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Dooryard Stories by  Clara Dillingham Pierson
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[Illustration]

SILVERTIP LEARNS A LESSON

[132]

Y
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 [133] 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. In [134] 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 conceited.

[135] 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 again.

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 away.

Silvertip had been in the big house nearly a year, when Mr. Chipmunk came to live in the yard. He chose to burrow [136] 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 in him.

"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 starting south.

"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 [137] 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 here?"

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."

[138] 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 the new-comer.

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 [139] 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 would [140] rather have no conversation whatever at meals than to speak of disagreeable things or to quarrel.

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. [141] 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 [142] the 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 Silvertip.


[Illustration]

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 corn and [143] 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 [144] 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 you alone."

"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 woodpile.


[Illustration]


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