The Inquisitive Weasels
T HE Weasels were very unpopular with most of the forest people, the pond and meadow people did not like them, and those who lived in the farmyard couldn't bear them. Something went wrong there every time that a Weasel came to call. Once, you know, the Dorking Hen was so frightened that she broke her wonderful shiny egg, and there were other times when even worse things had happened. Usually there was a Chicken or two missing after the Weasel had gone.
The Weasels were very fond of their own family, however, and would tell their best secrets to each other. That meant almost as much with them as to share food, for they were very inquisitive and always wanted to know all about everything. They minded their own business, but they minded everybody's else as well. If you told a thing to one Weasel you might be sure that before the night was over every Weasel in the neighborhood would know all about it. They told other people, too, when they had a chance. They were dreadful gossips. If they saw a person do something the least unusual, they thought about it and talked about it and wondered what it meant, and decided that it meant something very remarkable and became very much excited. At such times, they made many excuses to go calling, and always managed to tell about what they had seen, what they had heard, and what they were perfectly certain it meant.
They went everywhere, and could go quietly and without being noticed. They were small people, about as long as Rats, but much more slender, and with such short legs that their bodies seemed to almost lie on the ground. All their fur was brown, except that on their bellies and the inside of their legs, which was pure white. Sometimes the fur on their feet matched their backs and sometimes it matched their bellies. That was as might happen. You can easily see how they could steal along over the brown earth or the dead leaves and grass without showing plainly. In winter they turned white, and then they did not show on the snow. The very tip of their short tails stayed a pale brown, but it was so tiny as hardly to be noticed. Any Hawk in the air, who saw just that bit of brown on the snow beneath him, would be likely to think it a leaf or a piece of bark and pay no more attention to it.
The Weasel mothers were very careful of their children and very brave. It made no difference how great the danger might be, they would stay by their babies and fight for them. And such workers as they were! It made no difference to them whether it was day or night, they would burrow or hunt just the same. When they were tired they slept, and when they awakened they began at once to do something.
Several families lived in the high bank by the edge of the forest, just where the ground slopes down to the marsh. They had lived there year after year, and had kept on adding to their burrows. There was only one doorway to each burrow and that was usually hidden by some leaves or a stone. They were hardly as large as Chipmunk's holes and easily hidden. "It is a good thing to have a fine, large home," said the Weasels, "but we build for comfort, not for show."
All the Weasel burrows began alike, with a straight,
narrow hall. Then more halls branched off from this,
and every little way there would be a room in which to
turn around or rest. In some of these they stored
food; in others they had nothing but bones and things
which were left from their meals. Each burrow had one
fine, large room, bigger than an Ovenbird's nest, with
a soft bed of leaves and fur. Some of the rooms were
so near the top of the ground that a Weasel could dig
his way up in a few minutes if he needed another door.
They were the loveliest sort of places for playing
Weasels like to hunt in parties. They say there is no
fun in doing anything unless you have somebody with
whom to talk it over. One night four of them
went out together as soon as it was dark. They were
young fellows and had planned to go to the farmer's
"It is disgraceful the way that Chipmunk keeps house,"
said one of them, as he came back from going through a
burrow under a tree.
Then they gossiped about Chipmunks, and said that, although they always looked trim and neat, there was no telling what sort of housekeepers they were; and that it really seemed as though they would do better to stay at home more and run about the forest less. The Chipmunk heard all this from the tree where he had hidden himself, and would have liked to speak right out and tell them what he thought of callers who entered one's home without knocking and sneaked around to see how things were kept. He knew better than to do so, however. He knew that when four hungry Weasels were out hunting their supper, it was an excellent time to keep still. He was right. And there are many times when it is better for angry people to keep still, even if they are not afraid of being eaten.
After they had gone he came down. "It was lucky for me," he said, "that I awakened hungry and ate a lunch. If I hadn't been awake to run away there's no telling where I would be now. There are some things worse than having people think you a poor housekeeper."
Just as the Chipmunk was finishing his lunch, one of the Weasels whispered to the others to stop. "There is somebody coming," said he. "Let's wait and see what he is doing."
It was the Black-tailed Skunk, who came along slowly, sniffing here and there, and once in a while stopping to eat a few mouthfuls.
"Doesn't it seem to you that he acts very queerly?" said one of the Weasels to the rest.
"Very," replied another. "And he doesn't look quite as usual. I don't know that I ever saw him carry his tail in just that way."
"I'd like to know where he is going," said another. "I guess he doesn't think anybody will see him."
"Let's follow him," said the fourth Weasel, who had not spoken before.
While he was near them they hid behind a hemlock log out of which many tiny hemlocks were growing. Once in a while they peeped between the soft fringy leaves of these to see what he was doing. They were much excited. "He is putting his nose down to the ground," one would say. "It must be that he has found something."
Then another would poke his little head up through the hemlocks and look at the Skunk. "He couldn't have found anything after all," he would say. "I can't hear him eating."
"It is very strange," the rest would murmur.
Now it just happened that the Black-tailed Skunk had
scented the Weasels and knew that they were near. He
had also heard the rustling behind the hemlock log. He
knew what gossips Weasels are, and he guessed that they
were watching him, so he decided to give them
something to think about. He knew that they would
often fight people larger than themselves, but he was
not afraid of anybody. He did not care to fight them
either, for if he got near enough to really enjoy it
they would be likely to bite him badly, and when a
Weasel has set his teeth into anybody it is not easy to
make him let go. "I rather think," said he to himself,
"that there will be four very tired young Weasels
sleeping in their burrows
"He's walking away," whispered one of the Weasels. "Where do you suppose he is going?"
"We'll have to find out," said the others, as they
crept quietly out of their
The Skunk went exactly where he wanted to. Whenever he
found food he ate it. The Weasels who followed after
found nothing left for them. They became very hungry,
but if one of them
began to think of going off for a lunch, the Skunk was
certain to do something queer. Sometimes he would lie
down and laugh. Then the Weasels would peep at him
"What do you suppose makes him laugh?" they would ask. "It must be that he is thinking of something wonderful which he is going to do. We must not lose sight of him."
Once he met the Spotted Skunk, his brother, and they whispered together for a few minutes. Then the Spotted Skunk laughed, and as he passed on, the Black-tailed Skunk called back to him: "Be sure not to tell any one. I do not want it known what I am doing."
Then the four young Weasels nudged each other and said, "There! We knew it all the time!"
After that, nobody spoke about being hungry. All they
cared for was the following of the Black-tailed Skunk.
when they were in the marsh, they were so afraid of
being seen that they slipped into the ditch and swam
for a way. They were good swimmers and didn't much
mind, but it just shows how they followed the Skunk.
Once he led them over to the farm and they remembered
their plan of going to the
Collie, the watch-dog, was sleeping lightly, and came rushing around the corner of the house to see what strangers were there, but when he saw who they were, he dropped his tail and walked away. He was old enough to know many things, and he knew too much to fight either a Skunk or a Weasel. Every one lets Skunks alone, and it is well to let Weasels alone also, for although they are so small they bite badly.
Now the Black-tailed Skunk turned to the forest and
walked toward his hole. The
"What do you think it means?" whispered the Weasels. "He seems to be going home. Do you suppose he has changed his mind?"
When he reached his hole, the
Black-tailed Skunk stopped and looked around. The Weasels hid
themselves under some fallen leaves. "I bid you
When even the tip of his tail was hidden in the hole, the Weasels crawled from under the leaves and looked at each other.
"We believe he knew all the time that we were following him," they said. "He acted queerly just to fool us. The wretch!"
Yet after all, you see, he had done only what he did every night, and it was because they were watching and talking about him that they thought him going on some strange errand.