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As a general rule, it is not safe to go anywhere near them, and one has to be content to observe them with glasses from a discreet distance. Litters number anything from three to eight; and, when the feeding problem presents special difficulties, as in the case of very large families, I have noticed that vixens will occasionally divide the party, removing the more vigorous youngsters to a separate nursery.
The breeding habits of the fox introduce a very interesting question: will foxes mate with dogs? They whose word is law in such matters have said No'-a little assertively, perhaps, for, after all, experts' are but human, and nobody relinquishes a long-cherished theory very readily. From a scientific point of view, of course, there is no reason whatsoever why the thing should be impossible, nor does it seem quite fair to disbelieve those who claim to know of cases where it has occurred. At certain seasons wolves will intermix freely with their domesticated cousins, as Mr Jack London must have known, for surely his story White Fang' was based upon Natural History. I make no statement, however, upon second-hand information. In the Far West I have myself seen cattle-dogs running with coyotes, while many hunters must have discovered that in early summer greyhounds can seldom be induced to attack a she-wolf. They will run her readily, but never hurt her when overtaken. So, if sentimental relations can exist between dogs and wolves, why not between dogs and foxes, who are quite as closely related ? The following incident may, or may not, have some bearing upon the point.
It occurred when I was hunting beagles in Somerset. A late snowfall having prevented hunting, we had taken the lady-pack out for road exercise, and were just rekennelling them when a groom, a thoroughly reliable fellow, rode up in a high state of excitement. He had been watching a fox, he said, which in its turn had been following us, running the line of the pack, nose to ground, as a dog might have done. So absorbed was it upon its object that it took no notice of him, and was little more than a gunshot astern of us when the chance crack of a whip scared it off, whereupon it broke over the wayside fence and disappeared. Nothing would
Vol. 238.–No. 473.
satisfy him but that the whip and I should accompany him to where he had last seen the fox, and there, sure enough, were the unmistakable tracks leading away across the snow.
A relative of mine for years owned what he confidently believed to be a hybrid. It was a curiouslooking animal, bred from a terrier bitch, his supposed sire being a tame fox kept upon the premises at that time. Unfortunately, nobody could positively swear to it; all the same, it was impossible to watch the 'dog'in question, and entertain the slightest doubt as to his pedigree, there was so much about him that suggested his suspected progenitor. He had the erect, pointed ears of the fox, the same lightness of movement, the same peculiar snarl when provoked. But it was his hunting methods above all else that proclaimed his breed. He was so quick, alert, and withal so uncannily silent. Indeed, I never heard him give so much as a whimper for any cause whatever. A rabbit within springing distance of him was as good as dead, but the most remarkable thing I noticed about him was the aptitude he displayed in catching moles. To watch him at this was an education. If there was a mole working any. where near the surface, he seemed to know it the moment he got within ten yards of the place. He would at once proceed to stalk it, and patiently follow its subterranean movements—which, by the way, seemed imperceptible to any of the other dogs—until it reached some particularly shallow place. Then would come the unerring pounce and snap which seldom indeed failed to bring the little velvet-coated gentleman to light.
This in itself would have been convincing, for a fox's fatal passion for moles-shared with no other creature that I know of, except the weasel-has provided one of the surest and easiest means of effecting his destruction. But almost equally significant was his method of marking rabbits a-ground. This he never did after the usual manner of a dog by scratching or pointing at the mouth of a hole. Rather he seemed to sense the rabbit wherever it actually was. Whether under his feet in the case of a ground-burrow,' or above him in a bank, he would locate it exactly, and stand with twitching nostril indicating the precise spot whence the bump' might be
expected to sound. All this called to mind the little shafts and tunnels that one sees upon lonely hill-sides, the work of both badgers and foxes, who adopt this direct method of digging out small rodents, and suggested the Wild very forcibly indeed.
A fox is probably keener-nosed than any other creature, and works, it would seem, principally by this organ. When hunted, he cares little about being able to see or hear his pursuers so long as he can wind them. Thus he is never content unless well to leeward of hounds; and to manoeuvre himself into such a position he sometimes executes those curious turns and doublings which so puzzle the inexperienced of our craft. It is for this reason, of course, that he habitually runs down wind, and not, as is generally supposed, because he finds it easier going with the gale than breasting it. He will forgo this advantage when he wishes to make any particular point; and indeed some of the straightest and fastest runs in which it has been my luck to participate have been in the teeth of hurricanes.
I managed to get a pretty fair impression of the acuteness of his senses one May morning about sunrise, when I was watching for badgers in a West Dorsetshire coombe. I was sitting in the shadow of a boulder within thirty yards of the badger-sets,' immense earthworks of sand and limestone gleaming yellow and white amongst the gorse-bushes. Immediately below me the land fell away to a depth of some five hundred feet, so that I could overlook the whole of the coombe and the larch woods which climbed the opposite slope. Flanking the steep sides of the batch 'to right and left of me, stretched extensive gorse-brakes, now ablaze with bloom, while dividing the brakes from the larch coverts ran a ribbon of silver-grey marsh land, flecked with white patches of bog-weed, and bright emerald excrescences here and there suspiciously like moss-bags. It was broad daylight now.
I had been at my post for nearly two hours, and having little further hope of seeing any badgers I had begun to devote my attention to other things. There is no time quite like sunrise for studying wild life, nor was interesting matter lacking upon
this occasion. For some time I watched the peculiar gyrations of a snipe, which since the first streak
of dawn had been rising and falling in its own peculiar way, drumming incessantly the while. I always remember that particular bird on account of the exceptional opportunity it afforded me of watching the drumming process, and deciding-to my own satisfaction at any rate-how the weird vibrating sound is produced. But that is a digression.
I focussed my glass upon the snipe whenever it mounted to my level, which it did every minute or so, only to tilt its wings and drop with a humming whirr of pinions in the direction of the swamp. Evidently its
. nest was there, and to discover this became my next object. The bird had alighted, and I was searching the grass whence I expected to see it rise, when a more pronounced movement upon the same level caught my eye. Along a faint sheep-path which skirted the morass came a beautiful dog-fox, stepping daintily, his russet coat shining like burnished gold in the early morning sunlight. My first thought was to wonder whether he likewise was after the snipe's nest, but his action quickly dispelled any such suspicion. He was not hunting, it appeared. Full-fed, and therefore at peace with all things, he was pointing for his own kennel, somewhere in one of the brakes. He trotted along unconcernedly enough until he reached a point about a hundred yards away from me. There, apparently, some slight current of air-no perceptible breeze was astir-from my direction must have reached him. For then as I watched him through my glass a curious thing happened. He stopped as if shot, dropped back upon his haunches as a fox often does when startled, and glanced quickly about him. For a couple of seconds, perhaps, he remained so, searching the air with his nostrils. Then straight from his crouching position, as it seemed, he bounded away. There was just the parting whisk of a long brush and — Well, I scarcely saw him go. I had neither stirred nor made a sound.
Rather different is a story told to me quite recently by a well-known Devonshire squire, a prominent sportsman, and one of the most observant naturalists in the country. On a certain day he was rabbiting in one of his own woods with a couple of companions—quite an informal party, just the two guns and a dog. The cover
was thick, and some difficulty had been experienced in getting rabbits out. At the moment his spaniel was speaking freely in some blackberry growth, and he was hurrying up a ride to reach an open space where he expected to get a shot, when, to his astonishment, he saw a fox sitting on a stump not fifty yards ahead of him. The fox, a splendid fellow in spotless condition, had its back towards him, and was making an elaborate toilet as coolly as though it were alone in the woods. And this it continued to do, utterly disregarding the man's approach until he was within three paces of it, when, quite by chance apparently, it glanced back. One can imagine the sequel. For a startled instant, he said, its intense yellow eyes looked full into his; then it shot across the ride and into the brushwood with one streaklike bound. All this seemed singularly unfoxlike, but a very natural explanation was forthcoming. He was
• deaf, said my friend, laconically. Old foxes often lose their hearing, as old dogs do.'
I have often read about a fox 'yapping on the trail of a rabbit,' or something to that effect. Such passages usually occur in works of fiction, and presumably are not intended to be taken literally. So, without fear of hurting the feelings of the most sensitive author, I may
I 'venture to question whether this very remarkable hunter ever utters a sound when at business with any game, be it flesh or fowl. He hunts all the year round; but, it must be remembered, for long periods his voice is never heard, so it is hardly reasonable to suppose that he would quest' one month and run mute the next. Besides, that is not his way of hunting. His methods are rather catlike, as anybody who cares to take the trouble can find out for himself. It is quite probable that mated foxes when hunting jointly have signal cries which they make use of upon certain occasions, but, speaking generally, I think it is safe to say they work in absolute silence.
Their cries, and the impulses which prompt their utterance, offer scope for rather fascinating research. Most familiar, perhaps, is the hollow, shrill wow-wow-wowwow, usually four notes all pitched upon the same key. This is the ordinary call of a dog-fox, uttered about sundown, or during that eerie hour before the dawn