A Session With Uncle Sidney - I - One Of His Animal Stories

A poem by James Whitcomb Riley

Now, Tudens, you sit on this knee - and 'scuse
It having no side-saddle on; - and, Jeems,
You sit on this - and don't you wobble so
And chug my old shins with your coppertoes; -
And, all the rest of you, range round someway, -
Ride on the rockers and hang to the arms
Of our old-time splint-bottom carryall! -
Do anything but squabble for a place,
Or push or shove or scrouge, or breathe out loud,
Or chew wet, or knead taffy in my beard! -
Do anything almost - act anyway, -
Only keep still, so I can hear myself
Trying to tell you "just one story more!"

One winter afternoon my father, with
A whistle to our dog, a shout to us -
His two boys - six and eight years old we were, -
Started off to the woods, a half a mile
From home, where he was chopping wood. We raced,
We slipped and slid; reaching, at last, the north
Side of Tharp's corn-field. - There we struck what seemed
To be a coon-track - so we all agreed:
And father, who was not a hunter, to
Our glad surprise, proposed we follow it.
The snow was quite five inches deep; and we,
Keen on the trail, were soon far in the woods.
Our old dog, "Ring," ran nosing the fresh track
With whimpering delight, far on ahead.
After following the trail more than a mile
To northward, through the thickest winter woods
We boys had ever seen, - all suddenly
He seemed to strike another trail; and then
Our joyful attention was drawn to
Old "Ring" - leaping to this side, then to that,
Of a big, hollow, old oak-tree, which had
Been blown down by a storm some years before.
There - all at once - out leapt a lean old fox
From the black hollow of a big bent limb, -
Hey! how he scudded! - but with our old "Ring"
Sharp after him - and father after "Ring" -
We after father, near as we could hold!
And father noticed that the fox kept just
About four feet ahead of "Ring" - just that -
No farther, and no nearer! Then he said: -
"There are young foxes in that tree back there,


And the mother-fox is drawing 'Ring' and us
Away from their nest there!" "Oh, le' 's go back! -
Do le' 's go back!" we little vandals cried, -
"Le' 's go back, quick, and find the little things -
Please, father! - Yes, and take 'em home for pets -
'Cause 'Ring' he'll kill the old fox anyway!"
So father turned at last, and back we went,
And father chopped a hole in the old tree
About ten feet below the limb from which
The old fox ran, and - Bless their little lives! -
There, in the hollow of the old tree-trunk -
There, on a bed of warm dry leaves and moss -
There, snug as any bug in any rug -
We found - one - two - three - four, and, yes-sir, five
Wee, weenty-teenty baby-foxes, with
Their eyes just barely opened - Cute? - my-oh! -
The cutest - the most cunning little things
Two boys ever saw, in all their lives!
"Raw weather for the little fellows now!"
Said father, as though talking to himself, -
"Raw weather, and no home now!" - And off came
His warm old "waumus"; and in that he wrapped
The helpless little animals, and held
Them soft and warm against him as he could, -
And home we happy children followed him. -
Old "Ring" did not reach home till nearly dusk:
The mother-fox had led him a long chase -

"Yes, and a fool's chase, too!" he seemed to say,
And looked ashamed to hear us praising him.
But, mother - well, we could not understand
Her acting as she did - and we so pleased!
I can see yet the look of pained surprise
And deep compassion of her troubled face
When father very gently laid his coat,
With the young foxes in it, on the hearth
Beside her, as she brightened up the fire.
She urged - for the old fox's sake and theirs -
That they be taken back to the old tree;
But father - for our wistful sakes, no doubt -
Said we would keep them, and would try our best
To raise them. And at once he set about
Building a snug home for the little things
Out of an old big bushel-basket, with
Its fractured handle and its stoven ribs:
So, lining and padding this all cosily,
He snuggled in its little tenants, and
Called in John Wesley Thomas, our hired man,
And gave him in full charge, with much advice
Regarding the just care and sustenance of
Young foxes. - "John," he said, "you feed 'em milk -
Warm milk, John Wesley! Yes, and keep 'em by
The stove - and keep your stove a-roarin', too,
Both night and day! - And keep 'em covered up -
Not smothered, John, but snug and comfortable. -


And now, John Wesley Thomas, first and last, -
You feed 'em milk - fresh milk - and always warm -
Say five or six or seven times a day -
Of course we'll grade that by the way they thrive."
But, for all sanguine hope, and care, as well,
The little fellows did not thrive at all. -
Indeed, with all our care and vigilance,
By the third day of their captivity
The last survivor of the fated five
Squeaked, like some battered little rubber toy
Just clean worn out. - And that's just what it was!

And - nights, - the cry of the mother-fox for her young
Was heard, with awe, for long weeks afterward.
And we boys, every night, would go to the door
And, peering out in the darkness, listening,
Could hear the poor fox in the black bleak woods
Still calling for her little ones in vain.
As, all mutely, we returned to the warm fireside,
Mother would say: "How would you like for me
To be out there, this dark night, in the cold woods,
Calling for my children?"

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