Old Granny Fox
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Thornton Waldo Burgess was an author and conservationist who wrote more than 170 books. Burgess combined his passions and wrote children's books and stories about animals and nature. Old Granny Fox is a children's book about life as a fox. When winter comes, Old Granny Fox and her nephew Reddy have to find a way to eat. Discover what the foxes do to survive and how they face off against Bouswer the Hound.

Old Granny Fox

Thornton W. Burgess

Old Granny Fox

Chapter I
Reddy Fox Brings Granny News

Pray who is there who would refuse
To bearer be of happy news?
Old Granny Fox.

Snow covered the Green Meadows and the Green Forest, and ice bound the Smiling Pool and the Laughing Brook. Reddy and Granny Fox were hungry most of the time. It was not easy to find enough to eat these days, and so they spent nearly every minute they were awake in hunting. Sometimes they hunted together, but usually one went one way, and the other went another way so as to have a greater chance of finding something. If either found enough for two, the one finding it took the food back to their home if it could be carried. If not, the other was told where to find it.

For several days they had had very little indeed to eat, and they were so hungry that they were willing to take almost any chance to get a good meal. For two nights they had visited Farmer Brown’s henhouse, hoping that they would be able to find a way inside. But the biddies had been securely locked up, and try as they would, they couldn’t find a way in.

“It’s of no use,” said Granny, as they started back home after the second try, “to hope to get one of those hens at night. If we are going to get any at all, we will have to do it in broad daylight. It can be done, for I have done it before, but I don’t like the idea. We are likely to be seen, and that means that Bowser the Hound will be set to hunting us.”

“Pooh!” exclaimed Reddy. “What of it? It’s easy enough to fool him.”

“You think so, do you?” snapped Granny. “I never yet saw a young Fox who didn’t think he knew all there is to know, and you’re just like the rest. When you’ve lived as long as I have you will have learned not to be quite so sure of your own opinions. I grant you that when there is no snow on the ground, any Fox with a reasonable amount of Fox sense in his head can fool Bowser, but with snow everywhere it is a very different matter. If Bowser once takes it into his head to follow your trail these days, you will have to be smarter than I think you are to fool him. The only way you will be able to get away from him will be by going into a hole in the ground, and when you do that you will have given away a secret that will mean we will never have any peace at all. We will never know when Farmer Brown’s boy will take it into his head to smoke us out. I’ve seen it done. No, Sir, we are not going to try for one of those hens in the daytime unless we are starving.”

“I’m starving now,” whined Reddy.

“No such thing!” Granny snapped. “I’ve been without food longer than this many a time. Have you been over to the Big River lately?”

“No,” replied Reddy. “What’s the use? It’s frozen over. There isn’t anything there.”

“Perhaps not,” replied Granny, “but I learned a long time ago that it is a poor plan to overlook any chance. There is a place in the Big River which never freezes because the water runs too swiftly to freeze, and I’ve found more than one meal washed ashore there. You go over there now while I see what I can find in the Green Forest. If neither of us finds anything, it will be time enough to think about Farmer Brown’s hens to-morrow.”

Much against his will Reddy obeyed. “It isn’t the least bit of use,” he grumbled, as he trotted towards the Big River. “There won’t be anything there. It is just a waste of time.”

Late that afternoon he came hurrying back, and Granny knew by the way that he cocked his ears and carried his tail that he had news of some kind. “Well, what is it?” she demanded.

“I found a dead fish that had been washed ashore,” replied Reddy. “It wasn’t big enough for two, so I ate it.”

“Anything else?” asked Granny.

“No-o,” replied Reddy slowly; “that is, nothing that will do us any good. Quacker the Wild Duck was swimming about out in the open water, but though I watched and watched he never once came ashore.”

“Ha!” exclaimed Granny. “That is good news. I think we’ll go Duck hunting.”

Chapter II
Granny and Reddy Fox Go Hunting

When you’re in doubt what course is right,
The thing to do is just sit tight.
Old Granny Fox.

Jolly, round, bright Mr. Sun had just got well started on his daily climb up in the blue, blue sky that morning when he spied two figures trotting across the snow-covered Green Meadows, one behind the other. They were trotting along quite as if they had made up their minds just where they were going. They had. You see they were Granny and Reddy Fox, and they were bound for the Big River at the place where the water ran too swiftly to freeze. The day before Reddy had discovered Quacker the Wild Duck swimming about there, and now they were on their way to try to catch him.

Granny led the way and Reddy meekly followed her. To tell the truth, Reddy hadn’t the least idea that they would have a chance to catch Quacker, because Quacker kept out in the water where he was as safe from them as if they were a thousand miles away. The only reason that Reddy had willingly started with Granny was the hope that he might find a dead fish washed up on the shore as he had the day before.

“Granny certainly is growing foolish in her old age,” thought Reddy, as he trotted along behind her. “I told her that Quacker never once came ashore all the time I watched yesterday. I don’t believe he ever comes ashore, and if she knows anything at all she ought to know that she can’t catch him out there in the water. Granny used to be smart enough when she was young, I guess, but she certainly is losing her mind now. It’s a pity, a great pity. I can just imagine how Quacker will laugh at her. I have to laugh myself.”

He did laugh, but you may be sure he took great pains that Granny should not see him laughing. Whenever she looked around he was as sober as could be. In fact, he appeared to be quite as eager as if he felt sure they would catch Quacker. Now old Granny Fox is very wise in the ways of the Great World, and if Reddy could have known what was going on in her mind as she led the way to the Big River, he might not have felt quite so sure of his own smartness. Granny was doing some quiet laughing herself.

“He thinks I’m old and foolish and don’t know what I’m about, the young scamp!” thought she. “He thinks he has learned all there is to learn. It isn’t the least use in the world to try to tell him anything. When young folks feel the way he does, it is a waste of time to talk to them. He has got to be shown. There is nothing like experience to take the conceit out of these youngsters.”

Now conceit is the feeling that you know more than any one else. Perhaps you do. Then again, perhaps you don’t. So sometimes it is best not to be too sure of your own opinion. Reddy was sure. He trotted along behind old Granny Fox and planned smart things to say to her when she found that there wasn’t a chance to catch Quacker the Duck. I am afraid, very much afraid, that Reddy was planning to be saucy. People who think themselves smart are quite apt to be saucy.

Presently they came to the bank of the Big River. Old Granny Fox told Reddy to sit still while she crept up behind some bushes where she could peek out over the Big River. He grinned as he watched her. He was still grinning when she tiptoed back. He expected to see her face long with disappointment. Instead she looked very much pleased.

“Quacker is there,” said she, “and I think he will make us a very good dinner. Creep up behind those bushes and see for yourself, then come back here and tell me what you think we’d better do to get him.”

So Reddy stole up behind the bushes, and this time it was Granny who grinned as she watched. As he crept along, Reddy wondered if it could be that for once Quacker had come ashore. Granny seemed so sure they could catch him that this must be the case. But when he peeped through the bushes, there was Quacker way out in the middle of the open water just where he had been the day before.

Chapter III
Reddy Is Sure Granny Has Lost Her Senses

Perhaps ’tis just as well that we
Can’t see ourselves as others see.
Old Granny Fox.

“Just as I thought,” muttered Reddy Fox as he peeped through the bushes on the bank of the Big River and saw Quacker swimming about in the water where it ran too swiftly to freeze. “We’ve got just as much chance of catching him as I have of jumping over the moon. That’s what I’ll tell Granny.”

He crept back carefully so as not to be seen by Quacker, and when he had reached the place where Granny was waiting for him, his face wore a very impudent look.

“Well,” said Granny Fox, “what shall we do to catch him?”

“Learn to swim like a fish and fly like a bird,” replied Reddy in such a saucy tone that Granny had hard work to keep from boxing his ears.

“You mean that you think he can’t be caught?” said she quietly.

“I don’t think anything about it; I know he can’t!” snapped Reddy. “Not by us, anyway,” he added.

“I suppose you wouldn’t even try?” retorted Granny.

“I’m old enough to know when I’m wasting my time,” replied Reddy with a toss of his head.

“In other words you think I’m a silly old Fox who has lost her senses,” said Granny sharply.

“No-o. I didn’t say that,” protested Reddy, looking very uncomfortable.

“But you think it,” declared Granny. “Now look here, Mr. Smarty, you do just as I tell you. You creep back there where you can watch Quacker and all that happens, and mind that you keep out of his sight. Now go.”

Reddy went. There was nothing else to do. He didn’t dare disobey. Granny watched until Reddy had readied his hiding-place. Then what do you think she did? Why, she walked right out on the little beach just below Reddy and in plain sight of Quacker! Yes, Sir, that is what she did!

Then began such a queer performance that it is no wonder that Reddy was sure Granny had lost her senses. She rolled over and over. She chased her tail round and round until it made Reddy dizzy to watch her. She jumped up in the air. She raced back and forth. She played with a bit of stick. And all the time she didn’t pay the least attention to Quacker the Duck.

Reddy stared and stared. Whatever had come over Granny? She was crazy. Yes, Sir, that must be the matter. It must be that she had gone without food so long that she had gone crazy. Poor Granny! She was in her second childhood. Reddy could remember how he had done such things when he was very young, just by way of showing how fine he felt. But for a grown-up Fox to do such things was undignified, to say the least. You know Reddy thinks a great deal of dignity. It was worse than undignified; it was positively disgraceful. He did hope that none of his neighbors would happen along and see Granny cutting up so. He never would hear the end of it if they did.

Over and over rolled Granny, and around and around she chased her tail. The snow flew up in a cloud. And all the time she made no sound. Reddy was just trying to decide whether to go off and leave her until she had regained her common sense, or to go out and try to stop her, when he happened to look out in the open water where Quacker was. Quacker was sitting up as straight as he could. In fact, he had his wings raised to help him sit up on his tail, the better to see what old Granny Fox was doing.

“As I live,” muttered Reddy, “I believe that fellow is nearer than he was!”

Reddy crouched lower than ever, and instead of watching Granny he watched Quacker the Duck.

Chapter IV
Quacker the Duck Grows Curious

The most curious thing in the world is curiosity.
Old Granny Fox.

Old Granny Fox never said a truer thing than that. It is curious, very curious, how sometimes curiosity will get the best of even the wisest and most sensible of people. Even Old Granny Fox herself has been known to be led into trouble by it. We expect it of Peter Rabbit, but Peter isn’t a bit more curious than some others of whom we do not expect it.

Now Quacker the Wild Duck is the last one in the world you would expect to be led into trouble by curiosity. Quacker had spent the summer in the Far North with Honker the Goose. In fact, he had been born there. He had started for the far away Southland at the same time Honker had, but when he reached the Big River he had found plenty to eat and had decided to stay until he had to move on. The Big River had frozen over everywhere except in this one place where the water was too swift to freeze, and there Quacker had remained. You see, he was a good diver and on the bottom of the river he found plenty to eat. No one could get at him out there, unless it were Roughleg the Hawk, and if Roughleg did happen along, all he had to do was to dive and come up far away to laugh and make fun of Roughleg. The water couldn’t get through his oily feathers, and so he didn’t mind how cold it was.

Now in his home in the Far North there were so many dangers that Quacker had early learned to be always on the watch and to take the best of care of himself. On his way down to the Big River he had been hunted by men with terrible guns, and he had learned all about them. In fact, he felt quite able to keep out of harm’s way. He rather prided himself that there was no one smart enough to catch him.

I suspect he thought he knew all there was to know. In this respect he was a good deal like Reddy Fox himself. That was because he was young. It is the way with young Ducks and Foxes and with some other youngsters I know.

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