H OLIDAY STREAM ran through a muddy place soon after it left the pond. Near the edge of the water there were some marks in the soft earth. If a baby had been playing there and had pressed his fat hands into the mud, he would have made marks much like these by the stream. They could not be the marks of a baby, however, for they were not made in the daytime. They were left there at night when it was too dark for a child to find the way through the woods to the stream.
After the sun had set, one pleasant evening in May, Mother Lotor went for her usual walk. The shadbushes were white with bloom, and the plum trees scattered their fragrance through the dusk, but Mother Lotor did not seem to notice the flowers. She was hungry. She had eaten nothing since the night before.
Mother Lotor was hungry.
When she reached the stream she paused a moment to look and listen and sniff. She did not rest on her toes like a cat or a dog. She stood with the bare soles of her feet flat on the ground, as a bear does. Because of the shape of her feet, the marks she made in the mud were somewhat like the prints of a baby's hands.
She was about thirty inches long from the tip of her nose to the tip of her bushy tail. The fur next her body was a dull brown, but the longer hairs were gray and those on the back were tipped with black. Her pointed head was shaped a little like that of a fox. Part of her face was whitish, but her cheeks near the eyes were black.
You have guessed by this time that Mother Lotor was a raccoon. It was so dark that you could not have seen how handsome a creature she was, if you had met her by the stream; but it was not too dark for her night eyes to see what was near her.
Mother Lotor was a skillful hunter and fisher. Her movements were both quiet and swift. She caught a few frogs and killed them so quickly that they had no time to suffer. She caught some little fishes and tossed them on the shore.
The frogs and fishes were quite clean. They had just been taken from the water where they had soaked all their lives. But Mother Lotor washed each one before she ate it. She washed it with her hands and she washed it with her feet. She squeezed it and she crushed it. She was in no haste. Leisurely she rested her back against a tree and held her food between her feet while she stripped the white meat into shreds and ate it daintily from her hands.
After her evening meal she went for a walk. She did not wander far, however, for five reasons. Each reason was a little Lotor, and each little Lotor was hungry. So she soon went home to feed her babies. She did not take fishes and frogs to them. They were too young, indeed, for any food except warm milk, the natural first food of all young mammals.
When they had sucked their milk they cuddled together and went to sleep. At first they had been blind and very helpless, but now they were old enough to open their eyes and to play with one another a little. There was not room for very much frolic, though, for their nursery was only a hollow in an old tree.
A woodpecker started the hollow years before, rather high up in the tree, near where a branch had been broken off in a windstorm. The woodpecker nested there one season, and after that some squirrels used it for a bedroom and pantry.
A tree frog found the rotting wood at the bottom of the hollow one cold autumn night when he felt the need to dig into some such soft sheltered place, so he spent the winter there. He liked his home so much that he lived there for four or five years except for a while each spring when he went to the pond to join the spring chorus there. After that season of song he found his way back to his tree hole and stayed inside on very bright sunny days. When the skies were dark with night or clouds, he came out and hunted and sang. His music was a pleasant trilly sort of purr.
As the opening through the bark became older and bigger, more and more rain and snow drifted in each year and the wet wood rotted. Big ants tunneled through the edges, and boring beetles made their trails.
So the woodpecker and the squirrels and the tree frog and the ants and the beetles and doubtless many other creatures had been the strange carpenters that had helped make the tree cabin large enough for the Lotor family.
The five little Lotors knew nothing about the other cave dwellers that had lived in their home before they were born. They knew nothing about all the strange world outside their hollow.
They did not even know their own father very well yet. He came and looked at them and sometimes he brought meat to Mother Lotor. She took such food to the pond or the stream and washed it. Perhaps Father Lotor had squeezed and pounded it in the stream before he gave it to her, but that was no help to her. She felt a need to wash it for herself.
For several months Father Lotor did much of his fishing and hunting alone, although he often met Mother Lotor.
For several months Father Lotor did most of his hunting alone.
One night early in July he went to watch a turtle nearly buried in the mud. Her head and the front edge of her shell were up out of the mud, but not much else showed. She had been there for almost a week and had not tried to get out. She had, indeed, buried herself in the soft ground and seemed in no hurry to move. Father Lotor had seen her a night or two before and had watched her then for a few hours. He had not disturbed her. She was a big snapping turtle, and he was not foolish enough to try to catch her even if she was deep in the mud. This happened to be the end of her stay, however, and at last she wallowed out and walked off with awkward thumping, dragging steps toward a pond that was half a mile or more away.
Before the old snapping turtle was well out of sight, Father Lotor was busy digging in the mud in the very place she had just left. He uncovered about three dozen eggs in their muddy nest, and the sight of them made him feel very hungry. He was not, however, a selfish raccoon, and he knew that Mother Lotor liked turtle eggs. So he called. His voice trembled, and perhaps if you had heard him you would have thought the quavering sound was the note of an owl. Many people make that mistake. But Mother Lotor, who happened to be hunting not far away, had no doubt. She knew who spoke. A few minutes later the two raccoons were seated beside the turtle's nest ready for a feast. In the hands of each was a little ball-shaped egg. Each nipped a hole in the whitish shell and drank daintily, spilling hardly a drop. Egg after egg was eaten in this way until the meal was finished.
Then Mother Lotor ran back to her five hungry baby raccoons, and Father Lotor climbed a tall pine tree and went to sleep in an empty crow's nest. One-third of his length was fluffy tail, and by curving his body until the tip of his nose was covered with the tip of his tail, he fitted the crow's nest very well.
Now and then Father Lotor would see Mother Lotor at the edge of the water when they happened to go to the same place to wash their food. One evening when they were together, they heard a cry. Perhaps if you had heard the sound, you would have thought it was made by a frightened human baby. But Mother Lotor made no mistake. She rushed to the hollow tree as fast as she could go. There, at the foot of the tree, was a little raccoon. He had climbed out of the hollow and slipped and fallen. He did not know where his mother was. The world seemed very big. The ground felt queer. He was so frightened that he whimpered.
Mother Lotor urged him back up the tree by following him and poking him with her nose. When he reached the hollow, she gave him a gentle shove and he cuddled against the other little raccoons, still whimpering with fright.