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´╗┐Title: Bannertail - The Story of a Graysquirrel
Author: Seton, Ernest Thompson, 1860-1946
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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_BANNERTAIL_

_THE STORY OF A GRAYSQUIRREL_



BANNERTAIL

THE STORY OF A GRAYSQUIRREL

[Illustration]

With 100 Drawings by Ernest Thompson Seton

    Author of

    Wild Animals I have Known
    Trail of the Sandhill Stag
    Biography of a Grizzly
    Lives of the Hunted
    Monarch The Big Bear

    New York
    Charles Scribner's Sons
    1922



    Copyright, 1922, by
    ERNEST THOMPSON SETON

    Printed in the United States of America



_FOREWORD_

_These are the ideas that I have aimed to set forth in this tale._

_1st. That although an animal is much helped by its mother's teaching,
it owes still more to the racial teaching, which is instinct, and can
make a success of life without its mothers guidance, if only it can live
through the dangerous time of infancy and early life._

_2d. Animals often are tempted into immorality--by which I mean, any
habit or practice that would in its final working, tend to destroy the
race. Nature has rigorous ways of dealing with such._

_3d. Animals, like ourselves, must maintain ceaseless war against
insect parasites--or perish._

_4th. In the nut forests of America, practically every tree was planted
by the Graysquirrel, or its kin. No squirrels, no nut-trees._

_These are the motive thoughts behind my woodland novel. I hope I have
presented them convincingly; if not, I hope at least you have been
entertained by the romance._

[Illustration: signature]



CONTENTS


  Chapter                                       Page
       I. The Foundling                            1
      II. His Kittenhood                           9
     III. The Red Horror                          15
      IV. The New and Lonely Life                 19
       V. The Fluffing of His Tail                25
      VI. The First Nut Crop                      31
     VII. The Sun Song of Bannertail              39
    VIII. The Cold Sleep                          49
      IX. The Balking of Fire-eyes                57
       X. Redsquirrel, the Scold of the Woods     65
      XI. Bannertail and the Echo Voice           71
     XII. The Courting of Silvergray              77
    XIII. The Home in the High Hickory            85
     XIV. New Rivals                              91
      XV. Bachelor Life Again                     97
     XVI. The Warden Meets an Invader            103
    XVII. The Hoodoo on the Home                 109
   XVIII. The New Home                           117
     XIX. The Moving of the Young                125
      XX. The Coming-out Party                   135
     XXI. Nursery Days of the Young Ones         141
    XXII. Cray Hunts for Trouble                 147
   XXIII. The Little Squirrels Go to School      151
    XXIV. The Lopping of the Wayward Branch      157
     XXV. Bannertail Falls into a Snare          163
    XXVI. The Addict                             173
   XXVII. The Dregs of the Cup                   181
  XXVIII. The Way of Destruction                 185
    XXIX. Mother Carey's Lash                    191
     XXX. His Awakening                          199
    XXXI. The Unwritten Law                      205
   XXXII. Squirrel Games                         213
  XXXIII. When Bannertail Was Scarred for Life   221
   XXXIV. The Fight with the Black Demon         229
    XXXV. The Property Law among Animals         243
   XXXVI. Gathering the Great Nut Harvest        251
  XXXVII. And To-day                             261



ILLUSTRATIONS


                                                 Facing Page
  His kittenhood                                          12
  Baffling Fire-eyes                                      60
  They twiddled whiskers good night                       82
  With an angry "Quare!" Silvergray scrambled up again   130
  The little squirrels at school                         154
  Cray sank--a victim to his folly                       160
  A dangerous game                                       226
  The battle with the Blacksnake                         238



_THE FOUNDLING_



CHAPTER I

THE FOUNDLING


IT was a rugged old tree standing sturdy and big among the slender
second-growth. The woodmen had spared it because it was too gnarled and
too difficult for them to handle. But the Woodpecker, and a host of
wood-folk that look to the Woodpecker for lodgings, had marked and used
it for many years. Its every cranny and borehole was inhabited by some
quaint elfin of the woods; the biggest hollow of all, just below the
first limb, had done duty for two families of the Flickers who first
made it, and now was the homing hole of a mother Graysquirrel.

[Illustration]

She appeared to have no mate; at least none was seen. No doubt the
outlaw gunners could have told a tale, had they cared to admit that they
went gunning in springtime; and now the widow was doing the best she
could by her family in the big gnarled tree. All went well for a while,
then one day, in haste maybe, she broke an old rule in Squirreldom; she
climbed her nesting tree openly, instead of going up its neighbor, and
then crossing to the den by way of the overhead branches. The farm boy
who saw it, gave a little yelp of savage triumph; his caveman nature
broke out. Clubs and stones were lying near, the whirling end of a stick
picked off the mother Squirrel as she tried to escape with a little one
in her mouth. Had he killed two dangerous enemies the boy could not have
yelled louder. Then up the tree he climbed and found in the nest two
living young ones. With these in his pocket he descended. When on the
ground he found that one was dead, crushed in climbing down. Thus only
one little Squirrel was left alive, only one of the family that he had
seen, the harmless mother and two helpless, harmless little ones dead in
his hands.

[Illustration]

Why? What good did it do him to destroy all this beautiful wild life? He
did not know. He did not think of it at all. He had yielded only to the
wild ancestral instinct to kill, when came a chance to kill, for we must
remember that when that instinct was implanted, wild animals were either
terrible enemies or food that must be got at any price.

The excitement over, the boy looked at the helpless squirming thing in
his hand, and a surge of remorse came on him. He could not feed it; it
must die of hunger. He wished that he knew of some other nest into
which he might put it. He drifted back to the barn. The mew of a young
Kitten caught his ear. He went to the manger. Here was the old Cat with
the one Kitten that had been left her of her brood born two days back.
Remembrance of many Field-mice, Chipmunks and some Squirrels killed by
that old green-eyed huntress, struck a painful note. Yes! No matter what
he did, the old Cat would surely get, kill, and eat the orphan Squirrel.

Then he yielded to a sudden impulse and said: "Here it is, eat it now."
He dropped the little stranger into the nest beside the Kitten. The Cat
turned toward it, smelled it suspiciously once or twice, then licked its
back, picked it up in her mouth, and tucked it under her arm, where half
an hour later the boy found it taking dinner alongside its new-found
foster-brother, while the motherly old Cat leaned back with chin in
air, half-closed eyes and purring the happy, contented purr of mother
pride. Now, indeed, the future of the Foundling was assured.



_HIS KITTENHOOD_



CHAPTER II

HIS KITTENHOOD

[Illustration]


LITTLE Graycoat developed much faster than his Kitten foster-brother.
The spirit of play was rampant in him, he would scramble up his mother's
leg a score of times a day, clinging on with teeth, arms and claws, then
mount her back and frisk along to climb her upright tail; and when his
weight was too much, down the tail would droop, and he would go merrily
sliding off the tip to rush to her legs and climb and toboggan off
again. The Kitten never learned the trick. But it seemed to amuse the
Cat almost as much as it did the Squirrelet, and she showed an amazing
partiality for the lively, long-tailed Foundling. So did others of
importance, men and women folk of the farmhouse, and neighbors too. The
frisky Graycoat grew up amid experiences foreign to his tastes, and of a
kind unknown to his race.

[Illustration]

The Kitten too grew up, and in midsummer was carried off to a distant
farmhouse to be "their cat."

[Illustration: HIS KITTENHOOD]

Now the Squirrel was over half-grown, and his tail was broadening out
into a great banner of buff with silver tips. His life was with the old
Cat; his food was partly from her dish. But many things there were to
eat that delighted him, and that pleased her not. There was corn in the
barn, and chicken-feed in the yard, and fruit in the garden. Well-fed
and protected, he grew big and handsome, bigger and handsomer than his
wild brothers, so the house-folk said. But of that he knew nothing; he
had never seen his own people. The memory of his mother had faded
out. So far as he knew, he was only a bushy-tailed Cat. But inside was
an inheritance of instincts, as well as of blood and bone, that would
surely take control and send him herding, if they happened near, with
those and those alone of the blowsy silver tails.



_THE RED HORROR_



CHAPTER III

THE RED HORROR


IN the Hunting-moon it came, just when the corn begins to turn, and in
the dawn, when Bannertail Graycoat was yielding to the thrill that comes
with action, youth and life, in dew-time.

There was a growing, murmuring sound, then smoke from the barn, like
that he had seen coming from the red mystery in the cook-house. But this
grew very fast and huge; men came running, horses frantically plunging
hurried out, and other living things and doings that he did not
understand. Then when the sun was high a blackened smoking pile there
was where once had stood the dear old barn; and a new strange feeling
over all. The old Cat disappeared. A few days more and the house-folk,
too, were gone. The place was deserted, himself a wildwood roving
Squirrel, quite alone, without a trace of Squirrel training, such as
example of the old ones gives, unequipped, unaccompanied, unprepared for
the life-fight, except that he had a perfect body, and in his soul
enthroned, the many deep and dominating instincts of his race.

[Illustration]



_THE NEW AND LONELY LIFE_



CHAPTER IV

THE NEW AND LONELY LIFE


THE break was made complete by the Red Horror, and the going of the
man-people. Fences and buildings are good for some things, but the tall
timber of the distant wooded hill was calling to him and though he came
back many a time to the garden while there yet was fruit, and to the
field while the corn was standing, he was ever more in the timber and
less in the open.

Food there was in abundance now, for it was early autumn; and who was to
be his guide in this: "What to eat, what to let alone?" These two guides
he had, and they proved enough: _instinct_, the wisdom inherited from
his forebears, and his keen, discriminating _nose_.

Scrambling up a rotten stub one day, a flake of bark fell off, and here
a-row were three white grubs; fat, rounded, juicy. It was instinct bade
him seize them, and it was smell that justified the order; then which,
it is hard to say, told him to reject the strong brown nippers at one
end of each prize. That day he learned to pry off flakes of bark for the
rich foodstuffs lodged behind.

[Illustration]

At another time, when he worked off a slab of bark in hopes of a meal,
he found only a long brown millipede. Its smell was earthy but strange,
its many legs and its warning feelers, uncanny. The smell-guide seemed
in doubt, but the inborn warden said: "Beware, touch it not." He hung
back watching askance, as the evil thing, distilling its strange
pestilent gas, wormed Snake-like out of sight, and Bannertail in a
moment had formed a habit that was of his race, and that lasted all his
life. Yea, longer, for he passed it on--this: Let the hundred-leggers
alone. Are they not of a fearsome poison race?

[Illustration]

Thus he grew daily in the ways of woodlore. He learned that the
gum-drops on the wounded bark of the black birch are good to eat, and
the little faded brown umbrella in the woods is the sign that it has a
white cucumber in its underground cellar; that the wild bees' nests have
honey in them, and grubs as good as honey; but beware, for the bee has a
sting! He learned that the little rag-bundle babies hanging from vine
and twig, contain some sort of a mushy shell-covered creature that is
amazingly good to eat; that the little green apples that grow on the
oaks are not acorns, and are yet toothsome morsels of the lighter sort,
while nearly every bush in the woods at autumn now had strings of
berries whose pulp was good to eat and whose single inside seed was as
sweet as any nut. Thus he was learning woodcraft, and grew and
prospered, for outside of sundry Redsquirrels and Chipmunks there were
few competitors for this generous giving of the Woods.



_THE FLUFFING OF HIS TAIL_



CHAPTER V

THE FLUFFING OF HIS TAIL


THERE are certain stages of growth that are marked by changes which, if
not sudden, are for a time very quick, and the big change in Bannertail,
which took place just as he gave up the tricks and habits learned from
his Cat-folk, and began to be truly a Squirrel, was marked by the
fluffing of his tail. Always long and long-haired, it was a poor wisp of
a thing until the coming of the Hunting-moon. Then the hairs grew out
longer and became plumy, then the tail muscles swelled and worked with
power. Then, too, he began a habit of fluffing out that full and
flaunting plume every few minutes. Once or twice a day he combed it, and
ever he was most careful to keep it out of wet or dirt. His coat might
be stained with juice of fruit or gum of pine, and little he cared; but
the moment a pine drop or a bit of stick, moss, or mud clung to his tail
he stopped all other work to lick, clean, comb, shake, fluff and
double-fluff that precious, beautiful member to its perfect fulness,
lightness, and plumy breadth.

[Illustration: Fluffing his Tail]

Why? What the trunk is to the elephant and the paw to the monkey, the
tail is to the Graysquirrel. It is his special gift, a vital part of his
outfit, the secret of his life. The 'possum's tail is to swing by, the
fox's tail for a blanket wrap, but the Squirrel's tail is a parachute, a
"land-easy"; with that in perfect trim he can fall from any height in
any tree and be sure of this, that he will land with ease and
lightness, and on his feet.

This thing Bannertail knew without learning it. It was implanted, not by
what he saw in Kitten days, or in the woods about, but by the great
All-Mother, who had builded up his athlete form and blessed him with an
inner Guide.



_THE FIRST NUT CROP_



CHAPTER VI

THE FIRST NUT CROP


THAT year the nut crop was a failure. This was the off-year for the red
oaks; they bear only every other season. The white oaks had been nipped
by a late frost. The beech-trees were very scarce, and the chestnuts
were gone--the blight had taken them all. Pignut hickories were not
plentiful, and the very best of all, the sweet shag-hickory, had
suffered like the white oaks.

October, the time of the nut harvest, came. Dry leaves were drifting to
the ground, and occasional "thumps" told of big fat nuts that also were
falling, sometimes of themselves and sometimes cut by harvesters; for,
although no other Graysquirrel was to be seen, Bannertail was not
alone. A pair of Redsquirrels was there and half a dozen Chipmunks
searching about for the scattering precious nuts.

[Illustration]

Their methods were very different from those of the Graysquirrel race.
The Chipmunks were carrying off the prizes in their cheek-pouches to
underground storehouses. The Redsquirrels were hurrying away with their
loads to distant hollow trees, a day's gathering in one tree. The
Graysquirrels' way is different. With them each nut is buried in the
ground, three or four inches deep, one nut at each place. A very precise
essential instinct it is that regulates this plan. It is inwrought with
the very making of the Graysquirrel race. Yet in Bannertail it was
scarcely functioning at all. Even the strongest inherited habit needs a
starter.

How does a young chicken learn to peck? It has a strong inborn readiness
to do it, but we know that that impulse must be stimulated at first by
seeing the mother peck, or it will not function. In an incubator it is
necessary to have a sophisticated chicken as a leader, or the chickens
of the machine foster-mother will die, not knowing how to feed.
Nevertheless, the instinct is so strong that a trifle will arouse it to
take control. Yes, so small a trifle as tapping on the incubator floor
with a pencil-point will tear the flimsy veil, break the restraining
bond and set the life-preserving instinct free.

Like this chicken, robbed of its birthright by interfering man, was
Bannertail in his blind yielding to a vague desire to hide the nuts. He
had never seen it done, the example of the other nut-gatherers was not
helpful--was bewildering, indeed.

Confused between the inborn impulse and the outside stimulus of example,
Bannertail would seize a nut, strip off the husk, and hide it quickly
anywhere. Some nuts he would thrust under bits of brush or tufts of
grass; some he buried by dropping leaves and rubbish over them, and a
few, toward the end, he hid by digging a shallow hole. But the real,
well-directed, energetic instinct to hide nut after nut, burying them
three good inches, an arm's length, underground, was far from being
aroused, was even hindered by seeing the Redsquirrels and the Chipmunks
about him bearing away their stores, without attempting to bury them at
all.

So the poor, skimpy harvest was gathered. What was not carried off was
hidden by the trees themselves under a layer of dead and fallen leaves.

High above, in an old red oak, Bannertail found a place where a broken
limb had let the weather in, so the tree was rotted. Digging out the
soft wood left an ample cave, which he gnawed and garnished into a warm
and weather-proof home.

The bright, sharp days of autumn passed. The leaves were on the ground
throughout the woods in noisy dryness and lavish superabundance. The
summer birds had gone, and the Chipmunk, oversensitive to the crispness
of the mornings, had bowed sedately on November 1, had said his last
"good-by," and had gone to sleep. Thus one more voice was hushed, the
feeling of the woods was "_Hush, be still!_"--was all-expectant of some
new event, that the tentacles of high-strung wood-folk sensed and
appraised as sinister. Backward they shrank, to hide away and wait.

[Illustration]



_THE SUN SONG OF BANNERTAIL_



CHAPTER VII

THE SUN SONG OF BANNERTAIL


THE sun was rising in a rosy mist, and glinting the dew-wet overlimbs,
as there rang across the bright bare stretch of woodland a loud "_Qua,
qua, qua, quaaaaaaa!_" Like a high priest of the sun on the topmost peak
of the temple stood Bannertail, carried away by a new-born inner urge. A
full-grown wildwood Graysquirrel he was now, the call of the woods had
claimed him, and he hailed the glory of the east with an ever longer
"_Qua, qua, quaaaaaaaaaa!_"

This was the season of the shortest days, though no snow had come as yet
to cover the brown-leaved earth. Few birds were left of the summer
merrymakers. The Crow, the Nuthatch, the Chickadee, and the Woodwale
alone were there, and the sharp tang of the frost-bit air was holding
back their sun-up calls. But Bannertail, a big Graysquirrel now, found
gladness in the light, intensified, it seemed, by the very lateness of
its coming.

"_Qua, qua, qua, quaaaaaa_," he sang, and done into speech of man the
song said: "_Hip, hip, hip, hurrahhh!_"

[Illustration]

He had risen from his bed in the hollow oak to meet and greet it. He was
full of lusty life now, and daily better loved his life. "_Qua, qua,
qua, quaaaa!_"--he poured it out again and again. The Chickadee quit his
bug hunt for a moment to throw back his head and shout: "_Me, too!_" The
Nuthatch, wrong end up, answered in a low, nasal tone: "_Hear, hear,
hear!_" Even the sulky Crow joined in at last with a "_'Rah, 'rah,
'rah!_" and the Woodwale beat a long tattoo.

"_Hip, hip, hip, hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!_" shouted Bannertail as the
all-blessed glory rose clear above the eastern trees and the world was
aflood with the Sun-God's golden smile.

A score of times had he thus sung and whip-lashed his tail, and sung
again, exulting, when far away, among the noises made by birds, was a
low "_Qua, quaaa!_"--the voice of another Graysquirrel!

His kind was all too scarce in Jersey-land, and yet another would not
necessarily be a friend; but in the delicate meaningful modulations of
sound so accurately sensed by the Squirrel's keen ear, this far-off
"_Qua, qua_," was a little softer than his own, a little higher-pitched,
a little more gently modulated, and Bannertail knew without a moment's
guessing. "Yes, it was a Graysquirrel, and it was not one that would
take the war-path against him."

[Illustration]

The distant voice replied no more, and Bannertail set about foraging for
his morning meal.

[Illustration]

The oak-tree in which he had slept was only one of the half-a-dozen beds
he now claimed. It was a red oak, therefore its acorns were of poor
quality; and it was on the edge of the woods. The best feeding-grounds
were some distance away, but the road to them well known. Although so
much at home in the trees, Bannertail travelled on the ground when going
to a distance. Down the great trunk, across an open space to a stump, a
pause on the stump to fluff his tail and look around, a few bounds to a
fence, then along the top of that in three-foot hops till he came to the
gap; six feet across this gap, and he took the flying leap with pride,
remembering how, not so long ago, he used perforce to drop to the
ground and amble to the other post. He was making for the white oak and
hickory groves; but his keen nose brought him the message of a big red
acorn under the leaves. He scratched it out and smelled it--yes, good.
He ripped off the shell and here, ensconced in the middle, was a fat
white grub, just as good as the nut itself, or better. So Bannertail had
grub on the half-shell and nuts on the side for his first course. Then
he set about nosing for hidden hickory-nuts; few and scarce were they.
He had not found one when a growing racket announced the curse-beast of
the woods, a self-hunting dog. Clatter, crash, among the dry leaves and
brush, it came, yelping with noisy, senseless stupidity when it found a
track that seemed faintly fresh. Bannertail went quietly up a near
elm-tree, keeping the trunk between himself and the beast. From the elm
he swung to a basswood, and finished his meal of basswood buds. Keeping
one eye on the beast, he scrambled to an open platform nest that he had
made a month ago, where he lazed in the sun, still keeping eyes and ears
alert for tidings from the disturber below.

The huge brute prowled around and found the fresh scent up the elm, and
barked at it, too, but of course he was barking up the wrong tree, and
presently went off. Bannertail watched him with some faint amusement,
then at last went rippling down the trunk and through the woods like a
cork going down a rushing stream.

[Illustration]

He was travelling homeward by the familiar route, on the ground, in
undulated bounds, with pauses at each high lookout, when again the alarm
of enemies reached him--a dog, sniffing and barking, and farther off a
hunter. Bannertail made for the nearest big tree, and up that he went,
keeping ever the trunk between. Then came the dog--a Squirrel Hound--and
found the track and yelped. Up near the top was a "dray," or platform
nest, one Bannertail had used and partly built, and in this he stretched
out contentedly, peering over the edge at the ugly brutes below. The dog
kept yelping up the trunk, saying plainly: "_Squirrel, squirrel,
squirrel, up, up, up!_" And the hunter came and craned his neck till it
was cricked, but nothing he saw to shoot at. Then he did what a hunter
often does. He sent a charge of shot through the nest that was in plain
view. There were some heavy twigs in its make-up, and it rested on a
massive fork, or the event might have gone hard with Bannertail. The
timber received most of the shock of the shot, but a something went
stinging through his ear tip that stuck beyond the rim. It hurt and
scared him, and he was divided between the impulse to rush forth and
seek other shelter, and the instinct to lie absolutely still.
Fortunately he lay still, and the hunter passed on, leaving the Squirrel
wiser in several ways, for now he knew the danger of the dray when
gunners came and the wisdom of "lay low" when in doubt.



_THE COLD SLEEP_



CHAPTER VIII

THE COLD SLEEP


NEXT day there was a driving storm of snow, and whether the sun came up
or not Bannertail did not know. He kept his nest, and, falling back on
an ancient spend-time of the folk he kins with, he curled up into a
sleep that deepened with the cold. This is partly a deliberate sleep.
The animal voluntarily lets go, knowing that life outside is
unattractive; he, by an act of the will, induces the cold sleep, that is
like a chapter of forgetfulness, with neither hunger nor desire, and
after it is over, no pain in punishment or remorse.

For two days the storm raged, and when the white flakes ceased to pile
upon the hills and trees, a cutting blast arose that sent snow-horses
riding across the fields and piled them up in drifts along the fences.

It made life harder for the Squirrel-Folk by hiding good Mother Earth
from their hungry eyes; but in one way the wind served them, for it
swept the snow from all the limbs that served the tree-folk as an
over-way.

For two days the blizzard hissed. The third day it was very cold; on the
fourth day Bannertail peeped forth on the changed white world. The wind,
the pest of wild life in the trees, had ceased, the sky was clear, and
the sun was shining in a weak, uncertain way. It evoked no enthusiasm in
the Graycoat's soul. Not once did he utter his Sun-salute. He was stiff
and sleepy, and a little hungry as he went forth. His hunger grew with
the exercise of moving. Had he been capable of such thought he might
have said: "Thank goodness the wind has swept the snow from the
branches." He galloped and bounded from one high over-way to another,
till a wide gap between tree-tops compelled him to descend. Over the
broad forest floor of shining white he leaped, and made for the beloved
hickory grove. Pine-cones furnish food, so do buds of elm and
flower-buds of maple. Red acorns are bitter yet eatable, white acorns
still better, and chestnuts and beechnuts delicious, but the crowning
glory of a chosen feast is nuts of the big shag hickory--so hard of
shell that only the strongest chisel teeth can reach them, so precious
that nature locks them up in a strong-box of stone, enwrapped in a
sole-leather case; so sought after, that none of them escape the hungry
creatures of the wood for winter use, except such as they themselves
have hidden for just such times. Bannertail quartered the surface of the
snow among the silent bare-limbed trees, sniffing, sniffing, alert for
the faintest whiff.

A hound would not have found it--his nose is trained for other game.
Bannertail stopped, swung his keen "divining-rod," advanced a few hops,
moved this way and that, then at the point of the most alluring whiff,
he began to dig down, down through the snow.

[Illustration]

Soon he was out of sight, for here the drift was nearly two feet deep.
But he kept on, then his busy hind feet replacing the front ones as
diggers for a time, sent flying out on the white surface brown leaves,
then black loam. Nothing showed but his tail and little jets of
leaf-mould. His whole arm's-length into the frosty ground did he dig,
allured by an ever-growing rich aroma. At last he seized and dragged
forth in his teeth a big fat hickory-nut, one buried by himself last
fall, and, bounding with rippling tail up a tree to a safe perch that
was man-high from the ground, he sawed the shell adroitly and feasted on
the choicest food that is known to the Squirrel kind.

A second prowl and treasure-hunt produced another nut, a third produced
an acorn, a visit to the familiar ever-unfrozen spring quenched his
thirst, and then back he undulated through the woods and over the snow
to his cosey castle in the oak.



_THE BALKING OF FIRE-EYES_



CHAPTER IX

THE BALKING OF FIRE-EYES


[Illustration]

OTHER days were much like this as the Snow-moon slowly passed. But one
there was that claimed a place in his memory for long. He had gone
farther afield to another grove of hickories, and was digging down so
deep into the snow that caution compelled him to come out and look
around at intervals. It was well he did so, for a flash of brown and
white appeared on a near log. It made toward him, and Bannertail got an
instinctive sense of fear. Small though it was, smaller than himself,
the diabolic fire in its close-set eyes gave him a thrill of terror. He
felt that his only safety lay in flight.

Now it was a race for the tall timber, and a close one, but Bannertail's
hops were six feet long; his legs went faster than the eye could see.
The deep snow was harder on him than on his ferocious enemy, but he
reached the great rugged trunk of an oak, and up that, gaining a little.
The Weasel followed close behind, up, up, to the topmost limbs, and out
on a long, level branch to leap for the next tree. Bannertail could leap
farther than Fire-eyes, but then he was heavier and had to leap from
where the twigs were thicker. So Fire-eyes, having only half as far to
go, covered the leap as well as the Squirrel did, and away they went as
before.

[Illustration: BAFFLING FIRE-EYES]

Every wise Squirrel knows all the leaps in his woods, those which he can
easily make, and those which will call for every ounce of power in
his legs. The devilish pertinacity of the Weasel, still hard after him,
compelled him to adopt a scheme. He made for a wide leap, the very limit
of his powers, where the take-off was the end of a big broken branch,
and racing six hops behind was the Brown Terror. Without a moment's
pause went Bannertail easily across the six-foot gap, to land on a
sturdy limb in the other tree. And the Weasel! He knew he could not make
it, hung back an instant, gathered his legs under him, snarled, glared
redder-eyed than ever, bobbed down a couple of times, measured the
distance with his eye, then wheeled and, racing back, went down the
tree, to cross and climb the one that sheltered the Squirrel. Bannertail
quietly hopped to a higher perch, and, when the right time came, leaped
back again to the stout oak bough. Again the Weasel, with dogged
pertinacity, raced down and up, only to see the Graysquirrel again leap
lightly across the impassable gulf. Most hunters would have given up
now, but there is no end to the dogged stick-to-itiveness of the Weasel;
besides, he was hungry. And half-a-dozen times he had made the long
circuit while his intended victim took the short leap. Then Bannertail,
gaining confidence, hit on a plan which, while it may have been meant
for mere teasing, had all the effect of a deep stratagem played with
absolute success.

When next the little red-eyed terror came racing along the oak limb,
Bannertail waited till the very last moment, then leaped, grasped the
far-side perch, and, turning, "yipped" out one derisive "_grrrf, grrrf,
grrrf_" after another, and craned forward in mockery of the little fury.
This was too much. Wild with rage, the Weasel took the leap, fell far
short, and went whirling head over heels down seventy-five feet, to land
not in the soft snow but on a hard-oak log, that knocked out his cruel
wind, and ended for the day all further wish to murder or destroy.



_REDSQUIRREL, THE SCOLD OF THE WOODS_



CHAPTER X

REDSQUIRREL, THE SCOLD OF THE WOODS


[Illustration]

THE Snow-moon was waning, the Hunger-moon at hand, when Bannertail met
with another adventure. He had gone far off to the pine woods of a deep
glen, searching for cones, when he was set on by a Redsquirrel.
Flouncing over the plumy boughs it came, chattering: "_Squat, squat,
quit, quit, quit_"--"_git, git, git_"--and each moment seemed more
inclined to make a tooth-and-nail attack on Bannertail. And he, what had
he to fear? Was he not bigger and stronger than the Red-headed One? Yes,
very well able to overmatch him in fight, but his position was much
like that of a grown man who is assailed by a blackguard boy. There is
no glory in the fight, if it comes to that. There is much unpleasant
publicity, and the man usually decides that it is better to ignore the
insult and retreat. This was Bannertail's position exactly. He hated a
row--most wild things do--it brings them into notice of the very
creatures they wish to avoid. Besides, the Redsquirrel was not without
some justification, for these were his pine-trees by right of long
possession. Bannertail, without touch of violence or fear of it, yielded
to the inward impulses, yielded and retreated, closely pursued by the
Redsquirrel, who kept just out of reach, but worked himself up into a
still noisier rage as he saw the invader draw off. It was characteristic
of the Red One that he did not stop at the border of his own range but
followed right into the hickory country, shrieking: "_Git, git, ye
brute ye, ye brute ye, git!_" with insolence born of his success, though
its real explanation was beyond him.

[Illustration]



_BANNERTAIL AND THE ECHO VOICE_



CHAPTER XI

BANNERTAIL AND THE ECHO VOICE


THE Hunger-moon, our February, was half worn away when again the sky
gods seemed to win against the powers of chill and gloom. Food was ever
scarcer, but Bannertail had enough, and was filled with the vigor of
young life. The sun came up in a cloudless sky that day, and blazed
through the branches of still, tense woodland, the air was crisp and
exhilarating, and Bannertail, tingling with the elation of life, leaped
up for the lust of leaping, and sang out his loudest song:

"_Qua, qua, qua, quaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!_" from a high perch. Ringing
across the woodland it went, and the Woodwales drummed on hardwood
drums, in keen responsiveness, to the same fair, vernal influence of the
time.

Though he seemed only to sing for singing's sake, he was conscious
lately of a growing loneliness, a hankering for company that had never
possessed him all winter; indeed, he had resented it when any hint of
visitors had reached him, but now he was restless and desireful, as well
as bursting with the wish to sing.

"_Qua, qua, qua, quaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!_" he sang again and again, and on
the still, bright air were echoes from the hills.

"_Qua, qua, quaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!_" He poured it out again, and the echo
came, "_Qua, quaaaaa!_" Then another call, and the echo, "_Quaaa!_"

Was it an echo?

He waited in silence--then far away he heard the soft "_Qua, quaa_" that
had caught his ear last fall. The voice of another Graycoat, but so soft
and alluring that it thrilled him. Here, indeed, was the answer to the
hankering in his heart.

[Illustration]

But even as he craned and strained to locate its very place, another
call was heard:

    "_Qua, qua, qua, quaaaaaa_"

from some big strong Graycoat like himself, and all the fighting blood
in him was stirred. He raced to the ground and across the woodland to
the hillside whence the voice came.

On a log he stopped, with senses alert for new guidance. "_Qua, qua,
quaaa_," came the soft call, and up the tree went Bannertail, a silvery
tail-tip flashed behind the trunk, and now, ablaze with watchfulness, he
followed fast. Then came a lone, long "_Qua, qua_," then a defiant
"_Grrff_," like a scream, and a third big Graysquirrel appeared, to
scramble up after Bannertail.



_THE COURTING OF SILVERGRAY_



CHAPTER XII

THE COURTING OF SILVERGRAY


AWAY went Silvergray, undulating among the high branches that led to the
next tree, and keen behind came the two. Then they met at the branch
that had furnished the footway for the Gray Lady, and in a moment they
clinched. Grappling like cats, they drove their teeth into each other's
shoulders, just where the hide was thickest and the danger least.

In their combat rage they paid no heed to where they were. Their every
clutch was on each other, none for the branch, and over they tumbled
into open space.

[Illustration]

Two fighting cats so falling would have clutched the harder and hoped
each that the other would be the one to land on the under side.
Squirrels have a different way. Sensing the fall, at once they sprang
apart, each fluffed his great flowing tail to the utmost--it is nature's
own "land-easy"--they landed gently, wide apart, and quite unshaken even
by the fall. Overhead was the Lady of the tourney, in plain view, and
the two stout knights lost not a moment in darting up her tree; again
they met on a narrow limb, again they clutched and stabbed each other
with their chisel teeth, again the reckless grapple, clutch, and the
drop in vacant air--again they shot apart, one landed on the solid
ground, but the other--the echo voice--went splash, plunge into the
deepest part of the creek! In ten heart-beats he was safely on the bank.
But there is such soothing magic in cold water, such quenching of all
fires, be they of smoke or love or war, that the Echo Singer crawled
forth in quite a different mood, and Bannertail, flashing up the great
tree trunk, went now alone.

To have conquered a rival is a long step toward victory, but it is not
yet victory complete. When he swung from limb to limb, ever nearer the
Silvergray, he was stirred with the wildest hankering of love. Was she
not altogether lovely? But she fled away as though she feared him; and
away he went pursuing.

There is no more exquisite climbing action than that of the Squirrel,
and these two, half a leap apart, winding, wending, rippling through the
high roof-tree of the woods, were less like two gray climbing things
than some long, silvery serpent, sinuating, flashing in and out in
undulating coils with endless grace and certainty among the trees.

[Illustration]

Now who will say that Silvergray really raced her fastest, and who will
deny that he did his best? He was strong and swift, the race must end,
and then she faced him with anger and menace simulated in her face and
pose. He approached too near; her chisel teeth closed on his neck. He
held still, limp, absolutely unresisting. Her clutch relaxed. Had he not
surrendered? They stood facing each other, an armed neutrality
established, nothing more.

Shyly apart and yet together, they drifted about that day, feeding at
feed time. But she was ready to warn him that his distance he must keep.

By countless little signs they understood each other, and when the night
came she entered a familiar hollow tree and warned him to go home.

[Illustration: THEY TWIDDLED WHISKERS GOOD NIGHT]

Next day they met again, and the next, for there is a rule of
woodland courtship--three times he must offer and be refused. Having
passed this proof, all may be well.

Thus the tradition of the woods was fully carried out, and Bannertail
with Silvergray was looking for a home.



_THE HOME IN THE HIGH HICKORY_



CHAPTER XIII

THE HOME IN THE HIGH HICKORY


BANNERTAIL was very well satisfied with the home in the red oak, and
assumed that thither he should bring his bride. But he had not reckoned
with certain big facts--that is, laws--for the reason that he had never
before met them. The female wild thing claims all authority in matters
of the home, and in the honeymoon time no wild mate would even challenge
her right to rule.

So the red oak den was then and there abandoned. Search in the hickory
grove resulted in a find. A Flicker had dug into the trunk of a tall
hickory where it was dead. Once through the outer shell the inner wood
was rotten punk, too easy for a Flicker to work in, but exactly right
and easy for a Graysquirrel. Here, then, the two set to work digging out
the soft rotten wood till the chamber was to their liking, much bigger
than that the Woodpecker would have made.

[Illustration]

March, the Wakening-moon, was spent in making the home and lining the
nest. Bark strips, pine-needles, fine shreds of plants that had defied
the wind and snow, rags of clothes left by winter woodmen, feathers,
tufts of wool, and many twigs of basswood with their swollen buds, and
slippery-elm, and one or two--yes, Silvergray could not resist the
impulse--fat acorns found from last year's crop and hidden now deep in
the lining of the nest. There can be no happier time for any wild and
lusty live thing than when working with a loving mate at the building
and making of the nest. Their world is one of joy--fine weather, fair
hunting, with food enough, overwhelming instincts at their flush of
compulsion--all gratified in sanest, fullest measure. This sure is joy,
and Bannertail met each yellow sun-up with his loudest song of praise,
as he watched it from the highest lookout of his home tree. His "_qua_"
song reached afar, and in its vibrant note expressed the happy time, and
expressing it, intensified it in himself. There seemed no ill to mar the
time. Even the passing snow-storms of the month seemed trifles; they
were little more than landmarks on the joyful way.



_NEW RIVALS_



CHAPTER XIV

NEW RIVALS


[Illustration]

THE stormy moon of March was nearly over when a change came on their
happy comradeship. Silvergray seemed to beget a coolness, a singular
aloofness. If they were on the same branch together she did not sit
touching him. If he moved to where she chanced to stand, and tried, as a
thousand times before, to snuggle up, she moved away. The cloud,
whatever it was, grew bigger. In vain he sought by pleasing acts to win
her back. She had definitely turned against him, and the climax came
when one evening they climbed to their finished, set, and furnished
house. She whisked in ahead of him, then, turning suddenly, filled the
doorway with her countenance expressing defiance and hostility, her
sharp teeth menacingly displayed. She said as plainly as she could: "You
keep away; you are not wanted here."

And Bannertail, what could he do? Hurt, rebuffed, not wanted in the
house he had made and loved, turned away perforce and glumly sought his
bachelor home in the friendly old red oak.

[Illustration]

Whatever was the cause, Bannertail knew that it was his part to keep
away, at least to respond to her wishes. Next morning, after feeding, he
swung to the nesting tree. Yes, there she was on a limb--but at once she
retreated to the door and repeated the signal, "You are not wanted
here." The next day it was the same. Then on the third day she was
nowhere to be seen. Bannertail hung about hoping for a glimpse, but
none he got. Cautiously, fearfully, he climbed the old familiar
bark-way; silently arriving at the door, he gently thrust in his head.
The sweet familiar furry smell told him "yes, she was there."

He moved inward another step. Yes, there she lay curled up and
breathing. One step more; up she started with an angry little snort.
Bannertail sprang back and away, but not before he had seen and sensed
this solving of the mystery. There, snuggling together under her warm
body were three tiny little baby Squirrels.

[Illustration]

For this, indeed, it was that Mother Nature whispered messages and rules
of conduct. For this time it was she had dowered this untutored little
mother Squirrel with all the garnered wisdom of the folk before. Nor did
she leave them now, but sent the very message to Mother Squirrel and
Father Squirrel, and the little ones, too, at the very time when their
own poor knowledge must have failed.

It was the unspoken hint from her that made the little mother-soon-to-be
hide in the nesting-place some nuts with buds of slippery-elm, twigs of
spice bush, and the bitter but nourishing red acorns. In them was food
and tonic for the trying time. Water she could get near by, but even
that called for no journey forth, it chanced that a driving rain
drenched the tree, and at the very door she found enough to drink.



_BACHELOR LIFE AGAIN_



CHAPTER XV

BACHELOR LIFE AGAIN


[Illustration]

BANNERTAIL was left to himself, like a bachelor driven to his club. He
had become very wise in woodlore so that the food question was no longer
serious. Not counting the remnant of the nuts still unearthed, the
swelling buds of every sweet-sapped tree were wholesome, delicious food,
the inner bark of sweet birch twigs was good, there were grubs and
borers under flakes of bark, the pucker berries or red chokeberries that
grow in the lowlands still hung in clusters. Their puckery sourness last
fall had made all creatures let them alone, but a winter weathering had
sweetened them, and now they were toothsome as well as abundant
sustenance.

[Illustration]

Another, wholly different food, was added to the list. With the bright
spring days the yellow Sapsucker arrived from the South. He is a crafty
bird and a lover of sweets. His plan is to drill with his sharp beak a
hole deep through the bark of a sugar-maple, so the sap runs out and
down the bark, lodging in the crevices; and not one but a score of trees
he taps. Of course the sun evaporates the sap, so it becomes syrup, and
even sugar on the edges. This attracts many spring insects, which get
entangled in the sticky stuff, and the Sapsucker, going from tree to
tree in the morning, feasts on a rich confection of candied bugs. But
many other creatures of the woods delight in this primitive sweetmeat,
and Bannertail did not hesitate to take it when he could find it.
Although animals have some respect for property law among their own
kind, might is the only right they own in dealing with others.

Amusement aplenty Bannertail found in building "drays," or tree nests.
These are stick platforms of the simplest open-work, placed high in
convenient trees. Some are for lookouts, some for sleeping-porches when
the night is hot, some are for the sun-bath that every wise Squirrel
takes. Here he would lie on his back in the morning sun with his belly
exposed, his limbs outsprawling, and let the healing sun-rays strike
through the thin skin, reaching every part with their actinic power.

Bannertail did it because it was pleasant, and he ceased doing it when
it no longer pleased him. Is not this indeed Dame Nature's way? Pain is
her protest against injury, and soothingness in the healthy creature is
the proof that it is doing good. Many disorders we know are met or
warded off by this sun-bath. We know it now. Not long ago we had no
fuller information than had Bannertail on such things. We knew only that
it felt good at the time and left us feeling better; so we took it, as
he took it, when the need of the body called for it, and ceased as he
did, when the body no longer desired it.



_THE WARDEN MEETS AN INVADER_



CHAPTER XVI

THE WARDEN MEETS AN INVADER


[Illustration]

THE bond between them had kept Bannertail near his mate, and her warning
kept him not too near. Yet it was his daily wont to come to the nesting
tree and wait about, in case of anything, he knew not what. Thus it was
that he heard a rustling in the near-by limbs one day, then caught a
flash of red. A stranger approaching the tree of trees. All Bannertail's
fighting blood was aroused. He leaped by well-known jumps, and coursed
along well-known overways, till he was on the nesting tree, and
undulated like a silvery shadow up the familiar trunk to find himself
facing the very Redsquirrel whose range he once had entered and from
whom he, Bannertail, had fled. But what a change of situation and of
heart! Redhead scoffed and shook his flaming tail. He shrieked his
"_skit, skit_" and stood prepared to fight. Did Bannertail hold
back--he, Bannertail, that formerly had declined the combat with this
very rogue? Not for an instant. There was new-engendered power within
compelling him. He sprang on the Red bandit with all his vigor and drove
his teeth in deep. The Redhead was a fighter, too. He clinched and bit.
They clung, wrestled and stabbed, then, losing hold of the tree, went
hurling to the earth below. In air they flung apart, but landing unhurt
they clinched again on the ground; then the Redhead, bleeding from many
little wounds, and over-matched, sought to escape, dodged this way and
that, found refuge in a hole under a root; and Bannertail, breathless,
with two or three slight stabs, swung slowly up the tree from which
Silvergray had watched the fight of her mate.

There never yet was feminine heart that withheld its meed of worship
from her fighting champion coming home victorious--which reason may not
have entered into it at all. But this surely counted: The young ones'
eyes were opened, they were no longer shapeless lumps of flesh. They
were fuzzy little Squirrels. The time had come for the father to rejoin
the brood.

With the come-together instinct that follows fight, he climbed to the
very doorway; she met him there, whisker to whisker. She reached out and
licked his wounded shoulder; when she reentered the den he came in too;
nosing his brood to get their smell, just as a woman mother buries her
nose in the creasy neck of her baby; he gently curled about them all,
and the reunited family went sound asleep in their single double bed.

[Illustration]



_THE HOODOO ON THE HOME_



CHAPTER XVII

THE HOODOO ON THE HOME


NOT many days later they had a new unfriendly visitor. It was in the
morning rest hour that follows early breakfast. The familiar _cluck,
cluck_ of a Flicker had sounded from a near tree-top. Then his stirring
_tattoo_ was heard on a high dead limb of the one tree. A little later a
scratching sound, and the hole above was darkened by the head and
shoulders of a big bird peering down at them through the opening. His
long, sharp beak was opened to utter a loud startling "_clape!_" Up
leaped Bannertail to meet and fight off the invader. There was little
fighting to be done, for the Flicker sprang back, and on to a high
limb. His fighting feathers were raised, and his threatening beak did
look very dangerous, but he did not wait for Bannertail to spring on
him. He swooped away in a glory of yellow wings, and with a chuckle of
derision. It was a small incident, but it made a second break in their
sense of secrecy.

Then came another little shock. The Bluejay, the noisy mischief-maker,
was prowling around the farmhouse, and high on a ledge he found a
handful of big horse-chestnuts gathered by the boy "to throw at cats."
Had he been hungry the Jay would have eaten them, but choice food was
plentiful, so now his storage instincts took charge. The Bluejay nearly
sprained his bill getting a hold on a nut, then carried it off, looking
for a hollow tree in which to hide it, as is the custom of his kind. The
hole he found was the Squirrel's nest. He meant to take a good look in
before dropping it, but the nut was big and heavy, smooth and round. It
slipped from his beak plump into the sleeping family, landing right on
Bannertail's nose. Up he jumped with a snort and rushed to the door. The
Bluejay was off at a safe distance, and chortled a loud "_Tooral,
tooral, jay, jay!_" in mischievous mockery, then flew away. Bannertail
might have taken that nut for a friendly gift, but its coming showed
that the den was over-visible. There was something wrong with it.

Later the very same day, the Bluejay did this same thing with another
big chestnut. Evidently now he enjoyed the commotion that followed the
dropping of the nut.

[Illustration]

One day later came a still more disturbing event. A roving, prowling cur
found the fresh Squirrel track up the tree, and "yapped" so
persistently that two boys who were leagued with the dog for all manner
of evil, came, marked the hole and spent half an hour throwing stones at
it, varying their volleys with heavy pounding on the trunk to "make the
Squirrel come out."

Of course, neither Bannertail nor Silvergray did show themselves. That
is very old wood-wisdom. "Lay low, keep out of sight when the foe is on
the war-path." And at last the besiegers and their yap-colleague tramped
away without having seen sign or hair of a Squirrel.

There was very little to the incident, but it sank deep into
Silvergray's small brain. "This nest is ill-concealed. Every hostile
creature finds it."

There was yet another circumstance that urged action. Shall I tell it?
It is so unpicturesque. A Squirrel's nest is a breeding-ground for
vermin; a nest that is lined with soft grass, feathers, and wool
becomes a swarming hive. Bannertail's farm upbringing had made him all
too familiar with feathers and wool. His contribution to the home
furnishing had been of the kind that guaranteed a parasitic scourge.
This thing he had not learned--for it is instilled by the smell of their
mother nest--cedar bark and sassafras leaves, with their pungent oils,
are needed to keep the irritating vermin swarm away. And Silvergray, was
she at fault? Only in this, the purifying bark and leaves were scarce.
She was weak compared with Bannertail. His contributions had so far
outpointed hers that the nest had become unbearable. Their only course
was to abandon it.

[Illustration]



_THE NEW HOME_



CHAPTER XVIII

THE NEW HOME


TWICE a day now Silvergray left the little ones, to forage for herself,
soon after sunrise and just before sunset. It was on the morning outing
that she went house hunting. And Bannertail went too. Ever he led to the
cosey home in his old red oak. But there is a right that is deeply
rooted in custom, in logic, and in female instinct, that it is the
she-one's privilege to select, prepare, and own the home. Every
suggestion that he made by offered lead or actual entry, was scorned and
the one who made it, snubbed. She did her own selecting, and, strangest
thing of all, she chose the rude stick nest of a big-winged Hawk,
abandoned now, for the Hawk himself, with his long-clawed mate, was
nailed to the end of the barn.

[Illustration]

Winter storm and beaming sun had purged and purified the rough old
aerie; it was high on a most unclimbable tree, yet sheltered in the
wood, and here Silvergray halted in her search. All about the nest and
tree she climbed, and smelled to find the little owner marks, of musk or
rasping teeth, if such there should be--the marks that would have warned
her that this place was already possessed. But none there were. The
place was without taint, bore only through and through the clean, sweet
odor of the woods and wood.

And this is how she took possession: She rubbed her body on the rim of
the nest, she nibbled off projecting twiglets, she climbed round and
round the trunk below and above, thus leaving her foot and body scent
everywhere about, then gathered a great mouthful of springtime twigs,
with their soft green leaves, and laid them in the Hawk nest for the
floor-cloth of her own.

[Illustration]

She went farther, and found a sassafras, with its glorious flaming smell
of incense, its redolence of aromatic purity, and with a little surge of
joy instinctive she gathered bundle after bundle of the sweet, strong
twigs, spread them out for the rug and matting of the house. And
Bannertail did the same, and for a while they worked in harmony. Then
was struck a harsh, discordant note.

Crossing the forest floor Bannertail found a rag, a mitten that some
winter woodcutter had cast away, and, still obsessed with the nursery
garnish of his own farm-kitten days, he pounced on this and bore it
gleefully to the nest that they were abuilding. And Silvergray, what
said she, as the evil thing was brought? She had no clear ideas, no
logic from the other ill-starred home. She could not say: "There was
hoodoo on it, and this ragged woollen mitt seems hoodoo-like to me." But
these were her strange reactions. "The smell of that other nest was like
this; that smell is linked with every evil memory. I do not want it
here." Her instinct, the inherited wisdom of her forebears, indorsed
this view, and as she sniffed and sniffed, the smell inspired her with
intense hostility, a hostility that in the other nest was somewhat
offset by the smell of her loved brood, but this was not--it was wholly
strange and hostile. Her neck hair rose, her tail trembled a little, as,
acting under the new and growing impulse of violent dislike, she hurled
the offending rag far from the threshold of her nest. Flop it went to
the ground below. And Bannertail, not quite understanding, believed
this to be an accident. Down he went as fast as his fast feet could
carry him, seized on the ragged mitten, brought it again to the
home-building. But the instinct that had been slow arousing was now
dominant in Silvergray. With an angry chatter she hurled the accursed
thing afar, and made it clear by snort and act that "such things come
not there."

This was the strenuous founding of the new nest, and these were among
the hidden springs of action and of unshaped thoughts that ruled the
founding.

The nest was finished in three days. A rain roof over all of fresh flat
leaves, an inner lining of chewed cedar bark, an abundance of aromatic
sassafras, one or two little quarrels over accidental rags that
Bannertail still seemed to think worth while. But the new nest was
finished, pure and sweet with a consecrating, plague-defying aroma of
cedar and of sassafras to be its guardian angel.

[Illustration]



_THE MOVING OF THE YOUNG_



CHAPTER XIX

THE MOVING OF THE YOUNG


[Illustration]

IT was very early in the morning, soon after sunrise, that they took the
hazard of moving the young. Silvergray had fed the babies and looked out
and about, and had come back and looked again. Then, picking up the
nearest by the scruff of its neck, she rose to the doorway. Now a great
racket sounded in the woods. Silvergray backed in again and down,
dropped the young one, then put her head out. The noise increased, the
trampling of heavy feet. She backed till only her nose was out, and
watched. Soon there came in view huge red-and-white creatures with
horns. She had often seen them, and held them harmless, but why were
they moving so fast? There were other noises coming, much smaller,
indeed, but oh, how much more dangerous were the two that followed and
drove the herd!--a tow-topped boy and a yellow-coated dog. At war with
all the world of harmless wood-folk, these two would leave a trail of
slaughtered bodies in their wake, if only their weapons were as deadly
as their wishes. So Silvergray sank back and brooded over the nursery,
varying her loving mothering with violent scratching of a hind foot, or
sudden pounce to capture with her teeth some shiny, tiny creeping thing
among the bed stuff or on the young ones' fluffy skins.

The sun was up above the trees. The Bluejay sang
"_Too-root-el-too-root-el_," which means, "all clear." And the glad Red
Singing-Hawk was wheeling in great rhythmic swoops to the sound of his
own wild note, "_Kyo-kyo-kyoooo._" He wheeled and rejoiced in his song
and his flight.

[Illustration]

[Illustration]

"All's clear! All's well!" sang Crow and Bluejay--these watchful ones,
watchful, perforce, because their ways of rapine have filled the world
with enemies. And Silvergray prepared a second time for the perilous
trip. She took the nearest of her babies, gently but firmly, and,
scrambling to the door, paused to look and listen, then took the final
plunge, went scurrying and scrambling down the trunk. On the ground she
paused again, looked forward and back, then to the old nest to see her
mate go in and come out again with a young one in his mouth, as though
he knew exactly what was doing and how his help was needed. With an
angry "_Quare!_" she turned and scrambled up again, bumping the baby
she bore with many a needless jolt, and met Bannertail. Nothing less
than rage was in her voice, "_Quare, quare, quare!_" and she sprang at
him. He could not fail to understand. He dropped the baby on a broad,
safe crotch, and whisked away to turn and gaze with immeasurable
surprise. "Isn't that what you wanted, you hothead?" he seemed to say.
"Didn't we plan to move the kids?" Her only answer was a hissing
"_Quare!_" She rushed to the stranded little one, made one or two vain
efforts to carry it, as well as the one already in her mouth, then
bounded back to the old home with her own charge, dropped it, came
rushing back for the second, took that home, too, then vented all her
wrath and warnings in a loud, long "_Qua!_" which plainly meant: "You
let the kids alone. I don't need your help. I wouldn't trust you.
This is a mother's job."

[Illustration: WITH AN ANGRY "QUARE!" SILVERGRAY SCRAMBLED UP AGAIN]

She stayed and brooded over them a long time before making the third
attempt. And this time the impulse came from the tickling crawlers in
the bed. She looked forth, saw Bannertail sitting up high, utterly
bewildered. She gave a great warning "_Qua!_" seized number one for the
third time, and forth she leaped to make the great migration.

The wood was silent except for its own contented life, and she got
half-way to the new nest, when high on a broad, safe perch she paused
and set her burden down. Was it the maddening tickling of a crawler that
gave the hint, or was it actual wisdom in the lobes behind those liquid
eyes? Who knows? Only this is sure, she looked that baby over from end
to end. She hunted out and seized in her teeth and ground to shreds ten
of the plaguing crawlers. She combed herself, she scratched and
searched her coat from head to tail, and on her neck, where she could
not see, she combed and combed, till of this she was certain, no insects
of the tickling, teasing kind were going with her to the new home. Then
seizing her baby by the neck-scruff, up she bounded, and in ten
heart-beats he was lying in their new and fragrant bed.

For a little while she cuddled him there, to "bait him to it," as the
woodsmen say. Then, with a parting licking of his head, she quit the
nest and hied away for the rest of the brood.

Bannertail had taken the hint. He was still up high, watching, but not
going near the old nest.

Silvergray took number two and did the very same with him, deloused him
thoroughly on the same old perch, then left him with the first. The
third went through the same. And Silvergray was curled up with the
three in the new high nest for long, before Bannertail, after much
patient, watchful waiting, seeing no return of Silvergray, went swinging
to the old nest to peep in, and realized that it was empty, cold,
abandoned.

[Illustration]

He sat and thought it over. On a high, sunny perch that he had often
used, he made his toilet, as does every healthy Squirrel, thoroughly
combed his coat and captured all, that is, one or two of the crawlers
that had come from the old nest. He drank of the spring, went foraging
for a while, then swung to the new-made nest and shyly, cautiously,
dreading a rebuff, went slowly in. Yes, there they were. But would she
take him in? He uttered the low, soft, coaxing "_Er-er-er-er_," which
expresses every gentleness in the range of Squirrel thought and feeling.
No answer. He made no move, but again gave a coaxing "_Er-er-er_," a
long pause, then from the hovering furry form in the nest came one soft
"_Er_," and Bannertail, without reserve, glided in and curled about them
all.



_THE COMING-OUT PARTY_



CHAPTER XX

THE COMING-OUT PARTY


APRIL, the Green-grass Moon, was nearly gone, the Graycoats in their new
high home were flourishing and growing. Happy and ed now, it was an
event like a young girl's coming-out, when first these Squirrelets came
forth from the nest "on their own," and crawling on their trembling
legs, with watchful mother nigh. They one by one scrambled on to the
roof of the home, and, with a general air of "Aren't we big; aren't we
wonderful?" they stretched and basked in the bright warm morning sun.

[Illustration]

A Hawk came wheeling high over the tree tops. He was not hunting, for he
wheeled and whistled as he wheeled. Silvergray knew him well, and marked
his ample wings. She had seen a Redtail raid. This might not be of the
bandit kind, but a Hawk is a Hawk. She gave a low, warning "_Chik,
chik_" to the family, to which they paid not a whit of attention. So she
seized each in turn by the handy neck-scruff, and bundled him indoors to
safety.

[Illustration]

Three times this took place on different days. Three times the mother's
vigorous lug home was needed, and by now the lesson was learned. "_Chik,
chik_" meant "Look out; danger; get home."

They were growing fast now. Their coats were sleek and gray. Their tails
were as yet poor skimps of things, but their paws were strong and their
claws were sharp as need be. They could scramble all about the old Hawk
nest and up and down the rugged bark of the near trunk. Their different
dispositions began to show as well as their different gifts and
make-up.



_NURSERY DAYS OF THE YOUNG ONES_



CHAPTER XXI

NURSERY DAYS OF THE YOUNG ONES


[Illustration]

SQUIRRELS do not name their babies as we do; they do not think of them
by names; and yet each one is itself, has individual looks or ways that
stand for that one in the mother's mind, so is in some sort its name.
Thus the biggest one had a very brown head and a very gray coat. He was
stronger than the others, could leap just a little farther and was not
so ready to bite when playing with the rest. The second brother was not
so big as Brownhead, and he had an impatient way of rebelling at any
little thing that did not please him. He would explode into a shrill
"_Cray!_" which was a well-known Squirrel exclamation, only he made it
very thin and angry. Even to father and mother he would shriek "_Cray!_"
if they did in the least a thing that was not to his wish.

The third and smallest was a little girl-Squirrel, very shy and gentle.
She loved to be petted and would commonly snuggle up to mother, whining
softly, "_Nyek, nyek_," even when her brothers were playing, as well as
at feeding-time. So in this sort they named themselves, Brownhead, Cray,
and Nyek-nyek.

The first lesson in all young wild life is this, "Do as you are told";
the penalty of disobedience is death, not always immediate, not clearly
consequent, but soon or late it comes. This indeed is the law, driven
home and clinched by ages of experience: "Obey or die."

[Illustration]

If the family is outstretched in the sun, and keen-eyed mother sees a
Hawk, she says, "_Chik, chik_," and the wise little ones come home. They
obey and live. The rebellious one stays out, and the Hawk picks him up,
a pleasant meal.

If the family is scrambling about the tree trunk and one attempts to
climb a long, smooth stretch, from which the bark has fallen, mother
cries "_Chik, chik_," warning that he is going into danger. The obedient
one comes back and lives. The unruly one goes on. There is no clawhold
on such trunks. He falls far to the ground and pays the price.

If one is being carried from a place of danger, and hangs limp and
submissive from his mother's mouth, he is quickly landed in a place of
safety. But one that struggles and rebels, may be cut by mother's
tightening teeth, or dropped by her and seized on by some enemy at
hand. There are always enemies alert for such a chance. Or if he swings
to drink at the familiar spring and sees not what mother sees, a
Blacksnake lurking on a log, or heeds not her sharp "Keep back," he
goes, and maybe takes a single sip, but it is his last.

If one, misled by their bright color, persists in eating fruit of the
deadly nightshade, ignoring mother's warning, "_Quare, quare!_" he eats,
he has willed to eat; and there is a little Squirrel body tumbled from
the nest next day, to claim the kindly care of growing plants and
drifting leaves that will hide it from the view.

[Illustration]

Yes, this is the law, older than the day when the sun gave birth to our
earth that it might go its own way yet still be held in law: "Obey and
live; rebel and die."



_CRAY HUNTS FOR TROUBLE_



CHAPTER XXII

CRAY HUNTS FOR TROUBLE

[Illustration]


BOISTEROUS, strong, and merry was Brownhead, the very son of his father.
Eager to do and ready to go; yet quick to hear when the warning came,
"_Quare_," or the home call, "_Chik, chik_." Well-fleshed was he and
deeply fur-clad, although it was scarcely mid-May, and his tail already
was past the switch stage and was frilling out with the silver frill of
his best kin. Frolicsome, merry, and shy, very shy was Nyek-nyek. In
some speech she would have been styled a "mammy pet." Happy with mother,
playing with her brothers, but ever ready to go to mother. Slight of
body, but quick to move, quick to follow, and nervously quick to obey,
she grew and learned the learning of her folk.

Last was Cray, quickest of them all, not so heavy as Brownhead, yet
agile, inquisitive, full of energy, but a rebel all the time. He would
climb that long, smooth column above the nest. His mother's warning held
him not. And when the clawhold failed he slipped, but jumped and landed
safe on a near limb.

He would go forth to investigate the loud trampling in the woods, and
far below him watched with eager curiosity the big, two-legged thing
that soon discovered him. Then there was a loud crack like a heavy limb
broken by the wind, and the bark beside his head was splintered by a
blow that almost stunned him with its shock, although it did not touch
him. He barely escaped into the nest. Yes, he still escaped.



_THE LITTLE SQUIRRELS GO TO SCHOOL_



CHAPTER XXIII

THE LITTLE SQUIRRELS GO TO SCHOOL


THESE are among the lessons that a mother Squirrel, by example, teaches,
and that in case of failure are emphasized by many little reproofs of
voice, or even blows:

Clean your coat, and extra-clean your tail; fluff it out, try its trig
suppleness, wave it, plume it, comb it, clean it; but ever remember it,
for it is your beauty and your life.

[Illustration]

When there is danger on the ground, such as the trampling of heavy feet,
do not go to spy it out, but hide. If near a hole, pop in; if on a big
high limb, lie flat and still as death. Do not go to it. Let it come to
you, if it will.

In the air, if there is danger near, as from Hawks, do not stop until
you have at least got into a dense thicket, or, better still, a hole.

If you find a nut when you are not hungry, bury it for future use.
Nevertheless this lesson counted for but little now, as all last year's
nuts were gone, and this year's far ahead.

If you must travel on the ground, stop every little while at some high
place to look around, and fail not then each time to fluff and jerk your
tail.

When in the distant limbs you see something that may be friend or foe,
keep out of sight, but flirt your white tail tip in his view. If it be a
Graycoat, it will answer with the same, the wigwag: "I'm a Squirrel,
too."

[Illustration: THE LITTLE SQUIRRELS AT SCHOOL]

Learn and practise, also, the far jumps from tree to tree. You'll
surely need them some day. They are the only certain answer to the
Red-eyed Fury that lives on Mice, but that can kill Squirrels, too, if
he catches them; that climbs and jumps, but cannot jump so far as the
Graycoats, and dare not fall from high, for he has no plumy tail,
nothing but a useless little tag.

Drink twice a day from the running stream, never from the big pond in
which the grinning Pike and mighty Snapper lie in wait. Go not in the
heat of the day, for then the Blacksnake is lurking near, and quicker is
he even than a Squirrel, on the ground.

Go not at dusk, for then the Fox and the Mink are astir. Go not by
night, for then is the Owl on the war-path, silent as a shadow; he is
far more to be feared than the swish-winged Hawk. Drink then at sunrise
and before sunset, and ever from a solid log or stone which affords
good footing for a needed sudden jump. And remember ever that safety is
in the tree tops--in this and in lying low.

These were the lessons they slowly learned, not at any stated time or
place, but each when the present doings gave it point. Brownhead was
quick and learned almost overfast; and his tail responding to his daily
care was worthy of a grown-up. Lithe, graceful Nyek-nyek too, was
growing wood-wise. Cray was quick for a time. He would learn well at a
new lesson, then, devising some method of his own, would go ahead and
break the rules. His mother's warning "_Quare_" held him back not at
all. And his father's onslaught with a nip of powerful teeth only
stirred him to rebellious fight.



_THE LOPPING OF THE WAYWARD BRANCH_



CHAPTER XXIV

THE LOPPING OF THE WAYWARD BRANCH


[Illustration]

[Illustration]

CURIOSITY may be the trail to knowledge, but it skirts a dangerous
cliff. The Rose moon, June, was on the hills, its thrill joy set the
whole wood world joy-thrilling. The Bannertail family had frolicked in a
game of tag-and-catch all around the old Hawk nest, and up the long
smooth pole went Cray to show that he could do it. His mother warned
him, "_Quare!_" but up he went, and down he came without a hint of
failure. Then they scattered, scampering for a game of hide-and-seek,
when the heavy sound of some big brute a-coming was wind-borne to them.
The mother gave the warning "_Chik_." Three of them quickly got to the
safe old nest. Silvergray flattened on the up side of a rugged limb;
Cray, seeing nothing near, and scoffing at their flurry, made for a big
crotch into which he could sink from sight if need be, and waited. In
vain his mother cried, "_Chik_"; Cray wouldn't "_chik_"; he wanted to
know what it was all about. The heavy trampling sound came near.
Silvergray peeped over and could see very well; it was the two-legged
Brute with the yellow yapping four-legs that she more than once had met
before. They rambled slashingly around; the Yap-cur eagerly wagging his
hideous tail. He swung his black snout in the air, gave out a long
"_Yap!_" another and another. Then the Two-legs came slowly nearer,
staring up into the rooftrees and moving awkwardly sidewise round and
round the tree. Cray peered out farther to watch him. In vain the
wise little mother Squirrel whispered "_Chik, chik!_" No, he would not
"_chik_." As the Ground-brute circled the tree, Cray, trying to keep him
in sight, quit all attempt at hiding. The yellow four-legs yapped
excitedly. Then the big Ground-brute held very still. Cray was amused at
this; he felt so safe that he called out a derisive "_Qua!_" There was a
loud sound like thunder, a flash like lightning, and Cray fell headlong,
splashing the gold-green leaves with his bright, hot young blood. His
mother saw him go with a clutching of her mother heart. And Mother Carey
saw him go, and said: "It had to be." For this is the fulfilling of the
law; this is the upbuilding of the race; this is the lopping of the
wayward branch.

[Illustration: CRAY SANK--A VICTIM TO HIS FOLLY]

[Illustration]

The big Ground-beast below seized on the quivering, warm young body,
and yelled aloud: "Billy, Billee, I got him; a great big Silvergray!
Yahoo!"

But the meaning of that was unknown to the little mother and the rest.
They only knew that a huge, savage Brute had killed their little
brother, and was filling the woods with its hideous blood-curdling
roars.

[Illustration]



_BANNERTAIL FALLS INTO A SNARE_



CHAPTER XXV

BANNERTAIL FALLS INTO A SNARE


BANNERTAIL was now in fresh midsummer coat of sleekest gray. His tail
was a silver plume, and bigger than himself. His health was perfect. And
just so surely as a sick one longs to be and to stay at home, so a lusty
Squirrel hankers to go a-roaming.

Swinging from tree to tree, leaping the familiar jump-ways, he left the
family one early morning, drank deeply at the spring brook, went on
aground "hoppity-hop" for a dozen hops, then stopped to look around and
frisk his tail. Then on, and again a look around. So he left the
hickory woods, and swung a mile away, till at last he was on the far
hillside where first he met the Redhead.

High in a tasselled pine he climbed and sat, and his fine nose took in
the pleasant gum smells with the zest that came from their strangeness
as much as from their sweetness.

[Illustration]

As he sat he heard a rustling, racketty little noise in the thicket
near. Flattening to the bough and tightening in his tail he watched.
What should appear but his old enemy, the Redhead, dragging, struggling
with something on the ground, stopping to sputter out his energetic,
angry "_Snick, snick_," as the thing he dragged caught in roots and
twigs. Bannertail lay very low and watched intently. The Redsquirrel
fussed and worked with his burden, now close at hand. Bannertail saw
that it was a flat, round thing, like an acorn-cup, only many times
larger, and reddish, with a big, thick stem on the wrong side--a stem
that was white, like new-peeled wood.

Bannertail had seen such growing in the woods, once or twice; little
ones they were, but his nose and his inner guide had said: "Let them
alone." And here was this fiery little Redsquirrel dragging one off as
though he had a prize! Sometimes he lifted it bodily and made good
headway, sometimes it dragged and caught in the growing twigs. At last
it got fixed between two, and with the energy and fury that so often go
with red hair, the Redhead jerked, shoved, and heaved, and the brittle,
red-topped toadstool broke in two or three crisp pieces. As he sputtered
and Squirrel-cussed, there was a warning Bluejay note. Redhead ran up
the nearest tree; as it happened, the one in which was Bannertail, and
in an instant the enemies were face to face. "Scold and fight" is the
Redsquirrel's first impulse, but when Bannertail rose up to full height
and spread his wondrous tail the Red one was appalled. He knew his foe
again; his keen, discriminating nose got proofs of that. The memory of
defeat was with him yet. He retreated, snick-sputtering, and finally
went wholly out of sight.

When all was still, Bannertail made his way to the broken mushroom; rosy
red and beautiful its cap, snowy white its stem and its crisp, juicy
flesh.

[Illustration]

But of this he took no count. The smelling of it was his great chemic
test. It had the quaint, earthy odor of the little ones he had seen
before, and yet a pungent, food-like smell, like butternuts, indeed,
with the sharp pepper tang of the rind a little strong, and a whiff,
too, of the many-legged crawling things that he had learned to shun.
Still, it was alluring as food. And now was a crucial time, a veritable
trail fork. Had Bannertail been fed and full, the tiny little sense of
repulsion would have turned the scale, would have reasserted and
strengthened the first true verdict of his guides--"Bad, let it alone."
But it had an attractive nut-like aroma that was sweetly appetizing,
that set his mouth a-watering; and this thing turned the scale--he was
hungry.

[Illustration]

He nibbled and liked it, and nibbled yet more. And though it was a big,
broad mushroom, he stopped not till it all was gone. Food, good food it
surely was. But it was something more; the weird juices that are the
earth-child's blood entered into him and set the fountains of his life
force playing with marvellous power. He was elated. He was full of
fight. He flung out a defiant "_Qua!_" at a Hen-hawk flying over. He
rummaged through the pines to find that fighting Redsquirrel. He leaped
tree gaps that he would not at another time have dared. Yes, and he
fell, too; but the ample silver plume behind was there to land him
softly on the earth. He made a long, far, racing journey, saw hills and
woods that were new to him. He came to a big farmhouse like the one his
youth had known, but passed it by, and galloped to another hillside.
From the top of a pine he vented his wild spirits in a boisterous
song--the song of spring and fine weather, and the song of autumn time
and vigor.

The sun was low when, feeling his elation gone, feeling dumb and drowsy,
indeed, he climbed the homestead tree and glided into the old Hawk nest
to curl in his usual place beside his family.

Silvergray sniffed suspiciously; she smelled his whiskers, she
nibble-nibbled with tongue and lips at the odd-smelling specks of
whitish food on his coat, and the juices staining his face and paws.
New food; it was strange, but pleased her not. A little puzzled, she
went to sleep, and Bannertail's big tail was coverlet for all the
family.

[Illustration]



_THE ADDICT_



CHAPTER XXVI

THE ADDICT


THE sun came up, with its joyous wakening of the woods. All the Squirrel
world was bright and alert--all but one. Mother went forth to the sun-up
meal, Brownhead went rollicking forth, and Nyek-nyek went gliding, too.
But Bannertail lay still. He had no words to state his case; he did not
know that he had a case to state. He only knew that he was dull and sad,
and did not feel the early morning call of joy. The juices of his weird
feast were dried on paws and head, and the smell of them, though faint,
was nauseating to him.

He did not move that day; he had no desire to move. The sun was low when
at length he went forth and down. At the crystal spring he drank deep
and drank again. Silvergray licked his fur when he came back with the
youngsters to the nest. He was better now, and next sun-up was himself
again, the big, boisterous, rollicking Squirrel of the plumy tail, the
playmate of the young ones, the husband of his wife. And their merry
lives went on, till one morning, on the bank of the creek that flowed
from the high hill-country, he found a tiny, shiny fragment of the weird
spellbinding mushroom. A table scrap, no doubt, flood-borne from a
Redhead feast. He sniffed, as he sniffed all new, strange things. A moon
back it would have been doubtful or repellent, but he had closed his
ears to the first warning of the inner guide; so the warning now was
very low. He had yielded to the slight appetite for this weird taste,
so that appetite was stronger. He eagerly gobbled the shining, broken
bit, and, possessed of keen desire for more, went bounding and pausing
and fluffing, farther, farther off, nor stopped till once more high in
the hill-country, among the pines and the banks where the toadstools of
black magic grew.

[Illustration]

Very keen was Bannertail when he swung from the overhead highway of the
pines to the ground, to gallop over banks with nose alert. Nor had he
far to go. This was toadstool time, and a scattered band of these
embodied earth-sprites was spotting a sunlit bank with their smooth and
blushing caps.

Was there in his little soul still a warning whisper? Yes. Just a
little, a final, feeble "Beware, touch it not!"--very faint compared
with the first-time warning, and now to be silenced by counter-doings,
just as a single trail in the sand is wholly blotted out by a later
trail much used that goes counterwise across it.

[Illustration]

Just a little pause made he, when the sick smell of the nearest
toadstool was felt and measured by his nose. The lust for that strong
foody taste was overdominating. He seized and crunched and revelled in
the flowing juices and the rank nut taste, the pepper tang, the
toothsome mouthiness, and gobbled with growing unreined greed, not one,
but two or three--he gorged on them; and though stuffed and full, still
filled with lust that is to hunger what wounding is to soft caress. He
rushed from one madcap toadstool to another, driving in his teeth,
revelling in their flowing juices, like the blood of earthy gnomes, and
rushed for joy up one tall tree after another. Then, sensing the
Redsquirrels, pursued them in a sort of berserker rage, eager for fight,
desperate fight, any fight, fight without hate, that would outlet his
dangerous, boiling power, his overflow of energy. Joy and power were
possessing his small brain and lusty frame. He found another bank of
madcap cups; he was too gorged to eat them, but he tossed and chewed the
juicy cups and stems. He raced after a fearsome Water-snake on a sunny
bank, and, scared by the fury of his onslaught, the Snake slipped out of
sight. He galloped up a mighty pine-tree, on whose highest limbs were
two great Flickers, clacking. He chased them recklessly, then, clinging
to a bark flake that proved loose, he was launched into the air, a
hundred feet to fall. But his glorious tail was there to serve, and it
softly let him down to earth. It was well for him that he met no cat or
dog that day, for the little earth-born demon in his soul had cast out
fear as well as wisdom.

And Mother Carey must have wept as she saw this very dear one take into
his body and his brain a madness that would surely end his life. She
loved him, but far more she loved his race. And just a little longer she
would wait, and give him yet one chance. And if he willed not to be
strong, then must he pay the price.

Not happy was his homecoming that night. Silvergray sniffed at his
whiskers. She liked not his breath. There was no kindness in her voice,
her only sound a harsh, low "_Grrrff!_"

And the family life went on.



_THE DREGS OF THE CUP_



CHAPTER XXVII

THE DREGS OF THE CUP


BUT next morning! Why should it be told? It was as before, but far
worse. So high as the peak is above the plain, so far is the plain below
the peak. A crushed and broken Bannertail it was that lay enfeebled in
the nest next day when the family went forth to feed and frolic.

[Illustration]

Not that day did he go out, or wish to go. Sick unto death was he; so
sick he did not care. The rest let him alone. They did not understand,
and there was something about him which made them keep away. Next day he
crawled forth slowly and drank at the spring. That day he lay on the
sunning dray and ate but little. More than one sun arose and set before
he was again the strong, hale, hearty Bannertail, the father of his
family, the companion and protector of his wife.



_THE WAY OF DESTRUCTION_



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE WAY OF DESTRUCTION


THE little mother did not understand; she only had a growing sense of
distrust, of repulsion, and an innate hatred of that strange complexity
of smells. The children did not understand, but something there was
about their father these times that made them much afraid.

They knew only the sorrow of it. They had no knowledge of how it came or
how to prevent its coming. But big and everywhere is the All-Mother,
Mother Carey, the wise one who seeks to have her strong ones build the
race. Twice had she warned him. Now he should have one more chance.

[Illustration]

The Thunder-moon, July, was dominating Jersey woods, when the lusty life
force of the father Graycoat inevitably sent him roving to the woods of
the madcaps. Plenty they were now, and many had been stored by the
Redsquirrels for winter use, for this is the riddle of their being, that
the Redsquirrels long ago have learned. On the bank, when they are
rooted in the earth, their juices from the underworld are full of
diabolic subtlety, are tempting in the mouth as they are deadly in the
blood and sure destruction at the last. They must be uprooted, carried
far from the ground and the underground, and high hung in the blessed
purifying pine tops, where Father Sun can burn away their evil. There,
after long months of sun and wind and rain purgation, their earth-born
bodies are redeemed, are wholesome Squirrel food. This was the lesson
Mother Carey had taught the Redheads, for their country is the country
of the fool-trap toadstools. But the Graycoats know it not. And
Bannertail came again.



_MOTHER CAREY'S LASH_



CHAPTER XXIX

MOTHER CAREY'S LASH


THE wise men tell us that it is the same as the venom of Snakes. They
tell us that it comes when the fool-trap toadstool is grown stale, and
by these ye may know its hidden presence: When the cap is old and
upturned at the edge, when hell-born maggots crawl and burrow and revel
in the stem, when drops of gummy, poisonous yellow blood ooze forth,
when both its smells--the warning smell of the crawling hundred-legger
and the alluring smell of strong green butternuts--are multiplied to
fourfold power.

[Illustration]

Their day was nearly over. They were now like old worn hags, whose
beauty is gone, and with it their power to please--hags who have become
embittered and seek only to destroy. So the fool-trap toadstools waited,
silently as hunters' deadfalls wait, until the moment comes to strike.

[Illustration]

It was the same sweet piny woods, the same bright sparkling stream, and
the Song-hawk wheeled and sang the same loud song, as Bannertail came
once again to seek his earth-born food, to gratify his growing lust.

And Mother Carey led him on.

Plentifully strewn were the unholy madcaps, broad bent and wrinkled now,
their weird aroma stronger and to a morbid taste more alluring. Even yet
a tiny warning came as he sniffed their rancid, noxious aura. The nut
allurement, too, was strong, and Bannertail rejoiced.

The feast was like the other, but shorter, more restrained. There were
little loathsome whiffs and acrid hints that robbed it of its zest.
Long before half a meal, the little warden that dwells somewhere betwixt
mouth and maw began to send offensive messages to his brain, and even
with a bite between his teeth there set in strong a fearful devastating
revulsion, a climax of disgust, a maw-revolt, an absolute loathing.

His mouth was dripping with its natural juice, something gripped his
throat, the last morsel was there and seemed to stick. He tight closed
his eyes, violently shook his head. The choking lump was shaken out.
Pains shot through his body. Limbs and lungs were cramped. He lay flat
on the bank with head down-hill. He jerked his head from side to side
with violent insistence. His stomach yielded most of the fateful mass.
But the poison had entered into his body, already was coursing in his
veins.

Writhing with agony, overwhelmed with loathing, he lay almost as dead,
and the smallest enemy he ever had might now and easily have wreaked the
limit of revenge. It was accident so far as he was concerned that made
him crawl into a dense thicket and like dead to lie all that day and the
night and the next day. And dead he would have been but for the unusual
vigor of his superb body. Good Mother Carey kept his enemies away.

Back at the home nest the mate and family missed him, not much or
pointedly, as would folk of a larger brain and life, but they missed
him; and from the tall, smooth shaft that afternoon the little mother
sent a long "_qua_" call. But there was no answering "_qua_." She had no
means of knowing; she had no way of giving help had she known.

The sun was low on Jersey hills that second day when poor broken
Bannertail, near-dead Bannertail, came to himself, his much-enfeebled
self. His head was throbbing, his body was cramped with pain, his mouth
was dry and burning. Down-hill he crawled and groped slowly to the
running stream and drank. It revived him a little, enough so he could
crawl up the bank and seek a dry place under a log to lie in peace--sad,
miserable, moaning peace.

Three days he suffered there, but the fever had turned on that first
night; from the moment of that cooling drink he was on the mend. For
food he had no wish, but daily and deeply he drank at the stream.

On that third day he was well enough to scramble up the hill; he passed
a scattering group of the earthy madcaps. Oh, how he loathed them; their
very smell set his mouth a-dripping, refusing its own proper juice.

[Illustration]

Good things there were to eat on the ground, but he had little appetite,
though for three days he had not eaten. He passed by fat white grubs and
even nuts, but when he found some late wild strawberries he munched them
eagerly. Their acid sweetness, their fragrant saneness, were what his
poor sick body craved. He rested, then climbed a leaning tree. He had
not strength for a real climb. In an old abandoned Flicker hole he
curled himself in safety, and strong, gentle Mother Nature, Mother
Carey, loving ever the brave ones that never give up, now spread her
kindly influence, protecting, round about him and gave him blessed,
blessed sleep.

[Illustration]



_HIS AWAKENING_



CHAPTER XXX

HIS AWAKENING


IT was late on that fourth day when Bannertail awoke. He was a little
better now. He slowly went down that tree, tail first; very sick,
indeed, is a Squirrel when he goes down a tree tail first. Sweet,
cooling water was his need, and again a fragrant meal of the tonic
strawberries; then back to the tree.

[Illustration]

Next day he was up with the morning Robins, and now was possessed of the
impulse to go home. Vague pictures of his mate and little ones, and the
merry home tree, came on his ever-clearer brain. He set out with a few
short hops, as he used to go, and, first sign of sanity, he stopped to
fluff his tail. He noticed that it was soiled with gum. Nothing can
dethrone that needful basic instinct to keep in order and perfect the
tail. He set to work and combed and licked each long and silvered hair;
he fluffed it out and tried its billowy beauty, and having made sure of
its perfect trim he kept on, cleaned his coat, combed it, went to the
brook-side and washed his face and paws clean of every trace of that
unspeakable stuff, and in the very cleansing gave himself new strength.
Sleek and once more somewhat like himself he was, when on he went,
bounding homeward with not short bounds, but using every little lookout
on the way to peer around and fluff and jerk his tail.

Back at the home tree at last, nearly seven suns had come and gone since
the family had seen him.

[Illustration]

The first impulse of the little mother was hostility. A stranger is
always a hostile in the woods. But he flicked the white flag on his tail
tip, and slowly climbed the tree. The youngsters in alarm had hidden in
the nest at mother's "_Chik, chik_." She came cautiously forward. His
looks were familiar yet strange. Here now was the time to use caution.
He swung up nearly to the door. She stood almost at bay, uttered a
little warning "_Ggrrrfffhh_." He crawled up closer. She spread her
legs, clutched firmly on the bark above him. He wigwagged his silver
tail-tip and, slowly drawing nearer, reached out. Their whiskers met;
she sniffed, smell-tested him. No question now. A little changed, a
little strange, but this was surely her mate. She wheeled and went into
the nest. He came more slowly after, put in his head, gave a low, soft
"_Er_." There was no reply and no hostile move. He crawled right in,
his silver plume was laid about them all, and the reunited family slept
till the hour arrived for evening meal.



_THE UNWRITTEN LAW_



CHAPTER XXXI

THE UNWRITTEN LAW


THIS is the law of the All-Mother, the more immovable because unwritten;
this is the law of surfeit.

Many foods there are which are wholesome, except that they have in them
a measure of poison.

For these the All-Mother has endowed the wild things' bodies with a
subtle antidote, which continues self-replenishing so long as the
containing flask is never wholly emptied. But if it so chance that in
some time of fearful stress the flask is emptied, turned upside down,
drained dry, it never more will fill. The small alembic that distils it
breaks, as a boiler bursts if it be fired while dry. Thenceforth the
toxin that it overcame has virulence and power; that food, once
wholesome, is a poison now.

[Illustration]

A "surfeit" men call this breaking of the flask; all too well is it
known. By this, unnumbered healthful foods--strawberries, ice-cream,
jam, delicate meat, eggs, yes, even simple breads can by the devastating
drain of one rash surfeit be turned into very foods of death. The poison
always was there, but the secret, neutralizing chemical is gone, the
elixir is destroyed, and by the working of the law its deadly power is
loosed. As poor second now to this lost and subtle protection, the
All-Mother endows the body with another, one of a lower kind. She makes
that food so repellent to the unwise, punished creature that he never
more desires it. She fills him with a fierce repulsion, the bodily
rejection that men call "nausea."

This is the law of surfeit. Bannertail had fallen foul of it, and Mother
Carey, loving him as she ever loves her strong ones, had meted out the
fullest measure of punishment that he, with all his strength, could bear
and yet come through alive.

[Illustration]

The Red Moon of harvest was at hand. The Graycoat family was grown, and
happy in the fulness of their lives, and Bannertail was hale and filled
with the joy of being alive, leading his family beyond old bounds,
teaching them the ways of the farther woods, showing them new foods that
the season brings. He, wise leader now, who once had been so unwise.
Then Mother Carey put him to the proof. She led, he led them farther
than they had ever gone before, to the remotest edge of the hickory
woods. On a bank half sunlit as they scampered over the leaves and down
the logs, he found a blushing, shining gnome-cap, an earth-born madcap.
Yes, the very same, for in this woods they came, though they were rare.
One whiff, one identifying sniff of that Satanic exhalation, and
Bannertail felt a horrid clutching at his throat, his lips were quickly
dripping, his belly heaved, he gave a sort of spewing, gasping sound,
and shrank back from that shining cap with eyes that bulged in hate, as
though he saw a Snake. There is no way of fully telling his bodily
revulsion. The thing that once was so alluring, was so loathsome that he
could not stand its fetid odor on the wind. And the young ones were
caught by the unspoken horror of the moment, they took it in; they got
the hate sense. They tied up that horror in their memories with that
rank and sickly smell. They turned away, Bannertail to drink in the
running brook, to partly forget in a little while, yet never quite to
forget. He was saved, the great All-Mother had saved him, which was a
good thing, but not in itself a great thing. This was the great thing,
that in that moment happened--the loathing of the earth-born fiend was
implanted in his race, and through them would go on to bless his
generations yet to be.

[Illustration]



_SQUIRREL GAMES_



CHAPTER XXXII

SQUIRREL GAMES


GAMES are used among wild animals for the training of the young. King of
the castle, tag, hide-and-seek, follow-my-leader, catch-as-catch-can,
wrestling, coasting, high-dive, and, in rare cases, even ball games are
enjoyed. Most of them were in some sort played by the young Squirrels.
But these are world-wide, they had one or two that were peculiarly their
own, and of these the most exciting was the dangerous game of "teasing
the Hawk."

[Illustration]

Three kinds of big Hawks there are in the Squirrel woods in summertime:
the Hen-hawk that commonly sails high in the air, screaming or
whistling, and that at other times swoops low and silent through the
woods, and always is known by his ample wings and bright red tail; the
gray Chicken-hawk that rarely soars, but that skims among the trees or
even runs on the ground, whose feathers are gray-brown, and whose voice
is a fierce _crek, crek, creek_; and the Song-hawk or Singer, who is the
size of the Chicken-hawk, but a harmless hunter of mice and frogs, and
known at all seasons by the stirring song that he pours out as he wheels
like a Skylark high in the blue.

[Illustration]

The inner guide had warned the boisterous Bannertail to beware of all of
them. Experience taught him that they will attack, and yet are easily
baffled, if one does but slip into a hole or thicket, or even around the
bole of a tree.

Many times that summer did Bannertail avoid the charge of Redtail or
Chicken-hawk by the simple expedient of going through a fork or a maze
of branches. There was no great danger in it, as long as he kept his
head; and it did not disturb him, or cause his heart a single extra
beat. It became a regular incident in his tree-top life, just as a stock
man is accustomed to the daily danger of a savage Bull, but easily
eludes any onset by slipping through a fence. It does not cause him a
tremor, he is used to it; and men there are who make a sport of it, who
love to tease the Bull, who enjoy his helpless rage as he vainly tries
to follow. His mighty strength is offset by their cunning and agility.
It is a pretty match, a very ancient game, and never quite loses zest,
because the Bull does sometimes win; and then there is one less
Bull-teaser on the stock-range.

This was the game that Bannertail evolved. Sure of himself, delighting
in his own wonderful agility, he would often go out to meet the foe, if
he saw the Hen-hawk or the Chicken-hawk approaching. He would flash his
silver tail, and shrill "_Grrrff, grrrff_," by way of challenge.

[Illustration]

The Hen-hawk always saw. "Keen-eyed as a hawk" is not without a reason.
And, sailing faster than a driving leaf, he would swish through the
hickory woods to swoop at the challenging Squirrel. But just as quick
was Bannertail, and round the rough trunk he would whisk, the Hawk,
rebounding in the air to save himself from dashing out his brains or
being impaled, would now be greeted on the other side by the head and
flashing tail of the Squirrel, and another with loud, defiant
"_Ggrrrffhh, grggrrrffhh_."

Down again would swoop the air bandit, quicker than a flash, huge black
claws advanced, and Bannertail would wait till the very final instant,
rejoicing in his every nerve at tension, and just as those deadly
grappling-irons of the Hawk were almost at his throat, he would duck,
the elusive, baffling tail would flash in the Hawk's very face, and the
place the Graycoat had occupied on the trunk was empty. The grapnels of
the Hawk clutched only bark; and an instant later, just above, the
teasing head and the flaunting tail of Bannertail would reappear, with
loudly voiced defiance.

The Hawk, like the Bull, is not of gentle humor. He is a fierce and
angry creature, out to destroy; his anger grows to fury after such
defeat, he is driven wild by the mockery of it, and oftentimes he begets
such a recklessness that he injures himself by accident, as he charges
against one of the many sharp snags that seem ever ready for the
Squirrel-kind's defense.

Yes, a good old game it is, with the zest of danger strong. But there is
another side to it all.

[Illustration]



_WHEN BANNERTAIL WAS SCARRED FOR LIFE_



CHAPTER XXXIII

WHEN BANNERTAIL WAS SCARRED FOR LIFE


IT makes indeed merry play, with just enough of excitement when you bait
the Bull, and dodge back to the fence to laugh at his impotent raging.
But it makes a very different chapter when a second Bull comes on the
other side of the fence. Then the game is over, the Bull-baiter must
find some far refuge or scramble up the nearest sheltering tree, or pay
the price.

Bannertail had an ancient feud with the big Hen-hawk, whose stick nest
was only a mile away, high in a rugged beech. There were a dozen
farmyards that paid unwilling tribute to that Hawk, a hundred little
meadows with their Mice and Meadowlarks, and one open stretch of marsh
with its Muskrats and its Ducks. But the hardwood ridges, too, he
counted on for dues. The Squirrels all were his, if only he could catch
them. Many a game had he and Bannertail, a game of life and death.

[Illustration]

They played again that morning in July. It was the same old swooping of
the whistling pinions, and the grasping of strong yellow feet with hard
black claws, grasping at nothing, where was a Graycoat half a heartbeat
back, the same flaunting silver flag, the mocking "_Grrrff, grrrff_,"
the teasing and daring of the Hawk to make another swoop. Then did that
big Hen-hawk what he should have done before. He filled the air with his
war-cry, the long screaming "_Yek-yek-yeeeek!_" Coursing low and swift
came another, his mate, the lady bandit, even fiercer than himself.
Swift and with little noise she came. And when savage old Yellow-eyes
swooped and Bannertail whisked around the tree, he whisked right into
the clutches of the deadlier she-one. He barely escaped by a marvellous
side rush around the trunk. Here again was Yellow-eyes, but right in his
face Bannertail dashed his big silvery tail. The Hawk in his haste
clutched at its nothingness, or he would have got the Graycoat. But luck
was with Bannertail, and again he dodged around the trunk. Alas, the she
Hawk was there, and struck; her mighty talons grazed his haunch, three
rips they made in his glossy, supple coat. In an instant more the
Redtail would have trussed him, for there was no cover, only the big,
outstanding trunk, with the Hen-hawks above and below. A moment more
and Bannertail's mate, helpless in the distant nest, would have seen
him borne away. But as they closed, he leaped--leaped with all his
strength, far from them into open air, and faster than they could fly in
such a place, down, down, his silver plume in function just behind him,
down a hundred feet to fall and land in a thicket of laurel, wounded and
bleeding, but safe. He scrambled into a thicker maze, and gazed with new
and tenser feelings at the baffled Hen-hawks, circling, screaming high
above him.

[Illustration]

Soon the bandits gave up. Clearly the Graycoat had won, and they flew to
levy their robber-baron tribute on some others that they held to be
their vassals.

[Illustration: A DANGEROUS GAME]

Yes, Bannertail had won, by a narrow lead. He had taken a mighty hazard
and had learned new wisdom--Never play the game with death till you have
to, for if you win one hundred times and lose once you have lost your
whole stake. On his haunch he carried, carries yet, the three long
scars, where the fur is a little paler--the brand of the robber
baroness, the slash of the claws that nearly got him.

[Illustration]

Have you noted that in the high Alleghenies, where the Graycoats seldom
see hunters of any kind, they scamper while the enemy is far away; but
they peer from upper limbs and call out little challenges? In Jersey
woods, where a wiser race has come, they never challenge a near foe;
they make no bravado rushes. They signal if they see an enemy near, then
hide away in perfect stillness till that enemy, be it Hawk in air or
Hound on earth, is far away, or in some sort ceases to be a menace.

And menfolk hunters, who tell of their feats around the glowing stove in
the winter-time, say there is a new race of Graycoats come. Any gunner
could kill one of the old sort, but it takes a great hunter such as
themselves to get one of the new. This latter-day Graycoat has gotten
much wisdom into his little brain, and one of the things he knows: "It
never pays to gamble with destruction."

The new race, they say, began in a certain hickory wood. We know that
wood, and we have seen a little how the wisdom came, and can easily
reason why it spread.

[Illustration]



_THE FIGHT WITH THE BLACK DEMON_



CHAPTER XXXIV

THE FIGHT WITH THE BLACK DEMON


NEXT in importance to the Squirrels, after the towering trees with their
lavish bounty, was the brook that carried down scraps of the blue sky to
inlay them with green moss, purple logs, and gold-brown stones, that
sang its low, sweet song both day and night, and that furnished to the
family their daily drink.

"Do not drink at the pond" is a Squirrel maxim, for in it lurks the
fearful Snapping Turtle and the grinning Pike. Its banks are muddy, too,
and the water warm. It is better to drink from some low log, along the
brook itself.

[Illustration]

And do not drink in the blinding sunlight, which makes it hard to see if
danger is near; then, too, it is that the Blacksnake crawls out to seek
some basking place in the hottest sun.

[Illustration]

Yes, this is Squirrel wisdom; the morning drink is at sunrise, the
evening at sunset, when the cool shade is on the woods but darkness not
begun.

The Graycoat family held together still, though the Harvest-moon was red
in the low eastern sky. Some Squirrel families break up as soon as the
young are nearly grown. But some there are that are held together
longer, very long, by unseen bonds of sympathy with which they have been
gifted in a little larger measure than is common. Brownhead was much
away, living his own life. Still, he came home. Nyek-nyek, gentle,
graceful Nyek-nyek, clung to her mother and the old nest, like a very
weanling; and rest assured that in Squirrel-land, as in others, love is
begotten and intensified by love.

The morning drink and the morning meal were the established daily
routine. Then came a time of exercise and play. But all Squirrels that
are hale and wise take a noonday nap.

Each was stretched on one or other of the sleeping platforms, lying
lazily at ease one noontime. The day was very hot, and the sun swung
round so it glared on Nyek-nyek's sleeping-porch. Panting soon with the
heat, she decided to drink, swung to the gangway of their huge trunk and
started down the tree. The little mother, ever alert, watched the young
one go. There was in her heart just a shadow of doubt, of distrust, much
as a human mother might feel if she saw her toddler venture forth alone
into the night.

Nyek-nyek swung to the ground, coursed in billowy ripples of
silver-gray along a log, stopped on a stump to look around and
religiously fluff her tail, while mother dreamily watched through
half-closed eyes. Then out into the brilliant sunlight she went. Some
creatures are dazed and made lazy by the hot, bright glare, some find in
it a stimulant, a multiplier of their life force; it sets their senses
on a keener edge; it gifts them with new speed, intensifies their every
power.

The Graycoats are of the first kind, and of the second was Coluber, the
long, black, shiny, blue-black Snake that was lying like a limp and
myriad-linked chain flung across a big, low log--a log that sucked the
sun heat as it lay, just where the brook expanded to the pond. Never a
blink was there in those gray-green eyes, never a quiver in that long,
lithe tongue. One not knowing would have said he is dead; one knowing
him well would have said he is filling up his storage-batteries to the
full. Never a wriggle was there in even the nervous tail tip, that
nearly always switches to and fro; yet not a move of the Squirrel since
she left her sleeping porch was lost on him.

What was it gave a new pathway to the young Graycoat? Was it Mother
Carey who led her with a purpose? Not to the familiar log she went,
where the family had always found an ideal footing when they took the
morning drink, but down-stream, toward the pond and on to the little
muddy shore.

[Illustration]

The mother Squirrel saw that, and her feeling of doubt grew stronger.
She rose up to follow, but gazed a moment to see a sudden horror. Just
as the little Nyek-nyek stooped and sank her face deep to her eyes in
the cooling flood, the Blacksnake sprang, sprang from his coil as a
Blacksnake springs, when the victim is within the measured length.
Sprang with his rows of teeth agape, clinched on her neck, and in a
trice the heavy coils, tense with energy, ridged with muscle,
flash-lapped around her neck and loins, gripped in an awful grip, while
the lithe, live scaly tail wrapped round a branch to anchor both killer
and victim to the place. One shriek of "_Qua_," another fainter, and a
final gasp, and no more sound from Nyek-nyek. But she struggled, a
hopeless, helpless struggle. The mother saw it all. Fear of that
terrible Snake was forgotten. Not one moment did she pause. She did not
clamber down that tree. She leaped to the next and a lower yet, and
along a log; five heart-beats put her on the spot; and with all her
force she drove her teeth into the hard, scaly coil of the beast that
she held in mortal fear. With a jerk the monster quit his neck hold on
the young one. She was helpless, bound in his coil, and the Snake's
dread jaws with the rows of pointed teeth clamped on the mother's neck,
and another fold of that long, hellish length was hitched around her
throat. Scratch she could and struggle, but bite she could not, for the
coil held her as in a vise. For a moment only could she make a sound,
the long, long, screaming "_Queeee_," the Squirrel call for help; and
Bannertail, lazily dozing on his sunning perch, sprang up and set his
ears acock.

[Illustration]

It was not repeated, but the sound of struggle was there, and the
keen-eyed father Squirrel saw the flash of a silver tail, the signal of
his kind. And from that perch high in the air he leaped in one long,
parachuting leap; he landed on the ground, and in three mighty bounds he
was at the place. The horror of the Snake was on him. It set his coat
a-bristling; but it did not hold him back. It only added desperation to
his onset. Clutching that devilish scaly neck with both his arms, he
drove in his chisel teeth and ground them in, down to the very bone, as
Silvergray could not have done. He worked and tugged and stabbed again,
and the Snake, sensing a new and stronger foe, relaxed on Silvergray,
snapped with his hateful jaws, seized Bannertail's strong shoulder just
where he best could stand it--where the skin is thick and strong the
Blacksnake drove in and gripped. And Bannertail, as quick, quit his
first hold on the coil that was strangling Nyek-nyek, and by good luck,
or maybe by better wisdom than his own, drove, fighting fierce, into the
demon's throat, the weak spot in that scaly armor. Deep sank the
Squirrel's teeth, and pangs of mortal agony went thrilling through the
reptile's length. But he was strong, and a desperate fighter, too. The
coils unloosed on the senseless form of Nyek-nyek and lapped in a
trice on Bannertail, three times round, straining, crushing, while his
rows of cruel fangs were sunk in the Squirrel's silvery side.

[Illustration: THE BATTLE WITH THE BLACKSNAKE]

[Illustration]

But in throwing all his force against Bannertail he released the little
Gray mother. She flung herself again on the black horror, and bit with
all her power the head that was gripped on the shoulder of her mate.
Very narrow is the demon reptile's head, and only one place was open,
offered to her grip. She bit with all her force across the eyes, her
long, sharp chisels entered in. His eyes were pierced, his brain was
stung. With an agonizing last convulsion he wrenched on Bannertail,
then, quivering with a palsy that changed to a springing open of the
coils, he dashed his head from side to side, lashed his tail, heaved
this way and that, coiled up, then straightened out. The Squirrels
leaped back, the monster lashed in writhing convolutions, felt the cool
water that he could no longer see, went squirming out upon it, working
his frothy jaws, lashing, thrashing with his tail. Then up from the
darkest depths came a hideous goggle-eyed head, a monstrous head, as big
as a Squirrel's whole body, and on it a horny beak, which, opening,
showed a huge red maw, and the squirming Blacksnake was seized by the
bigger brute. Crushed and broken in those mighty jaws was the Black
One's supple spine; torn open by those great claws was his belly, ended
was his life. The Snapper sank, taking the Blacksnake with him. It was
the finish of an ancient feud between them, and down in the dark depths
of the pond the Water Demon feasted on the body of his foe.

[Illustration]

And Bannertail, the brave fighter, with the heroic little Mother and
Nyek-nyek now revived, drew quickly back to safety. A little cut they
were, but mostly breathless, their very wind squeezed out by those dread
coils. The ripples on the pool had scarcely died before they were all
three again in the dear old nest, with Brownhead back anew from a far
journey. Without words, were they to tell of their thrills and fears, or
their joy; but this reaction came: They cuddled up in the nest, a little
closer than before, a little more at one, a little less to feel the
scatteration craze that comes in most wild families when the young are
grown; which meant these young will have for a little longer the good
offices of their parents, and are thereby fitted a little better for the
life-battle, a little more likely to win.

Is it not by such accumulating little things that brain and brawn and
the world success of every dominating race of creatures has been built?

[Illustration]



_THE PROPERTY LAW AMONG ANIMALS_



CHAPTER XXXV

THE PROPERTY LAW AMONG ANIMALS


THAT was the year of the wonderful nut crop. It is commonly so; the year
of famine is followed by one of plenty. Red oaks and white were laden,
as well as the sweet shag hickories. And the Bannertail family in their
grove watched with a sort of owner pride the thick green hanging
clusters of their favorite food.

[Illustration]

Like small boys too eager to await the baking of their cake, nibbling at
the unsatisfactory half-done dough, they cut and opened many a growing
nut. Its kernel, very small as yet, was good; but the rind, oozing its
green-brown juices, stained their jaws and faces, yes,--their arms and
breasts, till it was hard to recognize each other in these dark-brown
masks. For the disfigurement they cared nothing. Only when the thick
sap, half drying, gummed his silvery plume, did Bannertail abandon other
pursuits to lick and clear and thoroughly comb that priceless tail; and
what he did, the others, by force of his energetic example, were soon
compelled to do.

The Hunting-moon, September, came. The nuts were fully grown but very
green. "Who owns the nuts?" is an old question in the woods. Usually
they are owned by the one who can possess them effectively, although
there are some restraining, unwritten laws.

[Illustration]

Squirrels have three well-marked ideas of property. First, of the
nesting-place which they have possessed, and the nest which they have
built; second, the food which they have found or stored; third, the
range which is their homeland--the boundaries of which are not
well-defined--but most jealously held against those of their own kind.
The Homeland is also held against all who eat their foods so that it is
part of the food-property sense. All three were strong in Bannertail;
and his growing pride in the coming nut yield was much like that of a
farmer who, by the luck of good weather, is blessed with a bumper crop
of corn.

It seemed as though word of the coming feast had spread to other and
far-off places, for many other nut-eaters kept drifting that way,
turning up in the hickory woods that the Graycoats thought their own.

[Illustration]

The Bluejay and the Redheaded Woodpecker came. They pecked long and hard
at the soggy husks to get at the soft, sweet, milk-white meat. They did
little damage, for their beaks were not strong enough to twist off the
nuts and carry them away, but the Graycoats felt that these were
poachers and drove them off. Of course it was easy for the birds to keep
out of reach, but they hovered about, stealing--yes, that was what the
Squirrels thought about it--stealing the hickory harvest when they
could.

[Illustration]

Then came other poachers, the Redsquirrel with his mate, cheeky,
brazen-fronted, aggressive as usual; they would come quietly, when the
Graycoats were asleep or elsewhere, and proceed to cut the nut bunches.
Many times the only notice of their presence was the sudden "thump,
thump" of the nut bunch striking the ground after the Red One had cut it
loose. His intention had been to go down quietly after it, split the
husks, and carry off the luscious, half-ripe nuts to his storehouse.
But the racket called the Graycoats' attention. Bannertail and Brownhead
would rush forth like settlers to fight off an Indian raid, or like
householders to save their stuff from burglars.

There was little actual fighting to do with the Red Ones, for they had
learned to fear and fly from the Graycoats, but they did not fly far.
Their safest refuge was a hole underground, where Graycoats could not or
would not follow, and after waiting for quiet the Red Robber would come
out again, and sometimes, at least, get away with a load of the prized
nuts.

New enemies approached one day, nothing less than other Graycoats, some
Squirrels of their own kind, travelling from some other land,
travelling, maybe, like Joseph and his brethren, away from a place of
famine, till now they found an Egypt, a land of plenty.

Against them Bannertail went vigorously to war. It is well known that
the lawful owner fights more valiantly, with more heart, with
indomitable courage indeed, while the invader is in doubt. He lacks the
backing of a righteous cause. He half expects to be put to flight, even
as he goes forth to battle. And the Bannertails were able to make good
their claims to the hickory grove. Yet it kept them ever alert, ever
watchful, ever ready to fight.

Partly because the nuts were already good food, and partly because it
kept others from stealing them, the Graycoats cut some of the crop in
September.



_GATHERING THE GREAT NUT HARVEST_



CHAPTER XXXVI

GATHERING THE GREAT NUT HARVEST


IN the Leaf-falling-moon, October, the husks began to dry and split, and
the nuts to fall of themselves. Then was seen a wild, exciting time, the
stirring of habits and impulses laid in the foundations of the race.

[Illustration]

No longer wabbly or vague, as in that first autumn, but fully aroused
and dominating was the instinct to gather and bury every precious,
separate nut. Bannertail had had to learn slowly and partly by seeing
the Redsquirrels making off with the prizes. But he had learned, and his
brood had the immediate stimulus of seeing him and their mother at
work; and because he was of unusual force, it drove him hard, with an
urge that acted like a craze. He worked like mad, seizing, stripping,
smelling, appraising, marking, weighing every nut he found.

[Illustration]

[Illustration]

What, weighing it? Yes, every nut was weighed by the wise harvester.
How? By delicate muscular sense. It was held for a moment between the
paws, and if it seemed far under weight it was cast aside as worm-eaten,
empty, worthless; if big, but merely light in weight, that meant
probably a fat worm was within. Then that nut was split open and the
worm devoured. A wormy nut was never stored. If the nut was heavy,
round, and perfect, the fine balance in the paws and the subtle sense of
smell asserted the fact, and then it was owner-marked. How? By turning
it round three times in the mouth, in touch with the tongue. This left
the personal touch of that Squirrel on it, and would protect it in a
measure from being carried off by other Graysquirrels, especially when
food abounded. Then, rushing off several hops from the place where the
last nut was buried, Bannertail would dig deep in the ground, his full
arm's length, ram down the nut held in his teeth; then, pushing back the
earth with snout and paws, would tamp that down, replacing the twigs and
dry leaves so the nut was safely hidden. Then to the next, varying the
exercise by dashing, not after the visiting Graysquirrels--they kept
their distance--but after some thieving Chipmunk or those pestiferous
Redsquirrels who sought sometimes to unearth his buried treasure. Or, he
would dart noisily up the tree, to chase the Bluejays who were trying to
rob them of the nuts not yet fallen; then back to earth again, where was
his family--Silvergray, Brownhead, and Nyek-nyek--inspired by his
example, all doing as he did, working like beavers, seizing, husking,
weighing, marking, digging, dig-dig-digging and burying nuts all day
long. Hundreds of these little graves they dug, till the ground under
every parent tree was a living, crowded burying-ground of the tree's own
children. Morning, noon, and evening they worked, as long as there was
light enough to see.

A cool night and another drying day brought down another hickory shower.
And the Graycoats worked without ceasing. They were tired out that
night. They had driven off a score of robbers, they had buried at least
a thousand nuts, each in a separate hole. The next day was an even more
strenuous time. For seven full days they worked, and then the precious
nut harvest was over. Acorns--red and white and yellow--might come
later, and some be buried and some not. The Bluejays, Woodpeckers, and
the Redsquirrels would get a handsome share, and pile them up in
storehouses, a day's gathering in one place, for such is their way, but
the hickory-nuts were the precious things that counted for the
Bannertail brood. Ten thousand at least had the Graycoats buried, each
an arm's length down, and deftly hidden, with the trash of the forest
floor replaced.

This undoubtedly was their only impulse, to bury the rich nuts for
future use as food. But Nature's plan was larger. There were other foods
in the woods at this season. The Squirrels would not need the precious
hickories for weeks or months; all sign that might mark the burial-place
would be gone. When really driven by need the Squirrels would come and
dig up these caches. Memory of the locality first, then their exquisite
noses would be their guides. They would find most of the nuts again.
But not all. Some would escape the diggers, and what would happen to
these? _They would grow._ Yes, that was Nature's plan. The acorns
falling and lying on the ground can burst their thin coats, send down a
root and up a shoot at once, but the hickory must be buried or it will
dry up before it grows. This is the hickory's age-old compact with the
Graysquirrel: You bury my nuts for me, plant my children, and you may
have ninety-five per cent of the proceeds for your trouble, so long only
as you save the other five per cent and give them a chance to grow up
into hickory-trees.

[Illustration]

This is the unwritten but binding bargain that is observed each year.
And this is the reason why there are hickory-trees wherever there are
Graysquirrels. Where the Graycoats have died out the hickory's days are
numbered. And foolish man, who slays the Graysquirrel in his reckless
lust for killing, is also destroying the precious hickory-trees, whose
timber is a mainstay of the nation-feeding agriculture of the world. He
is like the fool on a tree o'erhanging the abyss, who saws the very limb
on which depends his life.



_AND TO-DAY_



CHAPTER XXXVII

AND TO-DAY


HIS race still lives in Jersey woods; they have come back into their
own. Go forth, O wise woodman, if you would become yet wiser. Go in the
dew-time after rain, when the down, dry leaves have lost their tongues.
Go softly as you may, you will see none of the Squirrel-kind, for they
are better woodmen than you. But sit in silence for half an hour, so the
discord of your coming may be forgotten.

Then a little signal, "_Qua_," like the quack of a Wild-duck, will be
answered by the countersign, "_Quaire_"; then there will be wigwag
signal flashes with silver tail-tips. "All's well!" is the word they
are passing, and if you continue very discreet and kind, they will take
up their lives again. The silent trees will give up dryad forms, not
many, not hundreds, not even scores, but a dozen or more, and they will
play and live their greenwood lives about you, unafraid. They will come
near, if you still emanate unenmity, so you may see clearly the liquid
eyes, the vibrant feelers on their legs and lips. And if these be
tree-top wood-folk, very big and strong of their kind, with silvery
coats and brownie caps, and tails that are of marvellous length and
fluff, like puffs of yellow smoke with silver frills or flashes of a
white light about them, then be sure of this, by virtue of the sleek,
lithe beauty of their outer forms and the quick wood-wisdom of their
little brains--you are watching a clan of Bannertail's own brood.

[Illustration]

And, further, rest assured that when the hard nuts fall next
autumn-time, Mother Carey has at hand a chosen band of planters for her
trees, and a noble forest for another age will be planted on these
hills, timber for all time.

[Illustration]

       *       *       *       *       *


Transcriber's Notes:

Obvious punctuation errors repaired.

Page 27, "growthth at" changed to "growth that" (growth that are marked)

Page 46, "off" changed to "of" (of basswood buds)





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