Authors: Colin Dann
Bold veered sharply in mortal fear. He saw the man raise his weapon . . . the next instant he felt a fierce sear of pain in his right thigh
The fox club Bold has left the nature reserve in search of adventure. Now he lies badly wounded by a hunter’s bullet.
Can Bold survive – lame and unable to hunt – in the harshness of the world outside White Deer Park? Winter is coming and friends are hard to find . . .
Another gripping adventure of the animals of Farthing Wood by award-winning author Colin Dann.
Illustrated by Terry Riley
—— 1 ——
The summer sun shone, wide and warm, on the countryside. The fox cub Bold saw the broad horizon lit by its golden rays and narrowed his eyes against the glare. He felt he stood in the midst of a new world. The rolling downland and its scattered coverings of woodland and bracken were spread before him and around him.
‘This is the real world,’ he whispered to himself. ‘The wide, wild natural world.’ In all the expanse the only movement to be detected was the restless flight of a bird here and there or the lazy waving of greenery caused by the slightest of breezes. The cub repeated his phrase to himself in a delighted murmur – ‘the real world, the real world . . .’ The spirit of adventure that had filled him as he had stepped outside the limits of the Nature Reserve where his family lived sharpened to a new pitch. He leapt forward and raced across the turf, glorying in his own health and vigour. His eyes sparkled, the blood sang in his veins – he felt as free as the air.
From a tree-top a solitary magpie was watching. ‘Here’s a topsy-turvy creature,’ it muttered. ‘A fox out parading in the daytime for all to see, and a young-one too. His parents didn’t teach
stealth. Humph!’ he rasped. ‘He’ll learn the hard way, I suppose.’
Bold was not fooled by the temporarily empty landscape. His father had told him enough about life outside the haven of the Park for him to appreciate its dangers. And who knew more of such things than his father, the fox from Farthing Wood? For he had travelled across this country, leading his assorted band of animals and birds from the destruction of their old woodland home to a new future in the protected Reserve. On the journey all the creatures, strong and weak alike, had been bound by a sworn oath – a pledge to help and defend each other. This had continued after their arrival in the Reserve and had been maintained by them all ever since. But Bold relished his feeling of complete independence. He had confidence in the strength of his body and, as for his character, well, his parents had not chosen his name for nothing. The narrow limits of White Deer Park were not for him. He had decided to live the True Wild Life – accepting its thrills and its perils alike.
A bank vole started in his path and went scurrying away through the grass stems. Bold checked his headlong career. But it was some moments before he reminded himself that any game, big or small, was now prey to his hunting skill. He owed no loyalties, no allegiances here. No animals in the real world were bound by the oath. By the time he set off again the little beast had disappeared from sight. Bold made no attempt to hunt for it, deciding it was probably already cowering inside its bolt-hole. He went on now at a slower pace, sniffing the pungent air and carefully scanning the terrain for any sign of life.
The magpie continued to view his progress, noting the vole’s escape. ‘Not a great hunter, it seems,’ it had said to itself. ‘Well, he’ll have to do better than that or
won’t survive long.’ It flew away to another tree, chack-chacking loudly as it went.
Bold looked up at the sound. The startling black and white of the bird’s wings flashed like a signal against the sky’s hazy blue. It landed on a branch, its long tail dipping and rising to maintain its balance. As Bold trotted on, the bird flew off again to investigate something that interested it on the ground. The cub saw it begin to peck at the object of interest, tugging with its bill this way and that in its efforts to free a morsel.
Bold recalled his own empty stomach. He had not eaten since leaving White Deer Park, and now here, perhaps, was a mouthful or two for the taking. He was more than a match for any bird. He had only to run forward . . .
As he dashed up, the magpie rose awkwardly into the air, uttering a scolding, irritated cry. Bold discovered the mutilated remains of a long-dead wood pigeon. As he was by no means averse to a meal of carrion, whatever its rankness, he snapped at the skin and bone eagerly.
The angry magpie eyed him from a nearby vantage point, wondering if he would leave anything. In the end it could not contain its frustration. ‘Is this your idea of hunting?’ it screeched down at him. ‘The foxes in this area prefer to rely on their skill in stalking
quarry. They roam at night when we birds have long since tucked our heads under our wings. Any real fox would turn up its nose at a poor scrap like that.’
Bold looked up in astonishment. The reference to a ‘real fox’ certainly jarred on him. ‘Where I come from I was taught not to ignore any source of food that might mean the difference between eating and going hungry,’ he returned. ‘But I can assure you I know all about night foraging.’
‘Really?’ said the magpie sarcastically. ‘But I suppose it’s easier for you to snatch a meal from a being weaker than yourself?’
‘I’m not in the habit of doing such a thing,’ Bold replied, ‘though I’m certain most creatures would accept it as one of the laws of nature – unfair as it seems to you.’
‘Unfair and greedy,’ remarked the magpie.
‘Well, you’ve made your point,’ said Bold. ‘As it happens, there’s really nothing but feathers left on this carcass anyway. So I’ll gladly relinquish the morsel.’
The magpie, somewhat mollified, said: ‘Is it your habit to be abroad in the daytime?’
‘Habit? No. I’m no different from other foxes in enjoying the greater security of the dark. I’ve been exploring my new domain.’
?’ echoed the magpie. ‘If you see this area as your domain you’re in for a few surprises, my youngster.’
‘I doubt it,’ said Bold confidently. ‘I have as much right to roam here as any other creature. I accept their rights so they should accept mine.’
‘Oh, they should, should they?’ said the magpie, letting out a cynical chuckle. ‘Well, we shall see. I wasn’t only referring to other beats, I might tell you.’
‘Of course, you mean humans,’ Bold answered, quite unperturbed. ‘Well, they’re not exactly unfamiliar to me, either.’
The magpie shook its head. ‘I don’t know where you have travelled from,’ it said, ‘but your over-confidence makes me think it must be somewhere a lot less fraught with danger than this quarter. If I’m right in my view, you’d do well not to stay around here too long.’
Bold laughed. ‘My very motive for coming here was a quest for adventure,’ he said naively. ‘I want to be a part of the real world.’
The magpie was scornful. ‘Then you might get more than you bargain for,’ he retorted. ‘You obviously know nothing of what you speak about.’ And he flew away, impatient with the cub’s presumption.
Bold was amused. ‘Well, I must have upset him,’ he murmured. ‘Perhaps we’ll meet again some time when he might have changed his tune. I’m a creature of
a different stamp from the one he takes me for.’ He ran on, dauntless as ever. He looked back once, and was quick to notice that the bird had returned to the disputed remains of the pigeon.
—— 2 ——
That night, after a short nap, Bold did indeed go hunting. The air was warm and still as he entered a small wood. He came to a spot where there was a thick covering of ground-ivy. Amongst this vegetation the rustlings and scurryings of small animals could clearly be heard. Bold set himself to catch his supper.
Half in sport and half in earnest, he spent a good part of the night tracking and pouncing on the less lucky of those shrews and mice who were engaged on their own urgent quests for food. His hunger finally satisfied, the cub curled himself up under a holly bush, his head on his paws, and fell gratefully asleep.
Although he was well concealed from human scrutiny, Bold’s presence in the wood was well noted by the wild night creatures, large and small, as they ambled amongst the trees or flew overhead on their particular errands. To some, he represented a competitor, to others, an additional danger to heed. Certainly, by daybreak the existence of a strange young fox in the neighbourhood was common knowledge to the wood’s population. Bold, of course, remained blissfully unaware of the interest he had attracted.
He awoke late in the day. He got up and stretched elaborately. A pool of water on a patch of ground dotted with sedges attracted his attention. Bold quenched his thirst, lapping the water slowly while his eyes took in his surroundings. Already his old home was forgotten. There was so much to explore, so many new sensations awaiting him. Eagerly he trotted off towards the boundaries of the wood, feeling strong and refreshed.
Another bright, sunny August day greeted him as he emerged into the open downland. On the threshold of this gloriously wide expanse he paused briefly to look about him. Again, empty countryside met his gaze. Joyfully, confidently, he went loping along. The warnings of the magpie on the previous day seemed meaningless in such a landscape.