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Rolf in the Woods(Chapter39)

2006-09-08 19:40

  CHAPTER XXXIX The Humiliation of Skookum

  If Skookum could have been interviewed by a newspaper man, he would doubtless have said: "I am a very remarkable dog. I can tree partridges. I'm death on porcupines. I am pretty good in a dog fight; never was licked in fact: but my really marvellous gift is my speed; I'm a terror to run."

  Yes, he was very proud of his legs, and the foxes that came about in the winter nights gave him many opportunities of showing what he could do. Many times over he very nearly caught a fox. Skookum did not know that these wily ones were playing with him; but they were, and enjoyed it immensely.

  The self-sufficient cur never found this out, and never lost a chance of nearly catching a fox. The men did not see those autumn chases because they were by night; but foxes hunt much by day in winter, perforce, and are often seen; and more than once they witnessed one of these farcical races.

  And now the shining white furnished background for a much more important affair.

  It was near sundown one day when a faint fox bark was heard out on the snow-covered ice of the lake.

  "That's for me," Skookum seemed to think, and jumping up, with a very fierce growl, he trotted forth; the men looked first from the window. Out on the snow, sitting on his haunches, was their friend, the big, black silver fox.

  Quonab reached for his gun and Rolf tried to call Skookum, but it was too late. He was out to catch that fox; their business was to look on and applaud. The fox sat on his haunches, grinning apparently, until Skookum dashed through the snow within twenty yards. Then, that shining, black fox loped gently away, his huge tail level out behind him, and Skookum, sure of success, raced up, within six or seven yards. A few more leaps now, and the victory would be won. But somehow he could not close that six or seven yard gap. No matter how he strained and leaped, the great black brush was just so far ahead. At first they had headed for the shore, but the fox wheeled back to the ice and up and down. Skookum felt it was because escape was hopeless, and he redoubled his effort. But all in vain. He was only wearing himself out, panting noisily now. The snow was deep enough to be a great disadvantage, more to dog than to fox, since weight counted as such a handicap. Unconsciously Skookum slowed up. The fox increased his headway; then audaciously turned around and sat down in the snow.

  This was too much for the dog. He wasted about a lungful of air in an angry bark, and again went after the enemy. Again the chase was round and round, but very soon the dog was so wearied that he sat down, and now the black fox actually came back and barked at him.

  It was maddening. Skookum's pride was touched.

  He was in to win or break. His supreme effort brought him within five feet of that white-tipped brush. Then, strange to tell, the big black fox put forth his large reserve of speed, and making for the woods, left Skookum far behind. Why? The cause was clear. Quonab, after vainly watching for a chance to shoot, that would not endanger the dog, had, under cover, crept around the lake and now was awaiting in a thicket. But the fox's keen nose had warned him. He knew that the funny part was over, so ran for the woods and disappeared as a ball tossed up the snow behind him.

  Poor Skookum's tongue was nearly a foot long as he walked meekly ashore. He looked depressed; his tail was depressed; so were his ears; but there was nothing to show whether he would have told that reporter that he "wasn't feeling up to his usual, to-day," or "Didn't you see me get the best of him?"

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