Red Ben the fox of Oak Ridge
the fox of Oak Ridge
Joseph Wharton Lippincott
Author of BUN—a wild rabbit
Illustrations by the author
THE PENN PUBLISHING
RED BEN—THE FOX OF OAK RIDGE
a true lover of nature
There is reason for the fox beingtermed the shrewdest of wild creatures.Unlike the deer and other vegetarianswhose dinners often grow under theirnoses, he rarely gets a meal without outwittingother animals. He lacks theclimbing ability of the opossum, thesharp claws of the lynx, the protectiveodor of the skunk, the diving powers ofthe otter—he is indeed just a little wilddog, a wonderfully bright, hardworkinglittle animal whose cunning alone canlead him from his enemies and keepaway the pangs of hunger.
He has been so persistently huntedby man that he is almost untameable;but as far as he dares to be, he is friendlyunder ordinary circumstances and fondof wandering around man’s dwellings.Chicken stealing is charged against him;but after all he holds the same positionin the animal world that the wise oldcrow does among the birds—his gooddeeds and his crimes nearly balance.In “Bun, a Wild Rabbit,” the fox appearedas one of many woods creaturesencountered by that doughty cottontail;but, to do him justice, a separatevolume was required.
Foxes are much more plentiful thangenerally supposed. It is almost safeto say that wherever there are woodsthere are foxes, yet so wonderfullyclever are they that few are seen.Whoever can distinguish their tracksfrom those of other animals is usuallynot disposed to tell of the discovery offox “sign.” The friend of the foxfears the fox’s enemy; the trapper fearsa competitor; and so the wily creatureweaves his trail endlessly about thecountry side, unwatched except by thevery few “who know.”
Imagination must play a part in makingthe story of a wild animal complete,especially that of such an intensely shyand crafty creature as a fox; but nothingis included here which does not fallwithin the actual powers of the swiftand wily red fox of today. Indeedthere are numbers of them very muchlike Red Ben. Parts of his story arewritten in the snows of many woodlandsbesides Oak Ridge, and adventuressuch as his are still happening inthe quiet of moonlit nights.
As fast as man thinks out newmethods of destruction, the fox findsfresh tricks through which to escape.And may he ever escape! For whenthe edges of our old fields no longer bearthe imprint of his tireless feet, when thewoodlands that delighted his wild littleheart have been usurped by the tamedog and the tame cat, then indeed willhave departed half their charm, half thethrill of winter walks.
J. W. G.
- CHAPTER PAGE
- I. The Coming of the Red Fox 13
- II. The Den 20
- III. Learning to Hunt 35
- IV. Other Woodsfolk 45
- V. Gray Fox 56
- VI. A Long Chase 67
- VII. Red Ben Is Alone 75
- VIII. The Woods Awake 83
- IX. Studying the Enemy 93
- X. Jim Crow’s Signal 101
- XI. How Others Hunt 110
- XII. Ben’s Hundred Dollar Fox 121
- XIII. Red Ben Travels 130
- XIV. Blackie 138
- XV. Freedom Is Sweet 153
- XVI. The Road to the Sea 162
- XVII. The Other Fox 172
- XVIII. Home Again 183
- “Blackie instantly stopped”Frontispiece
- Fox track18
- “A gray squirrel was watching her”21
- “He became indignant”39
- Coon tracks40
- “Flying Squirrel, one of the very nicest of the woodsfolk”52
- “Gray Fox was waiting to trap him”61
- Red Ben63
- Red Ben’s Mother72
- The Mole85
- Deer Mouse86
- “’Possum fell over backwards”90
- “They sat on their tails and held hands”113
- “Muskrat was busy pulling up grass”115
- “A turkey buzzard had been circling over him”133
- “They tore at each other through the wire”140
- “She stood on the threshold of the pen”154
- “Two coons who were having a loud altercation”163
- ’Possum tracks166
- “Holding to a limb with all four feet”185
The Fox of Oak Ridge
THE COMING OF THE RED FOX
In the state of New Jersey there arestill thousands of acres of low-lyingwoodlands, called pine barrens, whereman has done little except chop down afew trees. Slowly but surely, however,the farmers are each year pushing theirclearings deeper into this section, graduallyovercoming the last barriers whichNature sets up to protect her own.
Ben Slown was one of these farmers.When the forest had been cut, he builta square house and a square barn.He planted straight-rowed orchards, hefenced in square, flat fields. He succeededso well in stamping out all thenatural loveliness that other practicalfarmers came there to start practicalfarms like his.
Soon there was a village; but BenSlown’s square fields and the edge of thewild, interesting Pine Barrens werenever separated, because no plow couldconquer Oak Ridge and CranberrySwamp.
The Ridge was a long mound coveredwith laurel, pines and white oaks.Cranberry Swamp, on the other hand,was low, wet ground which bore a nearlyimpenetrable mass of greenery, largelymade up of tall cedars, holly bushes andcat briars. Through the swamp floweda little creek in whose deep eddies greenwaterweeds swung with the current, givingglimpses now and then of turtles andslender, watchful pike.
When Ben Slown first planned tocome to the Pine Barrens, his friendsgloomily shook their heads.
“The foxes and other varmints willdrive you out,” they warned. “Youwon’t be able to raise a chicken. Thecoons and crows will eat your corn.The woodchucks will destroy yourvegetables. There are critters enoughin the Barrens to keep you from beinglonely, but they won’t be the kind ofneighbors you want.”
“You just watch me,” boasted thefarmer, “I’ll fix the varmints.”
He was no sooner settled in his newplace than he began to put traps andpoison around the cleared ground. Allthe little creatures that still lived there,and the others which came out of thewoods at night to marvel at the strangenew things to be seen—mice, snakes,birds, rabbits, mink, muskrats, woodchucks,coons, possums, skunks, foxes,deer and a lot of others—all sufferedthe same ill-treatment. But most ofall he feared and hated the foxes, forthey were clever enough to give him alittle trouble. One after another wasdestroyed, however, and the farmer washaving everything his own way whenall at once there was a newcomer on theRidge.
This was a red fox, a beautifulcreature several inches taller than anyof the gray foxes that lived in the Barrens.She found the farmer’s poisonedbaits, but instead of taking them shetook a chicken, and that right beforehis face.
This was the first fowl a fox hadtaken from Ben Slown, and therefore hecomplained all the more loudly; soloudly indeed that the neighbors beganto think the destruction of the red foxthe only thing that interested him. Insteadof asking about his health, whoevermet him would say, “Well, Ben,have you caught that pesky fox yet?” orperhaps, “Say, Ben, that old red fox ofyours is bothering me now. Why don’tyou keep her at home?”
Ben would mutter something, thenpass on, his brows puckered from worryingover how to get rid of her. Hemight have worried far more had heknown that in a burrow near the southend of Oak Ridge the red fox had fourfine little fox pups.
Weeks went by, and still the fox andher tracks were seen occasionally, andstill the farmer worried overthat chicken he had lost.Then, one fine day, when themice seemed scarce and thepups were very hungry, the foxdashed among the hens andtook away another, this time abig white one.
The farm yard was in anuproar. Chickens cackled and rushedabout, cows mooed, sheepdogs barked,and Ben Slown, snatching his rifle fromthe rack, shot twice at the fox before shereached the woods, two fields away.
He was too much excited to aim well;the bullets went wild and the fox wenton. The farmer, however, would notbelieve he had made a clean miss. Outto the fields he ran to see if a tuft of furcould be found on the ground.
He was walking around and around,growing more and more angry becausewhere the fox had been he found onlythe white feathers of his pet hen, whenout from the woods burst a neighboringfarmer.
“Ben,” this man called, “Ben, getyour shovel, quick! I’ve just found thered fox’s den!”
When the fox was making herwild rush to the woods, withthe white hen held high in her strongjaws, she was thinking more about thefour hungry pups in the home burrowthan about the fuss she had left behindin the farmyard. In the friendlyshelter of the woods, however, shebegan to feel very uneasy about it all.Everything had certainly gone wrong.
She laid down the limp body of thehen and looked back. Through thelaurel and the straight trunks of thepines she could see the flat stretch of thefields she had just left. Ben Slown’shurrying figure was there, but too farback to worry her now. There were nodogs loose, nothing else moving exceptthree crows that were circling to find outwhat had happened to arouse thefarmer.
Ahead of her lay Oak Ridge and theSwamp. What breeze there was camefrom that direction, laden with thesmell of sweet fern. Still she felt uneasy.Her quick ear caught thescratching of claws on bark—a redheaded woodpecker was examining adead oak; that was all right. So alsowas the barking of a gray squirrel whichwas watching her from the limb of apine. But why were the blue jays callingso loudly on the Ridge? Perhapssome enemy was near the pups.
Quickly picking up the hen she gallopedtowards the Ridge in that wonderfullysilent way known only to thewild things.
She did not know that, though herown graceful body fitted into the woodslike an illusive shadow, the white henstood out like a beacon light. She didnot know that on the Ridge it caughtthe eye of a friend of Ben Slown andheld it while she circled the den andthen called out the puppies to the feast.Her mother love had indeed overcomenatural caution.
The den was nothing more than theenlarged burrow of an old woodchuck,who, years before, had been driven fromthe fields below. To the four puppies,however, it was all that a home ought tobe. Wonderful to these was its narrowpassage with the half turn at theend and the snug bed so far from thedangers of the world outside; wonderfultoo its collection of feathers andpieces of fur which told of happy feasts;but best of all was the sandy, sun bathedentrance in which they had basked andplayed on never to be forgotten Maymornings in their early puppyhood.
Their father had never come to OakRidge to help the mother in feeding andprotecting them. To her tireless energythey owed everything. Thereforeto her they looked for everything,and she had never disappointed them.Nor would she ever disappoint them aslong as they needed her and there wasbreath in her faithful body, for such ismother love in the fox world!
Here Ben Slown’s pet white henfound her last resting place. Into themouth of the den, among the waitingpups, she was dropped, feathers and all,and down their little throats she passed,piece-by-piece, amid growling andcrunching and pulling and fighting, forin no other way did they know how toshow their thorough enjoyment.
A glorious feast it was! And whenthey were through, the mother, who hadall this time been on guard, picked upfor her share the bones that were left.She was still nosing about among thefeathers when a man’s cough, from somewherebelow in the woods, gave suddenwarning of danger. Down shecrouched, motionless in a moment; andwithout need of further signal, into theden tumbled the frightened pups.
The mother waited, with ears pointedto catch the slightest new sound. Inthe burrow behind her appeared a smallhead with ears cocked in the same way.Both heard the crack of a breaking twig.