Shadow and His Family
EVERY one was on hand when school opened the next morning, despite the fear that the mere mention of Shadow the Weasel had aroused in all save Jimmy Skunk and Prickly Porky. You see, all felt they must be there so that they might learn all they possibly could about one they so feared. It might help them to escape should they discover Shadow hunting them sometime.
"Striped Chipmunk," said Old Mother Nature, "you know something about Shadow the Weasel, tell us what you know."
"I know I hate him!" declared Striped Chipmunk, and all the others nodded their heads in agreement. "I don't know a single good thing about him," he continued, "but I know plenty of bad things. He is the one enemy I fear more than any other because he is the one who can go wherever I can. Any hole I can get into he can. I've seen him just twice in my life, and I hope I may never see him again."
"What did he look like?" asked Old Mother Nature.
"Like a snake on legs," declared Striped Chipmunk. "Anyway, that is what he made me think of, because his body was so long and slim and he twisted and turned so easily. He was about as long as Chatterer the Red Squirrel but looked longer because of his slim body and long neck. He was brown above and white below. His front feet were white, and his hind feet rather whitish, but not clear white. His short, round tail was black at the end. Somehow his small head and sharp face made me think of a Snake. Ugh! I don't like to think about him!"
"I saw him once, and he wasn't brown at all. Striped Chipmunk is all wrong, excepting about the end of his tail," interrupted Jumper the Hare. "He was all white, every bit of him but the end of his tail, that was black."
"Striped Chipmunk is quite right and so are you," declared Old Mother Nature. "Striped Chipmunk saw him in summer and you saw him in winter. He changes his coat according to season, just as you do yourself, Jumper. In winter he is trapped for his fur and he isn't called Weasel then at all, but Ermine."
"Oh," said Jumper and looked as if he felt a wee bit foolish.
"What was he doing when you saw him?" asked Old Mother Nature, turning to Striped Chipmunk.
"Hunting," replied Striped Chipmunk, and shivered. "He was hunting me. He had found my tracks where I had been gathering beechnuts, and he was following them with his nose just the way Bowser the Hound follows Reddy Fox. I nearly died of fright when I saw him."
"You are lucky to be alive," declared Chatterer the Red Squirrel.
"I know it," replied Striped Chipmunk and shivered again. "I know it. I guess I wouldn't be if Reddy Fox hadn't happened along just then and frightened Shadow away. I've had a kindlier feeling for Reddy Fox ever since."
"I never ran harder in my life than the time I saw him," spoke up Jumper the Hare. "He was hunting me just the same way, running with his nose in the snow and following every twist and turn I had made. But for that black-tipped tail I wouldn't have seen him until too late."
"Pooh!" exclaimed Jimmy Skunk. "The idea of a big fellow like you running from such a little fellow as my Cousin Shadow!"
"I'm not ashamed of running," declared Jumper. "I may be ever so much bigger, but he is so quick I wouldn't stand the least chance in the world. When I suspect Shadow is about, I go somewhere else, the farther the better. If I could climb a tree like Chatterer, it would be different."
"No, it wouldn't!" interrupted Chatterer. "No, it wouldn't. That fellow can climb almost as well as I can. The only thing that saved me from him once was the fact that I could make a long jump from one tree to another and he couldn't. He had found a hole in a certain tree where I was living, and it was just luck that I wasn't at home when he called. I was just returning when he popped out. I ran for my life."
"He is the most awful fellow in all the Great World," declared Whitefoot the Wood Mouse.
Jimmy Skunk chuckled right out. "A lot you know about the Great World," he said. "Why, you are farther from home now than you've ever been in your life before, yet I could walk to it in a few minutes. How do you know Shadow is the most awful fellow in the Great World?"
"I just know, that's all," retorted Whitefoot in a very positive though squeaky voice. "He hunts and kills just for the love of it, and no one, no matter how big he is, can do anything more awful than that. I have a lot of enemies. Sometimes it seems as if almost every one of my neighbors is looking for a Mouse dinner. But all but Shadow the Weasel hunt me when they are hungry and need food. I can forgive them for that. Every one must eat to live. But Shadow hunts me even when his stomach is so full he cannot eat another mouthful. That fellow just loves to kill. He takes pleasure in it. That is what makes him so awful."
"Whitefoot is right," declared Old Mother Nature, and she spoke sadly. "If Shadow was as big as Buster Bear or Puma the Panther or even Tufty the Lynx, he would be the most terrible creature in all the Great World because of this awful desire to kill which fills him. He is hot-blooded, quick-tempered and fearless. Even when cornered by an enemy against whom he has no chance he will fight to the last gasp. I am sorry to say that there is no kindness nor gentleness in him towards any save his own family. Outside of that he hasn't a friend in the world, not one."
"Hasn't he any enemies?" asked Peter Rabbit.
"Oh, yes," replied Old Mother Nature. "Reddy Fox, Old Man Coyote, Hooty the Owl and various members of the Hawk family have to be watched for by him. But they do not worry him much. You see he moves so quickly, dodging out of sight in a flash, that whoever catches him must be quick indeed. Then, too, he is almost always close to good cover. He delights in old stone walls, stone piles, brush-grown fences, piles of rubbish and barns and old buildings, the places that Mice delight in. In such places there is always a hole to dart into in time of danger. He hunts whenever he feels like it, be it day or night, and often covers considerable ground, though nothing to compare with his big, brown, water-loving cousin, Billy Mink. It is because of his wonderful ability to disappear in an instant that he is called Shadow.
"Shadow is known as the Common Weasel, Short-tailed Weasel, Brown Weasel, Bonaparte Weasel and Ermine, and is found all over the forested parts of the northern part of the country. A little farther south in the East is a cousin very much like him called the New York Weasel. On the Great Plains of the West is a larger cousin with a longer tail called the Long-tailed Weasel, Large Ermine, or Yellow-bellied Weasel. His smallest cousin is the Least Weasel. The latter is not much longer than a Mouse. In winter he is all white, even the tip of his tail. In summer he is a purer white underneath than his larger cousins. All of the Weasels are alike in habits. When running they bound over the ground much as Peter Rabbit does.
"In that part of the West where Yap Yap the Prairie Dog lives is a relative called the Blackfooted Ferret who looks like a large Weasel. He is about the size of Billy Mink, but instead of the rich dark brown of Billy's coat his coat is a creamy yellow. His feet are black and so is the tip of his tail. His face is whitish with a dark band across the eyes. He is most frequently found in Prairie dog towns and lives largely on Yap Yap and his friends. His ways are those of Shadow and his cousins. There is no one Yap Yap fears quite as much.
"The one good thing Shadow the Weasel does is to kill Robber the Rat whenever they meet. Robber, as you know, is big and savage and always ready for a fight when cornered. But all the fight goes out of him when Shadow appears. Perhaps it is because he knows how hopeless it is. When Shadow finds a barn overrun with Rats he will sometimes stay until he has killed or driven out the last one. Then perhaps he spoils it all by killing a dozen Chickens in a night.
"It is a sad thing not to be able to speak well of any one, but Shadow the Weasel, like Robber the Rat, has by his ways made himself hated by all the little people of the Green Forest and the Green Meadows and by man. There is not one to say a good word for him. Now to-morrow we will meet on the bank of the Smiling Pool instead of here."