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Rolf in the Woods(Chapter9)

2006-09-08 19:30

  CHAPTER IX The Law of Property Among Our Four-Footed Kin

  Night came down on the Asamuk woods, and the two in the wigwam were eating their supper of pork, beans, and tea, for the Indian did not, by any means object to the white man's luxuries, when a strange "yap-yurr" was heard out toward the plain. The dog was up at once with a growl. Rolf looked inquiringly, and Quonab said, "Fox," then bade the dog be still.

  "Yap-yurr, yap-yurr," and then, "yurr, yeow," it came again and again. "Can we get him?" said the eager young hunter. The Indian shook his head.

  "Fur no good now. An' that's a she-one, with young ones on the hillside."

  "How do you know?" was the amazed inquiry. "I know it's a she-one, 'cause she says:

  "Yap-yurr" (high pitched)

  If it was a he-one he'd say:

  "Yap-yurr" (low pitched)

  "And she has cubs, 'cause all have at this season. And they are on that hillside, because that's the nearest place where any fox den is, and they keep pretty much to their own hunting grounds. If another fox should come hunting on the beat of this pair, he'd have to fight for it. That is the way of the wild animals; each has his own run, and for that he will fight an outsider that he would be afraid of at any other place. One knows he is right —— that braces him up; the other knows he is wrong —— and that weakens him." Those were the Indian's views, expressed much less connectedly than here given, and they led Rolf on to a train of thought. He remembered a case that was much to the point.

  Their little dog Skookum several times had been worsted by the dog on the Horton farm, when, following his master, he had come into the house yard. There was no question that the Horton dog was stronger. But Skookum had buried a bone under some brushes by the plain and next day the hated Horton dog appeared. Skookum watched him with suspicion and fear, until it was no longer doubtful that the enemy had smelled the hidden food and was going for it. Then Skookum, braced up by some instinctive feeling, rushed forward with bristling mane and gleaming teeth, stood over his cache, and said in plainest dog, "You can't touch that while I live!"

  And the Horton dog —— accustomed to domineer over the small yellow cur —— growled contemptuously, scratched with his hind feet, smelled around an adjoining bush, and pretending not to see or notice, went off in another direction.

  What was it that robbed him of his courage, but the knowledge that he was in the wrong?

  Continuing with his host Rolf said, "Do you think they have any idea that it is wrong to steal?"

  "Yes, so long as it is one of their own tribe. A fox will take all he can get from a bird or a rabbit or a woodchuck, but he won't go far on the hunting grounds of another fox. He won't go into another fox's den or touch one of its young ones, and if he finds a cache of food with another fox's mark on it, he won't touch it unless he is near dead of hunger."

  "How do you mean they cache food and how do they mark it?"

  "Generally they bury it under the leaves and soft earth, and the only mark is to leave their body scent. But that is strong enough, and every fox knows it."

  "Do wolves make food caches?"

  "Yes, wolves, cougars, weasels, squirrels, bluejays, crows, owls, mice, all do, and all have their own way of marking a place."

  "Suppose a fox finds a wolf cache, will he steal from it?"

  "Yes, always. There is no law between fox and wolf. They are always at war with each other. There is law only between fox and fox, or wolf and wolf."

  "That is like ourselves, ain't it? We say, 'Thou shalt not steal,' and then when we steal the Indian's land or the Frenchman's ships, we say, 'Oh, that don't mean not steal from our enemies; they are fair game.'"

  Quonab rose to throw some sticks on the fire, then went out to turn the smoke flap of the wigwam, for the wind was changed and another set was needed to draw the smoke. They heard several times again the high-pitched "yap yurr," and once the deeper notes, which told that the dog fox, too, was near the camp, and was doubtless seeking food to carry home.

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