This section is from the book "Creatures Of The Night: A Book Of Wild Life In Western Britain", by Alfred W. Rees. Also available from Amazon: Creatures Of The Night: A Book Of Wild Life In Western Britain.
The badger-cubs, while not so well provided against the cold as were their parents, grew lazy as winter advanced, and spent most of their time indoors on a large heap of fresh bedding, that had been collected under the oaks and carried to a special winter " oven" below the chamber generally occupied in summer. Here, the sudden changes of temperature affecting the outer world were hardly noticeable ; and so enervating were the warmth and indolence, that the badgers, in spite of thick furs and tough hides, rarely left their retreat when the shrill voice of the north-east wind, overhead in the mouth of the burrow, told them of frost and snow.
About mid-winter, the first of two changes took place in the colour of the young badgers' coats; from silver-grey it turned to dull brownish yellow, and the contrasts in the pied markings of the cheeks became increasingly pronounced. This change happened a little later with Brock than with his sister. Eventually, late in the following winter, the young female, arriving at maturity, donned a gown of darker grey, and her face was striped with black and white; shortly afterwards, Brock, too, assumed the livery of a full-grown badger.
Meanwhile, till events occurred of which the second change was only a portent, all remained fairly peaceful in the big burrow under the whins and brambles. Occasionally, in the brief winter days, Brock was awakened from his comfortable sleep by the music of the hounds, as they passed by on the scent of Vulp, the fleetest and most cunning fox on the countryside, or by the stamp of impatient hoofs, as the huntsman's mare, tethered to a tree not far from the " set," eagerly awaited her rider's return from a "forward cast" into the dense thicket beyond the glade.
One afternoon in late winter, a young vixen, that, without knowing it, had completely baffled her pursuers, crept, footsore and travel-stained, into the mouth of the " set," and lay-there, panting loudly, till night descended, and she had sufficiently recovered from her distress to continue her homeward journey. Now and again, the sharp report of a shotgun echoed down the wood; and once, late at night, when Brock climbed up from the "oven" to sit awhile on the mound before his door, the scent of blood was strong in the passage leading to the rabbit's quarters. Unfortunate bunny! Next night, stiff and sore from her wounds, she crawled out into the wood, and Vulp and his vixen put an end to her misery long before the badgers ventured from their lair.
Winter, with its long hours of sleep, passed quietly away. Amid the sprouting grasses by the river-bank, the snowdrops opened to the breath of spring; soon afterwards, the early violets and primroses decked the hedgerows on the margin of the wood, and the wild hyacinths thrust their spike-shaped leaves above the mould. The hedgehogs, curled in their beds amid the wind-blown oak-leaves, were awakened by the gentle heat, and wandered through the ditches in search of slugs and snails. One evening, as the moon shone over the hill, the woodcock, that for months had dwelt by day in the oak-scrub near the " set," and had fed at night in the swampy thickets by the rill, heard the voice of a curlew descending from the heights of the sky, and rose, on quick, glad pinions, far beyond the soaring of the lark, to join a great bird-army travelling north. Regularly, as the time for sleep drew nigh, the old inhabitants among the woodland birds—the thrushes, the robins, the finches, and the wrens—squabbled loudly as they settled to rest: their favourite roosting places were being invaded by aliens of their species, that, desirous of breaking for the night their northward journey, dropped, twittering, into every bush and brake on the margin of the copse. And into Nature's breast swept, like an irresistible flood, a yearning for maternity.
The vixen, that once had rested inside the burrow to recover from her "run" before the hounds, remembered the sanctuary, returned to it, and there in time gave birth to her young; and, though almost in touch with such enemies as the badger and the fox, a few of the rabbits that had been reared during the previous season in the antechamber of the " set" enlarged their dwelling place, and were soon engaged in tending a numerous offspring. The timid wood-mice, following suit, scooped out a dozen tiny galleries within an old back entrance of the burrow, and multiplied exceedingly. But, while all other creatures seemed bent on family affairs, Brock's parents, following a not infrequent habit of their kindred, deferred such duties to another season.
As spring advanced, food became far more abundant than in winter, and the badgers' appetites correspondingly increased. Directly the evening shadows began to deepen, parents and cubs alike became impatient of the long day's inactivity, and adjourned together to one or other of the entrances, generally to the main opening behind the big mound. There, unseen, they could watch the rooks sail slowly overhead, and the pigeons, with a sharp hiss of swiftly beating wings, drop down into the trees, and flutter, cooing loudly, from bough to bough before they fell asleep.
Then, after a twilight romp in and about the mouth of the burrow, the badgers took up the business of the night, and wandered away over the countryside in search of food, sometimes extending their journeys even as far as the garden of a cottage five miles distant, where Brock distinguished himself by overturning a hive and devouring every particle of a new honeycomb found therein.
Autumn, beautiful with pearly mists and red and golden leaves, again succeeded summer, and the woods resounded with the music of the huntsman's horn, as the hounds "harked forward" on the scent of fleeing fox-cubs, that had never heard, till then, the cries of the pursuing pack.
One morning, Brock lay out in the undergrowth, though the sun was high and the rest of his family slept safely in the burrow. At the time, his temper was not particularly sweet, for, on returning to the " set" an hour before dawn, he had quarrelled with his sire. Among the dead leaves and hay strewn on the floor of the chamber usually inhabited by the badgers in warm weather, was an old bone, discovered by Brock in the woods, and carried home as a plaything. For this bone Brock had conceived a violent affection, almost like that of a child for a limbless and much disfigured doll. He would lie outstretched on his bed, for an hour at a time, with his toy between his fore-feet, vainly sucking the broken end for marrow, or sharpening his teeth by gnawing the juiceless knob, with perfect contentment written on every line of his long, solemn face. If disturbed, he would take the bone to the winter "oven" below, and there, alone, would toss it from corner to corner and pounce on it with glee, or, with a sudden change of manner, would grasp it in his fore-paws, roll on his back, and scratch, and bite, and kick it, till, tired of the fun, he dropped asleep beside his plaything; while overhead, the rabbits and the voles, at a loss to imagine what was happening in the dark hollows of the "earth," quaked with fear, or bolted helter-skelter into the bushes beyond the mound.