Frank, the Young Naturalist Part 27

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"Of course we will," said Archie, "and I wouldn't take ten dollars for my chance of catching one."

"You mean, if the snow doesn't melt," said Frank, quietly.

"Oh, that's always the way with you," said Archie. "What makes you try to throw cold water on all our expectations, in that way?"

"I didn't intend to," answered Frank, with a laugh; "but, you know, we have been disappointed very often."

"Yes," said George, "but I guess we are all right this time. It snows pretty fast, and the air doesn't feel like a thaw or rain."

Frank acknowledged this; and they walked along, talking about the exciting times they expected to have on the morrow, until they reached the "big elm"--a large tree that stood leaning over the creek, just half-way between Captain Butler's and where Frank lived. Here George and Harry stopped, and, after promising to be at the cottage early on the following morning, turned their faces homeward.

CHAPTER XVII.

The Grayhound Outgeneraled.

The next morning, at an early hour, George and Harry arrived at the cottage, and, after a light and hastily-eaten breakfast, they set out.

Frank and Harry were armed, as usual, with their guns, while the others carried axes. They crossed the meadow at the back of the orchard, pa.s.sed through the cornfield which had been the scene of the 'c.o.o.n-hunt, a few weeks before, and struck out through the woods. The dogs were then sent out ahead, and they had not gone more than half a mile, when Sport uttered a long, loud howl, and, when the boys came up with him, he was running impatiently about with his nose close to the ground.

"A fox has been along here," said Frank, bending over and examining a track in the snow, "and the trail looks fresh."

"Hunt 'em up! hunt 'em up!" shouted Archie, excitedly, waving his hand to the dogs.

Sport bounded off on the track like a shot, and Lightfoot followed close after. Brave barked and howled furiously, and acted as if he wished very much to accompany them; but the swift hounds would have distanced him in a moment.

It must not be supposed that it was the intention of the boys to follow up the hounds--that would have been worse than useless. Perhaps the chase would continue for several hours. They had once hunted a fox all day, without coming in sight of him. Reynard has ways and habits of his own, which a person who has had experience in hunting him understands. He always runs with the wind, and generally follows a ridge. The hunters take advantage of this, and "run cross-lots" to meet him, sometimes gaining on him several miles in this manner.

The moment the hounds had disappeared on the trail, Frank--who knew all the "run-ways" of the game like a book--led the way through the woods toward a ridge that lay about a mile distant, where they expected the fox would pa.s.s.

A quarter of an hour's run brought them to this ridge, and they began to conceal themselves behind trees and bushes, when Archie suddenly exclaimed,

"We're dished, boys. The fox has already pa.s.sed."

"Come on, then," said Frank. "No time to lose. We must try again."

And he again led the way, on a keen run, through a strip of woods, across a wide meadow toward another ridge, that lay fully three miles distant.

At length the baying of the hounds echoed through the woods, far below them. Louder and louder it grew, and, in a few moments, they swept up the ridge in full cry. The boys hurried on as rapidly as possible, and reached the ridge in about an hour. Although they were accustomed to such sport, they were pretty well tired out. They had run the greater part of the way through thick woods, filled with fallen logs and tangled bushes; but they now felt confident that the hunt was nearly over. They knew they had gained considerably on the fox, and his capture would be an ample reward for their trouble.

As soon as they reached the ridge, they threw themselves rapidly across it in all directions, and, to their delight, discovered that the fox had not yet pa.s.sed. They stationed themselves in such a manner that it would be impossible for him to pa.s.s on either side of them without coming within reach of their guns, and patiently awaited his appearance. They had not remained long in this position, when Archie, who was stationed lowest down the ridge, exclaimed in a subdued voice,

"There they come, boys! Now, look sharp!"

The boys listened intently, and heard, faint and far off, the well-known bay of Sport. It was sharp and short--very different from the note he had uttered when the chase first commenced. Louder and louder grew the noise, as the hounds came rapidly up the ridge toward the place where the boys were stationed, and every one was on the alert, expecting every moment to see the fox break cover.

Suddenly a loud howl blended with Sport's baying, and the hounds seemed to turn and sweep down the valley.

"The fox has left the ridge, boys," said Frank.

"Then we're dished again," exclaimed Archie.

"Perhaps not," continued Frank. "He will have to go across the meadow, and will run the risk of being caught by Lightfoot. We must try and cut him off."

And he led the way down the ridge, in the direction the chase was tending.

In a few moments the hounds broke out into a continuous cry, and, when the boys emerged from the woods, they saw them standing at the foot of a tall stump, which stood near the middle of the meadow.

Brave immediately ran to join them, and Harry exclaimed,

"I'd like to know what those dogs are doing there?"

"Why, they've got the fox treed," said Frank.

"A fox treed!" repeated Harry, with a laugh, "Whoever heard of such a thing?"

"I have often read," answered Frank, "that when a fox is hard pressed, and finds himself unable to escape, he will take advantage of any place of concealment he can find."

While this conversation was going on, the boys had been running toward the stump, and, when they reached it, they found Brave with his head buried in a hole near the ground, now and then giving his tail a jerk, but otherwise remaining as motionless as a statue.

"What do you think now of the possibility of seeing a fox?" inquired Frank, turning to Harry.

"I don't believe it yet," said the latter.

"Then how is it that the dogs are here?"

"The fox may have run down here and doubled on his trail, and thus thrown the dogs off the scent."

"He didn't have time to do that," said Archie, who had divested himself of his coat, and stood with his ax, ready to cut down the stump. "He's in here, I'm certain. See how Brave acts."

"It will not take long to find out," said George, who was a good deal of his brother's opinion that the fox was not in the tree.

And he and Archie set to work, with the intention of cutting it down.

But it was found to be hollow; and, after taking out a few chips, Archie stooped down to take a survey of the interior, and spied the fox crouched in the darkest corner.

"Hand me your gun, Frank," said he; "I'll shoot him."

"I wouldn't shoot him," said Frank. "It is a good time to try Lightfoot's speed. Let's get the fox out, and give him a fair start, and if he gets away from the hound, he is ent.i.tled to his life."

The boys readily agreed to this proposal--not out of any desire to give the fox a chance for his liberty, but in order to witness a fair trial of the grayhound's speed, and to enjoy the excitement of the race.

George and Harry provided themselves with long poles, with which to "poke" the fox out of his refuge. Brave and Sport were unceremoniously conducted away from the tree, and ordered to "lie down;" and Frank took hold of the grayhound, intending to restrain him until the fox could get a fair start.

"All ready now," said Archie. "Keep a good look-out, Frank, and let the hound go the instant the fox comes out. You know, Lightfoot is young yet, and it won't do to give the game too long a start."

"All right," answered Frank.

Frank, the Young Naturalist Part 27

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Frank, the Young Naturalist Part 27 summary

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