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  • 1864
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my chance of catching one.”

“You mean, if the snow doesn’t melt,” said Frank, quietly.

“Oh, that’s always the way with you,” said Archie. “What makes you try to throw cold water on all our expectations, in that way?”

“I didn’t intend to,” answered Frank, with a laugh; “but, you know, we have been disappointed very often.”

“Yes,” said George, “but I guess we are all right this time. It snows pretty fast, and the air doesn’t feel like a thaw or rain.”

Frank acknowledged this; and they walked along, talking about the exciting times they expected to have on the morrow, until they reached the “big elm”–a large tree that stood leaning over the creek, just half-way between Captain Butler’s and where Frank lived. Here George and Harry stopped, and, after promising to be at the cottage early on the following morning, turned their faces homeward.

CHAPTER XVII.

The Grayhound Outgeneraled.

The next morning, at an early hour, George and Harry arrived at the cottage, and, after a light and hastily-eaten breakfast, they set out. Frank and Harry were armed, as usual, with their guns, while the others carried axes. They crossed the meadow at the back of the orchard, passed through the cornfield which had been the scene of the ‘coon-hunt, a few weeks before, and struck out through the woods. The dogs were then sent out ahead, and they had not gone more than half a mile, when Sport uttered a long, loud howl, and, when the boys came up with him, he was running impatiently about with his nose close to the ground.

“A fox has been along here,” said Frank, bending over and examining a track in the snow, “and the trail looks fresh.”

“Hunt ’em up! hunt ’em up!” shouted Archie, excitedly, waving his hand to the dogs.

Sport bounded off on the track like a shot, and Lightfoot followed close after. Brave barked and howled furiously, and acted as if he wished very much to accompany them; but the swift hounds would have distanced him in a moment.

It must not be supposed that it was the intention of the boys to follow up the hounds–that would have been worse than useless. Perhaps the chase would continue for several hours. They had once hunted a fox all day, without coming in sight of him. Reynard has ways and habits of his own, which a person who has had experience in hunting him understands. He always runs with the wind, and generally follows a ridge. The hunters take advantage of this, and “run cross-lots” to meet him, sometimes gaining on him several miles in this manner.

The moment the hounds had disappeared on the trail, Frank–who knew all the “run-ways” of the game like a book–led the way through the woods toward a ridge that lay about a mile distant, where they expected the fox would pass.

A quarter of an hour’s run brought them to this ridge, and they began to conceal themselves behind trees and bushes, when Archie suddenly exclaimed,

“We’re dished, boys. The fox has already passed.”

“Come on, then,” said Frank. “No time to lose. We must try again.”

And he again led the way, on a keen run, through a strip of woods, across a wide meadow toward another ridge, that lay fully three miles distant.

At length the baying of the hounds echoed through the woods, far below them. Louder and louder it grew, and, in a few moments, they swept up the ridge in full cry. The boys hurried on as rapidly as possible, and reached the ridge in about an hour. Although they were accustomed to such sport, they were pretty well tired out. They had run the greater part of the way through thick woods, filled with fallen logs and tangled bushes; but they now felt confident that the hunt was nearly over. They knew they had gained considerably on the fox, and his capture would be an ample reward for their trouble.

As soon as they reached the ridge, they threw themselves rapidly across it in all directions, and, to their delight, discovered that the fox had not yet passed. They stationed themselves in such a manner that it would be impossible for him to pass on either side of them without coming within reach of their guns, and patiently awaited his appearance. They had not remained long in this position, when Archie, who was stationed lowest down the ridge, exclaimed in a subdued voice,

“There they come, boys! Now, look sharp!”

The boys listened intently, and heard, faint and far off, the well-known bay of Sport. It was sharp and short–very different from the note he had uttered when the chase first commenced. Louder and louder grew the noise, as the hounds came rapidly up the ridge toward the place where the boys were stationed, and every one was on the alert, expecting every moment to see the fox break cover.

Suddenly a loud howl blended with Sport’s baying, and the hounds seemed to turn and sweep down the valley.

“The fox has left the ridge, boys,” said Frank.

“Then we’re dished again,” exclaimed Archie.

“Perhaps not,” continued Frank. “He will have to go across the meadow, and will run the risk of being caught by Lightfoot. We must try and cut him off.”

And he led the way down the ridge, in the direction the chase was tending.

In a few moments the hounds broke out into a continuous cry, and, when the boys emerged from the woods, they saw them standing at the foot of a tall stump, which stood near the middle of the meadow.

Brave immediately ran to join them, and Harry exclaimed,

“I’d like to know what those dogs are doing there?”

“Why, they’ve got the fox treed,” said Frank.

“A fox treed!” repeated Harry, with a laugh, “Whoever heard of such a thing?”

“I have often read,” answered Frank, “that when a fox is hard pressed, and finds himself unable to escape, he will take advantage of any place of concealment he can find.”

While this conversation was going on, the boys had been running toward the stump, and, when they reached it, they found Brave with his head buried in a hole near the ground, now and then giving his tail a jerk, but otherwise remaining as motionless as a statue.

“What do you think now of the possibility of seeing a fox?” inquired Frank, turning to Harry.

“I don’t believe it yet,” said the latter.

“Then how is it that the dogs are here?”

“The fox may have run down here and doubled on his trail, and thus thrown the dogs off the scent.”

“He didn’t have time to do that,” said Archie, who had divested himself of his coat, and stood with his ax, ready to cut down the stump. “He’s in here, I’m certain. See how Brave acts.”

“It will not take long to find out,” said George, who was a good deal of his brother’s opinion that the fox was not in the tree.

And he and Archie set to work, with the intention of cutting it down. But it was found to be hollow; and, after taking out a few chips, Archie stooped down to take a survey of the interior, and spied the fox crouched in the darkest corner.

“Hand me your gun, Frank,” said he; “I’ll shoot him.”

“I wouldn’t shoot him,” said Frank. “It is a good time to try Lightfoot’s speed. Let’s get the fox out, and give him a fair start, and if he gets away from the hound, he is entitled to his life.”

The boys readily agreed to this proposal–not out of any desire to give the fox a chance for his liberty, but in order to witness a fair trial of the grayhound’s speed, and to enjoy the excitement of the race.

George and Harry provided themselves with long poles, with which to “poke” the fox out of his refuge. Brave and Sport were unceremoniously conducted away from the tree, and ordered to “lie down;” and Frank took hold of the grayhound, intending to restrain him until the fox could get a fair start.

“All ready now,” said Archie. “Keep a good look-out, Frank, and let the hound go the instant the fox comes out. You know, Lightfoot is young yet, and it won’t do to give the game too long a start.”

“All right,” answered Frank.

And he tightened his grasp on the strong, impatient animal, which struggled desperately to free himself, while George and Harry began the work of “poking out the fox.” They thrust their poles into the holes they had cut in the roots of the stump, and the next moment out popped the fox, and started toward the woods like a streak of light.

The meadow was about a mile and a half square, and was laid off in “dead furrows”–deep ditches, which are dug, about four rods apart, to drain off the water. The fox took to the bank of one of these furrows, and followed it at a rate of speed which the boys had never seen equaled.

The moment Lightfoot discovered him, he raised himself on his hind-legs, and struggled and fought furiously. But Frank would not release him in that position, for fear the hound would “throw” himself; and he commenced striking him on the head, to compel him, if possible, to place his fore-feet on the ground, but all to no purpose.

During the struggle, short as it was, the fox had gained nearly thirty rods. Archie was not slow to notice this, and he shouted to his cousin,

“Let him go! let him go! The fox has too long a start already.”

Frank accordingly released the hound, which made an enormous bound, and, as Frank had expected, he landed, all in a heap, in one of the dead furrows, and, before he could recover himself, the fox had gained two or three rods more. But when the hound was fairly started, his speed was astonishing. He settled down nobly to his work, and moved over the ground as lightly as if he had been furnished with wings.

Had he been a well-trained dog, the boys would have felt no concern whatever as to the issue of the race; but, as it was, they looked upon the escape of the fox as a very probable thing. The fox was still following the dead furrow, and Lightfoot, instead of pursuing directly after him, as he ought to have done, took to another furrow which ran parallel to the one the fox was following, and about four rods from it.

The fox had a good start, but the enormous bounds of the greyhound rapidly lessened the distance between them; he gained at every step, and finally overtook him, and the two animals were running side by side, and only four rods apart.

Suddenly the cunning fox turned, and started off exactly at right angles with the course he had been following. The gray hound, of course, had not been expecting this, and he made a dozen of his long bounds before he could turn himself. During this time the fox gained several rods.

As before, the hound pursued a course parallel with that of the fox, instead of following directly after him.

In a few moments they were again running side by side, but this time further apart than before. Again and again the fox turned, each time nearing the woods, and gaining considerably; and finally, reaching the end of the meadow, he cleared the fence at a bound, and disappeared in the bushes.

“Now, that’s provoking!” exclaimed Archie.

“Never mind,” answered Frank. “I don’t think the fox can go much further. He must be pretty well tired out, judging by the way he ran. Here, Sport!” he continued, “hunt ’em up!”

Sport was off like a shot, and the boys followed after as fast as their legs could carry them.

When they reached the woods, they found Lightfoot beating about in the bushes, as if he expected to find the fox concealed among them. Sport was standing over the trail of the fox, as motionless as if he had been turned into stone.

“Hunt ’em up!” shouted Frank, again–“hunt ’em up.”

The hound uttered a loud bark, and instantly set off on the trail, and Lightfoot, as before, followed close at his heels.

“Now,” exclaimed Frank, “we must change our tactics.”

“Yes,” said Harry. “A little further on, the ridge branches off, and there is no knowing which one the fox will follow. Come, George, we will go this way.”

And he turned and ran down into the meadow again.

“Run like blazes, now!” shouted Frank.

And, suiting the action to the word, he turned off in the opposite direction, and led the way through the woods at a rate which made Archie wonder. They ran along in “Indian file”–Brave bringing up the rear–for almost two miles, through the thickest part of the woods, when they again found themselves on the ridge. After ascertaining that the fox had not yet passed, they took their stations.

“I would really like to know which way that fox went,” said Archie, panting hard after his long run.

“I am almost certain that he took to the other ridge,” answered Frank. “I think we should have heard the hound before this time, if he had turned this way.”

They remained in their places of concealment for almost an hour, without hearing any sounds of the chase, and Frank said,

“We might as well start for home.”

“Dished again, are we?” said Archie, in a deprecating tone. “That’s too bad! Well,” he continued, “we can’t always be the fortunate ones, but I wish I could have had the pleasure of shooting that fox. But which way do we go to get home?”

“We must go exactly south,” said Frank.

“Which way is that?”

“I will soon tell you.”

And Frank drew a small compass from his pocket, and, in a moment, continued,

“This is the way. Come on!”

And he turned his face, as Archie thought, directly _from_ home, and struck boldly out. Their long run had taxed their endurance to the utmost. If they had “been in practice,” they would have looked upon it as merely a “little tramp;” for, during the previous winter, they had often followed a fox all day without experiencing any serious inconvenience; but, as this was the first exercise of the kind they had had for almost a year, they felt the effects of it pretty severely.

Archie, who had lived in the city during the summer, was “completely used up,” as he expressed it; and his cousin was weary and footsore; and it seemed as though neither of them had sufficient strength left to take another step.

They kept on, hour after hour, however, without once stopping to rest; and, about three o’clock in the afternoon, they climbed over the fence that inclosed Uncle Mike’s pasture, and came in sight of the cottage.

George and Harry were sitting on the piazza, and, as soon as they came within speaking distance, the latter held up the fox, exclaiming,

“We were lucky, for once in our lives.”

“If we had been five minutes later, we should have lost him,” said George, as Frank and his cousin came up to where the brothers were sitting. “We reached the ridge just in the ‘nick of time,’ The fox was just passing, and Harry brought him down by a chance shot. Here, Frank,” he continued, “you take the fox; we have no use for him.”

Frank thanked him; and the boys then went into the house, and, after dinner, the brothers started for home.

Frank and his cousin went into the study, and the former selected his favorite book from his library, and settled himself in an easy-chair before the fire; while Archie stretched himself on the bed, and was fast asleep in a moment.

And here, reader, we will leave them reposing after their long run; but we hope soon to introduce them again in works entitled, “FRANK IN THE WOODS,” and “FRANK ON THE PRAIRIE.”

THE END.