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Rolf in the Woods(Chapter38)

2006-09-08 19:40

  CHAPTER XXXVIII The Silver Fox

  They were returning to the cabin, one day, when Quonab stopped and pointed. Away off on the snow of the far shore was a moving shape to be seen.

  "Fox, and I think silver fox; he so black. I think he lives there."

  "Why?" "I have seen many times a very big fox track, and they do not go where they do not live. Even in winter they keep their own range."

  "He's worth ten martens, they say?" queried Rolf.

  "Ugh! fifty."

  "Can't we get him?"

  "Can try. But the water set will not work in winter; we must try different."

  This was the plan, the best that Quonab could devise for the snow: Saving the ashes from the fire (dry sand would have answered), he selected six open places in the woods on the south of the lake, and in each made an ash bed on which he scattered three or four drops of the smell-charm. Then, twenty-five yards from each, on the north or west side (the side of the prevailing wind) he hung from some sapling a few feathers, a partridge wing or tail with some red yarns to it. He left the places unvisited for two weeks, then returned to learn the progress of act one.

  Judging from past experience of fox nature and from the few signs that were offered by the snow, this is what had happened: A fox came along soon after the trappers left, followed the track a little way, came to the first opening, smelled the seductive danger-lure, swung around it, saw the dangling feathers, took alarm, and went off. Another of the places had been visited by a marten. He had actually scratched in the ashes. A wolf had gone around another at a safe distance.

  Another had been shunned several times by a fox or by foxes, but they had come again and again and at last yielded to the temptation to investigate the danger-smell; finally had rolled in it, evidently wallowing in an abandon of delight. So far, the plan was working there.

  The next move was to set the six strong fox traps, each thoroughly smoked, and chained to a fifteen-pound block of wood.

  Approaching the place carefully and using his blood-rubbed glove, Quonab set in each ash pile a trap. Under its face he put a wad of white rabbit fur. Next he buried all in the ashes, scattered a few bits of rabbit and a few drops of smell-charm, then dashed snow over the place, renewed the dangling feathers to lure the eye; and finally left the rest to the weather.

  Rolf was keen to go the next day, but the old man said: "Wah! no good! no trap go first night; man smell too strong." The second day there was a snowfall, and the third morning Quonab said, "Now seem like good time."

  The first trap was untouched, but there was clearly the track of a large fox within ten yards of it.

  The second was gone. Quonab said, with surprise in his voice, "Deer!" Yes, truly, there was the record. A deer —— a big one —— had come wandering past; his keen nose soon apprised him of a strong, queer appeal near by. He had gone unsuspiciously toward it, sniffed and pawed the unaccountable and exciting nose medicine; then "snap!" and he had sprung a dozen feet, with that diabolic smell-thing hanging to his foot. Hop, hop, hop, the terrified deer had gone into a slashing windfall. Then the drag had caught on the logs, and, thanks to the hard and taper hoofs, the trap had slipped off and been left behind, while the deer had sought safer regions.

  In the next trap they found a beautiful marten dead, killed at once by the clutch of steel. The last trap was gone, but the tracks and the marks told a tale that any one could read; a fox had been beguiled and had gone off, dragging the trap and log. Not far did they need to go; held in a thicket they found him, and Rolf prepared the mid-day meal while Quonab gathered the pelt. After removing the skin the Indian cut deep and carefully into the body of the fox and removed the bladder. Its contents sprinkled near each of the traps was good medicine, he said; a view that was evidently shared by Skookum.

  More than once they saw the track of the big fox of the region, but never very near the snare. He was too clever to be fooled by smell-spells or kidney products, no matter how temptingly arrayed. The trappers did, indeed, capture three red foxes; but it was at cost of great labour. It was a venture that did not pay. The silver fox was there, but he took too good care of his precious hide. The slightest hint of a man being near was enough to treble his already double wariness. They would never have seen him near at hand, but for a stirring episode that told a tale of winter hardship.

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