|The Burgess Animal Book for Children|
|by Thornton Burgess|
|To answer Peter Rabbit’s questions about his relatives, Old Mother Nature holds a school for the animals every day at sun-up for a month. Encouraging the animals to notice the differences between them and to offer their observa-tions of animal behavior, Old Mother Nature helps them all gain a greater understanding of the mammals of North America. Starting with the animals close to home, the school moves in ever-widening circles to encompass the animals of the far west and the extreme north, as well. A fine introduction to mammals for students in the primary grades. Ages 6-9 |
A TRADER AND A HANDSOME FELLOW
 "WAY down in the Sunny South," began Old Mother Nature, "lives a
member of the Rat family who, though not nearly so bad as Robber,
is none too good and so isn't thought well of at all. He is
Little Robber the Cotton Rat, and though small for a Rat, being
only a trifle larger than Striped Chipmunk, looks the little
savage that he is. He has short legs and is rather thick-bodied,
and appears much like an overgrown Meadow Mouse with a long tail.
The latter is not bare like Robber's, but the hair on it is very
short and thin. In color he is yellowish-brown and whitish
underneath. His fur is longer and coarser than that of other
"He lives in old fields, along ditches and hedges, and in similar
places where there is plenty of cover in which he can hide from
his enemies. He burrows in the ground and usually has his nest of
dry grass there, though often in summer it is on
 the surface of the
ground. He does not live in and around the homes of men, like the
Brown Rat, but he causes a great deal of damage by stealing grain
in the shock. He eats all kinds of grain, many seeds, and meat
when he can get it. He is very destructive to eggs and young of
ground-nesting birds. He has a bad temper and will fight savagely.
Mr. and Mrs. Cotton Rat raise several large families in a year.
Foxes, Owls and Hawks are their chief enemies.
"But there are other members of the Rat family far more interesting
and quite worth knowing. One of these is Trader the Wood Rat, in
some parts of the Far West called the Pack Rat. Among the mountains
he is called the Mountain Rat. Wherever found, his habits are much
the same and make him one of the most interesting of all the little
people who wear fur.
"Next to Jerry Muskrat he is the largest native Rat, that is, of
the Rats which belong in this country. He is about two thirds as
big as Robber the Brown Rat, but though he is of the same general
shape, so that you would know at once that he is related to Robber,
he is in all other ways wholly unlike that outcast. His fur is
thick and soft, almost as soft as that of a Squirrel. His fairly
long tail is covered with hair. Indeed, some members of his branch
of the family have tails
 almost as bushy as a Squirrel's. His coat
is soft gray and a yellowish-brown above, and underneath pure white
or light buff. His feet are white. He has rounded ears and big
black eyes with none of the ugliness in them that you always see in
the eyes of Robber. And he has long whiskers and plenty of them."
This is the Eastern form of this
interesting branch of the Rat family.
"But why is he called Trader?" asked Peter Rabbit a bit impatiently.
"Patience, Peter, patience. I'm coming to that," chided Old Mother
Nature. "He is Trader because his greatest delight is in trading.
He is a born trader if ever there was one. He doesn't steal as
other members of his family but trades. He puts something back
in place of whatever he takes. It may be little sticks or chips
or pebbles or anything else that is handy but it is something to
replace what he has taken. You see, he is very honest. If Trader
finds something belonging to some one else that he wants he takes
it, but he tries to pay for it.
"Next to trading he delights in collecting. His home is a regular
museum. He delights in anything bright and shiny. When he can
get into the camps of men he will take anything he can move. But
being honest, he tries to leave something in return. All sorts of
queer things are found in his home—buckles cut from saddles,
 spoons, knives, forks, even money he has taken from the pockets of
sleeping campers. Whenever any small object is missed from a camp,
the first place visited in search of it is the home of Trader. In
the mountains he sometimes makes piles of little pebbles just for
the fun of collecting them.
"He is found all over the West, from the mountains to the deserts,
in thick forests and on sandy wastes. He is also found in parts
of the East and in the Sunny South. He is a great climber and is
perfectly at home in trees or among rocks. He eats seeds, grain,
many kinds of nuts, leaves and other parts of plants. In the
colder sections he lays up stores for winter."
"What kind of a home does he have?" asked Happy Jack.
"His home usually is a very remarkable affair," replied Old Mother
Nature. "It depends largely on where he is. When he is living in
rocky country, he makes it amongst the rocks. In some places he
burrows in the ground. But more often it is on the surface of the
ground—a huge pile of sticks and thorns in the very middle of
which is his snug, soft nest. The sticks and thorns are to protect
it from enemies. When he lives down where cactus grow, those queer
plants with long sharp spines, he uses these, and there are few
 who will try to pull one of these houses apart to get at him.
"When he is alarmed or disturbed, he has a funny habit of drumming on
the ground with his hind feet in much the same way that Peter Rabbit
and Jumper the Hare thump, only he does it rapidly. Sometimes he
builds his house in a tree. When he finds a cabin in the woods he
at once takes possession, carrying in a great mass of sticks and
trash. He is chiefly active at night, and a very busy fellow he
is, trading and collecting. He has none of the mean disposition
of Robber the Brown Rat. Mrs. Trader has two to five babies at
a time and raises several families in a year. As I said before,
Trader is one of the most interesting little people I know of, and
he does very, very funny things.
"Now we come to the handsomest member of the family, Longfoot the
Kangaroo Rat, so called because of his long hind legs and tail and
the way in which he sits up and jumps. Really he is not a member
of the Rat branch of the family, but closely related to the Pocket
Mice. You see, he has pockets in his cheeks."
He is not a true Rat but
is related to the Pocket Mice.
"Like mine?" asked Striped Chipmunk quickly.
"No, they are on the outside instead of the inside of his cheeks.
Yours are inside."
 "I think mine must be a lot handier," asserted Striped Chipmunk,
nodding his head in a very decided way.
"Longfoot seems to think his are quite satisfactory," replied Old
Mother Nature. "He really is handsome, but he isn't a bit vain
and is very gentle. He never tries to bite when caught and taken
in a man's hand."
"But you haven't told us how big he is or what he looks like,"
protested impatient Peter.
"When he sits up or jumps he looks like a tiny Kangaroo. But that
doesn't mean anything to you, and you are no wiser than before,
for you never have seen a Kangaroo," replied Old Mother Nature.
"In the first place he is about the size of Striped Chipmunk.
That is, his body is about the size of Striped Chipmunk's; but
his tail is longer than his head and body together."
"My, it must be some tail!" exclaimed Peter Rabbit admiringly.
Old Mother Nature smiled. "It is," said she. "You would like that
tail, Peter. His front legs are short and the feet small, but his
hind legs are long and the feet big. Of course you have seen
Nimbleheels the Jumping Mouse, Peter."
Peter nodded. "Of course," he replied. "My how that fellow can jump!"
"Well, Longfoot is built on the same plan as
 Nimbleheels and for the
same purpose," continued Old Mother Nature. "He is a jumper."
"Then I know what that long tail is for," cried Peter. "It is to
keep him balanced when he is in the air so that he can jump straight."
"Right again, Peter," laughed Old Mother Nature. "That is just what
it is for. Without it, he never would know where he was going to
land when he jumped. As I told you, he is a handsome little fellow.
His fur is very soft and silky. Above, it is a pretty yellowish-brown,
but underneath it is pure white. His cheeks are brown, he is white
around the ears, and a white stripe crosses his hips and keeps right
on along the sides of his tail. The upper and under parts of his
tail are almost or quite black, and the tail ends in a tuft of long
hair which is pure white. His feet are also white. His head is
rather large for his size, and long. He has a long nose. Longfoot
has a number of cousins, some of them much smaller than he, but they
all look very much alike."
"Where do they live?" asked Johnny Chuck, for Johnny had been unable
to stay away from school another day.
"In the dry, sandy parts of the Southwest, places so dry that it
seldom rains, and water is to be found only long distances apart,"
replied Old Mother Nature.
 "Then how does Longfoot get water to drink?" demanded Chatterer the
"He gets along without drinking," replied Old Mother Nature. "Such
moisture as he needs he gets from his food. He eats seeds, leaves
of certain plants and tender young plants just coming up. He
burrows in the ground and throws up large mounds of earth. These
have several entrances. One of these is the main entrance, and
during the day this is often kept closed with earth. Under the
mound he has little tunnels in all directions, a snug little bedroom
and storerooms for food. He is very industrious and dearly loves
"Longfoot likes to visit his relatives sometimes, and where there
are several families living near together, little paths lead from
mound to mound. He comes out mostly at night, probably because he
feels it to be safer then. Then, too, in that hot country it is
cooler at night. The dusk of early evening is his favorite
playtime. If Longfoot has a quarrel with one of his relatives they
fight, hopping about each other, watching for a chance to leap and
kick with those long, strong hind feet. Longfoot sometimes drums
with his hind feet after the manner of Trader the Wood Rat.
"Now I think this will do for this morning.
 If any of you should
meet Whitefoot the Wood Mouse, tell him to come to school to-morrow
morning. And you might tell Danny Meadow Mouse to come also,
Peter. That is, of course, if you little folks want
school to continue."
"We do!" cried Peter Rabbit and Jumper the Hare and Happy Jack
Squirrel and Chatterer the Red Squirrel and Striped Chipmunk and
Johnny Chuck as one.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics