Silver Spot by Zoe Meyer
Near the southern border of the wilderness the aisles of lofty
spruce give place to second-growth birch, maple and ash, and these in
turn to wild meadows and stump lots. The country is rugged, broken here
and there by upthrusts of gray rock. Protruding ledges shelter dark
caves, and protect their moss-carpeted entrances from sun and wind.
Dense thickets of pawpaw, hazel and wild cherry offer coverts for the
shy and furtive kindred of the forest: goggle-eyed rabbits, restless as
wind-blown leaves; mice, with their intricate system of runways among
the grass roots; slow-moving porcupines, prickly as huge sandburs; and
occasionally a stately buck or savage-eyed Canada lynx.
In such a country, in a cleverly concealed den about a mile from the
Hermit's cabin, Silver Spot was born. A projecting ledge, crowned with
hazel brush, concealed the mouth of the den which looked out upon a
small mossy clearing, sloping warmly toward the rising sun. It was an
ideal location, for, though it lay so near the outposts of
civilization, no human foot had ever trodden the spot until the Hermit
discovered it quite by accident one day while harvesting a store of
golden seal, a root of great value in the drug market.
Drawn by the peace and seclusion of this shadowy, green world, he
laid aside his mattock and wandered to the edge of the hazel thicket.
Thinking the spot a likely one for a fox den, he parted the bushes and,
as noiselessly as one of the forest creatures, crept forward until he
could look into the mossy clearing under the ledge. He had been there
but a moment when out into the sunshine rolled a furry ball which, upon
dissolving, proved to be three sturdy fox cubs. For a moment they sat
on their tails, blinking in the sunlight; then, as if at a signal, they
rose upon their haunches and began a good-natured rough and tumble,
biting and clawing as they rolled over and over on the moss.
All were appealing, as are young animals at play the world over, but
to one the Hermit's eyes turned in admiration again and again. He was
larger than the others, with a snowy white spot on breast and tail. His
movements were quick and sure and, though he still possessed some of
the awkwardness of the kitten, he showed every indication of making a
splendid animal when grown.
[Illustration: A full grown fox stood motionless in the sunlight, a
rabbit hanging limply from her jaws.]
In his study of the wild creatures of the forest the Hermit had
learned a valuable art, that of keeping still. Assuming a comfortable
position with his back against a tree, he let himself blend into his
background of green and brown until even the keen eyes of the forest
people were deceived. A chickadee regarded him inquisitively from a
branch over his head, talking softly to itself the while; a rabbit,
hopping by on some apparently urgent business, came upon the motionless
figure, stopped suddenly and then, as the Hermit did not move, went on
indifferently. It was a busy and interesting world, but the attention
of the man was upon the fox cubs.
Suddenly the play came to a halt as all eyes turned toward the
thicket on the opposite side of the little clearing. Following their
gaze, the man saw a full grown fox standing motionless in the sunlight,
a rabbit hanging limply from her jaws. Now a singular thing happened.
The cubs, who had made a wild dash toward the mother, stopped abruptly,
stood an instant, and then, silent as little shadows, vanished into the
dark cave. So far as the Hermit could observe, the mother fox had made
no sound, yet some communication had passed from her to the cubs and
they had instantly and unquestioningly obeyed. The mother stood a
moment longer, alert but unmoving; then, instead of entering the den,
she slipped away. The Hermit caught a glimpse of her circling the
thicket suspiciously, so, not wishing to alarm her unnecessarily, he
stole quietly away, leaving her free to return to the cubs.
Almost daily he paid a visit to the den, keeping well out of sight
but becoming more and more interested in the big cub that he had named
Silver Spot. Often, as he waited, the mother fox would return with
food, and before many days she appeared to become accustomed to the
motionless figure among the hazel bushes, for she no longer sent the
cubs to the den with her silent warning.
The meal finished, she would lie down in the warm sunshine and let
the cubs play rough and tumble games about her, such as those of
puppies or kittens. Worrying her plumy tail and tobogganing from her
back seemed to be favorite pastimes with two of the cubs. Silver Spot
had a mind of his own and would sometimes wander alone to the edge of
the clearing, his attitude expressing intense interest in the world
beyond. He never went farther, however, for his mother, apparently
engrossed in the play of the others, would suddenly raise her head and
look intently at the big cub, who would at once return to the family
circle. The Hermit could but wonder at the perfect understanding which
needed no sound audible to human ears.
The cubs grew fast, but Silver Spot outstripped the others. His fur
grew long and thick and glossy, his brush magnificent. His trim,
pointed ears allowed nothing to escape his active brain. The family,
when grown, soon separated, but Silver Spot, much to the satisfaction
of the Hermit, remained near the home den. Occasionally Pal, in his
private explorations into the edge of the forest, would take up the
trail of the fox. At such a time it would have been difficult to decide
which animal more enjoyed the chase, the dog or the big fox.
Silver Spot possessed an abundant share of that alertness and
sagacity necessary to a fox or any other animal in the wilderness. He
did not fear the dog, but seemed to enjoy making the trail as
complicated as possible, while Pal, nose to the ground, would patiently
follow its intricacies. Solemnly the fox would trot around in a large
circle, then, leaping as far to one side as possible, would saunter off
with an amusing air of indifference, pausing to listen for mice or
rabbits. Later, round and round in the circle would go the dog until,
becoming aware of the deceit practised upon him, he would range the
neighborhood until he struck the scent. Often the fox doubled on his
trail. From a ridge some distance away he would sit down and watch his
puzzled pursuer, who was always it in this game of tag.
One day, from a slight elevation, the Hermit followed the course of
such a race as well as was possible in the heavy forest. Pal had
profited by his experience and was, the Hermit concluded, giving Silver
Spot a stiff run. As the man stood leaning comfortably against a tree,
though he had caught no glimpse of the fox, he could hear the dog
coming rapidly nearer. Then suddenly Silver Spot, with the lightness of
a wind-blown leaf, drifted into view a few paces away among the trees.
He paused at sight of the man. As the beast stood, alert and graceful,
one paw daintily lifted, with no sign of fear in the eyes which
questioned the motionless figure, he made a picture which the Hermit
carried in his mind for many a day.
From his brief survey the fox evidently decided that the intruder
was quite harmless and consequently uninteresting. Though the dog was
hot on his trail, Silver Spot paused a moment longer to give an
unhurried look about him. A little to one side lay a tree which, in
falling, had lodged among the branches of its neighbor. At a point
where it was raised about four feet from the ground Silver Spot leaped
upon it and thence into the middle of a little forest stream beneath.
In another moment he had disappeared, keeping to the water which he
well knew would leave no tell-tale scent.
He was scarcely out of sight when the dog appeared, passing his
master as unheedingly as if the latter had been a part of the tree
against which he leaned. At the foot of the inclined trunk Pal stopped,
plainly puzzled. No trace of the alluring scent could he catch, though
he eagerly nosed all about the tree and even partly up the trunk. Not
having the agility of the woodland creature, however, he could not
proceed far enough to recapture the scent. So he was obliged to content
himself with ranging the neighborhood in the hope of picking up the
trail, a fruitless search from which he was at length recalled by the
whistle of his master. And though the trail invariably ended in some
such manner, Pal never seemed to weary of the chase.
As a rule a fox frequents a somewhat restricted territory in which,
if he is strong enough, he rules supreme, driving away all trespassers.
Silver Spot, however, was an unusual fox in many ways and often
demonstrated his individuality by wandering far afield.
Late one afternoon, while ranging the woods several miles to the
east of the home den, he paused beside a clear forest stream to drink.
As he raised his head from the refreshing water, his alert ears caught
a faint stir. Soundless as a shadow he melted into the bushes at his
back just as a queer procession came into view. At the head, advancing
with an air of slow dignity, walked a shining black animal with two
broad white stripes down her back and fur so long that it rippled
silkily in the breeze; behind, in a row, came five little ones, exact
counterparts of their mother. Upon a flat stone at the edge of the
stream they all crouched for a drink. Silver Spot did not offer to
molest them, but watched curiously as, their thirst quenched, they
again took up their slow march. He even followed at a discreet
distance, watching the youngster who brought up the rear and who often
had to be hustled back into the line from which his curiosity had led
Night found Silver Spot in an upland pasture at the edge of the
forest, a place of black stumps and thickets of juniper and wild
berries, silvered over with the radiance of the full moon. He drifted
lightly across the pasture, alert for any adventure which the night
might present, and brought up beside a rude building from which came an
enticing odour. Silver Spot had not tasted chicken since, as a cub, he
had rushed to meet his mother returning from a foraging expedition, but
the recollection of the delicacy was still strong with him. He worked
industriously, and before long dug out an entrance under the building.
Then, before the plump hen which he had selected could wake and cry
out, Silver Spot had killed her and was out and away. He traveled
swiftly and, safe in his own den, enjoyed the feast.
Having acquired a taste for plump chicken, Silver Spot decided to
revisit the henhouse the following evening. This time, however, his
intentions were thwarted in a way which almost put an end to his
career. Eyes other than those of the Hermit had been watching the
growth of Silver Spot, eyes burning with greed when they looked upon
his handsome coat. Fur such as this sold for much money in the city and
the desire for money left no room for pity or admiration for the animal
in the mind of the half-breed, Sam. He had bided his time, but now,
though it was not the best time for furs, he dared wait no longer. Very
soon he was to guide a party of hunters and fishermen far into the
north, and he must take the fox now or never.
Most cunningly he had baited and concealed his trap, which had been
purged by fire of all human touch. Then he had scented the ground all
about with the carcass of a freshly killed chicken. Thus Silver Spot,
the memory of his feast still upon him, caught the alluring scent.
Swerving from his path, he was suddenly caught in the steel jaws which
closed with an ugly click. The big fox was a prisoner, the victim of a
He tore savagely at the thing which held him, straining every effort
to gain his freedom, but without avail. The trap seemed only to close
more tightly, cutting through fur and sinew, staining the ground red.
At length, exhausted, he sank down in the leaves only to rise again and
again to renew the struggle.
The hours dragged on. He was hungry and unbearably thirsty, with
water only a few yards out of reach. His brave heart almost failed him,
but as the darkness began to pale and the wilderness to waken,
desperation gave him fresh courage. He set his sharp teeth upon the
imprisoned foot and at last was free once more, two toes missing. He
took a long drink from the stream before limping off to his den where
morning found him licking his wound, thus cleansing it of all
impurities and assuring a swift recovery.
A few hours later the half-breed visited his trap where his keen
eyes read correctly the evidences of the night's struggle. Sorely
disappointed, he returned to his cabin, save for the trap as
empty-handed as he had left it.
For a time the big fox was lame, but nature soon healed the wound
and he was able once more to roam the forest as free as the air itself.
He had learned a lesson, however, and no trap could be so cleverly
placed as to lead him into its cruel jaws. He paid no more visits to
the farm in the clearing, but kept almost entirely to his own domain.
Late in the summer came a wet period when for days dark clouds hung
over the wilderness and the rain fell steadily. When the sun did
appear, scattering the clouds, the woods were soaked and dripping, and
showers still fell from the heavy branches.
It was on such a day that a hunter with a pack of trained fox hounds
entered the forest a mile to the west of Silver Spot's den. It was not
long before the dogs had found the trail of the big fox and the chase
was on, a chase destined to try the cunning and strength of the hunted
to the breaking point.
At first the fox felt no anxiety. He thoroughly enjoyed mystifying a
pursuer. Ordinarily in a straight-away run he could outdistance the
fleetest foxhound. Now, however, even Nature seemed to conspire against
him. He was soon drenched with spray. The water clung to his long fur,
and his brush, usually carried blithely aloft, drooped heavily. In
spite of all his tricks, circling and doubling, leaping from fallen
trees and taking to the water, the hounds clung to his trail like bees
to honey. Their deep baying sent the chill of fear to the staunch heart
of Silver Spot. Realizing that here was no play such as he had indulged
in with Pal, the Hermit's dog, he bent all his energies toward
outstripping his pursuers.
For a time he kept well ahead of the dogs, but at length, as his old
wound made itself felt, the pace began to tell upon him. His tail
drooped lower until it all but swept the ground, while with it the
courage of the fox seemed to fail. His breathing became labored. His
foot-pads were cut by thorns and sharp sticks, leaving now and then a
trace of blood upon the moss. He thought with longing of the home den
which he was widely circling, but to which he dared not turn. With the
pack in full cry, the hunted beast broke from cover at the edge of the
wilderness where stood the cabin of the Hermit.
At once Silver Spot realized his mistake. Here in the open there was
no means of avoiding the dogs, nor could he return to the woods. Even
as he paused in despair, the leader of the pack burst into view, eyes
gleaming savagely and cruel teeth bared. There was but one alternative
and the fox took it.
Across the clearing the door of the log cabin stood open. For some
time the Hermit had been following the course of the chase from his
bench outside the door, his first feeling of exultation at the cunning
and fleetness of his pet gradually giving place to uneasiness and then
to genuine alarm for his safety. As Silver Spot came into view so
closely pressed, the Hermit sprang to his feet, but the fox heeded him
not. With a last effort he leaped the fence, sped across the clearing
and through the door which the man closed in the very teeth of the
foremost hound. The wild creature whom he had come to love had turned
to him for sanctuary, and not in vain.
The hunt was over and, while the big fox crouched in the corner
regaining his breath, the dogs raved unavailingly without. The hunter
soon arrived upon the scene and coaxed and threatened, but the Hermit
was firm. He told of his interest in the fox since the time he had
found him, a furry cub, playing before the home den, and of how again
and again he had watched him outwit his own dog. The hunter was at
length won over and departed with his hounds, even going so far as to
promise to hunt outside of Silver Spot's domain in the future.
The Hermit waited until man and dogs had vanished from sight; then
he opened the door of the cabin and stood aside. There was a flash of
reddish fur as Silver Spot bounded forth and away to the forest, his
splendid brush once more aloft and new courage in his heart.