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The Fox
by [?]

It has been many a long day since I heard a fox bark, but in my youth among the Catskills I often heard the sound, especially of a still moonlight night in midwinter. Perhaps it was more a cry than a bark, not continuous like the baying of a dog, but uttered at intervals. One feels that the creature is trying to bark, but has not yet learned the trick of it. But it is a wild, weird sound. I would get up any night to hear it again. I used to listen for it when a boy, standing in front of my father’s house. Presently I would hear one away up on the shoulder of the mountain, and I imagined I could almost see him sitting there in his furs upon the illuminated surface and looking down in my direction. As I listened, maybe one would answer him from behind the woods in the valley, a fitting sound amid the ghostly winter hills.

The red fox was the only species that abounded in this locality. On my way to school in the morning, after a fresh fall of snow, I would see at many points where he had crossed the road. Here he had leisurely passed within rifle-range of the house, evidently reconnoitring the premises with an eye to the hen-roost. That clear, sharp track,–there was no mistaking it for the clumsy footprint of a little dog. All his wildness and agility were photographed in it. Here he had taken fright, or suddenly recollected an engagement, and in long, graceful leaps, barely touching the fence, had gone careering up the hill as fleet as the wind.

The usual gait of the fox, unlike that of the dog, is, at night at least, a walk. On such occasions he is in quest of game and he goes through the woods and fields in an alert, stealthy manner, stepping about a foot at a time, and keeping his eyes and ears open.

The wild, buoyant creature, how beautiful he is! I had often seen his dead carcass, and at a distance had witnessed the hounds drive him across the upper fields; but the thrill and excitement of meeting him in his wild freedom in the woods were unknown to me till, one cold winter day, drawn thither by the baying of a hound, I stood near the summit of the mountain, waiting a renewal of the sound, that I might determine the course of the dog and choose my position,–stimulated by the ambition of all young Nimrods to bag some notable game. Long I waited, and patiently, till, chilled and benumbed, I was about to turn back, when, hearing a slight noise, I looked up and beheld a most superb fox, loping along with inimitable grace and ease, evidently disturbed, but not pursued by the hound, and so absorbed in his private meditations that he failed to see me, though I stood transfixed with amazement and admiration, not ten yards distant. I took his measure at a glance,–a large male, with dark legs, and massive tail tipped with white,–a most magnificent creature; but so astonished and fascinated was I by this sudden appearance and matchless beauty, that not till I had caught the last glimpse of him, as he disappeared over a knoll, did I awake to my duty as a sportsman, and realize what an opportunity to distinguish myself I had unconsciously let slip. I clutched my gun, half angrily, as if it was to blame, and went home out of humor with myself and all fox-kind. But I have since thought better of the experience, and concluded that I bagged the game after all, the best part of it, and fleeced Reynard of something more valuable than his fur, without his knowledge.

This is thoroughly a winter sound,–this voice of the hound upon the mountain,–and one that is music to many ears. The long trumpet-like bay, heard for a mile or more,–now faintly back to the deep recesses of the mountain,–now distinct, but still faint, as the hound comes over some prominent point and the wind favors,–anon entirely lost in the gully,–then breaking out again much nearer, and growing more and more pronounced as the dog approaches, till, when he comes around the brow of the mountain, directly above you, the barking is loud and sharp. On he goes along the northern spur, his voice rising and sinking as the wind and the lay of the ground modify it, till lost to hearing.