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- Lady Mary and her Nurse - 6/22 -
without the soft thick glossy look upon it of the grey squirrels'. They were of a lively tawny yellow-brown colour, with long black and white stripes down their backs; their tails were not so long nor so thickly furred; and instead of living in the trees, they made their nests in logs and wind-falls, and had their granaries and winter houses too under ground, where they made warm nests of dried moss and grass and thistledown; to these they had several entrances, so that they had always a chance of refuge if danger were nigh. Like the dormice, flying squirrels, and ground hogs, they slept soundly during the cold weather, only awakening when the warm spring sun had melted the snow. [Footnote: It is not quite certain that the chitmunk is a true squirrel, and he is sometimes called a striped rat. This pretty animal seems, indeed, to form a link between the rat and squirrel.]
The vain little grey squirrels thought themselves much better than these little chitmunks, whom they treated with very little politeness, laughing at them for living in holes in the ground, instead of upon lofty trees, as they did; they even called them low-bred fellows, and wondered why they did not imitate their high breeding and behaviour.
The chitmunks took very little notice of their rudeness, but merely said that, if being high-bred made people rude, they would rather remain humble as they were.
"As we are the head of all the squirrel families," said Silver-nose, "we shall do you the honour of breakfasting with you to-day."
"We breakfasted hours ago, while you lazy fellows were fast asleep," replied an old chitmunk, poking his little nose out of a hole in the ground.
"Then we shall dine with you: so make haste and get something good for us," said Nimble-foot. "I have no doubt you have plenty of butter and hickory-nuts laid up in your holes."
The old chitmunk told him he might come and get them, if he could.
At this the grey squirrels skipped down from the branches, and began to run hither and thither, and to scratch among the moss and leaves, to find the entrance to the chitmunks' grain stores. They peeped under the old twisted roots of the pines and cedars, into every chink and cranny, but no sign of a granary was to be seen.
Then the chitmunks said, "My dear friends, this is a bad season to visit us; we are very poor just now, finding it difficult to get a few dry pine-kernels and berries, but if you will come and see us after harvest, we shall have a store of nuts and acorns."
"Pretty fellows you are!" replied Nimble, "to put us off with promises, when we are so hungry; we might starve between this and harvest."
"If you leave this island, and go down the lake, you will come to a mill, where the red squirrels live, and where you will have fine times," said one of the chitmunks.
"Which is the nearest way to the mill?" asked Velvet-paw.
"Swim to the shore, and keep the Indian, path, and you will soon see it."
But while the grey squirrels were looking out for the path, the cunning chitmunks whisked away into their holes, and left the inquirers in the lurch, who could not tell what had become of them; for though they did find a round hole that they thought might be one of their burrows, it was so narrow that they could only poke in their noses, but could get no further; the grey squirrels being much fatter and bigger than the slim little chitmunks.
"After all," said Silvy, who was the best of the three, "perhaps, if we had been civil, the chitmunks would have treated us better."
"Well," said Nimble, "if they had been good fellows, they would have invited us, as our mother did cousin Blackie, and have set before us the best they had. I could find it in my heart to dig them out of their holes, and give them a good bite." This was all brag on Nimble's part, who was not near so brave as he wished Silvy and Velvet-paw to suppose he was.
After spending some time in hunting for acorns, they made up their minds to leave the island; and as it was not very far to the mainland, they decided on swimming thither.
"Indeed," said Silver-nose, "I am tired of this dull place; we are not better off here than we were in the little island in Stony Lake, where our good old mother took care we should have plenty to eat, and we had a nice warm nest to shelter us."
"Ah! well, it is of no use grumbling now; if we were to go back, we should only get a scolding, and perhaps be chased off the island," said Nimble. "Now let us have a race, and see which of us will get to shore first;" and he leaped over Velvet-paw's head, and was soon swimming merrily for the shore. He was soon followed by his companions, and in half an hour they were all safely landed. Instead of going into the thick forest, they agreed to take the path by the margin of the lake, for there they had a better chance of getting nuts and fruit; but though it was the merry month of June, and there were plenty of pretty flowers in bloom, the berries were hardly ripe, and our little vagrants fared but badly. Besides being hungry, they were sadly afraid of the eagles and fish-hawks that kept hovering over the water; and when they went further into the forest to avoid them, they saw a great white wood-owl, noiselessly flying out from among the close cedar swamps, that seemed just ready to pounce down upon them. The grey squirrels did not like the look of the owl's great round shining eyes, as they peered at them, under the tufts of silky white feathers, which almost hid his hooked bill; and their hearts sunk within them, when they heard his hollow cry, "_Ho, ho, ho, ho!" "Waugh, ho!"_ dismally sounding in their ears.
It was well that Velvet-paw was as swift afoot as she was soft, for one of these great owls had very nearly caught her, while she was eating a filbert that she had found in a cleft branch, where a nuthatch had fixed it, while she pecked a hole in the shell. Some bird of prey had scared away the poor nuthatch, and Velvet-paw no doubt thought she was in luck when she found the prize; but it would have been a dear nut to her, if Nimble, who was a sharp-sighted fellow, had not seen the owl, and cried _"Chit, chit, chit, chit!"_ to warn her of her danger. _"Chit, chit, chit, chit!"_ cried Velvet-paw, and away she flew to the very top of a tall pine-tree, springing from one tree-top to another, till she was soon out of the old owl's reach.
"What shall we do for supper to-night?" said Silver-nose, looking very pitifully at Nimble-foot; whom they looked upon as the head of the family.
"We shall not want for a good supper and breakfast too, or I am very much mistaken. Do you see that red squirrel yonder, climbing the hemlock-tree? Well, my dears, he has a fine store of good things in that beech-tree. I watched him run down with a nut in his teeth. Let us wait patiently, and we shall see him come again for another; and as soon as he has done his meal, we will go and take ours."
The red squirrel ran to and fro several times, each time carrying off a nut to his nest in the hemlock; after a while, he came no more. As soon as he was out of sight Nimble led the way, and found the hoard. The beech was quite hollow in the heart, and they went down through a hole in the branch, and found a store of hazel-nuts, with acorns, hickory-nuts, butter-nuts, and beech-mast, all packed quite close and dry. They soon made a great hole in the red squirrel's store of provisions, and were just choosing some nuts to carry off with them, when they were disturbed by a scratching against the bark of the tree. Nimble, who was always the first to take care of himself, gave the alarm, and he and Velvet-paw, being nearest to the hole, got off safely; but poor Silvy had the ill luck to sneeze, and before she had time to hide herself the angry red squirrel sprang upon her, and gave her such a terrible cuffing and scratching, that Silvy cried out for mercy. As to Nimble-foot and Velvet-paw, they paid no heed to her cries for help; they ran away, and left her to bear the blame of all their misdeeds, as well as her own. Thieves are always cowards, and are sure to forsake one another when danger is nigh.
The angry red squirrel pushed poor Silvy out of her granary, and she was glad to crawl away, and hide herself in a hole at the root of a neighbouring tree, where she lay in great pain and terror, licking her wounds, and crying to think how cruel it was of her brother and sister to leave her to the mercy of the red squirrel. It was surely very cowardly of Foot-foot and Velvet-paw to forsake her in such a time of need; nor was this the only danger that befel poor Silvy. One morning, when she put her nose out of the hole, to look about her before venturing out, she saw seated on a branch, close beside the tree she was under, a racoon, staring full at her, with his sharp cunning black eyes. She was very much afraid of him, for she thought he looked very hungry; but as she knew that racoons are very fond of nuts and fruit, she said to herself, "Perhaps if I show him where the red squirrel's granary in the beech-tree is, he will not kill me." Then she said very softly to him, "Good Mister Coon, if you want a very nice breakfast, and will promise to do me no hurt, I will tell you where to find plenty of nuts."
The coon eyed her with a sly grin, and said, "If I can get anything more to my taste than a pretty grey squirrel, I will take it, my dear, and not lay a paw upon your soft back."
"Ah! but you must promise not to touch me, if I come out and show yon where to find the nuts," said Silvy.
"Upon the word and honour of a coon!" replied the racoon, laying one black paw upon his breast; "but if you do not come out of your hole, I shall soon come and dig you out, so you had best be quick; and if you trust me, you shall come to no hurt."
Then Silvy thought it wisest to seem to trust the racoon's word, and she came out of her hole, and went a few paces to point out the tree, where her enemy the red squirrel's store of nuts was; but as soon as she saw Mister Coon disappear in the hollow of the tree, she bade him good-bye, and whisked up a tall tree, where she knew the racoon could not reach her; and having now quite recovered her strength, she was able to leap from branch to branch, and even from one tree to another, whenever they grew, close and the boughs touched, as they often do in the grand old woods in Canada; and so she was soon far, far away from the artful coon, who waited a long time, hoping to carry off poor Silvy for his dinner.
Silvy contrived to pick up a living by digging for roots, and eating such fruits as she could find; but one day she came to a grassy cleared spot, where she saw a strange-looking tent, made with poles stuck into the ground and meeting at the top, from which came a bluish cloud that spread among the trees; and as Silvy was very curious, she came nearer, and at last, hearing no sound, ran up one of the poles, and peeped in, to see what was within side, thinking it might be one of the fine stores of grain that people built for the squirrels, as her cousin Blackie had made her believe. The poles were covered with sheets of birch-bark, and skins of deer and wolves, and there was a fire of sticks burning in the middle, round which some large creatures were sitting on a bear's skin, eating something that smelt very nice. They had long black hair, and black eyes, and very white teeth. Silvy felt alarmed at first; but thinking they must be the people who were kind to squirrels, she ventured to slip through a slit in the bark, and ran down into the wigwam, hoping to get something to
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