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AWAY up in the North Woods lived a family of foxes. They had big, bushy tails, like a dust brush, and they wore furry coats. Some of these furry coats were of a reddish-yellow color, and some of them a sort of gray. The foxes had long sharp noses and sharp teeth, and they were very sly and cunning, as they had need to be.

For a fox is not strong, like a lion or a tiger, and to get his food he must be quick and sly, and steal up when no one sees him, to get a fat duck or a chicken from the farmyard.

Now in this family of foxes, about which I am going to tell you, there was the father and mother, and three little ones. Mr. and Mrs. Fox were well grown, fleet of foot, and they could both see and smell danger a long way off, just as they could see and smell when they were near some farmer’s house, where they might get a chicken or a duck.

The home of the foxes was in a hollow log, in the deepest and darkest part of the North Woods, and in this hollow log the three little foxes lived. They were named Sharp Eyes, Twinkle and Winkle.

Sharp Eyes was the oldest of the children, though they were all nearly the same age. The reason he was called Sharp Eyes was because he had such sharp, sparkling eyes, which seemed to look right through the bushes and trees at anything he wanted to find.

Twinkle, who was Sharp Eyes’ brother, was so called because when he ran downhill or uphill his feet seemed to twinkle in and out like flashes of light.

Winkle, who was Sharp Eyes’ sister, was so called because she seemed to winkle and blinkle her eyes, sleepy-like, when she looked at anything.

So Sharp Eyes, Twinkle and Winkle lived with their father and mother in the hollow log in the big woods. The little foxes, at first, stayed very close to the log. In fact, they did not go outside it until they were pretty well grown, and about the size of puppy dogs. Each day their father and mother would crawl out of the log, look carefully around to make sure there were no dogs, hunters, or other dangers near, sniff the air to see if they could smell anything that might harm them or their little ones, and then one or the other would slink slyly away through the woods, to look for something to eat, not only for themselves, but to bring home to the little foxes.

One day when Mr. Fox had come home with a plump partridge and the little foxes were having a good dinner, Sharp Eyes asked:

“Mother, where did my father get this fine meat for us to eat?”

“He caught it in the woods.”

Of course the Fox family did not speak the same kind of language that you boys and girls use. They talked in their own language, which they could understand as well as you can understand one another. But so that you may know what the foxes said among themselves, and what they thought, I have put their sayings into your kind of words.

Foxes, like other animals, talk with whispers, sniffles, snuffles, whines, barks and howls, and it is very hard to understand them unless you know their language, as I do. But, once you do, it is as easy to know what they say as if you heard the boy on your next street call:

“Come on, spin tops!”

So now you’ll understand what I mean when I say a fox “says” this, that, or the other.

“Where did my father get this fine meat?” asked Sharp Eyes, and when his mother told him Mr. Fox caught it in the woods, the little fox, as he gnawed a bone, smacked his lips and asked:

“But how did he get it?”

“I’ll tell you, little Sharp Eyes,” said Mr. Fox. “And you listen also, Twinkle and Winkle. For you must soon learn to catch your own dinners and suppers, as well as breakfasts.”

So the little foxes listened while their father told them how to make a living in the woods, where there are no stores at which animals can buy what they want to eat.

“I was coming along under the trees,” said Mr. Fox, “and I was looking on both sides of me for something to bring home to your mother and you to eat. Up to then I had not caught anything. I sprang after a muskrat, but it jumped into the brook and got away from me. Then I tried to creep softly up behind a young wild turkey in the woods, but he heard me and flew away.

“So I was beginning to think I’d never get a meal for my family, and I knew you were hungry, when, all at once, I saw this partridge. I walked as softly as I knew how over the leaves and sticks in the woods, and, without his hearing me, I got so close to the bird that I could jump on him, pin him down with my feet, and catch him in my sharp teeth. Then I brought him home to you. That’s how I got your dinner, Sharp Eyes.”

“And a very good dinner it is, too,” said Mrs. Fox. “You animal children ought to be very glad you have such a smart father. It is not every fox that can catch a partridge.”

“Oh, well, we mustn’t be proud,” said Mr. Fox, as, with his tail, he brushed smooth a place inside the log, where he could lie down. “Our children will soon be grown, and they will learn how to catch wild turkeys, partridges, quail and muskrats for themselves.”

“How do you catch wild things in the woods?” asked Sharp Eyes.

“Yes, tell us, so we may learn,” begged Twinkle.

“I will,” answered Mr. Fox. “It is time you little fox puppies learned to hunt for yourselves. You are old enough. After you have had a nap we will go outside the log house, and your mother and I will give you lessons.”

So the little foxes went to sleep after their meal, as nearly all wild animals do, and as even your cat and dog do after they have eaten. They always seem to feel sleepy after eating. And when Sharp Eyes, Twinkle and Winkle awakened after their nap, they felt fine and fresh, and felt like jumping around.

In fact, Sharp Eyes felt so fresh that he cuffed his brother on the ear with his paw.

“Ma, make Sharp Eyes stop!” cried Twinkle, in fox language of course.

“Oh, I wasn’t doing anything!” said Sharp Eyes.

“Yes he was, too!” barked Sister Winkle. “And now he’s tickling me!”

“I guess it’s time I gave you little foxes some lessons in how-to-catch-things,” said Mr. Fox, as he stretched himself, for he, too, had been sleeping. “You are so full of life that you are getting into mischief. Come out, all of you, and I’ll show you how I caught the partridge.”

Sharp Eyes would have rushed out of the log at once, but his mother held him back with her paw, saying:

“Wait! Let your father take a look first, to see that there is no danger. You must always be careful in going out of your house, whether it is a hole under the rocks or a hollow log or a stump, to look for danger. Watch your father!”

“He pretended a piece of wood was the partridge he was after”

Mr. Fox stuck his nose out of the log a little way and sniffed the air. Then he stuck it out a little farther. Next he looked around with his bright eyes.

“Is everything all right?” asked Mrs. Fox.

“Everything is all right,” said Mr. Fox.

So out in front of the hollow-log house, where there was a smooth, level place, went Mr. Fox and the three little foxes. Mrs. Fox stayed in the log to shake up the dried leaves that made the beds. That was all the housekeeping work she had to do, for foxes, like most animals, live a very simple life.

“Now this is how I crept softly up behind the partridge,” said Mr. Fox, as he went along, almost on his tiptoes, as you might say. “You must be careful not to step on a stick so it breaks and makes a noise,” he told the little foxes; “and do not rustle the dried leaves. For partridges and other wild birds and all woodland creatures that we have to eat, are very shy, and fly off or run away at the least noise. You see, we have not sharp claws, like a cat, with which to grasp the things we catch. We have to pin them down with our paws, as a dog does, or get them in our sharp teeth, and we have to be very close to them before they see us, so we can do that.”

So Mr. Fox showed his little ones how to creep along softly over the sticks, stones and leaves. He pretended a piece of wood was the partridge he was after, and, when he got close enough, he gave a jump and came down on top of it, quickly getting it in his mouth.

“That’s the way I would have done it if it had been a real bird,” said Mr. Fox. “Now you try, Sharp Eyes, and let us see how you would do it.”

So the little fox boy tried, and so did his brother and his sister, and for many days after that their father or their mother gave them hunting lessons outside the hollow log.

After a while Sharp Eyes, Twinkle, and Winkle learned to be very good jumpers, and they could move over a bit of ground, covered with sticks, stones and leaves, so softly that you never would have heard them.

“Now come out in the woods, and let us see if you can be as quiet when there is something real to catch, instead of the make-believe birds and rats, that are really only pieces of wood,” said Mr. Fox. For, up to this time, he had let the fox children practise on bits of bark, clumps of grass, or a stone, pretending they were grouse or partridges.

Through the woods went the family, Mr. Fox in front, then Sharp Eyes, Twinkle and Winkle, and Mrs. Fox behind them all. The two old foxes were looking out for danger, you see.

All at once Mr. Fox stopped, and, speaking in an animal whisper, said:

“Here is a mouse just in front of me, Sharp Eyes. He does not see me yet. Come and see if you can get it!”

Up came Sharp Eyes very, very softly. He saw a big wood mouse under the roots of a tree. The mouse was gnawing the soft bark.

“Now go softly,” said Mr. Fox.

Sharp Eyes tried to, but alas! he stepped on a dried stick, which broke with a crack. The mouse heard it and started to jump down into his burrow under the earth.

“No, you don’t!” cried Mr. Fox, and he made a big jump and caught the mouse just in time.

“That’s the way to do it!” barked Mrs. Fox. “The mouse would have gotten away from you, Sharp Eyes.”

“I’m sorry,” replied the little fox boy slowly and sadly.

“Never mind,” said his father. “You’ll do better the next time.”

But it was some days before the little foxes learned to catch anything.

“Oh, shall we ever learn?’ asked Twinkle.

“Of course you will,” said his mother. “When I was a young fox, like you, I thought I’d never catch my first mouse. But I did.”

So Mr. and Mrs. Fox had to keep on catching the things the little foxes ate, though each day Sharp Eyes, Twinkle and Winkle were getting quicker and better.

But one day Mr. Fox came home without any dinner.

“What’s the matter?” asked Mrs. Fox. “Couldn’t you catch anything to-day?”

“No,” answered Mr. Fox. “In fact, I didn’t see a thing. I’ve tramped all over these woods, but not a bird or an animal could I see. Of course I saw cows and horses in the farmers’ yards, but they are too big for me to carry off.”

“Couldn’t you get a chicken or a duck?”

“I saw some ducks and chickens on one farm,” replied Mr. Fox, “but the farmer, or one of his men, was near them all the while with a gun or a club, and I dared not try to catch one. I’d have been caught or hurt myself if I had. I’m sorry, but we’ll have no dinner to-day.”

Sharp Eyes and his brother and sister felt sad on hearing this. They were very hungry.

“Couldn’t we all go out hunting together?” asked Sharp Eyes, after a bit. “Maybe we could see something you could catch,” he said to his father.

“Well, perhaps that would be a good plan,” replied Mr. Fox. “Come on, we’ll all go out and see if we can find a meal.”

So out into the woods went the five foxes — the two large ones and the three smaller ones. Slowly and carefully they went along, looking from side to side, and sniffing the air for any sign of something to eat.

“There doesn’t seem to be anything,” said Mrs. Fox, with a hungry sigh.

“No,” answered Mr. Fox, “there doesn’t. I never saw the woods so scarce of food.”

All of a sudden Sharp Eyes, who had gone a little way ahead, came softly back.

“I see something!” he said. “Shall I try to get it for our dinner?”

“What is it? Where is it?” asked Mr. Fox eagerly. “I don’t see anything,” and he looked as hard as he could through the bushes.

“Right over there, by the old stump,” said Sharp Eyes. “Don’t you see? It’s a big chicken.”

Mr. Fox looked. Then he said:

“That isn’t a chicken! It’s a wild turkey! If we get that it will make a fine meal for all of us! Sharp Eyes, you were rightly named. You saw this turkey when neither your mother nor I could see it. It’s a good thing you did. Now we’ll have a fine meal!”

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