Fox's Feud

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Authors: Colin Dann
    ‘Oh dear, I wish it were all over,’ Badger sighed. ‘Our lives have been fraught with anxiety recently. It’ll be a welcome change to be able to wander about freely again without feeling the need to keep turning one’s head.’
    But things turned out to be not at all as anyone had expected. Some days passed before they were all to learn the true situation that had arisen. The chain of events that led to the discovery of the truth began with Whistler deciding to fish further upstream than he usually did.
    He and his mate had been standing patiently in the shallows of the boundary stream, watching for a likely catch. From the corner of his eye Whistler detected a moving shape on the bank. He looked up. It was a young fox he had not seen before who was tracking the water-rats. Although he had crossed to the ‘wrong’ side of the stream his pursuit appeared harmless enough (except tothe water-rats) and Whistler went back to peering into the water. He became thoroughly absorbed again, and he and his mate were eventually able to make a hearty meal. When they were quite satisfied, Whistler looked around again for a sign of the stranger. He spied him a long way off, still wandering along quite innocently. The heron was surprised to see the animal jerk suddenly to one side and utter a sharp yap of alarm. He watched a little longer, but as nothing further developed, he forgot the incident and, tucking one leg up comfortably, prepared to join his mate for a nap.
    They awoke as the sun was sinking. A series of piteous howls, each more protracted than the last, sounded close by. For a while Whistler had difficulty in locating the noise, but finally traced it to the same fox he had seen earlier.
    ‘Is he in pain?’ his mate enquired.
    ‘It sounds distinctly like it,’ agreed Whistler. ‘I think I’ll investigate.’
    He found the fox staggering heavily in an uncertain way in no particular direction. His breath was coming in gasps and, even as the heron watched, his legs seemed to give way and he fell on his side. He made efforts to get up again, but his limbs only trembled spasmodically, appearing to be all but paralysed. Whistler at once divined the cause. Adder had bitten the wrong animal.
    There was no saving the creature now. His end was near. For a moment Whistler wondered what to do first and, even as he hesitated, other foxes loomed out of the dusk on the other side of the stream, attracted by the dying animal’s cries. They called to him and he replied weakly. Now Whistler was awake to the danger at hand.
    He was not afraid for Adder, who would obviously have made good his escape long before. But if the fox was able to identify the particular snake that had attackedhim, the information would soon be passed to his kind. Scarface would not take the action lying down. Whistler knew his duty. He swiftly flew back to his mate.
    ‘Something has gone horribly wrong,’ he told her. ‘Adder has made a terrible mistake. We must warn our friends that Scarface is still alive, and the wrong fox has been killed. Find all of them you can and pass the word. I will go this way. We must be quick. Goodness knows what may happen now if Scarface suspects the worst.’
    As the two herons set off in urgent search of the Farthing Wood creatures, Scarface himself arrived on the scene as the poisoned fox died. The others who had crossed the stream suspected nothing of the significance of the death. Their relative had disturbed a snake and paid the penalty for alarming it. But the hardened veteran of their tribe had a different nature. He sniffed the dead animal carefully for any clue. Then he sat down and stared at his minions.
    ‘An unusual occurrence,’ he remarked to them; but none responded. He looked from one to the other. ‘You had, each of you, better go more carefully in future. Snakes should be avoided unless you’re sure you can handle them. I myself have killed a good number in my time. Yes, and eaten them.

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