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.
When the vixen recovered from the excitement and distress consequent on her capture, she found herself in a commodious, well ventilated chamber, circular in shape and slightly above the level of two low and narrow passages leading into the covert. The sack had been opened at the entrance of one of these passages, and the vixen had crawled through the darkness till, finding further retreat impossible, she had lain down, with wildly beating heart, on the floor of her hiding place.
Her senses seemed to have forsaken her. Had she dreamed? Often, during the warm, quiet days of a bygone summer, while lying curled in a cosy litter of dry grass-bents—which she had neatly arranged by turning round and round, and with her sensitive black muzzle pressing or lifting into shape each refractory twig—she had dreamed of mouse-hunting and rabbit-catching; her body had moved, her limbs twitched, her ears pricked forward, and her nostrils quivered as the delightful incidents of past expeditions were recalled. And when, with a start, she had awakened, as some venturesome rabbit frisked by her lair, or a nervous blackbird, startled by her movements, made the woodlands ring with news of his discovery, she had retained for a moment the impressions of her vivid dreams. But never in her sleep had she been haunted by such a bewildering sense of mingled dread and anger, such an awful apprehension of the presence of men and hounds, as that which had recently possessed her. Now, however, all was mysteriously tranquil; the full-toned clamour of the hounds and the sharp, snarling bark of the terriers had ceased; no longer was she confined and jostled in the stuffy, evil-smelling sack that yielded to, and yet restrained, her every frantic effort to regain liberty. Her heart still beat violently, as though at any moment it might break; and she crept back towards the entrance, where she might breathe the free, fresh air.
Suddenly she realised, to the full, that the day's bitter experiences were not a dream—the scent of the human hand remained on her brush, her fur was damp and matted with meal-dust, and, alas! her little ones were missing from her side. She was furious now; at all risks she would venture forth on the long, straight journey back towards home; her helpless cubs might still be somewhere under the bushes— perchance in sore need of warmth and food, and whining for their dam.
With every mothering instinct quickened, the vixen crept down the slanting passages in the direction of a faint moonlight glimmer beyond. Reaching the end of the tunnel, she, in her impetuosity, thrust her muzzle into a mass of prickles—the "earth" had been stopped with a branch of gorse. Baffled for the time, she returned to the central chamber; then cautiously, for her eyes and nostrils were smarting with pain, she tried the other outlet, but here, too, a gorse-bush baulked her exit. Now, however, a faint, familiar scent seemed to fill the passage, some tiny creatures moved and whimpered, and, with almost savage joy, the vixen discovered her cubs, alive and unharmed, huddled together near the furze. Quickly she carried them, one by one, into the chamber; then, lying beside the little creatures, which, though blind and helpless, eagerly recognised the presence of their mother, she gathered them between her limbs, covered them with her soft, warm brush, and, in a language used only amid the woodlands, soothed and comforted them, while they nestled once more beneath her sheltering care. When she had fed them and licked them clean from every taint of human touch, and when she had shaken herself free from dust and removed from her brush the man-scent left by the huntsman's right hand while "drawing" her, she became more collected in her mind and more contented with her strange, new situation.
Leaving her cubs asleep, she moved along the passage, determined, if possible, to explore the thickets in hope of finding a young rabbit or a few field-voles wherewith to satisfy her increasing hunger. The entrance was still blocked with furze, but just in the spot where she had found her cubs a couple of dead rabbits lay, and from one of these, though after much misgiving, she made a hearty meal. She endeavoured, but vainly, to dig a shallow trench in which to hide the rest of her provisions; the floor of the artificial " earth " was tiled, and only lightly covered with soil. Her efforts to scratch out a tunnel around the furze-bush proved alike unavailing, so she returned to her cubs, lay down between them and the narrow opening from the chamber, and slept.
That night and the following day were spent in drowsy imprisonment, till, towards the afternoon, the vixen began to feel the pangs of thirst and made fresh efforts to escape. As she was endeavouring to dislodge the tile nearest the furze, she heard the tramp of heavy feet and the sound of human voices.
"They be nice cubs," said the "whip" to the huntsman; "as nice a little lot as ever I clapped eyes on. If only they can give us such a doing as the old vixen gave us twice last December, they'll pass muster.
Them Gwyddyl Valley foxes be always reg'lar fliers. Their meat ain't got too easy- like; that's why, maybe, they're always in I working order. Any road, their flags o' distress (tongues) don't flop over their grinders without the hounds trim 'em hard on a straight, burning scent." "Well, we'll give 'em a good start, whatever happens," replied the huntsman; " here's two more bunnies for the larder. If the old girl shifts her quarters, find out her new "earth," and feed her well. I shouldn't like to be near the guv'nor if the young uns turn out mangy when we hustle 'em about a bit in the autumn".
The voices ceased, the furze-bushes were removed from the tunnel entrances, a cold, steady current of air filled the chamber and the passages, and the vixen knew that a way had been made for her escape. She was not, however, so foolhardy as to venture forth while the scent of her foes remained strong in the thicket; she lingered, in spite of extreme thirst, till the shadows of evening deepened perceptibly in her underground abode.