Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton
Public Domain Books
The Cat And The Skunk
Sam was away on a “massacree” to get some bread. Guy had been trapped by his natural enemy and was serving a term of hard labour in the garden; so Yan was alone in camp. He went around the various mud albums, but discovered nothing new, except the fact that tracks were getting more numerous. There were small Skunk and Mink tracks with the large ones now. As he came by the brush fence at the end of the blazed trail he saw a dainty little Yellow Warbler feeding a great lubberly young Cow-bird that, evidently, it had brought up. He had often heard that the Cow-bird habitually “plays Cuckoo” and leaves its egg in the nest of another bird, but this was the first time he had actually seen anything of it with his own eyes. As he watched the awkward mud-coloured Cow-bird flutter its ungrown wings and beg help from the brilliant little Warbler, less than half its size, he wondered whether the fond mother really was fooled into thinking it her own young, or whether she did it simply out of compassion for the foundling. He now turned down creek to the lower mud album, and was puzzled by a new track like this.
[Illustration: Track of small mud turtle]
He sketched it, but before the drawing was done it dawned on him that this must be the track of a young Mud-turtle. He also saw a lot of very familiar tracks, not a few being those of the common Cat, and he wondered why they should be about so much and yet so rarely seen. Of course the animals were chiefly nocturnal, but the boys were partly so, and always on the ground now, so that explanation was not satisfactory. He lay down on his breast at the edge of the brook, which had here cut in a channel with steep clay walls six feet high and twenty feet apart. The stream was very small now–a mere thread of water zigzagging over the level muddy floor of the “caņon,” as Yan loved to call it. A broad, muddy margin at each side of the water made a fine place of record for the travelling Four-foots, and tracks new and old were there in abundance.
The herbage on the bank was very rank and full of noisy Grasshoppers and Crickets. Great masses of orange Jewelweed on one side were variegated with some wonderful Cardinal flowers. Yan viewed all this with placid content. He knew their names now, and thus they were transferred from the list of tantalizing mysteries to that of engaging and wonderful friends. As he lay there on his breast his thoughts wandered back to the days when he did not know the names of any flowers or birds–when all was strange and he alone in his hunger to know them, and Bonnerton came back to him with new, strange force of reminder. His father and mother, his brother and schoolmates were there. It seemed like a bygone existence, though only two months ago. He had written his mother to tell of his arrival, and once since to say that he was well. He had received a kind letter from his mother, with a scripture text or two, and a postscript from his father with some sound advice and more scripture texts. Since then he had not written. He could not comprehend how he could so completely drift away, and yet clearly it was because he had found here in Sanger the well for which he had thirsted.
As he lay there thinking, a slight movement nearer the creek caught his eye. A large Basswood had been blown down. Like most of its kind, it was hollow. Its trunk was buried in the tangle of rank summer growth, but a branch had been broken off and left a hole in the main stem. In the black cavern of the hole there appeared a head with shining green eyes, then out there glided onto the log a common gray Cat. She sat there in the sunshine, licked her paws, dressed her fur generally, stretched her claws and legs after the manner of her kind, walked to the end of the log, then down the easy slope to the bottom of the caņon. Here she took a drink, daintily shook the water from her paws, and set the hair just right with a stroke. Then to Yan’s amusement she examined all the tracks much as he had done, though it seemed clear that her nose, not her eyes, was judge. She walked down stream, leaving some very fine impressions that Yan mentally resolved to have in his note-book, very soon suddenly stopped, looked upward and around, a living picture of elegance, sleekness and grace, with eyes of green fire then deliberately leaped from the creek bed to the tangle of the bank and disappeared.
This seemed a very commonplace happening, but the fact of a house Cat taking to the woods lent her unusual interest, and Yan felt much of the thrill that a truly wild animal would have given him, and had gone far enough in art to find exquisite pleasure in the series of pictures the Cat had presented to his eyes.
He lay there for some minutes expecting her to reappear; then far up the creek he heard slight rattling of the gravel. He turned and saw, not the Cat, but a very different and somewhat larger animal. Low, thick-set, jet black, with white marks and an immense bushy tail–Yan recognized the Skunk at once, although he had never before met a wild one in daylight. It came at a deliberate waddle, nosing this way and that. It rounded the bend and was nearly opposite Yan, when three little Skunks of this year’s brood came toddling after the mother.
The old one examined the tracks much as the Cat had done, and Yan got a singular sense of brotherhood in seeing the wild things at his own study.
Then the old Skunk came to the fresh tracks of the Cat and paused so long to smell them that the three young ones came up and joined in. One of the young ones went to the bank where the Cat came down. As it blew its little nose over the fresh scent, the old Skunk waddled to the place, became quite interested, then climbed the bank. The little ones followed in a disjointed procession, varied by one of them tumbling backward from the steep trail.
The old Skunk reached the top of the bank, then mounted the log and followed unerringly the Cat’s back trail to the hole in the trunk. Down this she peered a minute, then, sniffing, walked in, till nothing could be seen but her tail. Now Yan heard loud, shrill mewing from the log, ’Mew, mew, m-e-u-w, m-e-e-u-w,” and the old Skunk came backing out, holding a small gray Kitten.
The little thing mewed and spit energetically, holding on to the inside of the log. But the old Skunk was too strong–she dragged it out. Then holding it down with both paws, she got a good firm grip of its neck and turned to carry it down to the bed of the brook. The Kitten struggled vigorously, and at last got its claws into the Skunk’s eye and gave such a wrench that the ill-smelling villain loosened its hold a little and so gave the Kitten another chance to squeal, which it did with a will, putting all its strength into a succession of heartrending mee-ow–mee-ows. Yan’s heart was touched. He was about to dash to the rescue when there was a scrambling in the far grass, a rush of gray, and the Cat–the old mother Cat was on the scene, a picture of demon rage, eyes ablaze, fur erect, ears back. With the spring of a Deer and the courage of a Lion she made for the black murderer. Eye could not follow the flashings of her paws. The Skunk recoiled and stared stupidly, but not long; nothing was “long” about it. Her every superb muscle was tingling with force and mad with hate as the mother Cat closed like a swooping Falcon. The Skunk had no time to aim that dreadful gun, and in the excitement fired a volley of the deadly musky spray backward, drenching her own young as they huddled in the trail.
[Illustration: “The Cat and the Skunk"]
Tooth and claw and deadly grip–the old Cat raged and tore, the black fur flew in every direction, and the Skunk for once lost her head and fired random shots of choking spray that drenched herself as well as the Cat. The Skunk’s head and neck were terribly torn. The air was suffocating with the poisonous musk. The Skunk was desperately wounded and threw herself backward into the water. Blinded and choking, though scarcely bleeding, the old Cat would have followed even there, but the Kitten, wedged under the log, mewed piteously and stayed the mother’s fury. She dragged it out unharmed but drenched with musk and carried it quickly to the den in the hollow log, then came out again and stood erect, blinking her blazing eyes–for they were burning with the spray–lashing her tail, the image of a Tigress eager to fight either part or all the world for the little ones she nursed. But the old Skunk had had more than enough. She scrambled off down the caņon. Her three young ones had tumbled over each other to get out of the way when they got that first accidental charge of their mother’s battery. She waddled away, leaving a trail of blood and smell, and they waddled after, leaving an odour just as strong.
[Illustration: “The old Cat raged and tore"]
Yan was thrilled by the desperate fight of the heroic old Cat. Her whole race went up higher in his esteem that day; and the fact that the house Cat really could take to the woods and there maintain herself by hunting was all that was needed to give her a place in his list of animal heroes.
Pussy walked uneasily up and down the log, from the hole where the Kittens were to the end overlooking the caņon. She blinked very hard and was evidently suffering severely, but Yan knew quite well that there was no animal on earth big enough or strong enough to frighten that Cat from her post at the door of her home. There is no courage more indomitable than that of a mother Cat who is guarding her young.
At length all danger of attack seemed over, and Pussy, shaking her paws and wiping her eyes, glided into her hole. Oh, what a shock it must have been to the poor Kittens, though partly prepared by their brother’s unsavoury coming back. There was the mother, whose return had always been heralded by a delicious odour of fresh Mouse or bird, interwoven with a loving and friendly odour of Cat, that was in itself a promise of happiness. Scent is the main thing in Cat life, and now the hole was darkened by a creature that was rank with every nasal guarantee of deadly enmity. Little wonder that they all fled puffing and spitting to the dark corners. It was a hard case; all the little stomachs were upset for a long time. They could do nothing but make the best of it and get used to it. The den never smelt any better while they were there, and even after they grew up and lived elsewhere many storms passed overhead before the last of the Skunk smell left them.