O N THE WAY HOME from the banquet, Loper Mink came across Brownie Muskrat seated on a tuft of grass dabbling his feet in a water-run. Brownie had scampered on ahead in order to watch for his old enemy. Perhaps if he had not, the day before, broken a splinter off his tooth by mistaking a white stone for a pond-lily root, he would not have thought of taking advantage of Truce Night to tell Loper just what he thought of him. But Brownie was in pain, and when a muskrat is suffering, he is very brave indeed and as defiant as any animal alive.
Loper came whistling along, now and again pausing to laugh as he thought of Goggle Eyes' funny song.
"My sakes!" he murmured, "I must remember that verse about myself. Let's see now. Oh yes. Here it is:
'Loper's always snarlin' and puffin'
Gets his back up over nuthin'."
"Well, it's true enough!" cried Brownie, springing up almost in Loper's face. "You can't deny that you're a cross, unfeeling old killer; so there!"
"Whew!" exclaimed Loper, in great surprise.
"No," growled Brownie, "not me. YOU."
Loper Mink and Brownie Muskrat
"I heard you the first time," said Loper. "What's the matter with you, Brownie? Want to pick a quarrel with me?"
"I simply want to tell you what I think of you," Brownie retorted.
"That isn't necessary," Loper remarked. "I know already."
"Well just you multiply what you know by one thousand and add nine hundred and twenty, and you'll just about have my opinion of you," Brownie said.
"I'm not good at arithmetic," sneered Loper, his red tongue licking his lips.
"Oh, you needn't show your fangs," cried Brownie. "You daren't touch me, and you know it. This is Truce Night, remember."
"But," said Loper insinuatingly, "tomorrow is not far away."
Brownie glanced apprehensively over his shoulder, Eastward. True, the sky was already lighting. In three or four minutes it would be daylight.
He did not want any fight with Loper. The mink was too quick, too strong and cunning a battler for him. But his broken tooth was hurting him and he couldn't resist the desire to taunt his enemy once more.
"I wish you would keep away from my runs," he snarled. "If you knew how much a clean, root-eating animal detests a dead-fish eater like you, you'd stay in your own territory."
This was something that no self-respecting mink—always a killer of the food he eats—could stand.
Brownie saw Loper brace his feet and draw back his lip in a snarl. He waited for no more. Promptly he dived into the deep water-run.
But Loper was a diver also, a better diver even than Brownie. Like a streak he flashed down in the wake of the muskrat. There is no telling what might have happened, either, had not both pursued and pursuer glimpsed just ahead of them the round and cruel red eyes of Fisher, the outlaw. That vicious, quick-killing enemy to all bird and animal kind darted straight toward them.
"Squee!" screamed Brownie, his teeth chattering in fright.
"Whewee!" whistled Loper in terror.
"In here, quick!" cried Brownie, and darted into one of the many tunnel-entrances of his rush house. Up this he sped, the panting Loper close behind, and the outlaw following with many snarls and hisses.
Into the house tumbled muskrat and mink, and Brownie shut and locked the door.
"Close call, that!" he panted.
"It was," agreed the thoroughly frightened Loper.
They lay close together on the grass floor, their sides heaving and their breath coming in short gasps.
An inner door opened and Mammy Muskrat, holding a fire-fly candle and wearing a night-cap, glared across at them.
"What do you mean, Pa," she addressed Brownie crossly, "by stumbling in here like this and waking up my babies?"
"I'm afraid, Marm, it's all my
"I brought Loper Mink home with me for breakfast, Ma,"
he said in his gentlest tones. "We—he and I—have
"We've decided, Marm," bowed Loper, "to let by-gones be by-gones, and henceforward be the best of friends."
Mrs. Muskrat beamed. "Oh, I'm so glad to hear it," she cried. "I'll go get breakfast right away."
When she was gone, Brownie turned to Loper.
"Just forget the nasty things I said a while ago," he begged. "Fact is I was nearly crazy with toothache."
"Why, I'm only too glad to forget them," answered Loper. "If you hadn't led me in here to safety, I would have been a dead mink sure. How's the tooth now?" he asked.
"It's gone," Brownie said. "Reckon I must have chattered it loose on our trip up here."