Danny's Northern Cousins and Nimbleheels
WHITEFOOT the Wood Mouse and Danny Meadow Mouse had become so interested that they decided they couldn't afford to miss the next lesson. Neither did either of them feel like making the long journey to his home and back again. So Whitefoot found a hole in a stump near by and decided to camp out there for a few days. Danny decided to do the same thing in a comfortable place under a pile of brush not far away. So the next morning both were on hand when school opened.
"I told you yesterday that I would tell you about some of Danny's cousins," began Old Mother Nature just as Chatterer the Red Squirrel, who was late, came hurrying up quite out of breath. "Way up in the Far North are two of Danny's cousins more closely related to him than to any other members of the Mouse family. Yet, strange to say, they are not called Mice at all, but Lemmings. However, they belong to the Mouse family.
"Bandy the Banded Lemming is the most interesting, because he is the one member of the entire family who changes the color of his coat. In summer he wears beautiful shades of reddish brown and gray, but in winter his coat is wholly white. He is also called the Hudson Bay Lemming.
"Danny Meadow Mouse thinks his tail is short, but he wouldn't if he should see Bandy's tail. That is so short it hardly shows beyond his long fur. He is about Danny's size, but a little stouter and stockier, and his long fur makes him appear even thicker-bodied than he really is. He has very short legs, and his ears are so small that they are quite hidden in the fur around them, so that he appears to have no ears at all.
"In that same far northern country is a close relative called the Brown Lemming. He is very much like Bandy save that he is all brown and does not change his coat in winter. Both have the same general habits, and these are much like the habits of Danny Meadow Mouse. They make short burrows in the ground leading to snug, warm nests of grass and moss. In winter they make little tunnels in every direction under the snow, with now and then an opening to the surface.
"There are many more Brown Lemmings than Banded Lemmings, and their little paths run everywhere through the grass and moss. In that country there is a great deal of moss. It covers the ground just as grass does here. But the most interesting thing about these Lemmings is the way they migrate. To migrate is to move from one part of the country to another. You know most of the birds migrate to the Sunny South every autumn and back every spring.
"Once in a while it happens that food becomes very scarce where the Lemmings are. Then very many of them get together, just as migrating birds form great flocks, and start on a long journey in search of a place where there is plenty of food. They form a great army and push ahead, regardless of everything. They swim wide rivers and even lakes which may lie in their way. Of course, they eat everything eatable in their path."
"My!" exclaimed Danny Meadow Mouse, "I'm glad I don't live in a country where I might have to make such long journeys. I don't envy those cousins up there in the Far North a bit. I'm perfectly satisfied to live right on the Green Meadows."
"Which shows your good common sense," said Old Mother Nature. "By the way, Danny, I suppose you are acquainted with Nimbleheels the Jumping Mouse, who also is rather fond of the Green Meadows. I ought to have sent word to him to be here this morning."
Hardly were the words out of Old Mother Nature's mouth when something landed in the leaves almost at her feet and right in the middle of school. Instantly Danny Meadow Mouse scurried under a pile of dead leaves. Whitefoot the Wood Mouse darted into a knothole in the log on which he had been sitting. Jumper the Hare dodged behind a little hemlock tree. Peter Rabbit bolted for a hollow log. Striped Chipmunk vanished in a hole under an old stump. Johnny Chuck backed up against the trunk of a tree and made ready to fight. Only Happy Jack the Gray Squirrel and Chatterer the Red Squirrel and Prickly Porky the Porcupine, who were sitting in trees, kept their places. You see they felt quite safe.
As soon as all those who had run had reached places of safety, they peeped out to see what had frightened them so. Just imagine how very, very foolish they felt when they saw Old Mother Nature smiling down at a little fellow just about the size of little Whitefoot, but with a much longer tail. It was Nimbleheels the Jumping Mouse.
"Well, well, well," exclaimed Old Mother Nature. "I was just speaking of you and wishing I had you here. How did you happen to come? And what do you mean by scaring my pupils half out of their wits?" Her eyes twinkled. Nimbleheels saw this and knew that she was only pretending to be severe.
Before he could reply Johnny Chuck began to chuckle. The chuckle became a laugh, and presently Johnny was laughing so hard he had to hold his sides. Now, as you know, laughter is catching. In a minute or so everybody was laughing, and no one but Johnny Chuck knew what the joke was. At last Peter Rabbit stopped laughing long enough to ask Johnny what he was laughing at.
"At the idea of that little pinch of nothing giving us all such a fright," replied Johnny Chuck. Then all laughed some more.
When they were through laughing Nimbleheels answered Old Mother Nature's questions. He explained that he had heard about that school, as by this time almost every one in the Green Forest and on the Green Meadows had. By chance he learned that Danny Meadow Mouse was attending. He thought that if it was a good thing for Danny it would be a good thing for him, so he had come.
"Just as I was almost here I heard a twig snap behind me, or thought I did, and I jumped so as to get here and be safe. I didn't suppose anyone would be frightened by little me," he explained. "It was some jump!" exclaimed Jumper the Hare admiringly. "He went right over my head, and I was sitting up at that!"
"It isn't much of a jump to go over your head, replied Nimbleheels. "You ought to see me when I really try to jump. I wasn't half trying when I landed here. I'm sorry I frightened all of you so. It gives me a queer feeling just to think that I should be able to frighten anybody. If you please, Mother Nature, am I in time for to-day's lesson?"
"Not for all of it, but you are just in time for the part I wanted you here for," replied Old Mother Nature. "Hop up on that log side of your Cousin Whitefoot, where all can see you."
Nimbleheels hopped up beside Whitefoot the Wood Mouse, and as the two little cousins sat side by side they were not unlike in general appearance, though of the two Whitefoot was the prettier. The coat of Nimbleheels was a dull yellowish, darker on the back than on the sides. Like Whitefoot he was white underneath. His ears were much smaller than those of Whitefoot. But the greatest differences between the two were in their hind legs and tails.
The hind legs and feet of Nimbleheels were long, on the same plan as those of Peter Rabbit. From just a glance at them any one would know that he was a born jumper and a good one. Whitefoot possessed a long tail, but the tail of Nimbleheels was much longer, slim and tapering.
"There," said Old Mother Nature, "is the greatest jumper for his size among all the animals in this great country. When I say this, I mean the greatest ground jumper. Timmy the Flying Squirrel jumps farther, but Timmy has to climb to a high place and then coasts down on the air. I told you what wonderful jumps Jack Rabbit can make, but if he could jump as high and far for his size as Nimbleheels can jump for his size, the longest jump Jack has ever made would seem nothing more than a hop. By the way, both Nimbleheels and Whitefoot have small pockets in their cheeks. Tell us where you live, Nimbleheels."
"I live among the weeds along the edge of the Green Meadows," replied Nimbleheels, "though sometimes I go way out on the Green Meadows. But I like best to be among the weeds because they are tall and keep me well hidden, and also because they furnish me plenty to eat. You see, I live largely on seeds, though I am also fond of berries and small nuts, especially beechnuts. Some of my family prefer the Green Forest, especially if there is a Laughing Brook or pond in it. Personally I prefer, as I said before, the edge of the Green Meadows."
"Do you make your home under the ground?" asked Striped Chipmunk.
"For winter, yes," replied Nimbleheels. "In summer I sometimes put my nest just a few inches under ground, but often I hide it under a piece of bark or in a thick clump of grass, just as Danny Meadow Mouse often does his. In the fall I dig a deep burrow, deep enough to be beyond the reach of Jack Frost, and in a nice little bedroom down there I sleep the winter away. I have little storerooms down there too, in which I put seeds, berries and nuts. Then when I do wake up I have plenty to eat."
"I might add," said Old Mother Nature, "that when he goes to sleep for the winter he curls up in a little ball with his long tail wrapped around him, and in his bed of soft grass he sleeps very sound indeed. Like Johnny Chuck he gets very fat before going to sleep. Now, Nimbleheels, show us how you can jump."
Nimbleheels hopped down from the log on which he had been sitting and at once shot into the air in such a high, long, beautiful jump that everybody exclaimed. This way and that way he went in great leaps. It was truly wonderful.
"That long tail is what balances him," explained Old Mother Nature. "If he should lose it he would simply turn over and over and never know where or how he was going to land. His jumping is done only in times of danger. When he is not alarmed he runs about on the ground like the rest of the Mouse family. This is all for to-day. To-morrow I will tell you still more about the Mouse family."