-branches well in 



424 NIGHT IN THE WOODS 

from the grassy opening. Then, by raising 
with a prong - shaped stake the grass I had 
trodden down, and by thrusting back the 
bramble-trails and fern-fronds I had brushed 
aside, 1 carefully removed as far as possible 
all traces of my visit. 

I had scarcely settled down to watch and 
listen, when the faint snap of a twig reached 
my ears, and I saw that the vixen with 
her cubs had arrived on the scene. She 
walked around the enclosure, sniffing now 
and again in the grass, while the young 
foxes frisked and gambolled with each other, 
or trotted demurely by her side. She was 
at first suspicious, but for some reason she 
soon gained confidence ; then she squatted in 
her lair, and surrendered herself, with patient 
motherhood, to be the plaything of her 
healthy, headstrong youngsters. 

For more than a half hour I watched 
the happy family, the little ones climbing 
over the mother's back, and licking or biting 
her ears, her pads, her brush, or racing 
over the grassy plot, frolicking with each 
other till some little temper was aroused 
and play degenerated into a fight. In 
general, they behaved like wild children 



HAUNTS OF THE BADGER AND FOX 425 

without a thought of care, yet they never 
went beyond the grass-fringe into the thicket, 
and to each low note of warning or encourage- 
ment from their dam they gave immediate 
attention. Sometimes the vixen bounded 
gaily about the edge of the gorse, stooping 
again and again to snap with pretended 
rage at one or another of her offspring. 
But for most of the time she remained in 
her lair, listening intently for the slightest 
sound of danger, and guarding the only 
approach through the bushes. 

I longed to discover what she would have 
done had I suddenly come upon her and 
cut off her retreat, but I dared not move 
for fear of raising alarm. It is more than 
likely that, finding me in the path, she, 
snarling and hissing, would have dashed 
without hesitation into any part of the 
furze - brake, and her young would have 
followed with desperate haste and vanished 
at her heels within the shadows. 

By - and - by she led her little ones back 
through the run- way, and when, a few minutes 
afterwards, I stole to the outer edge of the 
thicket, I saw the merry family stooping 
in a row beside the rill, and lapping the 



426 NIGHT IN THE WOODS 

cool, delicious water, which refreshed them 
after their rough-and-tumble sport. From 
the rill they wandered off into the gloom 
beneath the beech-trees, and I, satisfied with 
having added to my knowledge of the life 
of the woods, returned homewards in the 
light of the rising moon. 



NIGHT IN THE WOODS. 

ii. 

THE CRAG OF VORTIGERN. 

ONE of the chief difficulties with which the 
naturalist has to contend while watching at 
night is the frequent invisibility of wild 
creatures among the shadows, even when 
the full moon is high and unclouded. The 
contrasts of light and shade are far more 
marked by night than by day; by night 
everything seems severely white where the 
moonbeams glance between the trees, or 
over the fields, or on the river, and the 
shadows are colourless, mysterious, profound ; 
whereas by day variety of tone and colour 
may be observed in both light and shade, 
and every hour new and unexpected charms 
are unfolded in bewildering succession. 

The wild creatures of the night often 
seem to be aware of their invisibility in the 

427 



428 NIGHT IN THE WOODS 



gloom, and of the risk they run while 
crossing open spaces towards trees and 
hedgerows where an enemy may lurk 
awaiting their approach. A fox is so 
familiar with his immediate surroundings 
that, till his keen senses detect signs of 
danger, he will roam unconcernedly hither 
and thither in the dark woods near his 
"earth," frolicking with his mate, or 
hunting the rabbits and the mice, or 
sportively chasing the wind-blown leaves, as 
if a hound could never disturb his peace. 
The fox knows the shape of each tree and 
bush, and of each shadow thrown on the 
grass ; he notes the havoc of the tempest 
and the work of the forester. When the 
wind roars loudly in the branches overhead, 
or the raindrops patter ceaselessly on the 
dead herbage underfoot, or the mists blot 
out the vistas of the woods, he seldom 
wanders far from home, for at such times 
Nature plays curious tricks with sound and 
scent and sight, and danger steals upon him 
unawares. 

The hunted creatures of the night so 
dislike the rain, that during a storm Reynard 
would have difficulty in obtaining sufficient 









THE CRAG OF VORTIGERN 429 

food ; but down in the river-pools below 
the wood, fearless Lutra, unaffected by the 
inclement weather, swims with her cubs from 
bank to bank, and learns that frogs and fish 
are as numerous in the time of tempest as 
when the moon is bright and the air is 
warm and still. 

Since my earliest years of friendship with 
lanto the fisherman and Philip the poacher, 
I have regarded night watching in the woods 
or by the riverside as a fascinating sport, in 
which my knowledge of Nature is put to its 
severest test. By close, patient observation 
alone, can the naturalist learn the habits of 
the creatures of the night; and if it should 
be his good fortune to become the friend of 
such men as I have mentioned he would find 
their help of inestimable value. 

To lanto and Philip I owe a debt of 
gratitude, of which I become increasingly 
conscious with the passing of the years. I 
could never make them an adequate return 
for their kindness ; but I am solaced by my 
recollection that I was able to comfort such 
staunch old friends when they were passing 
into the darkness of death haply to find, 
beyond, some fair dawn brighter than any 



430 NIGHT IN THE WOODS 

we had together seen from the hills around 
my home. Often, as I write, I see them 
sitting in the evening sunlight of my little 
room; often, in my garden, I see them 
walking up the path attended by my dogs 
that now are dead; often, in the river 
valley, whether I wander by night or by 
day, I see them at my side. 

lanto and Philip were always eager to help 
me by every means in their power, but Philip, 
because of the risk to my health, would never 
invite me to accompany him when the night 
was cold and stormy. One afternoon, as lanto 
and I were returning home from the riverside, 
the old fisherman remarked : "I met Philip 
last night, sir, and he wants you and me to 
come along with him for a ramble to the 
woods above the Crag. He's got something 
to show you; I think it's an old earth-pig 
that lives in the rocks. What do you say to 
joining me by the church as soon as you've 
had something to eat ? Then we'll go together 
as far as the bridge, but I'll leave you there, 
for I've got a little job on hand that'll keep 
me till sundown, I think. You'll find Philip 
at the * castell ' (prehistoric earth-work) above 
the Crag, and I'll wade the river and be with 



THE CRAG OF VORTIGERN 431 

you again sometime 'between the lights.' 
Keep to cover, or to the hedges and the lanes, 
and look about you well, most of all afore 
you cross a gap, and when you're going out 
of cover or into it. Nobody must have a 
chance of following you to-night to the Crag ; 
so, if you meet a farm labourer sudden-like, 
make off to the furze by the river farm, and 
double back through the woods. You'll get 
to Philip early enough. He's going to net 
the river after we leave him. It's a game I 
don't care much for maybe because I've 
given it up myself but I've promised to do 
something aforehand, that, if Philip didn't 
want you particular, he'd be bound to do 
hisself. That's why I'm to leave you at the 
bridge." 

I was tired after a day's hard fishing, 
but I readily fell in with the arrangements 
my two old friends had made. On the way 
to the bridge, lanto gave me further instruc- 
tions. "If, when you're nigh the Crag, sir, 
you happen to come across a farm servant, 
or even if you think, from seeing a corgi 
(sheep-dog), that a farm servant is near, 
get right away, and, as soon as you're sure 
nobody knows where you are, give that 



432 NIGHT IN THE WOODS 

signal 1 taught you four quick barks of 
a terrier with a howl at the end of 'em. 
Philip'll understand. But if everything goes 
well till you get to the Crag, make that 
other signal the noise of young wood-owls 
waking up for the night and Philip's sure 
to answer with a hoot. Then let him 
come up to you ; but, mind, don't you go 
to him." 

A little mystified by lanto's last injunction, 
I crossed the bridge, passed through a 
succession of grassy lanes that for years 
had fallen into disuse, picked my footsteps 
cautiously through the woods, and arrived 
without adventnre at the top of the Crag. 

Getting down into the oak-scrub, I stood 
within the deep shadows at the base of 
the great rock, and gave the signal a 
harsh, unmusical cry, such as a hungry 
young owl would utter at that time of the 
evening. 

The cry had scarcely gone forth, when 
I was startled by a voice from some hollow 
quite close to my side : "I'm Philip. Don't 
move don't speak. A man's watching you 
from the blackthorns at the top of the 
wood. He hasn't seen me. Don't look his 



THE CRAG OF VORTIGERN 433 

way, but walk along the path below, and 
when you reach the end of the wood turn 
up and hide in the cross-hedges, so that you 
can watch him if he comes out anywhere in 
the open. And, mind, don't let him see you 
then. If he goes back to the farm, give the 
signal again; or, if I give two hoots, one 
about ten seconds after the other, come to 
me, but don't pass this place. The fellow 
isn't of much account, but we must get rid 
of him before I can stir. He's kept me 
here for the last half-hour." 

Philip ceased speaking, and I walked 
carelessly down the wood, pausing here and 
there to peep through a patch of under- 
growth and to satisfy myself that the man 
at the top of the wood had not moved. 
When outside the wood, I turned rapidly 
up the hill and found an excellent hiding 
place among some brambles on a thick 
hedge. From this spot I could command 
a view of the meadows above the wood, 
and could easily retreat unseen if the farm 
labourer happened to come towards me. 

I watched patiently for twenty minutes 
or so, then heard Philip's welcome signal 
from a fir-spinney on the far side of the 
3 E 



434 NIGHT IN THE WOODS 

Crag, and hastened to his side. In reply 
to my question as to what had become of 
the man who had watched from the black- 
thorn thicket, he pointed to the opposite 
hillside, where a dim figure could be seen 
ascending the ploughland in the direction 
of a distant farmstead. "I expect to be 
able to show you a badger to-night," he 
said, " but of course I'm not sure about it. 
A badger's comings and goings are as 
uncertain as the weather. But first we'll 
climb further up the hill. You were asking 
me about the leaping places of the hares : 
I know of one of these leaping places, 
and I think I know of two hares that 
use them and have lately 'kittled' in 
snug little * forms ' not far away. We must 
hurry, else the does will have left the 
leverets and gone to feed in the clover. 
You go first. Wait for me in the furze by 
the pond on the very top of the hill." 

When Philip had rejoined me on the 
hilltop, he rapidly led the way to the fringe 
of the covert, where he pointed to a low 
hedge-bank between the gorse and a peat- 
field partly covered with water. " Hide in 
the hedge about ten yards from this spot," 



THE CRAG OF VORTIGERN 435 

he said, " so that you can see on either side 
of the bank, then watch the path on this 
side." With a smile he added: "This isn't 
a bad locality for a fern-owl. So, if you 
happen to hear the rattle of that bird, you'll 
know the hare has started from her * form.' " 
Then, turning quickly into the furze and 
taking a bypath through the thickest part 
of the tangle, Philip left me, and, soon after- 
wards, I moved to my allotted hiding place. 

Before I had waited long, the cry of the 
fern-owl reached me with astonishing clear- 
ness from an adjoining field. Presently, I 
saw a hare emerge from the gorse and come 
along the path towards me. At the exact 
spot indicated by the poacher, she paused, 
and then with a single bound cleared the 
wide space between herself and the hedge. 
With another bound she landed on the marsh 
beyond, where she splattered away through 
the shallow water till a dry reed -bed was 
reached on a slight elevation in the marsh. 
There she was lost to view ; the rank herbage 
screened her further line of flight. 

A minute afterwards, the fern owl's rattle 
once more broke on the quiet evening, now 
from a few fields away to my right. For 



436 NIGHT IN THE WOODS 

some time, I closely watched the open 
space around the hedge-bank, but no animal 
moved on the path. Suddenly, however, 
I thought I detected a slight movement 
in a bracken frond beside the furze. It 
was not repeated, and I had concluded 
that it signified nothing, when, to my 
amazement, I caught sight of a second hare 
squatting in the middle of the path near the 
bracken. How she came there I was unable 
to understand; for some time my eyes had 
been directed towards the spot, and certainly 
I had not seen her leave the ferns. She 
seemed to have risen from the earth some- 
thing intangible that had instantly assumed 
the shape of a living creature. She took a 
few strides towards my hiding place, but, 
exactly where the first hare had leaped, she 
turned sharply at right angles to the path, 
and with a long, easy bound sprang to the 
top of the hedge-bank; then with another 
bound she flung herself into the marshy field. 
Making straight for the reed-bed, she, too, 
was soon out of sight. 

All that thus happened appeared to be 
the outcome of long experience ; the adoption 
by the hares of a more perfect plan to mislead 



THE CRAG OF VORTIGERN 437 

a single enemy pursuing by scent could hardly 
be conceived. A pack of hounds, " checking " 
on the path, would in all probability have 
"cast" around, and, sooner or later, would 
have struck the line afresh in the marshy 
field, but a fox or a polecat would surely 
have been baffled, either at the leaping places 
or where the hares had crossed through the 
shallow water. 

Man's intelligence, united with the intelli- 
gence, the eagerness, the pace, the endurance, 
and the marvellous powers of scent possessed 
by a score of hounds, and then pitted against 
a single creature fleeing for its life, should 
well nigh inevitably attain its end. Nature 
has not yet taught her weaklings how to 
match that powerful combination. And so 
a naturalist, in studying the artifices adopted 
by hunted animals, should be interested chiefly 
as to how such artifices would succeed against 
pursuers unassisted by human intelligence. I 
am inclined to believe that even a pack of 
well-trained harriers would have been unable 
to follow the doe-hares I have referred to, 
unless the scent lay unusually well on the 
surface of the marsh. 

I stayed in the covert awhile, but when 



438 NIGHT IN THE WOODS 

the call came for me to rejoin Philip 1 
hastened to the field in which he was waiting. 
I told him what I had seen, and, together, 
we paid a visit to the doe-hares' " forms." 
One of the " forms " lay in a clump of fern 
and brambles near the corner of a fallow, 
the other on a slight elevation where a 
hedger had thrown some " trash " beside a 
ditch in a field of unripe wheat. 

While we stood in the wheat-field, Philip 
remarked: "We mustn't stay long before 
going back to the Crag; but I'll call 
the doe I sent you from this 'form,' and 
perhaps you'll see one of her tricks to 
mislead a fox as she returns home. She's 
very careful of her young till they're about 
a fortnight old, though soon afterwards she 
lets them 'fend' for themselves. We'll hide 
in the ditch, and I'll imitate a leveret's cry. 
But I mustn't imitate it so that she may 
think her little one is hurt, else she's as 
likely as not to come with a rush, and you 
won't see how she'd act under ordinary 
circumstances." 

When we were comfortably settled in the 
fern, the poacher twice uttered a feeble, 
wailing cry, and, after being silent for some 



THE CRAG OF VORTIGERN 439 

minutes, repeated the quavering call. Then, 
after a long interval, he again, though in a 
much lower tone, repeated the cry. No 
answering cry was heard, but suddenly, as 
she had appeared on the path by the furze, 
the doe-hare came in sight at the edge of 
the ditch a little distance away. She 
approached for several yards, then dis- 
appeared, with two or three long, graceful 
bounds, into the corn that waved about her 
as she leaped. She appeared once more, 
and squatted in the ditch on the other side 
of the field ; hence she jumped high into 
the air, and alighted on the hedge ; then, by 
a longer bound than any I had previously 
seen, she gained a spot well out into the 
field, and raced along, till, directly opposite 
us, she yet again leaped into the hedge, and 
from the hedge into the wheat-field, where 
she immediately lay down with her little 
ones in the " form." 

lanto, Philip, and I at last settled quietly 
to watch for the badger's visit to the clearing. 
Philip told in a whisper of jokes he had 
played on the keeper; lanto capped these 
stories with reminiscences of younger days 
and nights ; and I, though hating bitterly the 



440 NIGHT IN THE WOODS 

ruffian loiterers of the village who subsisted 
on the spoils of the trap, the snare, and the 
net, and were guilty of cowardly acts of 
revenge when checkmated in the very game 
they chose to play, felt a certain sympathy 
with the two old men by my side, who, as 
I was convinced, had fairly and squarely 
entered into the game, and taken their few 
reverses without retaliation, only becoming 
afterwards keener than ever to avoid all 
interference. 

In the height of my enjoyment of an 
unusually good story, Philip, with a slight 
movement, drew my attention to a faint, 
crackling noise coming from the margin of 
the glade, where moonlight and shadow lay 
in sharp contrast at the foot of the trees ; 
he then whispered that the old badger was 
standing there. lanto almost simultaneously 
drew my attention thither, but all that I 
could see at the spot indicated were small, 
flickering patches of light and shadow. 

I quietly drew close to Philip, and 
murmured in his ear : " Are you sure it's 
the badger ? " He nodded ; and 1 continued, 
" I see a movement in the leaves, but nothing 
else." The old man turned his head slightly, 



THE CRAG OF VORTIGERN 441 

and replied, " What you see is the badger 
scratching his neck against a tree ; the ticks 
are evidently tickling him." And he chuckled 
as he recognised his unintentional pun. 

For some minutes I could hardly believe 
he was right; then, slowly, I recognised the 
shape of the badger's head, and what I had 
taken to be flickering lights and shadows on 
the leaves changed to the black and white 
markings of the creature's face. I had never 
before seen a badger under similar conditions ; 
and I had often wondered what purpose those 
boldly contrasted markings could serve. Now, 
as their purpose was revealed, I was startled 
by the manifestation of Nature's protective 
mimicry. Even when, a little later, the 
animal ventured out from the oak, and 
stood alert for the least sight or sound 
or scent of danger, the moonlight and the 
shadow blended so harmoniously with the 
white and the black of his face markings, 
and with the soft blue-grey of his body, that 
he seemed completely at one with his sur- 
roundings, and likely to elude the most 
observant enemy. Fully a half hour went 
by before he decided to cross the glade. 
Then, as if irritated by a sense of his own 



442 NIGHT IN THE WOODS 

timidity, he abandoned his excessive caution, 
and hastened along his run-way through the 
clearing ; and, as he passed, I noted his queer, 
rolling gait, and heard his squeaks and grunts 
as if he were angrily complaining to himself 
of some recent wrong, and vowing vengeance ; 
I heard, also, the snapping of leaves and twigs 
beneath his clumsy feet, and I smelt the sure 
and certain smell of a badger. 

Soon, the fisherman and I turned home- 
wards, and left the poacher to less innocent 
sport. As we gained the crest of the hill, 
the melancholy cry of the brown owl 
came to our ears ; and lanto said, " Philip 
is a big vagabone bigger than me, I think. 
No doubt he's fetched his nets from the cave 
beneath the Crag, and is down at the river 
by now. Promise me, sir, as you'll never go 
nigh that cave when he's alive. It's his secret 
place, as only him and me knows anything 
about. He told me to ask you that favour." 

Long after both lanto and Philip were 
dead, I happened one day, while in the 
woods, to remember the incidents I have 
just related, and I made my way to the foot 
of the Crag. I found no opening in the 
face of the rock, except one apparently 



THE CRAG OF VORTIGERN 443 

a rabbit hole near a rent in the boulder. 
Climbing around the rock, however, I noticed 
that a large, flat stone lay in a rather unex- 
pected position on a narrow cleft. I removed 
it, and saw that it covered the entrance to a 
dark hollow. At the same moment I heard a 
slight rustle behind me, as some animal darted 
from the hole I had previously examined. I 
scrambled down into the chamber, and there, 
when my eyes had become accustomed to the 
darkness, I saw three tiny fox-cubs huddled 
on the damp, mossy ground. As I knelt to 
stroke them gently, and my hand rested for 
a moment on the floor beside them, I touched 
the remains of an old, rotting net. 




INDEX. 



ANIMALS, wild, awakening from 

hibernation, 146 

, , dislike rain, 428 

, , feet made tender by 

hibernation, 154 
, , habit of sociable, 

160 
, , keeping to old 

haunts, 298 

, , selfishness of, 318 

Ant, habits of queen, 156 

, habits of yellow, 65, 66 

Autumn, bird-migration in, 12 

BADGER, and foxhounds, 349 

, and stoat, 323 

, attempt to unearth, 367- 

373 
, fondness of, for honey, 

335, 336, 345 
, food of, 305, 310-313, 

324, 335 
, mocked by birds when 

abroad in daylight, 309 
, persecuted for supposed 

sheep-killing, 353-355 
, regular habits in return- 
ing to " set " at dawn, 350 

, sociability of, 332, 333 

, winter habits of, 340, 341 

Badger-cub, and wasps, 337 

, caught in trap, 326, 327 

Badger-cubs, at play, 301, 302, 

346 
, closely confined by parents, 



Badger-cubs, dying from dis- 
temper, 338 

, less nervous than fox- 
cubs, 321 

Badgers, at play, 359 

, carrying bedding to " set," 

361 

, reconnoitring before 

young leave "set," 415 

, sulking at home if sus- 
picious of danger, 422 

, two families inhabiting 

same " set," 359 

Bank-voles, and kestrel, 147 

, colony of, 147 

Basset-hounds, described, 278 

, hunting with, 280-282 

Bell, use of, hung round ram's 
neck, 18 

Blood, significance of fresh-spilt, 
75 

Bob, the black-and-tan terrier, 
55-62 

CHARACTER, differences of, in 
animals of one species, 64 

, human, developed by 

independence of action, 23 

Collie, sheep-killing, 354-356 

DABCHICK, oar-like wings of, 12 
Ducks, wild, at play, 31 

, , wedge-shaped flight 

of, 32 

" EARTH," fox's artificial, 194 

445 



446 



INDEX 



FEAR, how it affects wild 

creatures, 401 
Field-vole, and carrion crow, 

165 

, and fox, 164 

, and kestrel, 148, 149 

, and owl, 144, 145, 157, 

167, 175 

, and weasel, 137, 140 

, avoiding rabbit's " creeps," 

160 

, enemies of, 164 

, food of, 137, 142, 143, 

154, 155 
, hibernation of, 145, 146, 

150 

, home of, 149 

, limbs of, cramped by 

winter sleep, 153 
, restlessness of, in spring, 

157 
Field- voles, described, 162 

, harvesting seeds, 141, 142 

, plague of, 173, 174 

, stung to death by adder, 

172 
Fox, see also Vixen 

, and hedgehog, 382-384 

, and moorhen, 400 

, and wasp, 229 

, avoiding traps, 236 

, burying rat, 184 

, careful not to sleep on 

straight trail, 237 
, careful not to tread on 

rustling leaves, 220 
, entering " breeding-earth" 

when close pressed, 191 
, finding hen's nest in 

hedgerow, 182 

, fight with rival, 227 

, hating jays and magpies, 

234 

, knowledge of the country- 
side, 238, 428 

, luring rabbits, 403 

, methods of hunting 

rabbits, 180 



Fox, robbed of spoil by vixen, 

183 

, seeks mate, 225 

, taught by mate, 227 

Fox-cub, chased by lurcher, 

222 

, cleanly habits of, 212 

, described, 203 

, food of, 218, 235 

, killing hare, 219 

, killing polecat, 215, 216 

, stealing chickens, 24 

Fox-cubs and partridges, 211 

, at play, 412, 422-426 

, eagerness of, for flesh, 209 

Foxes, method of preparing 

" breeding earth," 232 
Fox-hound, "rioting" on cold 

scent, 189 
Fox-hunt, 186-193 
Frogs, devoured by otters, 35 

GEESE, wild, 31 
Gipsy, seeking hedgehogs, 387- 
389 

HARE, and renegade cat, 288 
, and peregrine falcon, 265, 

266 

, and poacher, 276, 285, 286 

, bravely defends young, 

265 
, covered with fur at birth, 

245 
, dislikes entering damp 

undergrowth, 274 
, does not wander far in 

wet weather, 258 

, food of, 248, 249, 251, 260 

, " form " described, 245 

, killed by lightning, 291 

, " leaping places " of, 434 

, method of fighting among 

males, 264 

, netted by keeper, 255 

, productiveness of, prob- 
ably influenced by food 

supply, 276 



INDEX 



447 



Hare, recklessness of, in early 

spring, 263 
, running through flock of 

sheep, 283 
, suffers from want of 

exercise, 259 
, suffers less from frost 

than from rain, 260 

, swims across river, 273 

, winter habits of, 287 

, withholds scent when 

hard pressed, 283 
Hedgehog, and fox, 382-384 
, and moorhens, 400, 401, 

403-405 

, and owl, 385 

, and terrier, 388 

, food of, 394, 395, 398, 399 

, haunt of, 377 

, killing snake, 396, 397 

, nest of, 379, 389 

History, vicissitudes of, affect- 
ing wild animals, 329 
Hounds, miscellaneous pack, 

54,83 
Hunt, rival, 60 

, village, 77, 78, 83 

Huntsman, feeding fox-cubs, 



IANTO, the fisherman, 28, 30, 
83, 429-442 

JOKER, the bob-tailed sheep- 
dog, 54, 55, 58-60 

KESTREL, attacking field- voles, 

148 
, preying on bank-voles, 

147 

MAN, dreaded by wild animals, 
13,40 

, senses dulled by im- 
munity from fear, 72 

Mange, attacking carnivorous 
animals, 212 



March, great changes to wild 

life in, 263 
Minnows, playing about ledges 

of rock, 103 
Moorhen, eluding terrier, 61 

, killed by otter, 32 

Mouse, singing, 82 

NATURE, haunted by Fear, 75 
, spirit of restlessness in, 

156 
Night, described, 3, 85, 86 

, spiritual influence of, 85 

watching, difficulties of, 

427 
, methods of, 410 

OTTER, and big trout, 106 

, and dabchick, 12 

, and " red " fish, 101 

, and water-vole, 86-89, 101 

, fighting terrier, 42 

, food of, 15, 35, 47, 48 

, hunting methods of, 20 

, inhabiting drain-pipe, 9 

, in winter, 15, 47 

, migrating to sea, 46 

, playing in heavy stream, 

33, 34 

, position of, when sleep- 
ing, 33 

, related to weasel, 22 

-cub, capturing salmon, 

22 

, described, 21 

, learns to swim, 9 

cubs, at play, 1 1 

hounds, 36 

hunt, 37-39, 41-44, 84 

Owl, brown, described, 385, 386 

, and fox-cub, 205, 214 

, and water-vole, 88 89 

, attacks hedgehog, 385, 

386 

, preying on field - voles, 

157 
Owls, as friends of farmer, 169 



448 



INDEX 



Owls, inhabiting farm build- 
ings, 7 

PHILIP, the poacher, 429-443 
Polecats, enemies of young 
hedgehogs, 384 

RABBIT, burrowing in badgers' 
"set," 314, 315 

Rabbits, clearing tracks, 418 

Rat, brown, attacked by water- 
voles, 123 

, , habits of, 64, 110 

hunting, by riverside, 

58-60 

Rats, migration of, 110 

"Redd "of salmon. 99 

SALMON, migration of, 95, 96 

fishing, experiences in, 

26-30 

pool, seldom visited, 25 

spawn, destroyers of, 99 

, guarded by salmon, 

98, 100, 101 

Sheep-dog, and otter, 17 
Sorrel, as medicinal herb for 

wild animals, 335 
Sport, winter, 54 
Squirrel, harvesting only ripe 
seeds and nuts, 105 

, inquisitive, 92 

Stoats, following rats in migra- 
tion, 110 
Stone-fly, 20 

TEAL, 31 

Terrier, worsted by otter, 44 
Thrush, autumn song of, 24 
, defending young against 

hedgehog, 405 
Trick, poacher's, to capture 

hare, 276 



Trout, an old, carnivorous, 95 
, habit of, in spring, 19 

VIPER, attacked by hedgehog, 
397 

, enemy of young hedge- 
hogs, 398 

Vixen, dispossessing another of 
" breeding earth, 201 

, life spared by hounds, 219 

, routing terrier from 

"breeding earth," 191 

Vixen-cubs, quicker to learn 
than fox-cubs, 210 

Voles, see Bank-voles, Field- 
voles, Water-voles 

WATER-SHREW, described, 93 

, food of, 93, 94, 106, 107 

, habits of, 93, 94 

Water-vole, and otter, 86-89 

, and owl, 89, 118 

, and trout, 94, 125 

, as singer, 79-82, 89 

, constructing nest, 121, 

122 

, described, 121 

, enemies of, 79 

, food of, 71, 105, 106 

, habits studied, 80 

, home of, 68, 69, 103, 109, 

110, 117, 126 

, love episodes of, 117-120 

, methods of fighting, 119, 

123 
, winter storehouse of, 

105, 109, 126 
Water-voles, attacking brown 

rat, 123 
Weasel, ferocity of, 76 

, food for fox-cub, 213 

Weasels, following rats in 

migration, 110 



A 



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