The Thrifty Deer Mouse
HEN the days grew short and chilly, and bleak winds blew
out of the great
The Ground Hogs had grown stupid and dozy before the
last leaves fluttered
to the ground, and had been the first of the
A Weasel was telling a Ground Hog something one
day—and it was a very interesting piece of
gossip, only it was rather unkind, and so might better
not be told here—when he saw the Ground Hog
winking very slow and sleepy winks and letting his head
droop lower and lower. Once he asked him if he
understood. The Ground Hog jumped and opened his eyes
very wide indeed, and said: "Oh, yes, yes! Perfectly!
He tried to act politely interested, but just as the
Weasel reached the most exciting part of his story, the
Hog rolled over sound asleep. The next day he said
He had to be fat, you know, to last him through the
cold weather without eating. He was so stout that he
could hardly waddle, his big,
The Raccoons went after the Ground Hog and the Skunks were later still. They never slept so very long, and said they didn't really need to at all, and wouldn't except that they had nothing to do and it made housekeeping easier. It saved so much not to have to go out to their meals in the coldest weather.
When the large people were safely out of the way, the
smaller ones had their best times. The Muskrats were
awake, but they had their big houses to eat and were
not likely to trouble Mice and Squirrels. There was
not much to fear except Owls and Weasels. The Ground
Hogs had once tried to get the Great Horned Owl to go
south when the Cranes did, and he had laughed in their
He and his relatives sat all day in their holes, and seldom flew out except at night. Sometimes, when the day was not too bright, they made short trips out for luncheon. It was very unfortunate for any Mouse to be near at those times.
Now the snow had fallen and the beautiful still cold days had come. The Weasels' fur had changed from brown to white, as it does in cold countries in winter. The Chipmunks had taken their last scamper until early spring, and were living, each alone, in their comfortable burrows. They were most independent and thrifty. No one ever heard of a Chipmunk lacking food unless some robber had carried off his nuts and corn. The Mice think that it must be very dull for a Chipmunk to stay by himself all winter, since he does not sleep steadily. The Chipmunks do not find it so. One of them said: "Dull? I never find it dull. When I am awake, I eat or clean my fur or think. If I had any one staying with me he might rouse me when I want to sleep, or pick the nut that I want for myself, or talk when I am thinking. No, thank you, I will go calling when I want company."
The Mice make winter their playtime. Then the last summer's babies are all grown up and able to look out for themselves, and the fathers and mothers have a chance to rest. The Meadow Mice come together in big parties and build groups of snug winter homes under the snow of the meadow, with many tiny covered walks leading from one to another. Their food is all around them—grass roots and brown seeds—and there is so much of it that they never quarrel to see who shall have this root and who shall have that. They sleep during the daytime and awaken to eat and visit and have a good time at night.
Sometimes they are awakened in the daytime, as they were when the Grouse broke through the snow near them. That was an accident, and the Grouse felt very sorry about it. They had snuggled down in a cozy family party near by, and were just starting out for a stroll one morning when the eldest son stumbled and fell and crushed through the snow into the little settlement of Meadow Mice.
The young Grouse was much ashamed of his awkwardness.
"I am so sorry," he said. "I'm not used to my
"That is all right," said the Oldest Mouse politely.
"It must be hard to manage them at first. We hope you
will have better luck after this." Then they bowed to
each other and the Grouse walked off to join his
brothers and sisters, lifting his feet with their newly
It was only the night after this happened that one of the Deer Mice had a great fright. His home was in a Bee tree in the forest. The Bees and he had always been the best of friends, and now that they were keeping close to their honeycomb all winter, the Deer Mouse had taken a small room in the same tree. It helped to keep him warm when he slept close to the Bees, for there was always some heat coming from their bodies. Once in a while, too, he took a nibble of honey, and they did not mind.
The Deer Mouse did not keep much of his own winter food where he lived. He had a few beechnuts near by, and when the weather was very stormy indeed he ate some of these. There was room for many more in the storeroom (another hole in the Bee tree), but he liked to keep food in many places. "It is wiser," said he. "Supposing I had them all here and this tree should be blown down, and it should fall in such a way that I couldn't reach the hole. What would I do then?"
He was talking to a Rabbit when he said this. The Rabbit never stored up food himself, yet he sometimes told other people how he thought it should be done. He was sure it would be better to have all the nuts in one place as the Chipmunks did. And now that the Deer Mouse had given his reasons, he was just as sure as ever. "The Bee tree is not very likely to blow down in that way," said he. "There is not much danger."
"Not much, but some," answered the Deer Mouse. "Hollow trees fall more quickly than solid ones. You may store up your food where you please and I'll take care of mine."
The Deer Mouse spoke very decidedly, although he was perfectly polite. His beautiful brown eyes looked squarely at the Rabbit, and you could tell by the position of his slender long tail that he was much in earnest. The Rabbit went home.
The Deer Mouse put away hundreds and hundreds of
beechnuts. These he took carefully out of their shells
and laid in nicely lined holes in
The night after his cousins, the Meadow Mice, had been
so frightened by the Grouse, this Deer Mouse started
out for a good time. He called on the Meadow Mice, ate
a chestnut which he dug up in the edge of the forest,
scampered up a
"I suppose they are all right," said he, as he started to run up the tree; "still it is just as well to be sure."
"My whiskers!" he exclaimed, when he reached the hole. "If that isn't just like a Red Squirrel!"
The opening into the tree had been barely large enough
for him to squeeze through, and now he could pass in
without crushing his fur. Around the edge of it were
many marks of sharp teeth. Somebody had wanted to get
in and had not found the doorway large enough. The
Deer Mouse went inside and sat on his beechnuts. Then
he thought and thought and thought. He knew very well
that it was a Red Squirrel, for the Red Squirrels are
not so thrifty as most of the
A Red Squirrel is usually out of food long before spring comes, and after that he takes whatever he can lay his paws on. Sometimes the Chipmunks tell them that they should be ashamed of themselves and work harder. Then the Red Squirrels sigh and answer, "Oh, that is all very well for you to say, still you must remember that we have not such cheek pouches as you."
The Deer Mouse thought of these things. "Cheek pouches!" cried he. "I have no cheek pouches, but I lay up my own food. It is only an excuse when they say that. I don't think much of people who make excuses."
He passed through the doorway several times to see just how big it was. He found it was not yet large enough for a Red Squirrel. Then he scampered over the snow to a friend's house. "I'm not going to the party," said he. "I have some work to do."
"Work?" said the friend. "Work? In winter?" But before he had finished speaking his caller had gone.
All night long the Deer Mouse carried beechnuts from
"If that Red Squirrel ever gnaws his way in here," he said, "he won't have any teeth left for eating."
When the sun rose, the Deer Mouse went to sleep in the maple tree. The Red Squirrel came and gnawed at the opening into his old storeroom. If he had gnawed all day he would surely have gotten in. As it was, he had to spend much time hunting for food. He found some frozen apples still hanging in the orchard, and bit away at them until he reached the seeds inside. He found one large acorn, but it was old and tasted musty. He also squabbled with another Red Squirrel and chased him nearly to the farmyard. Then Collie heard them and chased him most of the way back.
When night came and he ran off to sleep in his hollow
tree, he had made the hole almost, but not quite, large
enough. He could smell the beechnuts inside, and it
made him hungry to think how good they would taste. "I
will get up early
He went off in fine leaps to his home and was soon sound asleep. In summer he often frolicked around half of the night, but now it was cold, and when the sun went down he liked to get home quickly and wrap up warmly in his tail. The Red Squirrel was hardly out of sight when the Deer Mouse came along his path in the snow and up to his old storeroom. His dainty white feet shook a little as he climbed, and he hardly dared look in for fear of finding the hole empty. You can guess how happy he was to find everything safe.
All night long he worked, and when morning came it was a very tired little Deer Mouse who carried his last beechnut over the trodden path to its safe new resting place. He was tired but he was happy.
There was just one other thing that he wanted to do.
He wanted to see that Red Squirrel when he found the
gone. He waited near by for him to come. It was a
beautiful, still winter morning when the
Along came the Red Squirrel, dashing finely and not
noticing the Deer Mouse at all. A few leaps brought
him to the tree, a quick run took him to the hole, and
then he began to gnaw. The Deer Mouse was growing
sleepy and decided not to wait any longer. He ran
along near the Red Squirrel. "Oh,
"Wh-what do you mean?" asked the Red Squirrel sternly. He had seen the Deer Mouse's eyes twinkle and he was afraid of a joke.
"Oh," answered the Deer Mouse with a careless whisk of his tail, "I had some beechnuts there until I moved them."
"You had!" exclaimed the Red Squirrel. He did not gnaw any after that. He suddenly became very friendly. "You couldn't tell me where to find food, I suppose," said he. "I'd eat almost anything."
The Deer Mouse thought for a minute. "I believe," said he, "that you will find plenty in the farmer's barn, but you must look out for the Dog."
"Thank you," said the Red Squirrel. "I will go."
"There!" said the Deer Mouse after he had whisked out of sight. "He has gone to steal from the farmer. Still, men have so very much that they ought to share with Squirrels."
And that, you know, is true.