One afternoon, about the end of the nineteenth century, a steamer was
passing southwards through the Suez Canal, and as I sat in the shade
on its deck and looked eastwards over the desert, I saw a little
animal with a bushy tail running along the ridge at the canal side,
keeping level with the steamer. A slight occasional glance in our
direction showed that he knew we were there. At first, he appeared to
be a jackal; but, when glasses were turned upon him, we agreed that he
was more like the fox indigenous in the deserts and the lands
adjacent, the “fennec” as it is called, the “little fox” of Scripture
that is said to spoil the vines in one passage. It is a true fox; but
smaller in the body and bigger in the eyes and in the ears than other
foxes, and more easily tamed. By destroying vermin, he perhaps
balances his account with humanity, and is no more considered an enemy
than the swallow. He is said to eke out his want of strength by
diligence, and often escape his enemies by digging himself into
safety. Needless to say, unlike many other foxes, this one digs his
own hole, and is never without one, so that it must have been of him
that Jesus was thinking, when He said: “The foxes have holes, and the
birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay
His head” (Matt. viii. 20).

A lady, who was watching him with delight, was afterwards sorry that
she pointed him out to various idle men. She intended only to give
them pleasure; and did not in time bethink her, in what their pleasure
lay. Complacent cries of sham excitement were soon followed
by–“ping”–a shot from the bridge; and the bright little fox ceased,
suddenly, to run abreast of us, fell suddenly lame, and crawled aside.

“Well shot!” cried several raucous voices….

Some Arabs, working near, looked up to see what was being fired at,
and leaned on their tools, and spoke to each other, looking, from time
to time, at the steamer and in the direction of the fox. In 1886,
living at Suez some days, I had had various talks with such men,
seeking to sound their sentiments on things in general; and on this
occasion, I felt that I knew, as well as if I had heard it, that they
were saying to each other–“What bloody brutes!”

What seemed to confirm this guess, was that I did overhear our Indian
deck-scrapers making remarks….

Three or four days later, a fellow-passenger was still gloating over
the glorious achievement. We were near the south of the Red Sea by
this time. Thinking to make him sorry for the wounded beast, I
said–“The fox is likely to be dead of starvation and thirst by now.”

“Ha, yes,” said he, “it isn’t likely to live much longer after a
Martini bullet has perforated its thigh, ha, ha, ha!”

“People don’t shoot foxes in England.”

“They kill them in another way. They’re just as cruel…. Of course,
one would rather have galloped after him; but what can you do from a
ship’s deck?”

“Not gallop, certainly.” I tried another tack. “It is thought wrong,
in the Highlands, I have heard, to shoot at the deer, unless you are
likely to kill.”

“No?” He seemed surprised; but after a pause, he could explain the
mystery. “It would spoil the venison,” said he.

“Do you think the man who shot the fox in the thigh has nothing to be
sorry for?”

“He could not be sure of the head. I think that, on the whole, he did
very well. He was in a moving ship, and it was running.”

“Are you not sorry for the fox?”

“Not at all.”

I was tempted to say I was sorry for him; and could have said so,
sincerely. But, after all, he was young, and a human being, though
mentally and morally less developed than the Indian seamen or the Arab
labourers. I was loath to hurt his feelings. He deserved as much
consideration as–the fox. So we changed the subject.