W HEN school was called to order the following morning not one was missing. You see, with the exception of Jimmy Skunk and Prickly Porky, there was not one in whose life Reddy Fox did not have a most important part. Even Happy Jack the Gray Squirrel and Chatterer the Red Squirrel, tree folk though they were, had many times narrowly missed furnishing Reddy with a dinner. As for Johnny Chuck and Peter Rabbit and Jumper the Hare and Striped Chipmunk and Danny Meadow Mouse and Whitefoot the Wood Mouse, there were few hours of day or night when they did not have Reddy in mind, knowing that to forget him even for a few minutes might mean the end of them.
Just imagine the feelings of these little people when, just as they had comfortably seated themselves for the morning lesson, Reddy himself stepped out from behind a tree. Never before was a school so quickly broken up. In the winking of an eye Old Mother Nature was alone, save for Reddy Fox, Jimmy Skunk, and in the trees Prickly Porky the Porcupine and Happy Jack and Chatterer.
Reddy Fox looked as if he felt uncomfortable. "I didn't mean to break up your school," said he to Old Mother Nature. "I wouldn't have thought of coming if you hadn't sent for me."
Old Mother Nature smiled. "I didn't tell any one that I was going to send for you, Reddy," said she, "for I was afraid that if I did no one would come this morning. I promised them a surprise, but it is clear that no one guessed what that surprise was to be. Go over by that old stump near the Lone Little Path and sit there, Reddy."
The familiar Red Fox who holds his own against man.
Then Old Mother Nature called each of the little people by name, commanding each to return at once. She spoke sternly, very sternly indeed. One by one they appeared from all sorts of hiding places, glancing fearfully towards Reddy Fox, yet not daring to disobey Old Mother Nature.
When at last all were crowded about her as closely as they could get, Old Mother Nature spoke and this time her voice was soft. "I am ashamed of you," said she. "Truly I am ashamed of you. How could you think that I would allow any harm to come to you? Reddy Fox is here because I sent for him, but he is going to sit right where he is until I tell him he can go, and not one of you will be harmed by him. To begin with, I am going to tell you one or two facts about Reddy, and then I am going to find out just how much you have learned about him yourselves.
"It may seem queer to you that Reddy Fox belongs to the same family as Bowser the Hound, but it is true. Both are members of the Dog family and thus are quite closely related. Howler the Wolf and Old Man Coyote are also members of the family, so all are cousins. Look closely at Reddy and you will see at once that he looks very much like a small Dog with a beautiful red coat, white waistcoat, black feet and bushy tail. Now, Peter, you probably know as much about Reddy as any one here. At least you should. Tell us what you have learned in your efforts to keep out of his clutches."
Peter scratched a long ear thoughtfully and glanced sideways at Reddy Fox. "I certainly ought to know something about him," he began. "He was the very first person my mother warned me to watch for, because she said he was especially fond of young Rabbits and was the slyest, smartest and most to be feared of all my enemies. Since then I have found out that she knew just what she was talking about."
Johnny Chuck, Danny Meadow Mouse and Whitefoot the Wood Mouse nodded as if they quite agreed. Then Peter continued, "Reddy lives chiefly by hunting, and in his turn he is hunted, so he needs to have sharp wits. When he isn't hunting me he is hunting Danny Meadow Mouse or Whitefoot or Striped Chipmunk or Mrs. Grouse, or Bob White, or is trying to steal one of Farmer Brown's Chickens, or is catching Frogs along the edge of the Smiling Pool, or grasshoppers out in the Green Meadows. So far as I can make out, anything Reddy can catch furnishes him with food. I guess he doesn't eat anything but such things as these."
"Your guess is wrong, Peter," spoke up Reddy Fox, who had been listening with a grin on his crafty face. "I am rather fond of certain kinds of fruits. You didn't know that, did you, Peter?"
"No, I didn't," replied Peter. "I'm glad to know it. I think it is dreadful to live entirely by killing others."
"You might add," remarked Reddy, "that I like a meal of fish occasionally, and eggs are always welcome. I am not particular what I eat so long as I can get my stomach full."
"Reddy Fox hunts with ears, eyes and nose," continued Peter. "Many a time I've watched him listening for the squeak of Danny Meadow Mouse or watching for the grass to move and show where Danny was hiding; and many a time he has found my scent with his wonderful nose and followed me just as Bowser the Hound follows him. I guess there isn't much going on that Reddy's eyes, ears and nose don't tell him. But it is Reddy's quick wits that the rest of us fear most. We never know what new trick he will try. Lots of enemies are easy to fool, but Reddy isn't one of them. Sometimes I think he knows more about me than I know about myself. I guess it is just pure luck that he hasn't caught me with some of those smart tricks of his.
"Reddy hunts both day and night, but I think he prefers night. I guess it all depends on how hungry he is. More than once I've seen him bringing home a Chicken, but I am told that he is smart enough not to steal Chickens near his home, but always to go some distance to get them. Also I've been told that he is too clever to go to the same Chicken yard two nights in succession. So far as I know, he isn't afraid of any one except a hunter with a terrible gun. He doesn't seem to mind being chased by Bowser the Hound at all."
"I don't," spoke up Reddy. "I rather enjoy it. It gives me good exercise. Any time I can't fool Bowser by breaking my trail so he can't find it again, I deserve to be caught. I am not even so terribly afraid of a hunter with a gun. You see, usually I can guess what a hunter will do better than he can what I will do."
Old Mother Nature nodded. "That sounds like boasting," said she, "but it isn't. Reddy Fox is one of the few animals who has succeeded in holding his own against man, and he has done it simply by using his wits. There is no other animal as large as Reddy Fox who has succeeded as he has in living close to the homes of men. It is simply because he has made the most of the senses I have given him. He has learned to use his eyes, ears and nose at all times and to understand and make the most of the information they bring him. Reddy has always been hunted by man, and it is this very thing which has so sharpened his wits. It is seldom that he is guilty of making the same mistake twice. All of you little people fear Reddy, and I suspect some of you hate him. But always remember that he never kills for the love of killing, and only when he must have food. There would be something sadly missing in the Green Forest and on the Green Meadows were there no Reddy Fox. Reddy, where do you and Mrs. Reddy make your home? And how do you raise your babies?"
"This year our home is up in the Old Pasture," replied Reddy. "We have the nicest kind of a house dug in the ground underneath a big rock. It has only one entrance, but this is because there is no need of any other. No one could possibly dig us out there. Last year our home was on the Green Meadows and there were three doorways to that. The year before we dug our house in a gravelly bank just within the edge of the Green Forest. The babies are born in a comfortable bedroom deep underground. Sometimes we have a storeroom in addition to the bedroom; there Mrs. Reddy and I can keep food when there is more than can be eaten at one meal. When the babies are first born in the spring and Mrs. Reddy cannot leave them, I take food to her. When the youngsters are big enough to use their sharp little teeth, we take turns hunting food for them. Usually we hunt separately, but sometimes we hunt together. You know often two can do what one cannot. If Bowser the Hound happens to find the trail of Mrs. Reddy when there are babies at home, she leads him far away from our home. Then I join her, and take her place so that she can slip away and go back to the babies. Bowser never knows the difference.
"Our children are well trained if I do say it. We teach them how to hunt, how to fool their enemies, and all the tricks we have learned. No one has a better training than a young Fox."
"Here is a conundrum for you little folks," said Old Mother Nature. "When is a Red Fox not a Red Fox?" Everybody blinked. Most of them looked as if they thought Old Mother Nature must be joking. But suddenly Chatterer the Red Squirrel, whose wits are naturally quick, remembered how Old Mother Nature had told them that there were black Gray Squirrels. "When he is some other color," cried Chatterer.
"That's the answer," said Old Mother Nature. "Once in a while a pair of Red Foxes will have a baby who hasn't a red hair on him. He will be all black, with perhaps just the tip of his tail white. Or his fur will be all black just tipped with white. Then he is called a Black Fox or Silver Fox. He is still a Red Fox, yet there is nothing red about him. Sometimes the fur is only partly marked with black and then he is called a Cross Fox. A great many people have supposed that the Black or Silver Fox and the Cross Fox were distinct kinds. They are not. They are simply Red Foxes with different coats. The fur of the Silver Fox is considered by man to be one of the choicest of all furs and tremendous prices are paid for it. This means, of course, that a young Fox whose coat is black will need to be very smart indeed if he would live to old age, for once he has been seen by man he will be hunted unceasingly."
Reddy Fox had been listening intently and now Mother Nature noticed a worried look on his face. "What is it, Reddy?" said she. "You look anxious."
"I am anxious," said he. "What you have just said has worried me. You see, one of my cubs at home is all black. Now that I have learned that his fur is so valuable, Mrs. Reddy and I will have to take special pains to teach him all we know."
"I want you all to know that Reddy Fox and Mrs. Reddy mate for life," said Old Mother Nature. "Reddy is the best of fathers and the best of mates."
"There's one thing I do envy Reddy," spoke up Peter Rabbit, "and that is that big tail of his. It is a wonderful tail. I wish I had one like it."
How everybody laughed as they tried to picture Peter Rabbit with a big tail like that of Reddy Fox. "I am afraid you wouldn't get far if you had to carry that around," said Old Mother Nature. "Even Reddy finds it rather a burden in wet weather when it becomes heavy with water. That is one reason you do not find him abroad much when it is raining or in winter when the snow is soft and wet. Reddy Fox is at home all over the northern half of this country, and everywhere he is the same sly, clever fellow whom you all know so well.
"In the South and some parts of the East and West, Reddy has a cousin of about his own size whose coat is gray with red on the sides of his neck, ears and across his breast. The under part of his body is reddish, his throat and the middle of his breast are white. He is called the Gray Fox. He prefers the Green Forest to the open country, for he is not nearly as smart as his Cousin Reddy. He is, if anything, a better runner, but his wits are slower and he cannot so well hold his own against man. Instead of making his home in a hole in the ground, he usually chooses a hollow tree-trunk or hollow log. The babies are born in a nest of leaves in the bottom of a hollow tree. In some parts of the West this Fox is called the Tree Fox, because often he climbs up in low trees.
In some places he is called the Tree Fox.
"The Gray Fox of the South is not the only cousin of Reddy's," continued Old Mother Nature. "In certain parts of the Great West, on the plains, lives one of the smallest of Reddy's cousins, called the Kit Fox or Swift. He is no larger than Black Pussy, Farmer Brown's Cat, and gets his name of Swift from his great speed in running. He is a prairie animal and lives in burrows in the ground as most prairie animals do. His back is of a grayish color, while his sides are yellowish red. Beneath he is white. The upper side of his tail is yellowish-gray, below it is yellowish, and the tip is black. In general appearance he is more like the Gray Fox than Reddy. He lacks the quick wit of Reddy Fox and is easily trapped.
"In the hot, dry regions of the Southwest, where the Kangaroo Rats and Pocket Mice live, is another cousin, closely related to the Kit Fox. This is called the Desert Fox. Like most of the little people who live on the desert, he is seldom seen by day. He is very swift of foot. He digs a burrow with several entrances and his food consists largely of Pocket Mice, Kangaroo Rats, Ground squirrels and such other small animals as are found in that part of the country. Like his cousin, the Kit Fox, he is not especially quick-witted. Neither the Kit Fox nor the Desert Fox are considered very valuable for their coats, and so are not hunted and trapped as much as are Reddy Fox and his two cousins of the Great North, the Arctic Fox and the Blue Fox.
"The Arctic, or White Fox, lives in the Far North, in the land of snow and ice. He is a little fellow, bigger than the Kit Fox, but only about two thirds the size of Reddy Fox, and very beautiful. Way up in the Far North his entire coat is snowy white the year round. The fur is long, very thick and soft. His tail is very large and handsome. When he lives a little farther south, he changes his coat in the summer to one of a bluish-brown. But just as soon as winter approaches, he resumes his white coat. The young are born in a burrow in the ground, if the parents happen to be living far enough south for the ground to be free of snow. In the Far North, their home is a burrow in a snow bank, and there the babies are born. The white coats of the Arctic Foxes, who live in a world of white, are of great help to them when hunting, or when trying to escape from enemies. It is difficult to see them against their white surroundings. In summer their food consists very largely of ducks and other wild fowl which nest in great numbers in the Far North. In the winter they hunt for Lemmings, Arctic Hares and a cousin of Mrs. Grouse called the Ptarmigan, who lives up there. They pick the bones left by Polar Bears and Wolves. Getting a living in winter is not easy, and so the Arctic Fox is a great traveler.
His coat is all white in the winter months.
"The Blue Fox is really only a colored White Fox, just as the Black Fox is a black Red Fox, and his habits are, of course, just the same as the habits of the White Fox. There are some islands in the Far North, called the Pribilof Islands, and on them live many Blue Foxes. Both the White and the Blue Foxes are much hunted for their coats, which are considered very valuable by man. Certainly they are very beautiful. While these cousins of Reddy's are clever hunters they do not begin to be as quick-witted as Reddy, and so are much more easily trapped.
This is really a color phase of the Arctic Fox.
"Now I think this will do for Reddy Fox and his relatives. Reddy
is going to stay right here with me, until the rest of you have
had a chance to get home. After that you will have to watch out
for yourselves as usual. Just remember that Reddy has become the
quick-witted person he is because he has been so much hunted. If
you are as smart as Reddy, you will understand that the more he
hunts you, the quicker-witted you also will become.