The fox had taken one of my traps

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THE air was balmy, the birds relaxed after the morning’s singing, and the scent of lime was sweet in the air, which was filled with drowsy buzzing as bees made the most of it. Have you noticed what a year it is for lime blossom? If you ever get the chance for some lime honey, take it, for it is as light and sweet as the lime blossom itself. At ground level, wild flowers entwined in lush tendrils and stems, and a powdering of pollen fell from the many grass seed-heads. All in all the late morning was tranquil and relaxed, except for me. I was far from relaxed: I was very cross, and muttering some unlovely phrases. What should have been a quick walk around my last set of traps, on my way home for a much-wanted elevenses, was turning into a long task.

The fox had taken one of my traps. The ground showed where it had dug and pulled and tugged, smashing its way through the hemlock, the cleavers, the poppies, thistles, nettles and knapweed, and then thrown the trap about trying to extract the rabbit - I presumed it was a rabbit, but squirrels get in these traps as well, and it was part of my remit to trap those too. But trap I saw none, though I followed the trail of broken stems and crushed herbage until it gave out where the land was more open. This is no job for a person when a dog can do it so much better, so I had been home and picked up such a dog, not stopping for the mug of tea that I needed so much, because if the rabbit was still alive, it would probably be in a bad way. So, hungry, thirsty and rather annoyed, I drove back in through the double gates and partway up the track, before the dog and I got to work. I took her towards the trap’s last siting, and she flared her nostrils, lifted her hackles and looked at me sideways from under her brows. She is not in the first flush of youth, and can remember when foxes were her legal quarry. Well, we were within the law, for we were not hunting a fox but a trap, though it would be fox scent that took her there.

Good huntsmen know not to press their hounds, but to allow them plenty of space to puzzle out their quarry’s scent. So I stood back under the crab-apple tree, leaning against the rough trunk as I watched the dog delicately stepping along the route of crushed plant life, picking up scent despite the heat of the day and the rankness of the greenery. She took a line to the bonfire, tested the length and breadth of the ashes, for it had been a big one, and tendrils of smoke still curled from the centre, then shouldered through a thicket of weeds that were waist-high on me. Still I let her take her time, for she backed out, turned to savour the wind not the woodsmoke, and came on point. Most dogs will point, and she stood in classical pose, one foreleg lifted, tail as level as such a long scimitar tail can go, eyes half-shut as her nostrils worked. Then she turned her slanting amber gaze on me. “It’s here, Boss”.

Indeed it was. The rabbit, mercifully, had been dead for some hours, probably of a heart attack, for they don’t handle stress well. The dog backed away from the trap, her job done, and animals in traps being no concern of hers once I have hold of them. I removed it and re-set the trap, then, thinking that it must reek of fox and frightened rabbit, and so would not catch again until the scents had dissipated, set it over a hole in the rabbit-fencing, and took the clean trap from there to cover the place where the original trap had been. It was a good place for catching, unlike the perimeter fence hole, which only rarely caught a rabbit. The scent would deter a rabbit from going through the hole, and the clean trap might catch again soon.

Now where was that dog? She was tracking again where the fox must have gone after it had dropped the trap. Of course, if she flushed it, that might have been interpreted as hunting, and therefore illegal unless I was carrying a gun, and I was not. But I needed to know which way it had travelled, and what its route through the fence was, because once a fox has started robbing traps, it will continue to do so until it is stopped.

Given the amount of noise we had made so far, it was highly unlikely that the fox would still be in the immediate vicinity, so with righteousness on my side, I followed the questing dog.