Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton
Public Domain Books
THE ADVENTURES OF A SQUIRREL FAMILY
“I’ll bet I kin make a Woodpecker come out of that hole,” said Sapwood, one day as the three Red-men proceeded, bow in hand, through a far corner of Burns’s Bush. He pointed to a hole in the top of a tall dead stub, then going near he struck the stub a couple of heavy blows with a pole. To the surprise of all there flew out, not a Woodpecker, but a Flying Squirrel. It scrambled to the top of the stub, looked this way and that, then spread its legs, wings and tail and sailed downward, to rise slightly at the end of its flight against a tree some twenty feet away. Yan bounded to catch it. His fingers clutched on its furry back, but he got such a cut from its sharp teeth that he was glad to let it go. It scrambled up the far side of the trunk and soon was lost in the branches.
Guy was quite satisfied that he had carried out his promise of bringing a Woodpecker out of the hole, “For ain’t a Flying Squirrel a kind of Woodpecker?” he argued. He was, in consequence, very “cocky" the rest of the day, proposing to produce a Squirrel whenever they came to a stub with a hole in it, and at length, after many failures, had the satisfaction of driving a belated Woodpecker out of its nest.
The plan was evidently a good one for discovering living creatures. Yan promptly adopted it, and picking up a big stick as they drew near another stub with holes, he gave three or four heavy thumps. A Red Squirrel scrambled out of a lower hole and hid in an upper one; another sharp blow made it pop out and jump to the top of the stub, but eventually back into the lower hole.
The boys became much excited. They hammered the stub now without making the Squirrel reappear.
“Let’s cut it down,” said Little Beaver.
“Show you a better trick than that,” replied the Woodpecker. He looked about and got a pole some twenty feet long. This he placed against a rough place high up on the stub and gave it a violent push, watching carefully the head of the stub. Yes! It swayed just a little. Sam repeated the push, careful to keep time with the stub and push always just as it began to swing away from him. The other boys took hold of the pole and all pushed together, as Sam called, “Now–now–now–”
A single push of 300 or 400 pounds would scarcely have moved the stub, but these little fifty-pound pushes at just the right time made it give more and more, and after three or four minutes the roots, that had begun to crack, gave way with a craunching sound, and down crashed the great stub. Its hollow top struck across a fallen log and burst open in a shower of dust, splinters and rotten wood. The boys rushed to the spot to catch the Squirrel, if possible. It did not scramble out as they expected it would, even when they turned over the fragments. They found the front of the stub with the old Woodpecker hole in it, and under that was a mass of finely shredded cedar bark, evidently a nest. Yan eagerly turned it over, and there lay the Red Squirrel, quite still and unharmed apparently, but at the end of her nose was a single drop of blood. Close beside her were five little Squirrels, evidently a very late brood, for they were naked, blind and helpless. One of them had at its nose a drop of blood and it lay as still as the mother. At first the hunters thought the old one was playing ’Possum, but the stiffness of death soon set in.
Now the boys felt very guilty and sorry. By thoughtlessly giving way to their hunting instincts they had killed a harmless mother Squirrel in the act of protecting her young, and the surviving little ones had no prospect but starvation.
Yan had been the most active in the chase, and now was far more conscience-stricken than either of the others.
“What are we going to do with them?” asked the Woodpecker. “They are too young to be raised for pets.”
“Better drown them and be done with them,” suggested Sappy, recalling the last honours of several broods of Kittens at home.
“I wish we could find another Squirrel’s nest to put them into," said Little Beaver remorsefully, and then as he looked at the four squirming, helpless things in his hand the tears of repentance filled his eyes. “We might as well kill them and end their misery. We can’t find another Squirrel’s nest so late as this.” But after a little silence he added, “I know some one who will put them out of pain. She may as well have them. She’d get them anyway, and that’s the old gray wild Cat. Let’s put them in her nest when she’s away.”
This seemed a reasonable, simple and merciful way of getting rid of the orphans. So the boys made for the “caņon” part of the brook. At one time of the afternoon the sun shone so as to show plainly all that was in the hole. The boys went very quietly to Yan’s lookout bank, and seeing that only the Kittens were there, Yan crept across and dropped the young Squirrels into the nest, then went back to his friends to watch, like Miriam, the fate of the foundlings.
They had a full hour to wait for the old Cat, and as they were very still all that time they were rewarded with a sight of many pretty wild things.
A Humming-bird “boomed” into view and hung in a misty globe of wings before one Jewel-flower after another.
“Say, Beaver, you said Humming-birds was something or other awful beautiful,” said Woodpecker, pointing to the dull grayish-green bird before them.
“And I say so yet. Look at that,” as, with a turn in the air, the hanging Hummer changed its jet-black throat to flame and scarlet that silenced the critic.
After the Humming-bird went away a Field-mouse was seen for a moment dodging about in the grass, and shortly afterward a Shrew-mole, not so big as the Mouse, was seen in hot pursuit on its trail.
Later a short-legged brown animal, as big as a Rabbit, came nosing up the dry but shady bed of the brook, and as it went beneath them Yan recognized by its little Beaver-like head and scaly oar-shaped tail that it was a Muskrat, apparently seeking for water.
There was plenty in the swimming-pond yet, and the boys realized that this had become a gathering place for those wild things that were “drowned out by the drought,” as Sam put it.
The Muskrat had not gone more than twenty minutes before another deep-brown animal appeared. “Another Muskrat; must be a meeting," whispered the Woodpecker. But this one, coming close, proved a very different creature. As long as a Cat, but lower, with broad, flat head and white chin and throat, short legs, in shape a huge Weasel, there was no mistaking it; this was a Mink, the deadly enemy of the Muskrat, and now on the track of its prey. It rapidly turned the corner, nosing the trail like a Hound. If it overtook the Muskrat before it got to the pond there would be a tragedy. If the Muskrat reached the deep water it might possibly escape. But just as sure as the pond became a gathering place for Muskrats it would also become a gathering place for Mink.
Not five minutes had gone since the Mink went by before a silent gray form flashed upon the log opposite. Oh, how sleek and elegant it looked! What perfection of grace she seemed after the waddling, hunchy Muskrat and the quick but lumbering Mink. There is nothing more supple and elegant than a fine Cat, and men of science the world over have taken the Cat as the standard of perfection in animal make-up. Pussy glanced about for danger. She had brought no bird or Mouse, for the Kittens were yet too young for such training. The boys watched her with intensest interest. She glided along the log to the hole–the Skunk-smelling hole–uttered her low ’purrow, purrow,” that always sets the hungry Kittens agog, and was curling in around them, when she discovered the pink Squirrel-babies among her own. She stopped licking the nearest Kitten, stared at a young Squirrel, and smelled it. Yan wondered what help that could be when everything smelled of Skunk. But it did seem to decide her, for she licked it a moment, then lying down she gathered them all in her four-legged embrace, turned her chin up in the air and Sappy announced gleefully that “The little Squirrels were feeding with the little Cats.”
The boys waited a while longer, then having made sure that the little Squirrels had been lovingly adopted by their natural enemy, they went quietly back to camp. Now they found a daily pleasure in watching the mixed family.
And here it may be as well to give the rest of the story. The old gray Cat faithfully and lovingly nursed those foundlings. They seemed to prosper, and Yan, recalling that he had heard of a Cat actually raising a brood of Rabbits, looked forward to the day when Kittens and Squirrelets should romp together in the sun. After a week Sappy maintained that only one Squirrel appeared at the breakfast table, and in ten days none. Yan stole over to the log and learned the truth. All four were dead in the bottom of the nest. There was nothing to tell why. The old Cat had done her best–had been all love and tenderness, but evidently had not been able to carry out her motherly intentions.
[Illustration: Four tiny headstones]