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 forest trees had donned their verdure; the tall bracken had lifted its fronds so far above the grass that the mother rabbit no longer found them a convenient screen through which to peer at the strange antics of the old badgers as they came from their lair and sat in the twilight on the mound by the entrance of their home; and the rill in the dingle, which, during winter and early spring, leaped, a clear, rushing torrent, on its way to the river below the steep, had dwindled to a few drops of water, collected in tiny pools among the stones, or trickling reluctantly down the dank, green water-weed. The young badger family had grown so strong and high-spirited that their dam, weakened by motherhood, and at a loss to restrain their increasing desire for outdoor air and exercise, determined to wean them, and to teach them many lessons, concerning the ways of the woodland people, which she had learned long ago from her parents, or, more recently, from her own experiences as a creature of the dark, mysterious night.
Brock, in particular, was the source of considerable anxiety to her. He was the leader in every scene of noisy festivity; she was repeatedly forced to punish him for following her at dusk to the mound outside the upper gallery, and for disobedience when she condescended to take part in a midnight romp in the underground nursery. He tormented the other members of the family by awakening them from sleep when he desired to play, also by appropriating, till his appetite was fully appeased, all the food his dam brought home from her hunting expeditions, and, again, by picking quarrels over such a trifling matter as the choice of a place when he and his little companions wished to rest.
Nature's children are wilful and selfish ; and in their struggle for existence they live, if independent of their parents, only so long as they can take care of themselves. Among adult animals, however, selfishness seems to become inoperative in the care they take of their offspring. But though the mother badger was unselfish towards her little ones, she spared no effort to instruct them in the ways of selfishness.
The night of Brock's first visit to the woods was warm and unclouded. For an hour after sunset, he played about the gallery by the door, while his mother, a vigilant sentinel, remained motionless and unseen in the darkness behind. Now and again, he heard the rabbits moving in the burrow, but they, aware of his presence, stayed discreetly out of view. Under his mother's guidance, or even if his playmates had been bold enough to accompany him, he would at once have been ready to explore the furthest corner of the rabbit-hole. But the old badger was too big, and the youngsters were too timid, to go with him into the mysterious antechamber; so, after repeated attempts to explore the passage as far as the bend, and finding to his discomfort that there the space became narrower, he gave up the idea of prying on the doings of his neighbours, and contented himself with droll, clumsy antics, such as those by which wild children often seek to convince indulgent parents that they are eager and fearless.
As the darkness deepened, the dog-badger, after hunting near the outskirts of the wood, returned to the " set." His manner indicated that he was the bearer of an important message. He touched his mate on the shoulder; then, as she responded to his greeting, he thrust his head forward so that she could scent a drop of blood clinging to his lip; and, while she sniffed enquiringly along the fringe of his muzzle, he seemed to be assuring her that his message was of the utmost consequence. As soon as she understood his meaning, he vanished into the gallery, and for a few moments was evidently busy. Faint squeals and grunts, which gradually became louder and louder, proceeded from the central chamber, and, again, from the inner passages; and presently the big badger appeared in sight, driving his family before him, and threatening them with direst punishment if they attempted to double past him and thus regain their dark retreat.
Wholly unable to appreciate the real position of affairs, Brock, perplexed and frightened, found himself hiding among the ferns and brambles outside the " set," while the sire, standing in full view on the mound, and grunting loudly, forbade the return of his evicted family. Unexpectedly, too, the mother badger, when the little ones looked to her for sympathy in their extraordinary treatment, took the part of the crusty old sire, and snapped and snarled directly they attempted to move back towards the mound. Utterly bewildered and much in fear, since their dam, hitherto the object of implicit trust, had suddenly deserted their cause, the young badgers crouched together under the bushes, and watched distrustfully each movement of their parents. The sire stuck to his post on the mound, and, with hoarse grunts, varied occasionally by thin, piping squeals that did not seem in the least to accord with his wrathful demeanour, continued to keep them at a distance.
Soon the dam moved slowly away, climbed the track towards the top of the wood, and then called to the cubs as they sat peering after her into the darkness. Released from discipline, and eagerly responsive to her cry, they lurched after her, and followed closely as she led them further and still further from home. Presently, the dog-badger overtook his family. His manner, as well as the dam's, had changed; and though great caution was exercised as they journeyed along paths well trodden, and free from twigs that might snap, or leaves that might rustle, and though silence was the order of the march, the little family— proud parents and shy, inquisitive children— seemed as happy as the summer night was calm. The distant sound of a prowling creature, heard at times from the margin of the wood, caused not the slightest alarm to the cubs: the intense nervousness always apparent in young foxes was not evinced by the little badgers.
In comparision with the fox-cubs, they were not easily frightened; they already x gave promise of the presence of mind which, later, was often displayed when they were threatened by powerful foes. Brock, nevertheless, betrayed astonishment when a dusky form bolted through the whinberry bushes close by; and several moments passed before he was able, by his undeveloped methods of reasoning, to connect the scent of the flying creature with that of the rabbits often carried home by his mother, and, therefore, with something good for food.
At the top of the wood, the old badgers turned aside and led the way through a thicket, where, in obedience to their mother, the youngsters came to a halt, while their sire, proceeding a few yards in advance, sniffed the ground, like a beagle picking up the line of the hunt. Having found the object of his search, he called his family to him, that they might learn the meaning of the various signs around. But the doings of the woodland folk could not yet be learnt by the little badgers, as by the experienced parents, from trifling details, such as the altered position of a leaf or twig, the ringing alarm-cry of a bird, the fresh earth-smell near an upturned stone, or the taint of a moving creature in the grass. Beside them lay a small brown and white stoat, its head almost severed from its body by a quick, powerful bite, and, just beyond, the motionless form of a half-grown rabbit, unmarked, save by a small, clean-cut wound between the ears. The scent of both creatures was noticeable everywhere around, and with it, quite as strong and fresh, the scent of the big male badger. Walking up the path, soon after nightfall, the badger had arrived on the scene of a woodland tragedy, and had found the stoat so engrossed with its victim that to kill the bloodthirsty little tyrant was the easy work of an instant. Afterwards, mindful of the education of his progeny, he had hurried home to arrange with his mate a timely object lesson in wood-craft.
The stoat was left untasted, but the rabbit was speedily devoured; and then the badger family resorted to the riverside below the " set," where the cubs were taught to lap the cool, clear water. Thence, before returning home, they were taken to a clearing in the middle of the wood, and, while the sire went off alone to scout and hunt, the mother badger showed them how to find grubs and beetles under the rotting bark of the tree-butts, in the crevices among the stones, and in the soft, damp litter of the decaying leaves.