| Among the Night People|
|by Clara Dillingham Pierson|
|Stories of animals of the night for young children, relating the activities of raccoons, skunks, moths, foxes, fireflies, and weasels. Since we can't understand animal language, the author depicts the animals talking to each other in English, but she does it so skillfully that you can imagine that they are using their own ways of communicating through voice and gesture. Ages 5-7 |
THE LONELY OLD BACHELOR MUSKRAT
EYOND the forest and beside the river lay the marsh where the
Muskrats lived. This was the same marsh to which the
young Frog had taken some of the meadow people's
children when they were tired of staying at home and
wanted to travel. When they went with him, you
remember, they were gay and happy, the sun was shining,
and the way did not seem long. When they came back
they were cold and wet and tired, and thought it very
far indeed. One could never get them to say much about
Some people like what others do not, and one's opinion
of a marsh must
 always depend on whether he is a Grasshopper or a Frog.
But whether people cared to live there or not, the
marsh had always been a pleasant place to see. In the
spring the tall tamaracks along the edge put on their
new dresses of soft, needle-shaped green leaves, the
marsh-marigolds held their bright faces up to the sun,
and hundreds of happy little people darted in and out
of the tussocks of coarse grass. There was a warm,
wet, earthy smell in the air, and near the
pussy-willows there was also a faint bitterness.
Then the Marsh Hens made their nests, and the
Sand-pipers ran mincingly along by the quiet pools.
In summer time the beautiful moccasin flowers grew in
family groups, and over in the higher, dryer part were
masses of white boneset, tall spikes of creamy
foxglove, and slender, purple vervain. In the fall the
cat-tails stood stiffly
 among their yellow leaves, and the Red-winged
Blackbirds and the Bobolinks perched upon them to plan
their journey to the south.
Even when the birds were gone and the cat-tails were
ragged and worn—even then, the marsh was an
interesting place. Soft snow clung to the brown seed
clusters of boneset and filled the open silvery-gray
pods of the milkweed. In among the brown tussocks of
grass ran the dainty footprints of Mice and Minks, and
here and there rose the cone-shaped winter homes of the
The Muskrats were the largest people there, and lived
in the finest homes. It is true that if a Mink and a
Muskrat fought, the Mink was likely to get the better
of the Muskrat, but people never spoke of this,
although everybody knew that it was so. The Muskrats
were too proud to do so, the Minks were too wise to,
and the smaller people who lived near
 did not want to offend the Muskrats by mentioning it.
It is said that an impudent young Mouse did say
something about it once when the Muskrats could
overhear him and that not one of them ever spoke to him
again. The next time he said "Good-evening" to a
Muskrat, the Muskrat just looked at him as though he
him or as though he had been a stick or a
stone or something else uneatable and uninteresting.
The Muskrats were very popular, for they were kind
neighbors and never stole their food from others. That
was why nobody was jealous of them, although they were
so fat and happy. Their children usually turned out
very well, even if they were not at all strictly
brought up. You know when a father and mother have to
feed and care for fifteen or so children each summer,
there is not much time for teaching them to say
"please" and "thank you" and "pardon me."
 Sometimes these young Muskrats did snatch and quarrel,
as on that night when fifteen of them went to visit
their old home and all wanted to go in first. You may
recall how, on that dreadful night, their father had to
spank them with his scaly tail and their mother sent
them to bed. They always remembered it, and you may be
very sure their parents did. It makes parents feel
dreadfully when their children quarrel, and it is very
wearing to have to spank fifteen at once, particularly
when one has to use his tail with which to do it.
There was one old Bachelor Muskrat who had always lived
for himself, and had his own way more than was good for
him. If he had married, it would not have been so, and
he would have grown used to giving up to somebody else.
He was a fine-looking fellow with soft, short,
reddish-brown fur, which shaded almost to black on his
back, and to a light gray
un-  derneath. There were very few hairs on his long, flat,
scaly tail, and most of these were in two fringes, one
down the middle of the upper side, and the other down
the middle of the lower side. His tiny ears hardly
showed above the fur on his head, and he was so fat
that he really seemed to have no neck at all. To look
at his feet you would hardly think he could swim, for
the webs between his toes were very, very small and his
feet were not large.
He was like all other Muskrats in using a great deal of
perfume, and it was not a pleasant kind, being so
strong and musky. He thought it quite right, and it
was better so, for he
wearing it, and you
can just imagine how distressing it would be to see a
Muskrat going around with his nose turned up and all
the time finding fault with his own perfume.
Nobody could remember the time when there had been no
Muskrats in the marsh.
 The Ground Hog who lived near the edge of the forest
said that his grandfather had often spoken of seeing
them at play in the moonlight; and there was an old
Rattlesnake who had been married several times and wore
fourteen joints in his rattle, who said that he
remembered seeing Muskrats there before he cast his
first skin. And it was not strange that, after their
people had lived there so long, the Muskrats should be
fond of the marsh.
One day in midsummer the farmer and his men came to the
marsh with spades and grub-hoes and measuring lines.
All of them had on high rubber boots, and they tramped
around and measured and talked, and rooted up a few
huckleberry bushes, and drove a good many stakes into
the soft and spongy ground. Then the dinner-bell at
the farmhouse rang and, they went away.
It was a dull, cloudy day and a few of the Muskrats
were out. If it had been sunshiny they would have
 stayed in their burrows. They paddled over to where
the stakes were, and smelled of them and gnawed at
them, and wondered why the men had put them there.
"I know," said one young Muskrat, who had married and
set up a home of his own that spring. "I know why they
put these stakes in."
"Oh, do listen!" cried the young Muskrat's wife. "He
knows and will tell us all about it."
"Nobody ever told me this," said the young husband. "I
thought it out myself. The Ground Hog once said that
they put small pieces of potato into the ground to grow
into whole big ones, and they have done the same sort
of thing here. You see, the farmer wanted a fence, and
so he stuck down these stakes, and before winter he
will have a fence well grown."
"Humph!" said the Bachelor
Musk-  rat. It seemed as though he had meant to say more, but
the young wife looked at him with such a frown on her
furry forehead that he shut his mouth as tightly as he
could (he never could quite close it) and said nothing
"Do you mean to tell me," said one who had just sent
five children out of her burrow to make room for
another lot of babies, "that they will grow a fence
here where it is so wet? Fences grow on high land."
"That is what I said," answered the young husband,
slapping his tail on the water to make himself seem
"Well," said the anxious mother, "if they go to growing
fences and such things around here I shall move. Every
one of my children will want to play around it, and as
like as not will eat its roots and get sick."
Then the men came back and all the
 Muskrats ran toward their burrows, dived into the water
to reach the doors of them, and then crawled up the long
hallways that they had dug out of the bank until they
got to the large rooms where they spent most of their
days and kept their babies.
That night the young husband was the first Muskrat to
come out, and he went at once to the line of stakes.
He had been lying awake and thinking while his wife was
asleep, and he was afraid he had talked too much. He
found that the stakes had not grown any, and that the
men had begun to dig a deep ditch beside them. He was
afraid that his neighbors would point their paws at him
and ask how the fence was growing, and he was not brave
enough to meet them and say that he had been mistaken.
He went down to the river bank and fed alone all night,
while his wife and neighbors were grubbing and
splashing around in the
 marsh or swimming in the river near their homes. The
young Muskrats were rolling and tumbling in the
moonlight and looking like furry brown balls. After it
began to grow light, he sneaked back to his burrow.
Every day the men came in their high rubber boots to
work, and every day there were more ditches and the
marsh was drier. By the time that the flowers had all
ripened their seeds and the forest trees were bare, the
marsh was changed to dry ground, and the Muskrats could
find no water there to splash in. One night, and it
was a very, very dark one, they came together to talk
"It is time to begin our cold-weather houses," said one
old Muskrat. "I have never started so soon, but we are
to have an early winter."
"Yes, and a long one, too," added his wife, who said
that Mr. Muskrat never told things quite strongly
 "It will be cold," said another Muskrat, "and we shall
need to build thick walls."
"Why?" asked a little Muskrat.
"Sh!" said his mother.
"The question is," said the old Muskrat who had first
spoken, "where we shall build."
"Why?" asked the little Muskrat, pulling at his
"Sh-h!" said his mother.
"There is no water here except in the ditches," said
the oldest Muskrat, "and of course we would not build
"Why not?" asked the little Muskrat. And this time he
actually poked his mother in the side.
"Sh-h-h!" said she. "How many times must I speak to
you? Don't you know that young Muskrats should be seen
and not heard?"
"But I can't be seen," he whimpered.
 "It is so dark that I can't be seen, and
got to hear me."
Of course, after he had spoken in that way to his
mother and interrupted all the others by his
naughtiness, he had to be punished, so his mother sent
him to bed. That is very hard for young Muskrats, for
the night, you know, is the time when they have the
The older ones talked and talked about what they should
do. They knew, as they always do know, just what sort
of winter they were to have, and that they must begin
to build at once. Some years they had waited until a
whole month later, but that was because they expected a
late and mild winter. At last the oldest Muskrat
decided for them. "We will move to-morrow night," said
he. "We will go to the swamp on the other side of the
forest and build our winter homes there."
All the Muskrats felt sad about going,
 and for a minute it was so still that you might almost
have heard a milkweed seed break loose from the pod and
float away. Then a gruff voice broke the silence. "I
will not go," it said. "I was born here and I will
live here. I never have left this marsh and I never
will leave it."
They could not see who was speaking, but they knew it
was the Bachelor. The oldest Muskrat said afterward
that he was so surprised you could have knocked him
over with a
blade of grass. Of course,
you couldn't have
done it, because he was so fat and heavy, but that
is what he said, and it shows just how he felt.
The other Muskrats talked and talked and talked with
him, but it made no difference. His brothers told him
it was perfectly absurd for him to stay, that people
would think it queer, and that he ought to go with the
rest of his relatives.
 Yet it made no difference. "You should stay," he would
reply. "Our family have always lived here."
When the Muskrat mothers told him how lonely he would
be, and how he would miss seeing the dear little ones
frolic in the moonlight, he blinked and said: "Well, I
shall just have to stand it." Then he sighed, and they
went away saying to each other what a tender heart he
had and what a pity it was that he had never married.
One of them spoke as though he had been in love with
her some years before, but the others had known nothing
The Muskrat fathers told him that he would have no one
to help him if a Mink should pick a quarrel with him.
"I can take care of myself then," said he, and showed
his strong gnawing teeth in a very fierce way.
It was only when the dainty young Muskrat daughters
talked to him that he
 began to wonder if he really ought to stay. He lay
awake most of one day thinking about it and remembering
the sad look in their little eyes when they said that
they should miss him. He was so disturbed that he ate
only three small roots during the next night. The poor
old Bachelor had a hard time then, but he was so used
to having his own way and doing what he had started to
do, and not giving up to anybody, that he stayed after
The others went away and he began to build his winter
house beside the biggest ditch. He placed it among
some bushes, so that if the water in the ditch should
ever overflow they would help hold his house in place.
He built it with his mouth, bringing great mouthfuls of
grass roots and rushes and dropping them on the middle
of the heap. Sometimes they stayed there and sometimes
they rolled down. If they rolled down he never
 brought them back, for he knew they would be useful
where they were. When it was done, the house was
shaped like a pine cone with the stem end down, for
after he had made it as high as a tall milkweed he
finished off the long slope up which he had been
running and made it look like the other sides.
After that he began to burrow up into it from below.
The right way to do, he knew, was to have his doorway
under water and dive down to it. Other winters he had
done this and had given the water a loud slap with his
tail as he dived. Now there was not enough water to
dive into, and when he tried slapping on it his tail
went through to the ditch bottom and got muddy. He had
to fix the doorway as best he could, and then he ate
out enough of the inside of his house to make a good
room and poked a small hole through the roof to let in
 After the house was done, he slept there during the
days and prowled around outside at night. He slept
there, but ate none of the roots of which it was made
until the water in the ditch was frozen hard. He knew
that there would be a long, long time when he could not
dig fresh roots and must live on those.
THE MARSH SEEMED SO EMPTY AND LONELY.
At night the marsh seemed so empty and lonely that he
hardly knew what to do. He didn't enjoy his meals, and
often complained to the Mice that the roots did not
taste so good to him as those they used to have when he
was young. He tried eating other things and found them
no better. When there was bright moonlight, he sat up
on the highest tussock he could find and thought about
his grandfathers and grandmothers. "If they had not
eaten their houses," he once said to a Mouse, "this
marsh would be full of them."
"No it wouldn't," answered the Mouse,
 who didn't really mean to contradict him, but thought
him much mistaken. "If the houses hadn't been eaten,
they would have been blown down by the wind and beaten
down by rains and washed
away by floods. It is better so. Who wants things to
stay the way they are forever and ever? I'd rather see
the trees drop their leaves once in a while and grow
new ones than to wear the same old ones after they are
ragged and faded."
The Bachelor Muskrat didn't like this very well, but he
couldn't forget it. When he awakened in the daytime he
would think about it and at night he thought more. He
was really very forlorn, and because he had nobody else
to think about he thought too much of himself and began
to believe that he was lame and sick. When he sat on a
tussock and remembered all the houses which his
grandparents had built and eaten, he became very sad
and sighed until his fat sides
 shook. He wished that he could sleep through the
winter like the Ground Hog, or through part of it like
the Skunk, but just as sure as night came his eyes
popped open and there he was—awake.
When spring came he thought of his friends who had gone
to the swamp and he knew that last year's children were
marrying and digging burrows of their own. The poor
old Bachelor wanted to go to them, yet he was so used
to doing what he had said he would, and disliked so
much to let anybody know that he was mistaken, that he
chose to stay where he was, without water enough for
diving and with hardly enough for swimming. How it
would have ended nobody knows, had the farmer not come
to plough up the old drained marsh for planting celery.
Then the Bachelor went. He reached his new home in the
early morning, and the mothers let their children stay
up until it was quite light so that he might see
 them plainly. "Isn't it pleasant here?" they cried.
"Don't you like it better than the old place?"
"Oh, it does very well," he answered, "but you must
remember that I only moved because I had to."
"Oh, yes, we understand that," said one of the mothers,
"but we hope you will really like it here."
Afterward her husband said to her, "Don't you know he
was glad to come? What's the use of being so polite?"
"Poor old fellow," she answered. "He is so queer
because he lives alone, and
I'm sorry for him. Just
see him eat."
And truly it was worth while to watch him, for the
roots tasted sweet to him, and, although he had not
meant to be, he was very happy—far happier than
if he had had his own way.
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