Two Queer Little Haymakers
There is nothing like a little knowledge to make one want more. Johnny Chuck, who had gone to school only because Old Mother Nature had sent for him, had become as full of curiosity as Peter Rabbit. The discovery that he had a big, handsome cousin, Whistler the Marmot, living in the mountains of the Far West, had given Johnny something to think about. It seemed to Johnny such a queer place for a member of his family to live that he wanted to know more about it. So Johnny had a question all ready when Old Mother Nature called school to order the next morning.
"If you please, Mother Nature," said he, "does my cousin, Whistler, have any neighbors up among those rocks where he lives?"
"He certainly does," replied Old Mother Nature, nodding her head. "He has for a near neighbor one of the quaintest and most interesting little members of the big order to which you all belong. And that order is what?" she asked abruptly.
"The order of Rodents," replied Peter Rabbit promptly.
"Right, Peter," replied Old Mother Nature, smiling at Peter. "I asked that just to see if you really are learning. I wanted to make sure that I am not wasting my time with you little folks. Now this little neighbor of Whistler is Little Chief Hare."
Instantly Peter Rabbit and Jumper the Hare pricked up their long ears and became more interested than ever, if that were possible. "I thought you had told us all about our family," cried Jumper, "but you didn't mention Little Chief."
"No," said Old Mother Nature, "I didn't, and the reason I didn't was because Little Chief isn't a member of your family. He is called Little Chief Hare, but he isn't a Hare at all, although he looks much like a small Rabbit with short hind legs and rounded ears. He has a family all to himself and should be called a Pika. Some folks do call him that, but more call him a Cony, and some call him the Crying Hare. This is because he uses his voice a great deal, which is something no member of the Hare family does. In size he is just about as big as one of your half-grown babies, Peter, so, you see, he really is a very little fellow. His coat is grayish-brown. His ears are of good size, but instead of being long, are round. He has small bright eyes. His legs are short, his hind legs being very little longer than his front ones. He has hair on the soles of his feet just like the members of the hare family."
"What about his tail?" piped up Peter Rabbit. You know Peter is very much interested in tails.
Old Mother Nature smiled. "He is worse off than you, Peter," said she, "for he hasn't any at all. That is, he hasn't any that can be seen. He lives way up among the rocks of the great mountains above where the trees grow and often is a very near neighbor to Whistler."
"I suppose that means that he makes his home down in under rocks, the same as Whistler does," spoke up Johnny Chuck.
"Right," replied Old Mother Nature. "He is such a little fellow that he can get through very narrow places, and he has his home and barns way down in among the rocks."
"Barns!" exclaimed Happy Jack Squirrel. "Barns! What do you mean by barns?"
Old Mother Nature laughed. "I just call them barns," said she, "because they are the places where he stores away his hay, just as Farmer Brown stores away his hay in his barn. I suppose you would call them storehouses."
At the mention of hay, Peter Rabbit sat bolt upright and his eyes were wide open with astonishment. "Did you say hay?" he exclaimed. "Where under the sun does he get hay way up there, and what does he want of it?"
There was a twinkle in Old Mother Nature's eyes as she replied, "He makes that hay just as you see Farmer Brown make hay every summer. It is what he lives on in the winter and in bad weather. Little Chief knows just as much about the proper way of making hay as Farmer Brown does. Even way up among the rocks there are places where grass and peas-vines and other green things grow. Little Chief lives on these in summer. But he is as wise and thrifty as any Squirrel, another way in which he differs from the Hare family. He cuts them when they are ready for cutting and spreads them out on the rocks to dry in the sun. He knows that if he should take them down into his barns while they are fresh and green they would sour and spoil; so he never stores them away until they are thoroughly dry. Then, of course, they are hay, for hay is nothing but sun-dried grass cut before it has begun to die. When his hay is just as dry as it should be, he takes it down and stores it away in his barns, which are nothing but little caves down in among the rocks. There he has it for use in winter when there is no green food.
"Little Chief is so nearly the color of the rocks that it takes sharp eyes to see him when he is sitting still. He has a funny little squeaking voice, and he uses it a great deal. It is a funny voice because it is hard to tell just where it comes from. It seems to come from nowhere in particular. Sometimes he can be heard squeaking way down in his home under the rocks. Like Johnny Chuck, he prefers to sleep at night and be abroad during the day. Because he is so small he must always be on the lookout for enemies. At the first hint of danger he scampers to safety in among the rocks, and there he scolds whoever has frightened him. There is no more loveable little person in all my great family than this little haymaker of the mountains of the Great West."
"That haymaking is a pretty good idea of Little Chief's," remarked Peter Rabbit, scratching a long ear with a long hind foot. "I've a great mind to try it myself."
Everybody laughed right out, for everybody knew just how easy-going and thriftless Peter was. Peter himself grinned. He couldn't help it.
"That would be a very good idea, Peter," said Old Mother Nature. "By the way, there is another haymaker out in those same great mountains of the Far West."
"Who?" demanded Peter and Johnny Chuck and Happy Jack Squirrel, all in the same breath.
"Stubtail the Mountain Beaver," declared Peter promptly. "I suppose Stubtail is his cousin."
Old Mother Nature shook her head. "No," said she. "No. Stubtail and Paddy are no more closely related than the rest of you. Stubtail isn't a Beaver at all. His proper name is Sewellel. Sometimes he is called Showt'l and sometimes the Boomer, and sometimes the Chehalis, but most folks call him the Mountain Beaver."
"Is it because he looks like Paddy the Beaver?" Striped Chipmunk asked.
"No," replied Old Mother Nature. "He looks more like Jerry Muskrat than he does like Paddy. He is about Jerry's size and looks very much as Jerry would if he had no tail."
"Hasn't he any tail at all?" asked Peter.
"Yes, he has a little tail, a little stub of a tail, but it is so small that to look at him you would think he hadn't any," replied Old Mother Nature. "He is found out in the same mountains of the Far West where Whistler and Little Chief live, but instead of living way up high among the rocks he is at home down in the valleys where the ground is soft and the trees grow thickly. Stubtail has no use for rocks. He wants soft, wet ground where he can tunnel and tunnel to his heart's content. In one thing Stubtail is very like Yap Yap the Prairie Dog."
"What is that?" asked Johnny Chuck quickly, for, you know, Yap Yap is Johnny's cousin.
"In his social habits," replied Old Mother Nature. "Stubtail isn't fond of living alone. He wants company of his own kind. So wherever you find Stubtail you are likely to find many of his family. They like to go visiting back and forth. They make little paths between their homes and all about through the thick ferns, and they keep these little paths free and clear, so that they may run along them easily. Some of these little paths lead into long tunnels. These are made for safety. Usually the ground is so wet that there will be water running in the bottoms of these little tunnels."
"What kind of a house does Stubtail have?" inquired Johnny Chuck interestedly.
"A hole in the ground, of course," replied Old Mother Nature. "It is dug where the ground is drier than where the runways are made. Mrs. Stubtail makes a nest of dried ferns and close by they build two or three storehouses, for Stubtail and Mrs. Stubtail are thrifty people."
"I suppose he fills them with hay, for you said he is a haymaker," remarked Happy Jack Squirrel, who is always interested in storehouses.
"Yes," replied Old Mother Nature, "he puts hay in them. He cuts grasses, ferns, pea-vines and other green plants and carries them in little bundles to the entrance to his tunnel. There he piles them on sticks so as to keep them off the damp ground and so that the air can help dry them out. When they are dry, he takes them inside and stores them away. He also stores other things. He likes the roots of ferns. He cuts tender, young twigs from bushes and stores away some of these. He is fond of bark. In winter he is quite as active as in summer and tunnels about under the snow. Then he sometimes has Peter Rabbit's bad habit of killing trees by gnawing bark all around as high up as he can reach."
"Can he climb trees?" asked Chatterer the Red Squirrel.
"Just about as much as Johnny Chuck can," replied Old Mother Nature. "Sometimes he climbs up in low bushes or in small, low-branching trees to cut off tender shoots, but he doesn't do much of this sort of thing. His home is the ground. He is most active at night, but where undisturbed, is out more or less during the day. When he wants to cut off a twig he sits up like a Squirrel and holds the twig in his hands while he bites it off with his sharp teeth."
"You didn't tell us what color his coat is," said Peter Rabbit.
"I told you he looked very much like Jerry Muskrat," replied Old Mother Nature. "His coat is brown, much the color of Jerry's, but his fur is not nearly so soft and fine."
"I suppose he has enemies just as the rest of us little people have," said Peter.
"Of course," replied Old Mother Nature. "All little people have enemies, and most big ones too, for that matter. King Eagle is one and Yowler the Bob Cat is another. They are always watching for Stubtail. That is why he digs so many tunnels. He can travel under the ground then. My goodness, how time flies! Scamper home, all of you, for I have too much to do to talk any more to-day."