TWO VERY EARLY CALLERS--EACH ON BUSINESS
Except on Sunday mornings, breakfast
at the farm in summer came at six. The Old Squire
himself was often astir at four; and we boys were
supposed to get up at five, so as to have milking done
and other barn chores off, ready to go into the field
from the breakfast table. Gram and the girls
also rose at five, to get breakfast, take care of the
milk and look after the poultry. Everybody, in
fact, rose with the birds in that rural community.
But often I was scarcely more than half awake at breakfast;
Ellen and Wealthy, too, were in much the same case.
On one of these early mornings when
I had been there about three weeks, our drowsiness
at the breakfast table was dispelled by the arrival
of two early callers each on business.
Gram was pouring the coffee, when
the outer door opened and a tall, sallow, dark-complexioned
woman entered, the same whom I had met on the Meadow
Brook bridge, while leading Little Dagon. She
wore a calico gown and sun-bonnet, and may have been
fifty years of age; and she walked in quite as a matter
of course, saying, “How do you do, Joseph, how
do you do, Ruth?” to the Old Squire and Gram.
“Why, how do you do, Olive?”
said Gram, but not in the most cordial of tones.
“Will you have some breakfast with us?”
“I have been to breakfast, Ruth,”
replied this visitor, throwing back her sun-bonnet
and thereby displaying a forehead and brow that for
height and breadth was truly Websterian. “I
came to get my old dress that I left here when I cleaned
house for you last spring, and I should also like
that dollar that’s owing me.”
“Olive,” rejoined Gram
severely, “I do not owe you a dollar.”
“Ruth,” replied the caller
with equal severity, “you do owe me a dollar.”
She proceeded, as one quite familiar
in the house, to the kitchen closet and took therefrom
an old soiled gingham gown.
“Olive,” said the Old
Squire, “are you quite sure that there is a dollar
due you here?”
“Joseph,” replied the
lofty-browed woman, “do you think I would say
so, if I did not know it?”
“No, Olive, I don’t think
you would,” said the Old Squire.
“It’s no such thing, Olive,”
cried Gram, looking somewhat heated. “I
always paid you up when you cleaned house for me and
when you spun for me.”
“Always but that one time, Ruth.
Then you did not into a dollar,”
replied the sallow woman, positively.
An argument ensued. It appeared
that the debated dollar was a matter of three or four
years standing. There was little doubt that both
were equally honest in their convictions concerning
it, pro and con. Still, they were a dollar apart,
somehow. Furthermore, it came out, that “Olive”
when she felt periodically poor, or out of sorts, was
in the habit of calling and dunning Gram for that
dollar, much to the old lady’s displeasure.
The Old Squire sat uneasily and listened
to the talk, with growing disfavor. At last he
pulled out his pocketbook. “I will pay you
the dollar, Olive,” he said, “if only
to stop the dispute about it.”
“You shan’t do it, Joseph!”
exclaimed Gram. “There’s no dollar
But the Old Squire persisted in handing
the woman a dollar.
“I do not care whether it is
due or not!” he exclaimed. “I have
heard altogether too much of this.”
“I thank you, Joseph, for doing
me justice of my hard-handed employer,” said
the tall woman, austerely.
“Now did ever anybody hear the
like!” Gram exclaimed, pink from vexation.
“Oh, Olive, you you you
bold thing, to say that of me!”
“There, there!” cried
the Old Squire. “Peace, women folks.
Remember that you are both Christians and public professors.”
Gram sat and fanned herself, fast
and hard. Our visitor folded the dress into a
bundle and marched slowly and austerely out.
“Olive, I hope your conscience
is clear,” Gram called after her severely.
“Ruth, I hope your conscience
is as clear as mine,” the departing one called
back in calm tones, from the yard outside.
She left an awkward silence behind
her; breakfast had come to a standstill; and I improved
the elemental sort of hush, to whisper to Theodora,
who had been at the farm a year, and ask who this portentous
disturber of the family credit really was.
“Oh, it is only ‘Aunt
Olive,’” Theodora whispered back.
“She comes here to help us every spring and
“Is she our actual aunt?” I asked in some
“No, she isn’t our real,
kindred aunt,” said Theodora, “but folks
call her Aunt Olive. She is a sister to Elder
Witham; and they say she can quote more Scripture
than the Elder himself.
“And I’m sort of glad
that Gramp gave her the dollar,” Theodora added,
in a still lower whisper. “Maybe Gram did
forget to pay her, once.”
But Gram was both incensed and humiliated.
She resumed the interrupted coffee pouring and handed
the Old Squire his cup, with a look of deep reproach.
Partly to change the unpleasant subject,
perhaps, he said to us briskly, “Boys, if we
have good luck and get our haying work along, so we
can, we will all make a trip over to Norridgewock
and see Father Rasle’s monument.
“Ruth, wouldn’t you like
to take a good long drive over to Norridgewock, after
the grain is in?” he asked in pacificatory tones.
“Joseph!” replied Gram,
“you make me smile! You have been talking
of driving over to Norridgewock to visit Father Rasle’s
monument, and of going to Lovewell’s Pond, ever
since I first knew you! But you never have been,
and I haven’t a thought that you ever will go!”
“Well, but something has always
come up to prevent it, Ruth,” Gramp replied
“Yes, Joseph, and something
will come up to prevent it this year, too.”
It was at this point that the second
early caller had his arrival announced. Little
Wealthy, who had stolen out to watch Aunt Olive’s
departure and then gone to the barn to see to her own
small brood of chicks, came running in headlong and
cried, “Oh, Gram! Gram! a great big fox
has got one of your geese on his back and
is running away!”
“What!” exclaimed Gram,
setting the heavy coffee-pot down again with a roiling
bump. “Oh, Lord, what a morning. Where,
“Out beyond the west barn!”
cried Wealthy; but by this time Addison, Halse and
I were out of doors, in pursuit.
Beyond the west barn, there was a
little hollow, or swale, where a spring issued; and
a few rods below the spring, a dam had been constructed
across the swale to form a goose-pond for Gram’s
flock. It was a muddy, ill-smelling place; but
hither the geese would always waddle forth of a summer
morning, and spend most of the day, wading and swimming,
with occasional loud outcries.
As we turned the corner of the barn,
we met the flock minus one beating
a retreat to the goose-shed. But the fox was not
“Which way did he go, Wealth?”
cried Addison, for Wealthy had run after us, full
of her important news.
“Right across the west field,”
she exclaimed. “He had the old goose on
his back, and it was trying to squall, but couldn’t.”
“Get the gun, Halse!”
exclaimed Addison. “No, it isn’t loaded!
Bother! But come on. The fox cannot run
far with one of those heavy geese, without resting.
He is probably behind the pasture wall.”
We set off at speed across the field
and heard Gram calling out to us, “Chase him,
boys! Chase the old thief. You may make him
Away through the grass, laden with
dew and “hopper spits,” we careered, and
came on the trail of the fox where he had brushed off
the dew as he ran. But the rogue was not behind
the pasture wall.
“Keep on,” cried Addison,
“he cannot run fast.” We crossed the
pasture and entered the sugar maple grove between
the pasture and the Aunt Hannah Lot. As it chanced,
the fox was lurking in the high brakes here, having
stopped to rest, no doubt, as Addison had conjectured.
We did not come upon him here, however; for warned
probably by the noise which we made, the goose-hunter
stole out silently on the farther side and ran on
across the open fields of the Aunt Hannah Lot.
As we emerged from the belt of woodland, we caught
sight of him, toiling up a hillside beyond the fields,
fifty or sixty rods away.
“It is of no use to chase him
any further,” said Addison, pulling up.
“He will reach the woods in a few minutes more.”
By this time we were all three badly
out of breath. The fox had the best of the race.
We could distinguish plainly the white goose across
his back, in contrast to his butter-colored coat and
great bushy tail.
“Wouldn’t Gram fume to
see that!” Halse exclaimed. “Her best
old goose is taking its last ride.”
“I think I know where that fox
is going,” remarked Addison. “I was
in those woods, gunning, one day last fall, and I
came to a fox burrow, in the side of a knoll, among
trees. There was no end of yellow dirt, dug out,
and there seemed to be two or three holes, leading
back into the side-hill. I told the Old Squire
about it. He said it was a fox-hole, and that
there had been one there for years. When he was
a young man, he once saw six foxes playing around
that knoll, and, first and last, he trapped a number
We went back to our interrupted breakfast.
Gram heard our tidings with much vexation. Gramp
laughed. “If the foxes got every goose,
I shouldn’t cry,” said he. “Nasty
creatures! Worse than a parcel of pigs about the
“But you like to put your head
on a soft pillow as well as any one,” replied
Gram calmly. “If you know of anything that
makes better pillows than live geese feathers,
I shall be glad to hear about it.”
The Old Squire not having any proper
substitute to offer, Gram went on to say that she
wished some of us possessed the energy (I believe she
said spunk) to make an end of that fox; for
now that it had achieved the capture of a goose from
her flock, it would be quite likely to come back for
another, in the course of a day or two.
This appeal stirred our pride, and
after we had gone out to hoe corn that forenoon, Addison
asked the Old Squire whether he thought it likely
we could unearth the fox, if, as we suspected, it had
its haunt in the burrow on the hillside of the Aunt
“Maybe,” replied the Old
Squire, “by digging hard enough and long enough.
But ’tis no easy job.”
Addison did not say anything more
for ten or fifteen minutes, when he observed that
as Gram seemed a good deal disturbed, he for one would
not mind an hour or two of digging, if it would save
“Oh, I have nothing against
her geese, boys,” replied the old gentleman
with a kind of apologetic laugh. “I like
to hear her stand up for them once in a while.
“I wanted to get this corn hoed
by to-morrow,” he continued. “Let’s
see, to-morrow is Saturday. We will take the
crowbar and some shovels and make a little trip over
to that burrow, later this afternoon. Don’t
say anything about it at dinner; for likely as not
we shall not find the fox there.”
After we had hoed for some time longer,
Addison said, “What if we have Halse run over
to Edwardses’, right after dinner, and ask Tom
to take a bar, or shovel, and go with us. Tom
is a good hand at digging, and that fox
may trouble them, too.”
The Old Squire laughed. “You
are a pretty crafty boy, Addison,” said he.
Ad looked a little confused.
“I knew Tom would like to go first rate,”
said he; “and as there may be considerable hard
digging before us, I thought it would be all right
to have somebody who could take his turn at it.”
“Quite right,” replied
Gramp, still laughing. “Craft is a good
thing and often helps along famously. But don’t
grow too crafty.
“I am quite willing for you
to send for Thomas,” he added. “I
think it is a good idea.”
Accordingly, at noon Halse went to
the Edwards homestead, bearing an invitation to a
fox-digging bee. They, too, were busy with their
hoeing, but Mr. Edwards, who was a very good-humored
man, gave Thomas permission to join us at two o’clock.
When we went out from dinner to our own hoeing, we
took along an axe, two spades, a hog-hook to pull out
the fox, and a crowbar, also the gun; and after working
two hours in the corn-field, we set off across the
fields and pastures for the fox burrow, just as Thomas
came running across lots to join us.
“Mother’s glad to have
me go,” said he. “She lost a turkey
last week; and father says there’s a fox over
in that burrow, this summer, no mistake. Father
gets up at half-past three every morning now, and he
says he has heard a fox bark over that way at about
sunrise for a fortnight. But we will end his
fun for him.”
Thomas was such a resolute boy that
it was always a treat to hear him talk.
Crossing the pasture, we climbed the
hillside of the Aunt Hannah lot, and again entering
the maple woods, went on for forty or fifty rods over
rather rough ground.
“That’s the knoll,”
said Addison, pointing to a hillock among the trees.
“Yes, that’s the place,” the Old
On the side of the knoll next us as
we drew near, there was a large hole, leading downwards
and backwards into the bank side. A quantity of
yellow earth had been thrown out quite recently, looking
as if dogs had tried to dig out the fox. Tom
looked into the hole.
“Yes, siree,” he exclaimed.
“There’s a fox lives here; I know by these
flies in the mouth of the hole. You’ll always
see two or three of these flies at a hole where there’s
a fox or a wood-chuck.”
Farther around the knoll there were
two other holes, one beside a rock and the other under
a birch-tree root, which manifestly led into the same
burrow, deep back in the knoll.
“And only look here!”
cried Addison. “See these bones and these
“Oho!” said the Old Squire.
“’Tis a female fox with her cubs that has
taken up her abode in the old burrow this summer.
That accounts for her raids on the turkeys and geese;
she’s got a young family to look out for.”
After some discussion, it was agreed
to begin our assault at the hole where the bones and
feathers had been brought out; and while Addison and
I went to block up the entrance to the other two holes
with stones, the Old Squire threw off his coat, and
seizing the crowbar, commenced to break down the rooty
ground over the hole, while Thomas and Halse cleared
it away with their shovels. We worked by turns,
or all together, as opportunity offered. It was
no light task for a warm June afternoon, and we were
soon perspiring freely. Gradually we removed the
top of the knoll, following the hole inward, and came
to the intersection of this one with another farther
around to the west side. There was a considerable
cavity here, matted underfoot with feathers and small
bones. From this point the burrow crooked around
a large rock down in the ground.
Listening now at this opening, we
could hear faint sounds farther back in the earth,
and an occasional slight sneeze.
“Digging to get away, or get out!” exclaimed
While we were resting and listening,
a sharp, querulous bark came suddenly to our ears
from out in the woods behind us.
“’Tis the old fox!”
said Addison. “She’s been away.
She isn’t in the hole. But she has come
back in sight, and she don’t like the looks of
us here.” He seized the gun and went cautiously
off in the direction of the sound, but could not again
catch sight of the fox.
We resumed our digging, and soon broke
into a still larger cavity, leading off from which
were three passages. Fresh earth was flying back
out of one of them.
“We are close hauls on the fox
inside!” cried Thomas. “Stand ready
with the gun, Ad; he may make a bolt out by us.”
The Old Squire plied the crowbar again,
and breaking down a part of the bank over the passage,
we caught sight of three fox cubs, all making the
dirt fly, digging away for dear life, to get farther
back. As the bank broke down and the light fell
in upon them, they turned for a moment from their
labors, and casting a foxy eye up at us, “yapped”
sharply and bristled themselves.
“Oh, the little rogues!”
cried Addison. “Only look at them!
Look at their little paws and their little noses all
covered with yellow dirt! There they go at it
“Aren’t they cunning!”
exclaimed Thomas. “Fox all over, too.
Regular little rascals. See the white of those
eyes, will you, when they turn them up at us!
Isn’t that a rogue’s eye now?”
“We will catch them and carry
them home, and put them in a pen,” said Addison.
“By next November their skins will be worth something.”
“They will make you lots of
work, to tend them and get meat for them,” said
the Old Squire. “Their pelts will not half
pay you for your trouble.”
These cubs were several weeks old,
I suppose, but they were not larger than half-grown
“It won’t answer for you
to grab them with your bare hands,” the Old
Squire warned us. “I did that once, when
a boy, and found that a fox cub is sharp-bitten.”
They were of rather lighter yellow
tint than a full-grown fox, but otherwise much like,
although their legs, we thought, were not yet as long
in proportion as they would become; nor yet were their
tails in full bush.
It was not quite as far across lots
to the Edwards farm as it was to the Old Squire’s,
and at length Addison and Thomas set off to go there
for a basket to put the foxes in, and some old thick
gloves with which to catch them.
Meantime the rest of us remained hard
by, to watch the burrow, lest the cubs should escape.
Once, while the boys were gone, we heard the mother
fox bark. Halse went after her with the gun; she
was evidently lingering about, but he could not catch
sight of her.
The boys returned with a bushel basket
and an old potato sack, to tie over the top of it.
A little more of the bank was then broken down, when
Addison, reaching in with his hands, protected by a
pair of buckskin gloves, seized first one, then another,
of the snapping, snarling little vulpines and popped
them into the basket. It was agreed that Thomas
should have one of them; and in furtherance of this
division of the spoils, Halse and Addison went around
by way of the Edwards farm, with Tom and the basket,
while the Old Squire and I loaded ourselves with the
tools and took the direct route homeward.
Supper was ready and Theodora had
been blowing the horn for us, long and loud; in fact,
we met her by the corn-field, whither she had at length
come in search of us. I hastily told her of the
capture, but the Old Squire said, “Don’t
tell your grandmother till the boys come with the
cubs, then we will show them to her.”
So we went into the house and leisurely
got ready for supper. At length, Addison and
Halse came to the kitchen door with their basket; and
Gramp said, “Come here, Ruth, and see two little
fellows who helped eat your old goose.”
Gram came out looking pretty stern
at the word goose, and when Ad pulled the bag partly
away and showed the two fox cubs, casting up the whites
of their roguish eyes at her, she exclaimed harshly,
“Ah, you little scamps!”
“But, oh, aren’t they
cunning! Aren’t they pretty!” exclaimed
Theodora and Ellen.
“Well, they are sort of pretty,”
admitted Gram, softening a little as she looked at
them. “I suppose they are not to blame for
their sinful natures, more than the rest of us.”
We then told her of our exploit, digging
them out of the burrow. The Old Squire thought
that the mother fox would not trouble the farm-yard
further, now that her family was disposed of.
After supper, Addison gathered up
boards about the premises and built a pen out behind
the west barn, in which to inclose the young foxes.
As nearly as I can now remember, the pen was about
fifteen feet long by perhaps six feet in width, with
board sides four feet high. We also covered the
top of it with boards upon which we laid stones.
A pan for water was set inside the pen, and we gave
them, for food, the various odds and ends of meat
and other waste from the kitchen. For a day or
two we enjoyed watching them very much.
They did not thrive well, but grew
poor and mangy; and I may as well go on to relate
what became of them. After we had kept them in
the pen about a month, a dog, or else a fox, came
around one night and dug under the side of the pen,
as if making an attempt to get in and attack them.
The outsider, apparently, was not successful in breaking
in, and probably went away after a time, but it had
dug a sufficiently large hole for the two young foxes
to escape; they were discovered to be missing in the
morning. Addison thought that it might possibly
have been the mother fox.
One of these cubs as we
believed came back to the pen under singular
circumstances eight or nine months later. Having
no use either for the old boards, or for the ground
on which the pen stood, it was not taken away, but
remained there throughout the autumn and following
One day in April we heard two hounds
baying, and as it proved, they were out hunting on
their own account and had started a fox. We heard
them from noon till near four in the afternoon, when
Ellen, who was in the kitchen at one of the back windows,
saw them, and, at a distance of twenty rods or less
in advance of them, a small fox, coming at speed across
the field, heading toward the west barn.
Addison and I were working up fire-wood
in the yard at the time, and Ellen ran out to tell
us what she had seen. We now heard the hounds
close behind the barn, and getting the gun, ran out
there. The fox, hard pressed evidently, had run
straight to that old pen and taken refuge in it, through
a hole in the top where the covering boards were off.
But before we reached the spot, one of the hounds
had also got in and shaken the life out of the refugee.
We could not positively identify the
fox, yet it was a young fox, and we all thought that
it resembled one of the cubs which we had kept in the
pen. I am inclined to think that, finding itself
in sore straits, it came to the old pen where, though
a captive, it had once been safe from dogs which came
about the place.