Bobby Coon Arrives
O LD MOTHER NATURE was just about to open school when a slight noise up the Lone Little Path drew all eyes in that direction. There, shuffling down the Lone Little Path, was a queer looking fellow. No one needed more than one look at that funny, sharp, black and white face of his to recognize him.
"Bobby Coon!" shouted Peter Rabbit. "Are you coming to join our school, Bobby?"
Bobby shuffled along a little nearer, then sat up and blinked at them sleepily. No one needed to be told that Bobby had been out all night. He rubbed his eyes and yawned. "Hello, everybody," said he. "I wish I felt as bright and lively as all of you look. I'd like to join your school, but I'm afraid if I did I would go to sleep right in the middle of the lesson. I ought to have been home an hour ago. So I guess I'll have to be excused."
Old Mother Nature pointed an accusing finger at Bobby Coon. "Bobby," said she, "You've been getting in mischief. Now own up you've been stealing some of that sweet, milky corn from Farmer Brown's cornfield."
Bobby Coon hung his head. "I—I—I don't think it was stealing," he mumbled. "That corn just grows, and I don't see why I shouldn't have my share of it. I help myself to other things, so why shouldn't I help myself to that?"
"I'll tell you why," replied Old Mother Nature. "Farmer Brown planted that corn and took care of it. If he hadn't planted it, there wouldn't have been any corn there. That makes it his corn. If it grew wild, you would have a perfect right to it. As it is, you haven't any right to it at all. Now take my advice, Bobby, and keep away from that cornfield. If you don't, you will get in trouble. One of these fine nights Bowser the Hound will find you there and you will have to run for your life. Keep away from temptation."
"But that corn is so good," sighed Bobby Coon, smacking his lips. "There is nothing I like better than sweet, milky corn, and if I don't get it from Farmer Brown's cornfield, I can't get it at all, for it doesn't grow wild. He'll never miss the little I take."
Old Mother Nature shook her head and looked very grave. "Bobby," said she, "that is no excuse at all. Mark what I say: If you keep on you certainly will get in trouble. If you would be satisfied to take just an ear or two, I don't believe Farmer Brown would care, but you know very well that you spoil many times what you eat. You sample one ear, then think that probably the next ear will be better and sweeter and you try that. By the time you get through you have spoiled a lot, and eaten only a little. I think I'll punish you a little myself by keeping you here a while. If you think you can't keep awake, just go over and sit down there by Prickly Porky; he'll keep you awake."
"I—I think I can keep awake," stammered Bobby and opened his eyes very wide as if he were trying to stretch his eyelids so as to make them stay open.
"I'll help you by asking you a few questions," replied Old Mother Nature. "Who is it that people sometimes call you the little cousin of?"
Bobby grinned. "Buster Bear," said he.
"That's right," replied Old Mother Nature. "Of course, being a Raccoon, you are not a Bear, but you are related to the Bear family. I want you all to notice Bobby's footprints over yonder. You will see that the print of his hind foot shows the whole foot, heels and toes, and is a lot like Buster Bear's footprint on a small scale. Bobby shuffles along in much the same way that Buster walks. No one ever mistakes Bobby Coon for any one else. There is no danger that any one ever will as long as he carries that big, bushy tail with its broad black and gray rings. There is only one other in all this great country with a tail so marked, and that is a relative of Bobby's of whom I will tell you later. And there is no other face like Bobby's with its black cheeks. You will notice that Bobby is rather small around the shoulders, but is big and heavy around the hips. That gives him a clumsy look, but he is anything but clumsy. Despite the fact that his legs are not very long Bobby is a very good runner. However, he doesn't do any running unless he has to. Bobby, where were you before you went over to Farmer Brown's cornfield?"
Once more Bobby hung his head. It was quite clear that Bobby didn't want to answer that question. But Old Mother Nature insisted, and finally Bobby blurted it out. "I was up to Farmer Brown's hen house," said he.
"What for?" asked Old Mother Nature.
"Oh, just to look around," replied Bobby.
"To look around for what?" insisted Old Mother Nature.
"Well," said Bobby, "I thought one of those Hens up there might have dropped an egg that she didn't really care about."
"Bobby," said Old Mother Nature sternly, "why don't you own up that you went over there to try to steal eggs? Or did you think you might catch a tender young Chicken? Where were you night before last?"
"Over at the Laughing Brook and the Smiling Pool," replied Bobby promptly, evidently glad the subject had been changed.
"Well, you didn't find sweet corn or eggs or Chickens over there, did you?" said Old Mother Nature.
"No, but I caught three of the sweetest tasting little fish in a little pool in the Laughing Brook, and I got some of the tenderest Clams I've ever eaten," replied Bobby, smacking his lips. "I raked them out of the mud and opened them. Down at the Smiling Pool I had a lot of fun catching young Frogs. I certainly do like Frogs. It is great sport to catch them, and they are fine eating."
"I suppose you have had an eye on the beech trees and the wild grape-vines," said Old Mother Nature slyly.
Bobby's face brightened. "Indeed I have," said he. "There will be splendid crops of beechnuts and grapes this fall. My, but they will taste good!"
Old Mother Nature laughed. "There is small danger that you will go hungry," said she. "When you can't find enough to eat times must be very hard indeed. For the benefit of the others you might add that in addition to the things mentioned you eat other fruits, including berries, insects of various kinds, birds when you can catch them, Mice, Turtles, in fact almost anything that can be eaten. You are not at all fussy about the kind of food. But you have one habit in regard to your food which it would be well if some of these other little folks followed. Do you know what it is?"
Bobby shook his head. "No," said he, "not unless you mean the habit I have of washing my food. If there is any water near, I always like to take what I am going to eat over to it and wash it; somehow it tastes better."
"Just so," replied Old Mother Nature. "More than once I've seen you in the moonlight beside the Laughing Brook washing your food, and it has always pleased me, for there is nothing like cleanliness and neatness. Did you raise a family this year, Bobby?"
"Mrs. Coon did. We had four of the finest youngsters you have ever seen over in a certain big hollow tree. They are getting big and lively now, and go out with their mother every night. I do hope the hunters will leave them alone this fall. I hate to think of anything happening to them. If they can just get through the hunting season safely, I'll enjoy my winter sleep better, and I know Mrs. Coon will."
At this Johnny Chuck pricked up his ears. "Do you sleep all winter, Bobby?" he asked eagerly.
"Not all winter, but a good part of it," replied Bobby. "I don't turn in until the weather gets pretty cold, and it is hard to find anything to eat. But after the first snow I'm usually ready to sleep. Then I curl up in a warm bed of leaves in a certain big hollow tree, and don't care how cold or stormy the weather is. Sometimes I wake up once or twice, when the weather is mild, and take a little walk around for exercise. But I don't go far and soon return to sleep."
"What do you do when Bowser the Hound gets after you?" asked Peter Rabbit.
"Run till I get out of breath," replied Bobby. "And if by that time I haven't been able to fool him so that he loses my trail, I take to a tree. Thank goodness, he can't climb a tree. Sometimes I climb from the top of one tree into the top of another, and sometimes into a third and then a fourth, when they are near enough together. That fools the hunters, if they follow Bowser."
"Have you any relatives, Bobby?" asked Old Mother Nature.
"I didn't know I had until you mentioned that fellow with the ringed tail you said you would tell us about. I didn't know there was anybody with a tail like mine, and I would like to know about it," replied Bobby.
"He isn't exactly a Raccoon, but he is more nearly related to you than any one else," replied Old Mother Nature. "His tail shows that. Aside from this, he is nothing like you at all. He is called the Ring-tailed Cat. But he doesn't look any more like a Cat than he does like you, and he isn't related to the Cat family at all. He has several names. He is called the Bassaris, the Civet Cat, Ring-tailed Cat, Coon Cat and Cacomixtle. Instead of being thick and clumsy-looking, as is Bobby here, he is long and rather slender, with a yellowish-brown coat, somewhat grayish on the back and whitish underneath. His head is rather small, long and beautifully shaped. His ears are of good size and very pretty. In some ways he looks like Reddy Fox. But the really beautiful thing about him is his tail. It is nearly as long as his body, thick and beautifully marked with black and white bands.
"He is quick and graceful in his movements, and, like Bobby, prefers to be abroad at night. Also, like Bobby, he eats about everything that he can find—flesh, reptiles, fruit, nuts and insects. He lives in the Far Southwest, and also in some of the mountains of the Far West. Why he should be called Civet Cat is more than I can guess, for he is neither a Civet nor a Cat. He is very clever at catching Mice, and sometimes he is kept as a pet, just as Farmer Brown keeps Black Pussy, to catch the Mice about the homes of men.
"Now, Bobby, you can trot along home, and I hope all that green
corn you have eaten will not give you the stomach ache.