Saturday 25 January 2020

A missing fox named Peter ­­- a final word

Fox's tale: Rediscovering the story of a woman who had befriended a fox and then lost it to the wild
Fox's tale: Rediscovering the story of a woman who had befriended a fox and then lost it to the wild

Joe Kennedy

The leaping joy expressed by a fox named Peter when re-united with its mistress was recounted here in late January.

I had written about this in the past: the woman who had befriended the fox had lost it back to the wild; upset, she went searching for the creature that had become a pet.

I had found the story many years before in the work of WH Hudson, the 19th and early 20th century naturalist and writer, mislaid it and then, a week ago, was pleasantly surprised to have it fall again into my hands.

The importance of this was that the mention of Peter's story - part of a post-Christmas column about a reader who had befriended an ill vixen and brought it back to health - had sent one Cork city correspondent searching for the original.

I recall he was unhappy that, as he assumed he had read every tale of Hudson's over the years, he could not find the Peter story.

I could not check then as my books were askew to facilitate builders.

Then, a chance perusal in a Dublin bookshop revealed the Hudson work containing the Peter story. It was as if I had gone into woodland myself calling out the creature's name for it to arrive on a table display at Chapters, one of the country's biggest book retailers.

So my news for the Cork reader this morning - I am always grateful that people take the trouble to write - is that he can find out all about Peter in the volume Adventures Among Birds, first published by Hutchinson in 1913 and now newly minted.

If you are very lucky you may find an original copy but the Collins Nature Library (the UK firm, HarperCollins rather than The Collins Press of Cork, renowned for nature books also) has re-published it with an introduction by Robert Macfarlane, no less.

This is a superb hardback edition, sans dust jacket but with a glossy print of a covey of birds embossed on the cover. It was published four years ago but appears to have become as elusive as some of the creatures within its covers.

Watch out for other titles in the series - A Land by Jacquetta Hawkes and Nature Near London by Richard Jefferies, for example. No doubt but there are (and will be) other Hudson titles available.

The Peter story is in a chapter called Friendship in Animals and recounts relationships between various creatures as well as between man and animal and bird. I have mentioned several such tales here over the years having come upon them in Hudson or some miscellany or, better still, hearing of an experience first-hand, such as the man who fed the injured vixen and gave it some veterinary pills which put it back on its feet.

Peter's mistress had had the fox in her care for a year before it ran off and she found it by searching in deep woodland some distance from her home, calling out its name repeatedly. Hudson tells of the fox coming towards her at speed, making the leaves fly.

"There was no touching him," he wrote, "for he was beside himself with joy and could only run around her in a wide circle and then charging straight at her leaped clear over her head, and then again, and then a third time." She was astonished. Hudson happily concludes: "They went home together, Peter trotting along at her side."

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