The Squirrels of the Trees
P ETER RABBIT found Johnny Chuck sitting on his doorstep, sunning himself. Peter was quite out of breath because he had hurried so. "Do you know that you are a Squirrel, Johnny Chuck?" he panted.
Johnny slowly turned his head and looked at Peter as if he thought Peter had suddenly gone crazy. "What are you talking about, Peter Rabbit? I'm not a Squirrel; I'm a Woodchuck," he replied.
"Just the same, you are a Squirrel," retorted Peter. "The Woodchucks belong to the Squirrel family. Old Mother Nature says so, and if she says so, it is so. You'd better join our school, Johnny Chuck, and learn a little about your own relatives."
Johnny Chuck blinked his eyes and for a minute or two couldn't find a word to say. He knew that if Peter were telling the truth as to what Old Mother Nature had said, it must be true that he was a member of the Squirrel family. But it was hard to believe. "What is this school?" he finally asked.
Peter hastened to tell him. He told Johnny all about what he and Jumper the Hare had learned about their family, and all the surprising things Old Mother Nature had told them about the Squirrel family, and he ended by again urging Johnny Chuck to join the school and promised to call for Johnny the next morning.
But Johnny Chuck is lazy and does not like to go far from his own doorstep, so when Peter called the next morning Johnny refused to go, despite all Peter could say. Peter didn't waste much time arguing for he was afraid he would be late and miss something. When he reached the Green Forest he found his cousin, Jumper the Hare, and Chatterer the Red Squirrel, and Happy Jack the Gray Squirrel, already there. As soon as Peter arrived Old Mother Nature began the morning lesson.
"Happy Jack," said she, "you may tell us all you know about your cousin, Chatterer."
"To begin with, he is the smallest of the Tree Squirrels," said
At once Chatterer's quick temper flared up and he began to scold.
But Old Mother Nature silenced him and told
Chatterer started to scold again but was silenced once more by Old
Mother Nature. "I have to admit that Chatterer is thrifty,"
"You do the same thing to me when you have the chance, which isn't often," sputtered Chatterer.
Happy Jack turned his back to Chatterer and continued, "He doesn't seem to mind cold weather at all, as long as the sun shines. His noisy tongue is to be heard on the coldest days of winter. He is the sauciest, most impudent fellow of the Green Forest, and never so happy as when he is making trouble for others. He sauces and scolds everybody he meets, and every time he opens his mouth he jerks his tail. He's quarrelsome. Worse than that, in the spring when the birds are nesting, he turns robber. He goes hunting for nests and steals the eggs, and what is even more dreadful, he kills and eats the baby birds. All the birds hate him, and I don't blame them."
Chatterer could contain himself no longer. His tongue fairly flew
and he jerked his tail so hard and so fast that Peter Rabbit almost
expected to see him break it right off. He called
When at last he stopped from sheer lack of
breath, Old Mother
Nature spoke, and her voice was very severe. "I'm ashamed of you,
Chatterer," said she. "Unfortunately, what
For a few minutes Chatterer sulked, but he did not dare disobey Old Mother Nature. "I don't know much good about him," he mumbled.
"And you don't know much bad about me either," retorted
Old Mother Nature held up a warning hand. "That will do," said she. "Now, Chatterer, go on."
"Happy Jack is more than twice as big as I, but at that, I'm not
afraid of him," said Chatterer and glared at
It was Happy Jack's turn to become indignant. "I may have taken a few eggs when I accidentally ran across them," said he, "but I never go looking for them, and I don't take them unless I am very hungry and can't find anything else. I don't make a business of robbing birds the way you do, and you know it. If I find one of your storehouses and help myself, I am only getting back what you have stolen from me. Everybody loves me and that is more than you can say."
"That's enough," declared Old Mother Nature, and her voice was very
sharp. "You two cousins never have agreed and I am afraid never will.
As long as you are neighbors, I suspect you will quarrel. Have you
told us all you know about
Chatterer nodded. He was still mumbling to himself angrily and
wasn't polite enough to make a reply. Old Mother Nature took no
notice of this. "What you have told us is good as far as it goes,"
said she. "You said that
Peter Rabbit's ears stood straight up with astonishment. "How can a Gray Squirrel be black?" he demanded.
Old Mother Nature smiled. "That is a fair question, Peter," said
she. "Gray Squirrel is simply the name of
Seeing how surprised everybody looked, Mother Nature explained.
"Both Happy Jack and Rusty bury a great many more nuts than they
ever need," said she, "and those they do not dig up sprout in the
spring and grow. In that way they plant ever so many trees without
knowing it. Just remember that, Chatterer, the next time you are
tempted to quarrel with your cousin,
By the expression of Happy Jack's face it was quite clear that he didn't know it. "Certainly I can swim," said Chatterer. I don't mind the water at all. I can swim a long distance if I have to."
This was quite as much news to Peter Rabbit as had been the fact that a cousin of his own was a good swimmer, and he began to feel something very like respect for Chatterer.
"Are there any other Tree Squirrels?" asked Jumper the Hare.
"Yes," replied Old Mother Nature, "there are two—the handsomest
of all the family. They live out in the Southwest, in one of the
most wonderful places in all this great land, a place called the
With this, Old Mother Nature dismissed school for the day.