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A Busy Year at the Old Squire's by C. A. Stephens

Still clutching her armful of dry twigs


Running

on a little way, she picked up dry twigs here and there. At last, by a clump of white birches, she found a fallen spruce. As she was breaking off some of the twigs a strange noise caused her to pause suddenly. It was, indeed, an odd sound--not a snarl or a growl, or yet a bark like that of a dog, but a querulous low "yapping." At the same instant she heard the snow crust break, as if an animal were approaching through the thicket of young firs.

More curious than frightened, Kate listened intently. A moment later she saw a large gray fox emerge from among the firs and come toward her. Supposing that it had not seen or scented her, and thinking to frighten it, she cried out suddenly, "Hi, Mr. Fox!"

To her surprise the fox, instead of bounding away, came directly toward her, and now she saw that its head moved to and fro as it ran, and that clots of froth were dropping from its jaws. Kate had heard that foxes, as well as dogs and wolves, sometimes run mad. She realized that if this beast were mad, it would attack her blindly and bite her if it could. Still clutching her armful of dry twigs, she turned and sped back toward the camp. As she drew near the cabin, she called to the other girls to open the door. They heard her cries, and Ellen flung the door open. As Kate darted into the room, she cried, "Shut it, quick!"

Startled, the other two girls slammed the door shut, and hastily

set the heavy old camp table against it.

"It's only a fox!" Kate cried. "But it has gone mad, I think. I was afraid it would bite me."

Peering out of the one little window and the cracks between the logs, they saw the animal run past the camp. It was still yapping weirdly, and it snapped at bushes and twigs as it passed. Suddenly it turned back and ran by the camp door again. Afterward they heard its cries first up the slope behind the camp, and then down by the brook.

"We mustn't go out," Kate whispered. "If it were to bite us, we, too, should go mad."

There was no danger of the beast's breaking into the camp, and after a while the girls kindled a fire, thawed out their luncheon and ate it. The December sun was sinking low, and soon set behind the tree tops. It was a long way home, and they had their baskets of mitchella to carry. Hoping that the distressed creature had gone its way, they listened for a while at the door, and at last ventured forth; but when they drew near the place where Kate had gathered the dry spruce branches they heard the creature yapping in the thickets ahead. In a panic they ran back to the camp.

Their situation was not pleasant. They dared not venture out again. Darkness had already set in; the camp was cold and they had little fuel. The prospect that any one from home would come to their aid was small, for they were now a long way from Dunham's open, where they had said they were going, and where, of course, search parties would look for them. Kate, however, remained cheerful.

"It's nothing!" she exclaimed. "I can soon get wood for a fire." Under the bunk she had found an old axe, and with it she proceeded to chop up the camp table.


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