Popular Science Monthly/Volume 38/April 1891/The Badger and the Fox
|THE BADGER AND THE FOX.|
OF the few animals which now inhabit the woods and the hillsides, perhaps the badger is the least known to the general public. He is nocturnal, in the first place; and his coloring, being in broken tones, does not readily arrest the eye. His head, chin, and neck are white, with brownish-black bands running on either side from the nose over the eyes and ears. His upper parts are light-gray sprinkled with black, the lower parts brownish black; his fore feet are long and stout, his limbs muscular, his jaw powerful, and his teeth sharp; in fact, he is well set up as far as these formidable weapons are concerned. The usual length of the animal is a little over three feet, but in his family, as well as in the human race, there are large and small individuals. Take his general appearance as he jogs along, and a small bear is at once suggested to your mind. Many of his ways, too, are bear-like; he will lie up in the winter, and eat vegetable as well as animal food. Some other creatures, that are supposed to be strictly carnivorous, will eat fruit when they can get it.
The badger, poor beast! is getting scarce; more's the pity, from the animal collector's and the naturalist's point of view. He generally manages to dispense with the observation of the latter; for, unless his ways are well known, he will escape from a place that might have been supposed strong enough to hold a rhinoceros. All his family have been excavators from the beginning, on the most scientific principles. Unless you take the greatest precautions, he will dig himself out and get away in quick time. He is a most quiet and orderly being, and a contented one too, if let alone; for, as a rule, he is fat.
His persecutors are many, from the keeper down to the rat-catcher's lad, who boasts that he has "the best dog at any varmint as ever run on four legs." Some of our common expressions require alteration, being founded on ignorance. For instance, folks say, "Dirty as a badger"; whereas a cleaner creature in its home and surroundings would be hard to find. A very wide-awake individual he is; and he needs be, for the hand of both man and of boy is against him, and utterly without reason.
If the badger had but the same privileges extended to him that the fox has, he would not be so rare an animal as he is now. Why should he be so worried by dogs? It is to be hoped that badger-drawing has nearly had its day. This very practice, brutal as it is, testifies to his determined courage and fighting qualities; you could not find a more determined antagonist than he is when on his mettle.
With regard to his food, the greater part of it consists of such small deer as may fall in his way, when he wanders here and there in the evening after leaving the hole where he has lain dormant all the day. That long snout of his will poke and root out all manner of things, from a wild bees' nest to a field-mouse. He will eat young rabbits when he can get them, and old ones do not come amiss to him when the chance offers. A sporting character I knew once procured a fine badger for the express purpose of having him baited by all the fancy dogs in his locality. Among other creatures he kept rabbits, and his particular fancy was to have the very best of the lop-eared variety that could be procured. One doe he valued most highly, because, setting aside her own qualities, she had a fine lot of young ones, well grown, and as beautiful as herself.
The badger had only been caught the same evening on which it was brought to this individual. Not having a place ready for it, he placed it for the time in an empty hutch just over the one in which his favorite doe and her little ones were. Fastening the door securely, he left the animal to his own devices for the night, little thinking what these might be. Next morning he found, to his horror, that the badger had torn up the floor of the hutch where he had been placed, and got into that of the doe, where he had slaughtered the whole family. Their bodies lay dead there, the badger curled up in the middle of them, fast asleep, and very full of rabbit. His first impulse was to kill the beast, there and then, but on thinking it over he remembered that he had paid a considerable figure for it; so he got the badger out and sold him to one of his friends as a pet, telling him that it was "quite harm-
less, would live on bread and milk, and in a very short time would follow him about like a dog." Very soon, indeed, he was requested by this friend to take him back again, but he refused.
I will describe one of his homes, which I have visited many times. At the bottom of a glade, by the side of the chalk hill, is a dip or hollow, not deep, but a kind of basin about twice the size of one of my living-rooms. Round this, old beeches, growing close by, have pushed forth their great roots in all directions; on one side of the hollow a gnarled oak stands, not any great height, but of vast bulk, the great limbs reaching far over the open space. In the middle of the hollow, under the roots of this oak, our friar of orders gray has made his home, and a very secure and pleasant one it is.
When the moon is high up in the sky, and throws a soft silvery blue tone on the tops of the firs which line the side of the glade, the glade itself showing like a bright blue-green stripe, and nothing is heard but the jar of the fern-owl as he flits over the glade, or the drone of some beetle as he flies along, then is the time for our friend the badger to come out and see how the world looks in the moonlight.
He has left his hole, and there he stands in the full light of the moon, the great limbs of the oak throwing checkered shadows around him on the greensward and on the exposed surface of the chalk here and there. The greater portion of the sides of the hollow nearest his home is covered with foxgloves and trailing bramble. He looks round about him for a few seconds, and sniffs, just to find out if anything peculiar is in the air; then, finding matters all right, as he thinks, he gives himself a scratch or two and a good shake, and deliberately waddles off to get something to eat—a very easy matter at this time of the year, for on a warm summer night all kinds of creatures are about, and he makes their acquaintance much to his own satisfaction, if not to theirs.
Little does he think that he is wanted on this particular evening. While he goes plodding along, picking up a little bit here and there, the keeper and his lad are holding some conversation about him. I happen to come across them; my sympathies are with the badger, but it is not my business to interfere.
"Have ye got the bag and sack, Jim? If ye have, jest make yer way, quiet like, over t'other hill, an' cum down the side on it, on the quiet, mind; fix yer bag, an' when 'tis done, give three hoots, one arter t'other, to let me know as things is all right; ye minds what I tell ye; I'm goin' back to git Ginger an' Nipper. They'll hussle him up, an' no mistake. They ain't big uns, but better tarriers than what they be never cum inter this 'ere wurld. Now then, off ye goes, an' before ye gits yer job done I shall be near to ye, fur to hear ye hoot: he's sartin sure to be on the ramble."
Arriving at the spot, Jim produces the bag, or rather a small sack, from his jacket pocket, and places it in the entrance to the badger's burrow in such a way that should the animal rush for home, as he generally does when alarmed, he will go right into it. The string that runs round the mouth of the sack will be pulled tight by the force of his rush, and there he will be like a pig in a poke. The string of the bag is secured, of course, to a peg. Having arranged all this to his own satisfaction, Jim picks up the large sack—he had two, a large and a small—walks out of the hollow on to the moonlit greensward, and hoots like a brown owl, three times. After this musical effort he stands cpiite still, and listens intently, but for some time the humming jar of the fern-owl, chur-chur-er-er-er-er-chur, is the only sound that reaches his ear. Suddenly he places his empty sack on the ground beside him, and is on the alert, for a sound of quickly moving feet at a distance makes itself heard. He knows what that means: Ginger and Nipper are close on the badger's track; and like the well-bred, well-trained little fox terriers that they are, they run him mute, save for the mere ghost of a whimper now and again, just enough to show they are eager to close with the poor beast.
That, however, is far from the keeper's intention; he would not let his two little beauties, game though they are, close with such a desperate antagonist as an old dog badger, if he could help it; for he knows well enough that dogs and badger would fight to the death. His plan is that they shall drive him to his burrow, and into the sack.
The best-laid plans do not succeed always, however, as is proved in this case. Nearer and nearer comes the sound of pattering feet at full speed, and behind that the heavy tread of a man who is putting his best foot foremost. Nearer they come; they will break into the moonlight in another moment; we can hear them pant, for they have run him through the cover at top speed. The lad is ready to dash down into the hollow; in fact, he has already moved to do so, when the sound of running feet stops dead; and then, in the thicket, a desperate tearing scuffle is heard going on, for Ginger and Nipper have run into and closed with him before he could reach home.
The sounds make Jim wild with excitement, and he shouts his loudest to the keeper, who is now close at hand and puffing like a steam-engine with running so hard.
"Can't ye git a badger in a sack without hollerin' like murder?" he asks angrily. "I'm a good mind—'.
What he'd a good mind to did not transpire, for the boy yelled out: "I ain't got him; they'se got him; don't ye hear 'em worryin' of him?"
Making use of some very strong expressions, such as he would not make use of at a chapel tea-meeting, the keeper dashes into the thicket, followed by Jim; quickly they reach the spot, where they see a confused mass of living matter, turning and twisting, growling, whining, and snapping, at their feet.
"I'll murder ye, you old varmint!—Look out, Jim! Cuss an' hang him! I can't git a stroke at him! Why the —— here they are; what's up now? Ginger! Ginger! loose him! Ginger! he'll rip ye up in bits. Let me smash him!"
"Here he is; hold hard, master! ye nearly had 'im; hold hard!"
"Well, if ever I take my tarriers! Oh dear! oh dear! if there ain't Nipper; he's done for. Hold him, Jim; don't ye let him out o' yer arms, for mercy sake. Now, then, here they are; now fur it, one way or t'other. This is the wust night's work as ever I come across. Jim! Jim! where be ye?"
"In this 'ere tangle; I'm comin' fast as I can."
"Have ye got Nipper?"
"Yes, I got un."
"He's a dunner, ain't he?"
"No, he ain't; it's tight work fur me to hold him!"
"Don't ye let him go; here they be, dead as herrins! Oh dear, Ginger! if I ain't wound up clean! Never agin will I see your feller. If it waunt fur the shame on it, I could fairly beller! I be cut up, an' no mistake."
"Pick him up, master! you'll hev to loose his holt, for dead as he be he's got him under the ear. This 'ere night's work about winds my pig up, I can tell ye."
Picking Ginger up, and holding him in his arms, the keeper stood in silence. Presently a slight movement took place in the body of the terrier, and with a low whimper and one long-drawn breath he opened his eyes, and then licked the face of his master.
"Jim! hoora! houra! Ginger's alive; oh, my precious Ginger! oh, ain't you tore about! Give us Nipper, an' shove that cusnation warmint in the sack, an' let's git back fur to doctor these 'ere poor things. We'll git 'em round, if 'tis to be done.—Look 'ere, Jim, did ye ever? they ain't hurt much; they're tryin' their werry hardest ter get out o' my hands ter hev another go at him! I don't think as there's sich another pair o' tarriers as these 'ere two, no, not nowheres: there can't be! Ye've got that murderin' warmint?"
"Yes, he's in the sack."
"Then look sharp! we'll cut out o' this; come on! an' next time as master wants a badger fur one o' his friends, somebody else's tarriers 'll hev to drive un. The fust one as we got out was that old warmint's missus an' her cubs. That was a diggin' job, as we wunt forgit in a hurry; 'twas desprit work. But tins 'ere bit o' business sets that aside clean. Jim! what are ye sniggerin' about? what's in the wind now, ticklin' yer fancy that way?"
"Oh, nuthin' pertickler. Is Ginger an' Nipper quiet?"
"No, they ain't; I thinks as they'd like ter fall foul o' that 'ere sack."
"Well, I dessay they wud; fur this 'ere warmint has cum round agin', an' is tearing n' scratchin' like mad. It do take a lot to wind a badger's cloc up, that it do!"
"Jim, when we've sin to the dogs, you come up an' hev a pint o' the best cider."
The Fox.—I feel it almost presumptuous on my part to say anything about that wonderful animal, the fox—so much has been written and said about him, both by sportsmen and some of the greatest of our literary geniuses. My account of him will be brief; not having the fox-hunter's feeling of veneration for him, nor the hatred natural to the poultry-keeper, my views will at any rate not be one-sided. Nor have I ever had the least wish to possess Master Reynard embalmed as a mummy, or to see the wily gentleman in a glass case, lean and hungry-looking, with squinting cunning in his eye. He is known to me as a clean, swift, strong, and handsome creature, full of courage. He is also universally credited with a very large amount of intellectual power, although it is always said to be employed exclusively for his own benefit. To call an individual of the human family an old fox is certainly not a compliment, for it implies that he is crafty and selfish.
His usual length is four feet, but he varies in size according to food and locality. In the Highlands of Scotland he is almost like a wolf in size and strength; and he is not regarded in the same light as in England, for he is shot down without the least compunction there. The proper place to see all wild animals to advantage is in their own home. May I be allowed to say that, in this respect, they are unlike many individuals of the human species?
It is just after four o'clock on a soft May morning, and the sun lights up the tops of the trees, bringing the tender foliage out in sparkling relief against the hill-sides. At the foot of the one nearest us Reynard and his vixen partner have their home. Numbers of fine beeches grow here; the chalky soil is well suited to them. A large one has been blown down at some time, but it has been sawn from the roots long ago. For a long distance the soil was loosened in its fall, and Reynard has taken advantage of this to form an earth for himself and family among the loosened chalk, stones, and old tangled roots. The surface round about is covered with the finest and greenest turf. Many hawthorn bushes are there, giving out their delightful fragrance to perfection, for the morning is warm. On the end of a long beech bough, which reaches far out over the earth, a cuckoo sits and flirts his tail about, shouting, "Cuckoo! cuckoo!" The entrance to the earth and a small space about it is bare, for the little foxes are playful animals, and are at high jinks often, capering about. At present they are, comparatively speaking, quiet, for all their bellies are full. Father Reynard is sitting in the bright warm sunlight, winking in a most knowing manner, while two of his cubs play with his bushy tail to their hearts' content, tossing it from one side to the other in a most comical fashion. Mother vixen has a rabbit in her mouth, which she tosses up and catches, and then lets drop for one of the young ones to nibble at its ears, while the darling of the family torments a poor frog that has found his way there. The whole lot look as though they had a touch of dropsy, their bellies stick out so. The feathers and feet of pheasants strew the ground, and other remnants, for Reynard's motto is: "Other creatures' young ones can cry for food if they let 'em; but mine don't, if I know it."
At some distance the alarm note of a blackbird sounds. Reynard opens his eyes, pricks his ears, and the cubs leave off playing with his tail. The next moment a jay squeaks out, and comes flying overhead. That is enough; he is up on his feet, ears erected, eyes gleaming, and his brush held almost in a line with his back, his fore feet well to the front, the hind ones on the spring. Squeak! squeak! and another jay flits past. With a rush the cubs dash to earth, followed more leisurely by their worthy parents. The cause of their stampede is soon explained, for up the side of the wooded slope a man is seen coming; it is the keeper on his early round.
Reynard is very accommodating as to his food; nothing nice comes amiss to him: game of all kinds, furred and feathered; fish, when he can get the run of them in spawning time, when they are on the sides of the shallows; field-mice, and his especial dainty a well-fed barn rat. There is no lack of these in the harvest time, and up to the commencement of the winter months. Then they troop back to their old quarters for the cold season. He has a taste for poultry; ducks he values most highly. Perhaps no one but a miller would expect to find a fox in a swamp; but he knows his tricks and likings, and, though he curses him most heartily, yet lets him go free, for is he not St. Reynard? The miller's landlord hunts him in the orthodox manner.
On the tussocks, covered with flag and rush spread all over the swamp, the fox makes a most comfortable retreat. Getting into the middle of one, he twists himself round and round, dog fashion, and there he lies on a nice bed, soft and dry, completely hidden from view, remaining there until the miller informs his landlord's keeper that a fox is there; then the huntsman comes round—and the sooner he does this the better, or there will not be a duck left on the pond.
Reynard can hear them nozzling and softly quacking at the edge of his hiding-place; with cat-like steps he creeps closer, looking through the flags. When he finds that he is near enough for a jump, there is a splash, and one low quack and the drake is in his mouth. In pictures you may see him represented with his quarry slung over his back. This is not correct; he carries what he has caught in front of him, like a retriever. More than once, when in search of wading birds, have I come on the retreats of the fox and the otter very near to each other. For cool impudence, match him if you can. I have known a dog fox, when the vixen had the care of a family, enter the yard of the keeper's house, take one of his game hens from under his living-room windows, march off with it across the road and to his home, give it to his family, and then come back for another. A pointer was in the yard at the time, chained to his kennel. Driven off at his second visit, lie coolly recrossed the road to the turf, squatted on his haunches there, and looked over at the yard, and the game hens used for hatching out the pheasants' eggs. It was too much for the. keeper to put up with. Slipping a cartridge into his gun, he swung it up to his shoulder and let drive at the fox, saying, There's notice to quit, you thund'rin' sweep! "Then did Master Reynard play some extraordinary antics. First he jumped off the ground several times in the most lively manner, then he cuffed his ears vigorously with his fore feet, gave a bit of a yelp, and bolted at top speed. His skin is thick, and what would knock other things over would not cripple him.
When the hunters and the hounds chevy him across the fields honest farmer Giles complains most bitterly. "Dash my old gaiters, if I doan't wish as every warmint of a fox as ever run was cold and stiff; that I do; an' 'tis a pity as some folks ain't got better work for their bosses than ridin' over other people's craps an' breakin' fences an' gates. 'Tis wonderful what a likin' most of 'em have fur blunderin' thru a fence an' knockin' the padlock off a gate. Why doan't they jump over 'em? ef their hearts was as big as their hosses hap they wud. That there field of turmits will be punched inter sheep feed, they wunt want to go inter no cuttin' machine. Cuss all fox-huntin'! I sez; 'tis ruin for farmers!"
It was wonderful how quickly farmer Giles was brought to modify these strong opinions on fox-hunting by the appearance of a two-gallon bottle labeled Old Irish, "with the Hunt's compliments." He uncorked the bottle, smelt and tasted it more than once, with and without sugar, ejaculating between each sip, "Massy, oh alive!" Then he walked to those fields again over which they had ridden. Could it have been the softening influence of the Old Irish, or had he been making mountains out of molehills? for when he got back he told his "missus," with a beaming smile of benevolence on his face, that, "raly, considerin' the lot o' gentlemen as 'ad rid over the craps, the little harm as he cum across waunt wuth speekin' on."—Cornhill Magazine.