| Dooryard Stories|
|by Clara Dillingham Pierson|
|Around the dooryard nest all sorts of birds, including flickers, robins, sparrows, wrens, swifts, and blackbirds. These stories convey some of the drama that arises in the garden as birds go about the business of building nests and raising young. The author's cat Silvertip figures in a number of the narratives as do a number of other mammals and insects. Invites children to 'see how many tiny neighbors you have around you, and how much you can learn about them.' Ages 5-7 |
SILVERTIP LEARNS A LESSON
OU may remember what a funny time Silvertip had with
the first Mouse he caught; how he carried it so long in
his mouth before daring to lay it down, and how
frightened he was each time that it wriggled. That was
because he was just beginning to hunt. Cats have to
learn by doing things over and over, just like other
people. He used to hear the Little Boy sing.
If at first you do not try
Try, try again.
After a while he heard him sing.
If at first you don't succeed
Try, try again.
He did not understand just what this meant, but he soon
knew that Little Boys
 have to learn things quite
as Cats do. He watched him afterward learning to turn
summersaults, and saw him do just that and nothing else
for nearly a whole afternoon.
It was in some such way that Silvertip came to be a
good hunter. He used to spend whole hours under the
low branches of some evergreen, crouching and springing
at every passing bird. In summer he crawled through
the wheat-field back of the house, looking for Mice.
If he found nothing better, he caught Moles, although
he never ate them. He thought that Moles were probably
made for Cats to practice on, and that good little
Cats, who did the best they could on Moles, would find
Mice to catch after a while—if they were patient.
When he could not find anything live to hunt, he
practiced on the dead leaves which were blown over the
lawn, or chased empty spools across the kitchen floor.
 the spring, when the Gentleman went out before
breakfast to work in his garden, Silvertip played with
the onion sets, chasing them down the narrow trench in
which they had been placed, until the gentleman had to
carry him off and shut him up.
This is how he became so fine a hunter, and it is
perhaps not strange that after a while he grew
conceited. You know what it means to be conceited.
Well, Silvertip was so. He thought himself really the
cleverest Cat that had ever lived, a Cat who could
catch anything he tried to. He bragged to the other
Cats who came around, and when he was alone he purred
to himself about the fine things he could do. Now
people who think themselves clever are not always
conceited, for sometimes they are as clever as they
think. But when a person is always thinking and
talking about what he can do, you watch him to see if
he does as well as he thinks. If not, then he is
 Silvertip even used to climb nearly to the top of
the tall maple-trees after Blackbirds, and crouch
there, switching his tail, yet he never caught any.
When the other Cats asked him about this, he would
smile, and say that he decided not to eat any more just
then, or that he had found that Blackbirds disagreed
with him. Undoubtedly these excuses were both true,
still they did not keep him from trying again and
The only Blackbird he ever caught was a young one who
had disobeyed her mother and flopped away from the
tangle of rosebushes where she had been told to stay.
She was dreadfully punished for it—but then it was very
wrong for her not to mind her mother. If she had
stayed where she was, the thorns would have kept Cats
Silvertip had been in the big house nearly a year, when
Mr. Chipmunk came to live in the yard. He chose to
 under the open shed which ran along by the
back fence, and under which wood was piled to dry
before it was split and carried into the wood-house.
He was the first Chipmunk who had ever lived on the
place, and all his new neighbors were much interested
"Shall you bring your family here?" Mr. Robin asked
him, as he watched his own children caring for
themselves. Mr. Robin had worked hard all summer, and
how he was enjoying a little visiting time before
"My family?" answered Mr. Chipmunk, with a chuckling
laugh. "No, indeed! One is company and two is a crowd
with Chipmunks. Of course mothers have to live with
their children for a time, but fathers always have
holes to themselves."
Mr. Robin did not think that right, yet he kept still.
He knew that it is not always wise or polite to say all
that one thinks. He thought it was not fair to
 make the mothers have all the care of the children.
There is great difference in animals about this.
Mr. Chipmunk began at once to dig his burrow. He had
not seen Silvertip yet, and did not know that there was
a Cat around. He began just in front of the woodpile,
and when he had enough earth loosened to fill his
cheek-pockets, he brought it out and emptied it by the
doorway of his burrow. Quite a pile was there already
when Silvertip came walking past.
"Meouw!" said he. "What sort of creature is at work
Mr. Chipmunk heard his voice, and lay still in his
burrow. If Silvertip had not spoken just then, this
story might end very differently. In fact, it would
probably be ended already. "A Cat!" said he, "Well, it
is always something, and it might as well be a Cat as a
Dog. He won't be so likely to dig me out, anyway."
 After a long time he turned around, and went
quietly toward the door-way of the burrow, just far
enough to see who was there. What he saw was a white
face with tiger spots and a pink nose. Long white
whiskers stuck out on either side, and the nose was
twitching. Silvertip was trying to get a good smell of
Mr. Chipmunk did not move, and being brown and in the
darkness of the hole, Silvertip, who stood in the
sunshine, could not see him. For a long time neither
moved. Then Silvertip walked slowly away. He was not
very hungry that morning. Mr. Chipmunk always believed
in keeping still as long as possible. "If the other
fellow is the larger," said he, "always wait to see
what he is going to do. Then you can decide better
what you should do."
After this Silvertip came often to the burrow. He
learned the Chipmunk by
 smell long before he saw
him. When at last he did see him, Mr. Chipmunk was
perched on a low stick of wood, with his small fore
paws clasped on his breast and his beautiful fur
glistening in the sunshine. He was facing Silvertip,
so the Cat did not see the five dark stripes on his
back till later.
Silvertip crouched and tried his muscles by shaking
himself a little. He did not say that it was a
pleasant day, or that he was glad to become acquainted
with Mr. Chipmunk. He did not even say, "I see you are
making a new home!" He was sure this was the little
creature whom he had been smelling for several days,
and he saw no use in saying anything. He meant to eat
Mr. Chipmunk, and Mr. Chipmunk understood it. There
was really nothing to be said. Mr. Chipmunk might
object to being eaten. People usually did object to
it, but Silvertip saw no sense in talking it over. He
 rather have no conversation whatever at
meals than to speak of disagreeable things or to
Mr. Chipmunk did not care to talk, either. He believed
in thinking before you speak, and he had a great deal
of thinking to do just then. A team stopped by the
gate of the driveway. Mr. Chipmunk dared not look to
see what was coming. Silvertip did not look until the
Milkman was near him carrying the milk bottles. Then
he gave one quick upward glance. When he looked back,
the stick of wood was there, but Mr. Chipmunk was gone.
Silvertip was not at all happy, and he felt still worse
when Mr. Chipmunk stuck his saucy little face out of
the burrow and called, "Chip-r-r-r! Milk is better for
Cats anyway, you know!" Mr. Chipmunk did not have to
stop to think when he was in his hole.
That was the beginning of the acquaintance, and a very
merry one it was for Mr.
 Chipmunk. "I have to be
hunted anyway," he said, "so I might as well have some
fun out of it."
Whenever he saw Silvertip having an especially
comfortable nap, he would run near and give his
chirping, chuckling laugh. Then he would run away.
Sometimes he would stand as still as a stone, with his
tiny fore paws clasped on his breast. Silvertip would
creep and crawl up close to him, and he would act too
scared to move. Then, just as Silvertip was ready to
spring, he would cry out, "Chip-r-r-r!" and tumble
heels over head into his burrow.
Sometimes, too, Silvertip would be walking along as
happily as possible, not even thinking of Chipmunks,
when a mischievous little face would peep out from the
woodpile just beside him. Mr. Chipmunk would say
"Good-morning!" then draw back and disappear, only to
peep out again and again from new places as
Cat came along. You know nothing can catch a Chipmunk
when he is in a woodpile. The worst of it was that
there always seemed to be so many other people around
to see how poor Silvertip was teased. You would never
have thought that Silvertip was hunting Mr. Chipmunk.
It always seemed to be Mr. Chipmunk who was hunting
MR. CHIPMUNK ON THE WOODPILE.
At last Mr. Chipmunk had his burrow all done. He had
made an opening at the second end and closed the one at
the first, so nobody could tell from the pile of earth
what had been happening. He said he had crawled into
the hole and pulled it in after him. The last opening,
which was not to be his only door, was under the
woodpile. No rain could fall into it and no Dog could
dig at it. Mr. Chipmunk was very happy.
He made friends with the Lady, too. She seemed to be
perfectly harmless, and she brought him a great deal of
 many peanuts. Sometimes he found
butternuts tucked around in the woodpile, which could
not possibly have fallen from any tree. He decided
that he might come to some sort of agreement with
Silvertip. He got ready for it by being more annoying
than ever. When Silvertip's tail was switching and his
nose twitching with anger, Mr. Chipmunk peeped out from
a hollow stick in the pile and called to him.
"Silvertip!" cried he, "O Silvertip! I want to talk
with you. How would you like to be eaten up?"
There was not answer, except a murmuring under his
breath that he "guessed there was n't much danger."
"Enjoy the acquaintance, do you, Silvertip?" asked Mr.
Chipmunk. "Find me a pleasant talker? Ever tall
anybody that you were going to eat me?"
Now Silvertip had told some of his friends exactly
that, but this was before
 he knew so much about
Chipmunks. He growled something under his breath about
"Quit your teasing."
"I will if you will quit trying to catch me," answered
Mr. Chipmunk. "Tell your friends that you changed you
mind. Tell them that I am not to your taste. Tell
them anything you wish, but let me alone and I will let
"All right," said Silvertip. "Now don't you ever speak
to me again."
"Never!" answered Mr. Chipmunk. "Walnuts would n't hire
me to!" And after that here was peace around the
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