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Rolf in the Woods(Chapter30)

2006-09-08 19:38

  CHAPTER XXX Catching a Fox

  As to wisdom, a man ain't a spring; he's a tank, an' gives out only what he gathers" —— Sayings of Si Sylvanne

  Quonab would not quit his nightly couch in the canvas lodge so Rolf and Skookum stayed with him. The dog was himself again, and more than once in the hours of gloom dashed forth in noisy chase of something which morning study of the tracks showed to have been foxes. They were attracted partly by the carrion of the deer, partly by the general suitability of the sandy beach for a gambolling place, and partly by a foxy curiosity concerning the cabin, the hunters, and their dog.

  One morning after several night arousings and many raids by Skookum, Rolf said: "Fox is good now; why shouldn't I add some fox pelts to that?" and he pointed with some pride to the marten skin.

  "Ugh, good; go ahead; you will learn," was the reply.

  So getting out the two fox traps Rolf set to work. Noting where chiefly the foxes ran or played he chose two beaten pathways and hid the traps carefully, exactly as he did for the marten; then selecting a couple of small cedar branches he cut these and laid them across the path, one on each side of the trap, assuming that the foxes following the usual route would leap over the boughs and land in disaster. To make doubly sure he put a piece of meat by each trap and half-way between them set a large piece on a stone.

  Then he sprinkled fresh earth over the pathways and around each trap and bait so he should have a record of the tracks.

  Foxes came that night, as he learned by the footprints along the beach, but never one went near his traps. He studied the marks; they slowly told him all the main facts. The foxes had come as usual, and frolicked about. They had discovered the bait and the traps at once —— how could such sharp noses miss them —— and as quickly noted that the traps were suspicious-smelling iron things, that manscent, hand, foot, and body, were very evident all about; that the only inducement to go forward was some meat which was coarse and cold, not for a moment to be compared with the hot juicy mouse meat that abounded in every meadow. The foxes were well fed and unhungry. Why should they venture into such evident danger? In a word, walls of stone could not have more completely protected the ground and the meat from the foxes than did the obvious nature of the traps; not a track was near, and many afar showed how quickly they had veered off.

  "Ugh, it is always so," said Quonab. "Will you try again? "

  "Yes, I will, " replied Rolf, remembering now that he had omitted to deodorize his traps and his boots.

  He made a fire of cedar and smoked his traps, chains, and all. Then taking a piece of raw venison he rubbed it on his leather gloves and on the soles of his boots, wondering how he had expected to succeed the night before with all these man-scent killers left out. He put fine, soft moss under the pan of each trap, then removed the cedar brush, and gently sprinkled all with fine, dry earth. The set was perfect; no human eye could have told that there was any trap in the place. It seemed a foregone success.

  "Fox don't go by eye, " was all the Indian said, for he reckoned it best to let the learner work it out.

  In the morning Rolf was up eager to see the results. There was nothing at all. A fox had indeed, come within ten feet at one place, but behaved then as though positively amused at the childishness of the whole smelly affair. Had a man been there on guard with a club, he could not have kept the spot more wholly clear of foxes. Rolf turned away baffled and utterly puzzled. He had not gone far before he heard a most terrific yelping from Skookum, and turned to see that trouble-seeking pup caught by the leg in the first trap. It was more the horrible surprise than the pain, but he did howl.

  The hunters came quickly to the rescue and at once he was freed, none the worse, for the traps have no teeth; they merely hold. It is the long struggle and the starvation chiefly that are cruel, and these every trapper should cut short by going often around his line.

  Now Quonab took part. "That is a good setting for some things. It would catch a coon, a mink, or a marten, —— or a dog —— but not a fox or a wolf. They are very clever. You shall see."

  The Indian got out a pair of thick leather gloves, smoked them in cedar, also the traps. Next he rubbed his moccasin soles with raw meat and selecting a little bay in the shore he threw a long pole on the sand, from the line of high, dry shingle across to the water's edge. In his hand he carried a rough stake. Walking carefully on the pole and standing on it, he drove the stake in at about four feet from the shore; then split it, and stuffed some soft moss into the split. On this he poured three or four drops of the "smell-charm." Now he put a lump of spruce gum on the pan of the trap, holding a torch under it till the gum was fused, and into this he pressed a small, flat stone. The chain of the trap he fastened to a ten-pound stone of convenient shape, and sank the stone in the water half-way between the stake and the shore. Last he placed the trap on this stone, so that when open everything would be under water except the flat stone on the pan. Now he returned along the pole and dragged it away with him.

  Thus there was now no track or scent of human near the place.

  The setting was a perfect one, but even then the foxes did not go near it the following night; they must become used to it. In their code, " A strange thing is always dangerous." In the morning Rolf was inclined to scoff. But Quonab said: "Wah! No trap goes first night."

  They did not need to wait for the second morning. In the middle of the night Skookum rushed forth barking, and they followed to see a wild struggle, the fox leaping to escape and fast to his foot was the trap with its anchor stone a-dragging.

  Then was repeated the scene that ended the struggle of mink and marten. The creature's hind feet were tied together and his body hung from a peg in the shanty. In the morning they gloated over his splendid fur and added his coat to their store of trophies.

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