| 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 SKUNKS AND THE OVENBIRD'S NEST
HE Skunks did not go into society at all. They were very
unpopular, and so many people feared or disliked them
that nobody would invite them to a party. Indeed, if
they had been invited to a party and had gone, the
other guests would have left at once. The small people
of the forest feared them because they were
meat-eaters, and the larger ones disliked them because
of their disagreeable habits. The Skunks were handsome
and quiet, but they were quick-tempered, and as soon as
one of them became angry he threw a horrible smelling
liquid on the people who displeased him. It was not
only horrible smelling, but it made those
 who had to smell it steadily quite sick, and would,
indeed, have killed them if they had not kept in the
fresh air. If a drop of this liquid got on to a person,
even his wife and children had to keep away from him
for a long time.
And the Skunks were so unreasonable. They would not
stop to see what was the real trouble, but if anybody
ran into them by mistake in the darkness, they would
just as likely as not throw the liquid at once. Among
themselves they seemed to be quite happy. There were
from six to ten children born at a time in each family.
These children lived in the burrow with their father
and mother until the next spring, sleeping steadily
through the coldest weather of winter, and only
awakening when it was warm enough for them to enjoy
life. When spring came, the children found themselves
grown-up and went off to live their own lives in new
holes, while their mothers took care of the six
 or seven or eight or nine or ten new babies.
There was one very interesting Skunk family in the
forest, with the father, mother, and eight children
living in one hole. No two of them were marked in
exactly the same way, although all were stoutly built,
had small heads, little round ears, and beautiful long
tails covered with soft, drooping hair. Their fur was
rather long and handsome and they were dark brown or
black nearly all over. Most of them had a streak of
white on the forehead, a spot of it on the neck, some
on the tail, and a couple of stripes of it on their
backs. One could see them quite easily by starlight on
account of the white fur.
The Skunks were really proud of their white stripes and
spots. "It is not so much having the white fur," Mrs.
Skunk had been heard to say, "as it is having it where
all can see it. Most animals wear the dark fur on
 and the light on their bellies, and that is to make
them safer from enemies. But we dare to wear ours in
plain sight. We are never afraid."
And what she said was true, although it hardly seemed
modest for her to talk about it in that way. It would
have been more polite to let other people tell how
brave her family were. Perhaps, however, if somebody
else had been telling it, he would have said that part
of their courage was rudeness.
Father Skunk always talked to his children as his
father had talked to him, and probably as his
grandfather had also talked when he was raising a
family. "Never turn out of your way for anybody," said
he. "Let the other fellow step aside. Remember that,
no matter whom you meet and no matter how large the
other people may be. If they see you, they will get
out of your path, and if they can't it is not your
 speak to them and don't hurry. Always take your time."
HE STARTED OFF FOR A NIGHT'S RAMBLE.
Father Skunk was slow and stately. It was a sight
worth seeing when he started off for a night's ramble,
walking with a slow and measured gait and carrying his
fine tail high over his back. He always went by
himself. "One is company, two is a crowd," he would
say as he walked away. When they were old enough, the
young Skunks began to walk off alone as soon as it was
dark. Mother Skunk also went alone, and perhaps she
had the best time of all, for it was a great rest not
to have eight babies tumbling over her back and getting
under her feet and hanging on to her with their
thirty-two paws, and sometimes even scratching her with
their one hundred and sixty claws. They still slept
through the days in the old hole, so they were together
much of the time, but they did not hunt in parties, as
Raccoons and Weasels do.
 One of the brothers had no white whatever on his tail,
so they called him the Black-tailed Skunk. He had
heard in some way that there was an Ovenbird's nest on
the ground by the fern bank, and he made up his mind to
find it the very next night and eat the eggs which were
Another brother was called the Spotted Skunk, because
the spot on his neck was so large. He had found the
Ovenbird's nest himself, while on his way home in the
early morning. He would have liked to rob it then, but
he had eaten so much that night that he thought it
better to wait.
So it happened that when the family awakened the next
night two of the children had important plans of their
own. Neither of them would have told for anything, but
couldn't quite keep from hinting about it as they
made themselves ready to go out.
 "Aha!" said the Black-tailed Skunk. "I know something
you don't know."
"Oh, tell us!" cried four or five of the other
children, while the Spotted Skunk twisted his head and
said, "You don't either!"
"I do too!" replied the Black-tailed Skunk.
"Children! Children!" exclaimed Mrs. Skunk, while
their father said that he
couldn't see where his
children got their quarrelsome disposition, for none of
his people had ever contradicted or disputed. His wife
told him that she really thought them very good, and
that she was sure they behaved much better than most
Skunks of their age. Then their father walked off in
his most stately manner, putting his feet down almost
flat, and carrying his tail a little higher than usual.
"I do know something that you don't," repeated the
Black-tailed Skunk, "and it's something nice, too."
 "Aw!" said the Spotted Skunk. "I don't believe it, and
I don't care anyhow."
"I know you don't know, and I know
you'd want to know
if you knew what I know," said the Black-tailed Skunk,
who was now getting so excited that he could hardly
"Children!" exclaimed their mother. "Not another word
about that. I do wish you would wake up good-natured."
"He started it," said the Spotted Skunk, "and
quarrelling anyhow. But I guess
he'd give a good
deal to know where
"Children!" repeated their mother. "Go at once. I
will not have you talking in this way before your
brothers and sisters. Do not stop to talk, but go!"
So the two brothers started out for the night and each
thought he would go a roundabout way to fool the other.
The Black-tailed Skunk went to the right, and
 the Spotted Skunk went to the left, but each of them,
you know, really started to rob the Ovenbird's nest.
It was a very dark night. Even the stars were all
hidden behind thick clouds, and one could hardly see
one's forepaws while walking. But, of course, the
night-prowlers of the forest are used to this, and
four-footed people are not so likely to stumble and
fall as two-footed ones. Besides, young Skunks have to
remember where logs and stumps of trees are, just as
other people have to remember their lessons.
So it happened that, while Mrs. Ovenbird was sleeping
happily with her four eggs safe and warm under her
breast, two people were coming from different ways to
rob her. Such a snug nest as it was! She had chosen a
tiny hollow in the fern bank and had cunningly woven
dry grasses and leaves into a ball-shaped nest, which
fitted neatly into the hollow and had a doorway on one
 The Black-tailed Skunk sneaked up to the nest from one
side. The Spotted Skunk sneaked up from the other
side. Once the Black-tailed Skunk thought he heard
some other creature moving toward him. At the same
minute the Spotted Skunk thought he heard somebody, so
he stopped to listen. Neither heard anything. Mrs.
Ovenbird was sure that she heard a leaf rustle outside,
and it made her anxious until she remembered that a
dead twig might have dropped from the beech-tree
overhead and hit the dry leaves below.
Slowly the two brothers crept toward the nest and each
other. They moved very quietly, because each wanted to
catch the mother-bird if he could. Close to the nest
hollow they crouched and sprang with jaws open and
sharp teeth ready to bite. There was a sudden crashing
of leaves and ferns. The two brothers had sprung
squarely at each other, each was
 bitten, growled, and ran away. And how they did run!
It is not often, you know, that Skunks go faster than a
walk, but when they are really scared they move very,
Mrs. Ovenbird felt her nest roof crush down upon her
for a minute as two people rolled and growled outside.
Then she heard them running away in different
directions and knew that she was safe, for a time at
least. In the morning she repaired her nest and told
her bird friends about it. They advised her to take
her children away as soon as possible after they were
hatched. "If the Skunks have found your nest," they
said, "you may have another call from them."
When the Black-tailed Skunk came stealing home in the
first faint light just before sunrise, he found the
Spotted Skunk telling the rest of the family how some
horrible great fierce beast had pounced upon him in the
 bitten him on the shoulder. "It was so dark," said
he, "that I
couldn't see him at all, but I am sure it
must have been a Bear."
They turned to tell the Black-tailed Skunk about his
brother's misfortune, and saw that he limped badly.
"Did the Bear catch you, too?" they cried.
"Yes," answered he. "It must have been a Bear. It was
so big and strong and fierce. But I bit him, too. I
wouldn't have run away from him, only he was so much
bigger than I."
"That was just the way with me," said the Spotted
Skunk. "I wouldn't have
run if he
hadn't been so
"You should have thrown liquid on him," said their
father. "Then he would have been the one to run."
"The brothers hung their heads. "We never thought,"
they cried. "We think it must have been because we
were so surprised and didn't see him coming."
"Well," said their father sternly, "I
 suppose one must be patient with children, but such
unskunklike behavior makes me very much ashamed of you
both." Then the two bitten brothers went to bed in
disgrace, although their mother was sorry for them and
loved them, as mothers will do, even when their
children are naughty or cowardly.
One night, some time later, these two brothers happened
to meet down by the fern bank. It was bright moonlight
and they stopped to visit, for both were feeling very
good-natured. The Black-tailed Skunk said: "Come with
I'll show you where there is an Ovenbird's
"All right," answered the Spotted Skunk, "and then
I'll show you one."
"I've just been waiting for a bright night," said the
Black-tailed Skunk, "because I came here once in the
dark and had bad luck."
"It was near here," said the Spotted Skunk, "that I was
bitten by the Bear."
 They stopped beside a tiny hollow. "There is the
nest," said the Black-tailed Skunk, pointing with one
of his long forefeet.
"Why that is the one I meant," exclaimed the Spotted
"I found it first," said the Black-tailed Skunk,
"and I'd have eaten the eggs before if that Bear hadn't bitten me."
Just at that minute the two Skunks had a new idea. "We
do believe," cried they, "that we bit each other!"
"We certainly did," said the Spotted Skunk.
we'll never tell," said the Black-tailed Skunk.
"Now," they added together,
"let's eat everything."
But they didn't.
In fact, they didn't eat anything,
for the eggs were hatched, and the young birds had left
the nest only the day before.
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