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Title: The Bad Little Owls
Author: John Breck
Illustrator: William T. Andrews
Release Date: February 02, 2021 [eBook #64452]
Language: English
Character set encoding: UTF-8
Produced by: Roger Frank


Told at Twilight Stories

The Bad Little Owls

Told at Twilight Stories
The Bad Little Owls
John Breck
Book VII
Illustrated by
William T. Andrews
Garden City    New York
Doubleday, Page & Company
First Edition
The Bad Little Owls


“Take to the water, quick!” shouted Doctor Muskrat. “Climb a tree!” advised Chatter Squirrel, balancing on the tip end of a limb. And they had the Woodsfolk so excited they didn’t know what to do. Most of them couldn’t climb if they wanted to, and mighty few of them like to swim. So those who were there tried to run away, and those who weren’t came to see what was going on. Tommy Peele’s woods were just alive with scuttling and fluttering. All because Louie Thomson had brought a lantern to light his party with. He had brought all sorts of things to eat, too, and he planned to sleep all night in the Woods and Fields, in a tent made of one of his mother’s blankets.

Of course Louie couldn’t think what was the matter with the Woodsfolk. But Tommy Peele’s big furry dog, Watch, who was with him, knew well enough. He sat there with his tongue out, laughing at them.

When Tad Coon saw Watch laughing he got over being frightened, and then he was curious. He waded out of the pond and came over to look at the little sputtery flame dancing inside the lantern. Of course he thought it was a bug. Most everything that hasn’t leaves or fur or feathers is a bug to Tad Coon. Bugs do themselves up in very funny packages sometimes before they’re all through hatching. He put out his handy-paw to catch it.

“Look out!” barked Watch. “Let it alone!” But he didn’t say it before Tad had touched the glass with his little wet claw. Before he could jerk it back the water began sizzling and he got a bit of a burn. “Ow, ow!” howled poor Tad, dancing around with his paw in his mouth. “It’s a buzzer with a hot tail.” (He meant a paper wasp.) “Ow, ow!” he sobbed. “It bit me!” So that scared all the Woodsfolk all over again.

Doctor Muskrat knew all about the fires that sometimes burn up the marshes, but Tad didn’t, because he’s always gone to sleep for the winter before they begin. Nibble Rabbit knew something about them, because Watch tried to explain when he told what was happening to Grandpop Snapping Turtle. (Tommy Peele’s mother was cooking him.) But nobody ever dreamed Stripes Skunk would understand.

Stripes did know. He knew the rule of tents because his people were friendly with the Indians just like cats are friendly with us housefolk. They hunted around the campfires to catch creepy-crawley things. He didn’t know the difference between Louie’s blanket and a real tent, nor between Louie’s lantern and a real campfire because he’d never seen them. So he was just as pleased as though this was a real camp and Louie a real Indian. “Come along,” he called to his kittens. “This is the rule of fires: When the men aren’t walking around them you can lie down three tail lengths from the light and get your whiskers warm.” So down they lay. And weren’t they just conceited because all the other Woodsfolk had their eyes popped out, staring at them.

All this time, Tad was sitting right squash on his bushy tail in the edge of the pond, using all his other three paws to hold the poor burned one in his mouth—because it hurt him so dreadfully—at least he thought it did. Tad Coon’s always thinking he’s killed when he’s hardly more than mussed his fur. (He made an awful fuss the time Grandpop Snapping Turtle nipped his tail, and after all, Grandpop only pulled a couple of hairs out.) “Oo-h-ow-h-ow!” whimpered Tad, licking himself between each sniffle.

“Let’s see, let’s see!” said Doctor Muskrat. He began peering at it in the darkness way off away from the lantern.

“Come up here by the fire,” giggled Watch. “It’s not hurting Stripes. If you don’t get too close to its cage you’re all right. It can’t jump out and bite you.” Now wasn’t that a sensible way to explain about a lantern to the Woodsfolk? It surely is just a little flame of fire all shut up safe inside of its glass, like a goldfish in a bowl.

So Tad and Doctor Muskrat crept up close, jumping just a little whenever the flame danced, and peeked at the poor burned paw. It had just the teeniest, weeniest little pinhead of a blister. When Tad saw how very little it was he felt quite cheerful again, and forgot all about it.

Indeed, he was more curious than ever about the lantern. “Where did Louie catch it?” he wanted to know. “What does it eat? Doesn’t it ever run wild at all?”

“Sometimes,” said Watch with a little shiver. “Then it grows very, very fast and eats up everything it can reach. I’ve seen a little bit of a fire like that eat up a whole haystack in about the time it takes the sun to set. But men are very, very careful never to let it get out if they can possibly help it. They keep it in strong black cages (he meant stoves, of course), and feed it cold black stones. (That was coal, you know.) Or they keep it in a cave and feed it a bit of wood. (Watch meant an open grate.) It spits and sputters and sometimes a little piece jumps out, but someone always catches it. And they keep a lot in little cages like this and feed it water with a funny smell.” (That’s lamps burning kerosene.)

But you couldn’t expect the Woodsfolk to believe such things!

Now Louie brought that lantern to the pond just to light up his feast because there wasn’t any moonlight. But he did much better than that—or worse, according as you look at it. For by the time the Woodsfolk had learned a few things about it the buzzwings came to learn about it, too, ’specially some great big shelly-winged beetles, with great big stabbing-beaks on their ugly faces. And wasn’t it nice; most everybody there except Nibble Rabbit’s family and Doctor Muskrat just love to eat them!

As soon as they saw the light, a whole flock of these fellows came over from the pond to investigate it. Some of them lit on the glass and burned their feet a whole lot worse than Tad Coon burned his handy-paw, because they didn’t know enough to take them off again. They stuck right there and ran out their jabbers until they blunted the ends of them. And all the time they kept buzzing their war cry, calling the rest of the beetles to come and help them fight it. Foolish things, they didn’t know that if one beetle can’t hurt a thing even a thousand of them can’t. “Brz-brz-brz!” they roared. “Brz-brz!” roared all the others, coming to help them.

My, there were a lot of them! But the Woodsfolk didn’t mind them a little bit. They just thought this was an extra feast Louie had so cleverly provided. You ought to have seen Stripes Skunk’s children dancing around on their little hind legs, slapping them with their paddy-paws. Tad crunched and crunched until his jaws were tired. Even Chatter Squirrel and Chaik the Jay could see to catch them. They’d snap a bug, and then they’d eat some more of Louie’s corn; then they’d go back to the buzzwings again. And the more they ate the more desperate the buzzwings grew. But they blamed it all on the lantern.

It was a long, long time before they got so blind angry they began to fight everything they saw. They couldn’t hurt the furry folk, and they couldn’t catch Chaik, but they did get poor Louie Thomson, who was sitting there laughing at their goings on. Wow! But didn’t he squall! He squalled louder than Tad Coon. He hopped around sucking his poor hand just as Tad sucked his handy-paw, with all the Woodsfolk staring at him. It didn’t take them long to guess what had happened. And weren’t they just sorry as anything!

Poor Louie! It hurt lots worse than that little bitty burn of Tad Coon’s. But he didn’t make nearly so much fuss about it. He didn’t like even the Woodsfolk to hear him. ’Specially when they were so sorry. And Watch just whined his sympathy, plain as words, and licked the sore spot for him.

Even that didn’t stop it from hurting. So Louie ran down to the pond and stuck it in the water. Then he picked a bulrush and squeezed the nice, soft, juicy end against it. Of course that interested Doctor Muskrat. He flopped over to see what root Louie was using.

“Hey, Watch!” he said. “That poor boy has the right idea, but he’s got hold of the wrong root. Tell him to try this marsh marigold. It’s fine.”

“Or dock,” suggested Nibble Rabbit. Dock is a favourite remedy in a rabbit hole.

“No, leeks,” suggested Tad Coon. He didn’t mean to rub them on, but to eat them. They’re little wild onions, and they taste so good to Tad he forgets about everything else when he’s eating them. But there weren’t any by the pond.

“I can’t talk to him,” sniffed Watch. “Anyway, the best thing is that blue mud you put on Tad’s nose. Where do you find it?”

“Right in the bank here,” said Doctor Muskrat, giving a scratch with his paw to show him. And Louie didn’t need any more telling. He knew about that mud himself—his mother had put some on a bee-sting. So he scooped out a good handful and slapped it on his bite. Then he did feel better. He felt well enough to remember that he was so sleepy he couldn’t keep his eyes open.

Over by his tent there were just as many beetles as ever, buzzing over his lantern. They were still fighting it, and the little skunks were still catching them. They couldn’t eat another one, but they thought it was fun to jump up and bat them. But Louie could see they’d never in the world catch them all. The only thing for him to do was to turn out his light and then the rest of the bad buzzwings would go back to the marsh where they belonged. “Pouff!” My, how dark everything was!

“Oh-h!” sighed Tad Coon in a sorry voice; “he killed it! What did he do that for? It bit me, all right, but I didn’t want it killed. And the buzzwing was the one who bit him. I saw it.” You see he thought the flame was alive.

“It’s only gone dark,” Watch comforted him. “It does that quite often, like the fireflies over in the marsh do when they fold their wings. But it always shines when he wants it to unless he forgets to feed it.” You know a lantern won’t burn if it hasn’t any oil. Watch knew that much, but he was really most as puzzled as Tad.

Inside his blanket tent Louie was already fast asleep.


When Louie’s lantern went out, all the Woodsfolk scurried to their holes as fast as ever they could go. All but Watch, Tommy Peele’s dog, who curled up just outside Louie’s blanket tent and went to sleep with one ear open, and Chaik the Jay.

Poor Chaik was in a bad way. It was easy enough to fly over to the feast while the lantern was lit, but now, in the black dark, he couldn’t get home. He tried to fly. Bump! He hit a tree. “Ough! I can’t risk that again,” he thought to himself. “Wonder where I am? What’s more, I wonder where those Bad Little Owls are?” He began tiptoeing around the trunk. First thing he knew his foot found a woodpecker hole. In he popped, without stopping to think. “Ah,” he chuckled, “this is luck! Mussy nest, though, I must tease Taps Woodpecker about his housekeeping. Whatever is this I’m stepping on?” He scratched round, feeling carefully with his claws. Then his feathers fluffed out with fright. “Great acorns!” he gasped. “It isn’t Tap’s nest at all any more. This is a mouse’s bones I’m standing on. I’m in the hole in the dead hickory where they killed Tap’s wife last year and stole the nest for themselves.” True enough. He had a right to be scared; he was in the little owls’ own hole.

There was a soft flutter just outside. He held his sharp beak ready for a fight, but he didn’t stir. He didn’t even breathe for quite a while. Nothing happened. “It’s the queerest thing,” he thought. “I should think this place should smell owlier than it does. Yes, and those bones are certainly old. I wonder——”

Right then a whispering interrupted him. It certainly was those owls. “What did you get?” said one. “I’ve got a mouse, a pretty good one, too.”

“More fool you,” said the other. “We could have cleaned up all those beetles who were lying around and then had a mouse apiece if you hadn’t grabbed that one right off. He squeaked, and now that dog is on the lookout for us.” Chaik guessed the mice had come out to pick up what the Woodsfolk left near Louie’s blanket tent, where Watch the Dog was asleep with one ear open, and the owls found them. “Give us a leg,” the owl went on.

“Go get one for yourself,” said the other rudely.

“I can’t,” whined the scary one. Chaik guessed it was the he-owl. “I’m scared of that dog. He moved when your mouse squeaked. I’d have had one, too, if you hadn’t been so greedy.”

“Oh, here, then. I’ll get another easy enough. That dog can’t catch me,” snapped his wife, clicking her beak. “But this thing has got to stop. We can’t be bothered with dogs and boys and everything right here on our hunting ground.”

“How can we help it?”

“I’m going to hunt up Killer the Weasel. That’s what the mice ought to have done. He wouldn’t kill any more mice than Stripes Skunk and Tad Coon do between them, and if he settled here I can just tell you everybody else would have to move away—or get eaten. He’s the one to bring.”

“So would we,” protested the scary owl. “You can’t nest with him anywhere about. He can climb like Chatter Squirrel.”

“Well, what nesting did we do this year?” she snarled back. “After those nasty jays pulled out all our feathers when they caught us in the Brushpile we couldn’t hunt enough to lay eggs, let alone raise a family!”

Suddenly the he-owl, who was much the scarier of the two, put up his beak and sniffed uncomfortably. “I smell feathers,” said he. “You haven’t been catching any birds, have you? I’m sure it’s feathers I’ve been noticing for the longest while.”

“Just suppose you stop plaguing me about that young seagull,” snapped his wife. “I like eating them, even if you don’t. It was a good half a hatching ago that I caught her, and you’re still yapping about it. The old ones never found who’d taken her.”

“Luckily they didn’t,” he said sulkily. “They’d have shouted it all over the marsh. It’s no use having the birds picking on us, I tell you. We have troubles enough without that. Now that I’ve got a full set of feathers growing in I mean to keep them. This flying about without my tail is no fun.” He was so full of his troubles he forgot all about what he smelled. “Now you say you’re going to bring Killer the Weasel into these Woods and Fields. That’ll make the most trouble of all. He won’t do any more good than Silvertip the Fox nor Slyfoot the Mink, and they were a whole lot safer for us. They didn’t climb. Why, his very mate can’t trust him.” He said this in a very shocked voice because he was just a little bit afraid of his own bossy wife.

“Teeth and toenails!” she squawked. “Don’t you ever think? I don’t expect to do any of the trusting; I’ll leave it all to that whining skunk who’s even afraid of Bob White Quail, and that sly, slippery-clawed Tad Coon, and that honey-whiskered Nibble Rabbit. They want to make friends, do they? I’ll show them a new friend all right enough. Killer can eat every last tail-tip of them if he’ll listen to me, and just so long as he keeps away from the barns, the men won’t bother to come after him.”

Chaik Jay heard every last word. Then he heard one of the owls flit away, but the sound was so faint he couldn’t tell whether the other had gone, too. He began to move, very carefully. But just the least scratch of his wings caught the ear of that scary little he-owl, who was still sitting on the limb outside. Pit-pit-pit, he clawed over toward the hole. Chaik could hear him sniff. Now he’d look into it and see.

“Wauk! Waourr!” shrieked his wife from over by the pond. He stopped to listen. She was fluttering about like a crazy bird just outside of Louie Thomson’s tent. “Wah! Ur-r-rh, yah!” yapped Watch who had been sleeping with one ear open. “Wuk-uk-uk!” answered the bad little bird who had just been going to peek and see poor Chaik crouching inside, ready for a battle in the dark, a battle which could only have one ending, a bunch of mussed blue feathers at the foot of the tree.

But the little owl never looked. He flapped his wings noisily because he was too excited to fly in proper owl fashion.

Off he flew to help his mate.

And that smart Chaik Jay did the cleverest thing—he flew right after the owl. He knew that owl hole wasn’t any place to hide in, and he knew he couldn’t find his way home. And the only way he could find Watch was to follow the owl.

It wasn’t any good for Chaik to fly quietly; his wings were so mussed he couldn’t, anyway. And he couldn’t dodge in and out of the twigs because he couldn’t see them as plainly as the little owl. All he could do was to follow the sound and be ready to dodge if the bad little bird took it into his head to pounce at him.

But the owl wasn’t thinking about anything in the world but his mate. He really did love her, even if they quarreled. And he really meant to fight for her as bravely as ever he knew how. But he didn’t have to. For she came to meet him, squawking between each flop, so crazy scared that she flew right past him and all but collided with Chaik, who was following close on his stubby tail.

Chaik dipped, to get out of her way, and struck his wing against a branch. He went whirling tail over crest, not a bit like a bird, but quite like a cluster of leaves the caterpillars bite off for an airplane to carry them back to earth when they want to dig down and make their homes for the winter time. He struck a bush and then went bouncing and sliding to the ground. For a minute he lay there, almost dazed, his poor little head in a whirl. How his poor wing did ache! He listened.

“It’s funny I don’t hear Watch,” thought Chaik. “I certainly heard him a minute ago.” He gave a little raspy whisper.

“Oh!” came a startled voice right above him. “I thought you were a mouse. Is that you, Chaik?” Watch must have been holding his breath as well as his paw, ready to pounce on him.

“Yes,” Chaik answered back. “What was all the racket over? What’s happening?”

“Those pesky whisktails,” Watch answered. He meant the mice. “Stripes Skunk or Tad Coon ought to have stayed to help me. They’ve been squeaking and scuffling over those corncobs left after Louie’s party, and the beetles Stripes’s kittens left lying round, until I couldn’t get a wink of sleep. Finally I snapped a paw to quiet them and hit feathers instead of fur. I guess I most squashed all the squawk right out of that little owl before I knew who she was and let her go again.”

“And I wish you’d killed her!” hissed Chaik. “Put down your head. Their ears are so frightfully keen and they mustn’t hear a word. Listen! They’re going to bring Killer the Weasel to these Woods and Fields!”

“Great beef-bones! They can’t! They mustn’t! Oh, that’s too awful!”

“But they will,” Chaik insisted. “You’ll see. He’s going to fool us all into making friends and—well, you know what then! Not even my nest will be safe from him. Not even their own, but they’ll take that risk to get even with us because we jays pulled out their feathers so they couldn’t hunt enough this year to do any nesting. Now do you see?”


Chaik Jay didn’t need to whisper. The Bad Little Owls weren’t there to overhear him, as he’d overheard them while he was hidden in their very own hole. When Watch pawed the lady owl, who was mouse hunting right under his nose in the black dark, he spoiled more than her feathers; he ruined the last of her temper. And her temper is ’most as short as her tail at the best of times, as you know.

She beaked her wings so spitefully that she ’most took out what feathers she had left (they get very loose long before the leaves begin to fall), and set right off to find Killer the Weasel.

Right straight into the Deep Woods she flew, her scary little mate flapping along behind her. Pretty soon she heard a sound; it was a faint squawk, choked in the middle. She circled to listen. There came another squawk, exactly like the first. Then there was an uneasy stirring and fluttering in the secret depths of a thick, leafy tree. Dark deeds were being done there. “What? What? Who called?” said a scared bird voice. No answer. The silence was more terrible than any words.

A minute passed, another. She perched softly to listen. Her mate didn’t dare to speak, though he was ’most bursting with questions; yes, and something more. He was still afraid. He circled and lit beside her, with the least little scratching of a twig; she gave him a vicious peck. Poor little fellow, he didn’t even dare to preen the spot for fear he’d make another sound and get something worse. Then the first bird voice said at last: “Some youngster had a bad dream. You should always own up to it, little stubby wings, and not frighten the rest of us.” But still no one answered.

All the same the birds began to settle down again and all was quiet. “Ah-h!” came the very same choked cry; then a word. “Help! Kil——” and that was all. All but a soft thump. In a moment the tree was an uproar of fluttering and screaming.

“I knew he was there,” said the bad little lady owl triumphantly. “Killer’s been raiding the robins’ roost.” And she was right. After they finish nesting, all the robins fly to sleep in the same secret hiding place, in the loneliest grove they can find. And there they make friends with each other and talk over their fall trip and decide where they’ll go when the snow comes to cover up the ground, and hide the worms, and when, and which party they want to join. And Killer the Weasel and the hooter owls try to find it, because it’s such easy hunting.

“Don’t speak to him to-night. Please don’t!” begged her husband. “Do take a day to sleep on it. Something awful always happens if you lose your temper.” You see even the owls know that. But they won’t always believe it. She wouldn’t.

“It’s terrible!” he gasped. “Killer has more birds already than he’ll eat in a week.”

“That’s what I’m waiting for,” she answered grimly. “We’ll take care of the extra ones.”

“Oh, don’t! Don’t you dare touch them!” he protested. “The robins will find it out, and we’ll never hear the end of it. Just think what the jays did to us. We haven’t been able to fly decently since they picked on us, way last spring. And there are so many more robins. We’d never have a day’s rest. They’ll pluck us bare. Do let’s go home!”

“Oh, do shut up!” she snapped angrily. “You can fly back and good riddance. I’m not keeping you. I can mind my own business without you. It doesn’t concern you.”

“It does, too,” he whimpered. “Nobody ever knows us apart. If those robins get just a glimpse of you they’ll never believe I wasn’t eating them, too. Won’t you please listen?”

But his wife wasn’t paying any attention to him at all. She was leaning over, craning out her neck, cocking her ear. All she answered was: “There he goes now.” After a second she added to herself: “My, but he’s little. I don’t believe he can do it, ever in this world.”

She lit above Killer’s head while he was busy eating the robin

“Do what?” he wanted to know.

“Kill——” she hesitated; “kill any one bigger than Tad Coon.” She didn’t want him to know it was Watch the Dog and Tommy Peele and Louie Thomson she wanted to get rid of for good and all. She thought to herself: “If only those boys were gone, and the Woodsfolk hadn’t any one to give those nice feasts to them so they’d never get hungry, they’d fight each other again.” She didn’t know they really liked living together the way Mother Nature meant them to in the First-Off Beginning. But she knew he’d be scared if she told him that. He was simply foolish about men.

“If he can’t kill them, why are they all so afraid?” he asked.

“That’s so,” she agreed. “I don’t see how he ever fights them, but I s’pose he knows some tricks he doesn’t tell. You wait for me right here.” And down she flew to follow Killer the Weasel to his den.

She lit above Killer’s head while he was busy eating the robin he’d carried home—only one out of all those he left lying dead on the ground beneath the roost. She squirmed out to the very tip end of the branch and watched him every moment while she was talking. “Good morning,” she said, for the east was growing light. “I don’t need to ask you how the hunting goes. I see you’ve had a fine night with plenty of robins.”

He raised his flat, three-cornered, snaky-head, and his eyes gleamed red in the shadows. “Not so bad,” he answered, and she could hear his tongue rasp his prickly whiskers. “It’s a great game. But I make the most of it, because when the robins nest in a flock it’s a sign they’ll soon be gone. I try to see how many I can kill before they wake up. I’d have broken my record to-night if a piece of bark I was standing on hadn’t broken. Did you hear that last youngster squall out? The whole flock began stirring; the fun is over then.”

The owl’s claws trembled so she had to clamp them tight. To kill when he wasn’t hungry, just for fun! It was enough to make even an owl’s blood run cold. But she kept her beak from clattering and remarked: “Very clever. You’re quieter than I am. I couldn’t help admiring you because I find them almost too big to manage.”

“Size is nothing,” said Killer. “It’s all just a matter of brains.”

“Do you really think so?” she asked in a flattering tone. “Because I know a perfectly wonderful hunting ground if you can manage that awful coon.”

“Coon!” exclaimed Killer. “I’ll show you how I can handle him. Fft! for a coon.”

You ought to have heard the wicked little bird tell him about Nibble Rabbit’s delicious little bunnies. M-m-m! Didn’t his mouth just water for them? But she never said a word about Watch the Dog, or Tommy Peele, or Louie Thomson. She knew if he made trouble for the Woodsfolk he’d just have to fight their friends. But—she didn’t know that these little boys had ever and ever so much more brains than a weasel!


Next morning the robins were in an awful flutter when they came down to drink. And when a robin is excited he just has to tell everybody all about it—you’ve heard them, lots of times, though you don’t always understand them. Bobby took his bath in a great splatter and then flew over to talk with Watch while he fixed his feathers.

He caught sight of Chaik Jay all huddled up on the bottom branch of a bush. His poor hurt wing, that he struck when he went tail over crest in the black dark, was drooping.

“Whew!” whistled Bobby. “Chaik looks like I feel, too mussed up to know my beak from my back toe-claw. We didn’t sleep a wink last night, over at the roost; terrible things were happening.”

“Quick!” snapped Watch; “what did happen?”

It seemed to him that Killer the Weasel was standing right beside him. He had to sniff to make sure he wasn’t. He was so excited that his back hair was as stiff as it gets when he wants to fight.

“Well, last night, when it was black, black dark,” began Bobby in a scary whisper, “we heard a cry, as though some bird were having a bad dream. Then everything was quiet, and we settled down to sleep again. Pretty soon we were waked up the very same way. It happened over and over. I had my eyes wide open a dozen times, but I couldn’t see a single thing. And my ears are sharp, but I couldn’t even hear anything. Yet this morning a dozen families report some bird is missing. You don’t think a ghost bird could have taken them?” He meant the big white owl who sometimes comes down from the far north, where the storms grow, and snatches the sleeping folks out of their pine-tree perches. But that only happens in the winter time.

“It was Killer the Weasel, of course,” sniffed Watch.

“No, it wasn’t,” argued Bobby. “Killer’s been there half-a-dozen times, but he always leaves dead birds scattered around on the ground to scare us.”

“Then it was the Bad Little Owls,” said Watch.

“They wouldn’t dare!” exclaimed Bobby, ruffling up his feathers. “What do you take us for, a flock of sparrows?”

“A flock of foolish heads!” Watch snapped back impatiently. “It serves you right. Why do you keep on perching there if Killer knows right where you are?”

Bobby stared at him with round eyes. “If we did move, how would the new birds who come in on every wind find out where we are? Eh? How would we get together for the long flight? We robins stick to the Robins’ Roost so long as there’s a bird left alive to perch there.”

“Um-m,” said Watch thoughtfully. “It would be inconvenient. I see that now. But why don’t you fly along?”

“My wings!” Bobby almost hopped at the idea. “It’s easy to see you don’t know what business this long flight is. We can’t all go together—we wouldn’t find enough to feed all of us along the road. We can’t afford to spend all day hunting our food as we do here. And a fine mixup it would be if every bird left just when the whim took him. We leave in regular turn. Mother Nature gives us our first signal when the leaves do the butterfly dance (he meant when they turn gay colours and fall) and our last party takes wing at the turn of the worm.” (That’s when the worms dig down below the icy ground for their winter sleep.)

“When a fellow can smell, he can see with his nose just who has been there”

“I see,” Watch nodded. “Well, then, we’ll just find out who it is and nip his tail for him. Come along.”

Bobby Robin really felt quite comforted when Watch seemed ready to help him—those hundreds and hundreds of birds who weigh down the great elm tree before they get their signal from Mother Nature to fly south are a terrible responsibility. But he didn’t see just exactly what Watch could do about it. He dipped along beside the dog’s long, easy run for a minute or so. Then he broke out again, “But I can’t think who it could have been.”

“It was Killer the Weasel or the owls,” Watch answered. “I’ll bet you on it.”

“What’ll you bet?” Bobby demanded with a sidewise quirk of his head—that is the way he smiles. “I’m a pretty old bird. I’ve been hunted by weasels and cats and hawks and foxes and big owls and little ones ever since I first grew feathers, but never have I known the like of this.”

“I’ll bet you a bone,” Watch began. Then he wiped out the idea with a sweep of his tail. “Foolish me! I forgot you haven’t teeth. Well, I’ll bet you a nice soft bread-crust I can lay me paw on. I buried it yesterday—to keep those thieves of chickens from stealing it.”

“I’ll take you,” giggled Bobby. “And I’ll bet you a whole nest of furry caterpillars it wasn’t either of them.”

“What’ll I do with the caterpillars?” sniffed Watch. “Wear ’em in my whiskers?”

Bobby just had to laugh, but he got all sober and discouraged again the next minute. “I don’t see how we’re going to decide, anyhow,” he sighed. “It happened hours ago—long before the sun began to spread his wings.” (Birds say the long streaks you see in the east at sunrise are the sun’s wings flapping before he soars across the sky.) “And it was so crow dark nobody could see anything.”

“That doesn’t matter,” said Watch cheerfully. “I don’t have to see. Seeing’s no good the minute after a thing has happened. Hearing isn’t any better. But I can smell! M-m-m!” he sniffed softly. “And when a fellow can smell he can see with his nose just who has been there and what they did long after they’ve gone. Listen!” He laid his nose to the trunk of the Roosting Elm. “Killer!” he exclaimed. “Here he climbed up. Here he came down. Here he walked out below this limb. Here—here—owl! Bobby. Plain as day I do smell owl!”

“Fur and feathers working together,” sobbed Bobby. “What chance have we poor birds? What won’t they do to us to-night?”

“Well, you’re feathers and I’m fur,” argued Watch. “Can’t we do something, too?”

And that made Bobby so happy again he just had to flap his wings over it.

But Watch was thoughtful.

“Now listen to me, Bobby,” he said at last. “If Killer and the Bad Little Owls are going to hunt together, we Woodsfolk are going to have trouble, aren’t we? Trouble afoot and awing.” He licked his nose, as though he were trying to smell out the thing to do next.

“Trouble afoot is the only thing I’m afraid of,” cheeped Bobby. “Those owls can’t do anything alone; I thought you were going to nip Killer’s tail for him. Wasn’t that what you said?” He sounded all discouraged again.

“Now don’t get flutter-headed,” warned Watch. “So I am. But I have to get my teeth on it, don’t I? And that means I have to catch the cleverest, craftiest of all things from under-the-earth. Yes, and the wickedest. It gives me the creeps to think about him.”

“By the Great Grub Who Gnawed the Moon!” gasped the bird, leaning over to get a good look at the big dog. “You talk as though you were afraid of him—a great big beast like you afraid of a slinky little thing like him!”

And then Watch repeated exactly what Killer had told the wife of the Bad Little Owl. “It isn’t size, it’s brains. Nobody is really safe from him. I’m ever so much bigger than Doctor Muskrat or even Tad Coon. But if Killer caught me while I was asleep and got his weasel hold under my chin, even I couldn’t bite him back. He’s so small I couldn’t reach him.”

“That’s so!” exclaimed Bobby. “You’d be no safer than a bird.”

“Oh, yes, I am,” Watch was fair enough to explain. “I’m the last beast in all the woods he’d try it on. My ears are wide, and my nose is wet, and my long, stiff coat feels every stir in the grass. I wake up with a jump before I know whether I heard or smelled or felt what was coming. But Killer is quieter than a pad-footed pussy. He can hide his scent like a nesting quail, and he can see where he’s stepping. That’s why he never hunts fair. He’s all bite and no fight.”

“He certainly is!” agreed the bird.

“Ah, but here’s the point,” the old dog went on. “We know who we’re hunting, and he doesn’t know we know. We won’t let him. Then we’ve got trouble down a mouse hole. We’ll hunt him like the pussycat hunts them—pretend we aren’t paying any attention and be all ready to pounce on him. A still tongue and a waving tail is the way to trail trouble whenever you find it. Not a cheep until the time comes!”

And this time Bobby Robin didn’t answer—not with his tongue. He just wagged his long tail up and down so very hard that his whole perch wagged with him.


With a still tongue and a waving tail Watch galloped back from the Robins’ Roost, Bobby Robin flitting along beside him. They were hunting trouble, and that was the very wisest way in the world to hunt it. Because the very trouble they were hunting was peering through a crack between two big stones on the bank of Doctor Muskrat’s Pond. It was a little bit of a crack—so little you wouldn’t think a garter snake could much more than squeeze into it. But it held a lot of trouble. Because trouble is brains—not size.

Trouble was the meanest of all the things from under-the-earth who came up to spoil Mother Nature’s nice plans in the far-back, First-Off Beginning of Things. Trouble was Killer the Weasel, with his snaky head and his cruel beady eyes and his conceited smile. And he was peering through that crack to see how the Woodsfolk behaved before he tried a very funny trick the wife of the Bad Little Owls had whispered to him.

The first thing he saw was Watch the Dog bounding along with his tail in the air as though he hadn’t a care in the world. “Ho,” said the wicked weasel to himself, “that clumsy beast would carry his tail between his legs if he knew I was here!” I told you he was conceited.

The next thing he saw was Bobby Robin flitting past as careless as a butterfly in a breeze. “A-ha!” said the weasel to himself, “that foolish bird would set up a fine squawking if he knew I was here.” Wasn’t he just conceited?

Then he laid his ear to the crack to hear if they were talking about him. But they weren’t—not a single word. It really hurt his feelings. That’s how conceited he was!

All he heard was Chaik Jay waking up in the bottom of the bush where he’d crept the night before. “What a place to sleep!” thought the wicked weasel. “It’s a pity I didn’t see him.”

Chaik gave himself a little shake; then he tried to stretch. “Ye-a-a-ak!” he squawked. “Ow, my sore wing! Oh, my cramped claws! Whee! my stiff feathers!”

“What a noise to make!” growled the wicked weasel to himself. “I don’t believe he can fly a little bit. Now that dog will make a quick meal of him.”

But the dog didn’t at all. He just said: “Here, Chaik, let me lick the soreness out, the way we dogs do.”

“No, thanks,” Chaik almost giggled, because the idea was really funny. “I’d never find head nor tail of myself again if you mussed me up with your great wet tongue. I’d much rather have Doctor Muskrat bring me a blister beetle if he can find one.”

And the wicked weasel didn’t know what to make of that. Chaik was sitting on the lowest branch where anybody could have caught him, and Watch wasn’t even trying to eat him!

Instead of that, he went down by Doctor Muskrat’s big flat stone and barked. And instead of diving down to the deepest bottom of the pond and hiding beneath the water lilies, up swam Doctor Muskrat himself, and he flopped on his stone. “What’s the matter?” he asked. “Did any one want me?”

“Ye-ah,” called the bird. “I’ve hurt my wing. And I’m sore all over. I feel like a mouse after a cat has been playing with it.”

“You do, do you?” said the good old muskrat, flopping over to him. “Well, you look as if you’d been caught in a hailstorm. Let’s see what’s the matter with your flapper. M-m-m. It isn’t broken. Just give it a day’s rest.”

“How about a blister beetle?” asked Chaik. “I feel scary here on the ground. I want to get to flying again.”

“Fine for fur, but no good at all for feathers,” the doctor explained. “There, there! Don’t flutter yourself. I guess you had too much party last night by the looks of you. You’d better be careful about eating. I recommend a little acid. Try an ant or two. Or perhaps you’d like a nice red sumach berry from the Quail’s Thicket. I’ll cut down a branch so you can reach them.” Sumach berry, indeed! You know how Chaik loves them. Off he hopped, dragging his wing.

“Queerer and queerer,” thought the bad beast hiding under the stone.

The next thing he saw was Nibble’s bunnies trooping down to drink—my, but they made his mouth water! And he could hear all the birds spluttering and splashing at the edge of the sand where it would be easy to catch them! Still, he stayed hidden.

But when Stripes Skunk came strolling down with his three fat kittens behind him and the bunnies actually began playing with them he made up his mind. “That little owl told the truth!” said the weasel to himself. “She said the Woodsfolk were all friends, but I couldn’t believe her. Well, if they’ve made friends with my cousin Stripes Skunk, they’ll make friends with me. How nice that will be. They’ll walk right into my jaws. I’ll do exactly what the owl told me to. Her advice is worth having!” And he began to prick up his ears and carefully slick back his whiskers.

He didn’t have very much elbow room in that narrow crack between the two big stones but the way he managed to fix himself up was surely surprising. The wife of the Bad Little Owl would never in the world have known he was the bristly whiskered ruffian with red in his eye she found gnawing a robin in the door of his den.

When he squeezed through the crack and shook himself he was really a very elegant-looking creature. His little ears were perked up as pert as he could prick them. His tail didn’t stick straight out behind; it was all fluffed out and he cocked it up the way Chatter Squirrel does. He didn’t slink along like a snake gliding through the bushes; he arched his neck and he arched his back and he hopped as neatly as a rabbit. I won’t say he was comfortable, but he really did look handsome.

Well, the first beast he met was that very bunny who had been locked up in the cage in Louie Thomson’s cellar. “Good morning, Miss Rabbit,” said he in his politest voice. “Can you tell me where I can find my cousin, Tad Coon? I’ve come to visit him.” He said that because he wanted to find out where Tad was. He was the least little bit scared he might have to be careful about Tad.

The bunny opened her eyes very wide. You remember Tad Coon was the fellow who taught her how foolish she was to trust strangers. He told her that his family ate little rabbits. If this was a cousin of Tad’s she wasn’t going to risk being eaten. She didn’t even stop to answer; she just flicked her white tail in his very face and made for the Pickery Things.

“That’s funny,” thought the weasel. “But maybe she’s only young and foolish.” So he edged along by some tall grass to where Stripes Skunk was catching some grasshoppers. “Good morning, Cousin Stripes,” he said. “I’m your cousin Slick.” (He thought maybe he could fool even Stripes, just a little, because he looked so different.) “Won’t you introduce me to your friends? I’m tired of living in the Deep Woods. I want to be good and happy like the rest of you.” (That’s what the Bad Little Owl had told him to say.)

Stripes was most as scared as the bunny. But he could see something the bunny didn’t see—something the wicked weasel didn’t see, either. For that good old dog Watch was standing right behind him. And he looked different, too. He wasn’t sleek and good-tempered any more. He was red-eyed and bristly, thinking about what the weasel had done to the poor robins. He didn’t take a step, or Killer’s sharp ears would have heard him. He crouched for a great big spring, and then——

The Doctor said Chaik had had too much party and should be careful about eating


“Aough-ah!” came a sound from the little blanket tent Everybody looked. Then Stripes and Watch both knew what it was; Louie Thomson was waking up inside of it. And in the next instant, Watch the Dog and Stripes Skunk were staring at each other all alone. Killer wasn’t there at all!

“Oh!” gasped Stripes. “Where has he gone?” He began turning round and round, trying to see what had become of the wicked beast.

“Where has who gone? What do you mean?” asked Watch. For the wise dog was pretending he hadn’t even seen him.

“My cousin,” Stripes explained, feeling scarier and scarier. “He came to visit me. Isn’t it too bad I hadn’t a chance to say good-bye to him?”

“Say good-bye to him?” said the dog, wagging his wavy tail in a joking way. “How could you say good-bye to any one who wasn’t here? I’ve been here all the time, but I’m not your cousin.”

“Then I’ll say good-bye to you instead.” Stripes’s teeth were almost chattering. “I’m going. Give my regards to my cousin if you should happen to see him.”

“Wherever are you going?” asked Watch. He was really puzzled by this time.

“I’m going——” Stripes couldn’t think for a minute where he was going. He just wasn’t going to stay in the Woods and Fields now that that bad beast had come. “I’m going with Bobby Robin on the long flight,” he said at last. Which was very foolish because he couldn’t begin to run fast enough to keep up with a bird when it was flying. Even Nibble Rabbit can’t. But he humped himself off in a great hurry, so scared that his hair was all bristling.

You know where Killer hid when Louie gave that big noisy yawn? He just slid back into his narrow crack between the two big stones. “I’m safe,” he sniffed to himself. “Nobody can get me out of here—not even that foolish dog. This rock is too hard digging for anybody’s toenails.” He felt shivery all right enough. Because scary folk aren’t all bad, but, deep down inside them, bad ones are always scary.

In a minute he began to hear his cousin Stripes Skunk asking Watch the Dog where he’d gone to.

He squinted through his crack to see how soon they were going, and what do you think he saw? He saw Louie Thomson. Yes, even if Louie didn’t see him, he saw Louie squirm out from under his blanket tent. First came his tously head; then came his shoulders. “Whoever in all the woods is that?” thought the weasel, and his eyes began to pop.

Killer tried to listen and then he tried to sniff in the direction of Louie Thomson because he just couldn’t believe his eyes. Suddenly Louie scrambled to his feet and stood up. The weasel’s hair stood up, too. Now he understood. “It’s a man!” he hissed, and he ground his teeth in a rage. “That’s what I get for listening to the owl. She knows we’re deadly enemies. Just let me get out of this hole without being seen, and I’ll hustle back to the Deep Woods in two long bounces and a tailflip. But I’ll give that lying little bird a lick with my tongue that won’t smooth her feathers!” He felt so hateful that he tried to grip his own claws into the hard stone.

Louie Thomson washed himself and dug a root, and then he went up to his house to see if his mother had saved him any civilized breakfast. Watch took a good, long lap of water and then he sniffed about. “Wonder where everybody’s gone?” he puzzled. “I guess I’ll get some breakfast up at Louie’s house. They’ll be all through long ago at Tommy’s.” So off they strolled. And the pond was quieter yet—there wasn’t anybody there at all.

That is, anybody but Killer the Weasel, down in his nice, safe crack. And he didn’t make any noise, either. He’d gone off to sleep. He sleeps in the daytime, anyway, and he slept very soundly because there wasn’t a sound to waken him.

There wasn’t a pat, or a flutter, or a chirp, or a squeak, or even a sneeze, because there wasn’t any one to make them. Not even a fieldmouse! This is what happened: You remember Doctor Muskrat prescribed sumach berries for poor Chaik Jay. He even went over to the Quail’s Thicket and cut down a couple of stalks with his chisel teeth. They’re very nice, though a bit seedy for us—but that’s exactly what the birds like—so he took a taste or two himself while he watched Chaik gulp a fine crawful.

“Well, Chaik,” he said at last, “I guess Nibble Rabbit can look after you now. I’ve got a couple of things back at the pond I must attend to.”

“Don’t go back there,” fluttered Chaik, suddenly remembering. “I overheard the Bad Little Owls, last night, just before I got hurt. They say Killer the Weasel is coming to our Woods and Fields. Whatever will we do about it?”

“Time enough to think about it when he comes,” said the old muskrat comfortably. “No wonder you tumbled off your perch, if you had a dream like that.”

And that was the very minute when the baby bunny came bounding in. “Daddy Rabbit,” she squealed, “there’s a strange beast down by the pond!”

“There! Maybe you think she’s dreaming, too!” cheeped Chaik triumphantly. “It’s Killer, sure as sure! What did he look like?”

Now you remember how Killer fixed himself all up, the way the owl’s wife had told him to, when he tried to make friends with the Woodsfolk. “Eh?” said Nibble, when the bunny finished telling about him, “that’s never Killer.”

“Then who is it?” asked the sensible muskrat. “There’s no such animal as that in all the woods—not that I ever heard tell of.”

“Run for your lives, everybody. Killer has come to the pond!”

But before even Chaik could answer him, in galloped Stripes Skunk. “Hey! Where are my kittens?” he gasped. “Call your bunnies, Nibble! Run for your lives, everybody. Killer has come to the pond!”

And Doctor Muskrat and Nibble Rabbit and Nibble’s mate and all her bunnies, and Stripes’s own kittens, who came gliding through the tunnels under the Pickery Things, looked at each other with their eyes as big and round as so many thorn apples, they were so scared.

Chaik Jay was the first to speak. “Poor me!” he wailed. “He’ll eat me before sunset. My wing simply won’t fly. I can’t make it.”

“Can’t you hang on by somebody’s fur and come along?” suggested Nibble anxiously.

“It’s too slippery,” sighed poor Chaik. “I’d slip off and get hurt again.”

“Listen here, Chaik,” said Doctor Muskrat. “Your claws can still climb. This thicket is full of little, fine twigs that won’t begin to hold up Killer. He’s as heavy as I am. Couldn’t you hop up and perch in the middle of them?”

“Yes,” exclaimed Nibble enthusiastically. “And the Pickery Things have thorns all over them. They pick as hard on the top as they do on the bottom. Killer hates them.”

Chaik tried. And he found he could move a great deal better than he could that morning. He slipped and stumbled and scrambled and flapped his well wing, and squawked as softly as he could when he bumped his sore one, but climb he did. “Flit along,” he chirped cheerfully in a minute; “I wouldn’t ask a better place to perch in.” He didn’t feel as cheerful as he sounded, but he didn’t want them to get into trouble by waiting for him.

“All right,” thumped Nibble with his furry feet. That’s safer than whispering. Then he remembered. “But where are we going? To the marsh on the far-away side of the Deep Woods, where the sun goes to sleep?” The Woodsfolk didn’t know that the sun went a great deal farther than that. The near side of that marsh was as far as any of them had gone.

“We can’t run fast enough,” mourned Stripes. “He’d catch up with us before very long.”

“An I can’t run at all,” said the fat old muskrat. “I’d better go back and trust the water to hide me from him.”

“Nonsense!” sniffed Stripes. “I’ve seen him swim. We’ll all run across the Broad Field as fast as we can—he hates to leave the woods worse than anything——”

“Yes,” interrupted Nibble, flicking his long ears as a bright idea struck him. “We’ll cross the Broad Field and we’ll hide by Tommy Peele’s barn. There’s food and water for every one. We’ll treat him as I told the fieldmice to treat you when you were fighting them—we’ll run off and leave him alone!” And he twiddled his tufty tail just to show how pleased he felt over his bright idea.


Poor Chaik Jay felt a lot sadder than he looked when he saw the Woodsfolk go skipping across the Broad Field one at a time so nobody would notice them, on the way to Tommy Peele’s barn.

But he was a pretty sensible bird. “I’m glad they’re gone,” he said to himself. “That was a fine idea of Nibble Rabbit’s to go away. Killer won’t stay here long if he finds there isn’t any hunting.”

Pretty soon he was very busy exercising his stiff wing and thinking: “I can reach every sumach berry in this thicket. They’re fine eating. I feel better every minute. I’ll be able to fly before very long—if I can’t fly across the Broad Field to-night I’ll surely be able to do it in the morning.” He really did feel better. That was the funny part of it. It wasn’t long before he had his feathers all prinked up and his crest perked as sassy as if he were going courting.

“It’s too bad about those foolish mice,” he thought to himself. “The bad old weasel can live on them for a long time if there’s nobody else here to hunt them.” He thought harder than ever. “It would be nicer yet,” he said after another minute, “if the mice would go, too. Killer can’t eat clams and snails and bugs and roots and such things like the rest of us Woodsfolk. He’d have to go away.”

But how could Chaik do that—just one lone bluejay with a hurt wing? He kept on thinking, all the same; he thought so hard his head needed scratching. At last he began to have an idea. “Isn’t it a lucky thing they did leave me here? I can talk more bird and beast talk than any one else in all the Woods and Fields, except Miau the Catbird. I wish he’d happen along, I do. I could use him. If we could warn all the birds, Killer would never be able to catch one. But the mice——”

And just them someone did happen along. It wasn’t Miau, but—but, listen! It was the hoptoad! You know him—so terrible scary-ugly, but nice as anything—the one who found Nibble Rabbit’s lost bunny. Well, the hoptoad called, in his funny, gulpy voice, “Chirpy, Chaik Jay! Do you see anything of the rain?” He loves rain because it makes the wings of the bugs all waterlogged and it’s easy to catch them.

“Chirpy, Croaker Toad,” Chaik answered, “I can’t see a sign of it.”

“It’s coming, all the same,” gulped Croaker. “Floods of it. I feel it.”

“It is?” asked Chaik eagerly. “Mice, oh, mice! How they hate it!” And he bounced on his perch until Croaker Toad stared with his big round eyes. But a lot Chaik cared!

He carried on at such a rate that a big saw-billed duck slanted down to see what was the matter. “It’s going to rain,” he sang, looking mischievously at the duck, his feathers all puffed out from laughing.

“Of course it’s going to rain,” quacked the duck, making a gawpy face with his long red bill that set Chaik giggling all over again. “It’s going to rain hard, and it’s going to rain soon. You won’t find it a laughing matter, old soggy feathers.” (A duck never forgets to tease the other birds about not having a nice water-proof coat, you know.) And off he flew.

Chaik frightens the mice away to save them from Killer the Weasel

But Chaik Jay didn’t care a wormy thorn apple what the duck thought about him. He was just waiting for a fieldmouse. The very first time he heard one stirring out in the thicket he called: “Hey! Who’s there? Is that you, Nibble Rabbit?” He knew it wasn’t Nibble, because Nibble had gone away, but he said it on purpose.

“No,” came the answer; “it’s Scritch Mouse.” But I tell you he felt kind of flattered at being taken for someone as big and important as a rabbit. “I haven’t seen or heard anything of him since this morning.”

“Chirk-cheree!” exclaimed Chaik impatiently. “I do wish he’d come. Won’t you peek in his hole for me and see if he’s there? I want to get along myself before it comes.”

“Before what comes?” asked the mouse. “I’m perfectly sure he isn’t there.”

“Before the rain, of course,” answered the clever bird. “Every one else has run away, but I was to wait and warn him. There’s the most terrible rain coming—I just heard about it from the saw-billed duck.” (No mouse would ever dare to ask questions of a saw-bill for himself—the bird would eat him as easy as quack at him, so Chaik went right on adding to it.) “The birds coming down from the north had to swim two days instead of flying. It’s going to flood these Woods and Fields from the Brushpile to the Robins’ Roosting Tree—maybe worse. It’s the worst——”

“Well,” interrupted the mouse, “it’s a funny thing nobody told us.”

“Oh, nobody told me not to tell you,” said Chaik. “But you haven’t been very friendly with the Woodsfolk lately, have you?”

Scritch ran as fast as his claws could catch on the ground. He went straight to the stump where Great-grandfather Fieldmouse, who’s so old his ears are crinkly, lives with all his family. Every one was taking an afternoon nap when he bounced right in and woke them. “Quick, quick!” he squeaked. “An awful thing is happening. We must run!”

Great-grandfather Fieldmouse raised his rumply head and blinked at him. “Eh? What? Who’s that? Was any one chasing you?” he asked.

“No,” said Scritch. “It’s worse than that. Hurry! The rest of the Woodsfolk have gone already—every last one.”

“Ho, they left because they’re afraid of Killer the Weasel,” sniffed the old fieldmouse. “But we’re not going. He can’t eat many more of us than they do themselves. He isn’t like a bear who could tear this stump right open and kill us all—but you don’t know about that. Bears were long before your time.” They were long before Great-grandfather Fieldmouse’s time, too, but he’s always pretending. The fat old fellow set to combing his rumpled head with a stiff hind paw.

“That isn’t why they’ve gone,” squealed Scritch triumphantly. “They just pretended that it was. They’ve gone because the ducks say there’s a terrible storm coming. They say they had to swim in it for two days instead of flying. They say Doctor Muskrat’s Pond is going to grow so fast it will swallow up the Woods and Fields, and we’ll all be drowned!”

“That’s what they tell you,” sneered the old mouse. “They don’t like to own up that they’re afraid of a little beast like Killer.”

“But they didn’t mean to. It was Chaik Jay. He thought I was Nibble Rabbit.” My, but wasn’t Scritch proud when he remembered Chaik took him for Nibble! “And Chaik said they didn’t warn us because we weren’t friends.”

“They didn’t, didn’t they?” snarled the old mouse. “We’ll show them if we’ll stay here and be drowned.” That settled it. In less than an hour Chaik saw the last mouse tail go trooping into the cornfield.

“Chay!” he laughed. “Now, Killer, you’ll have a hard time finding anything to eat around this pond. I’ll give you two days to go back to the Deep Woods where you belong. And you’ll be a whole lot thinner than when you came, old slinky-sides.”

It was true, there wasn’t a single bit of fur for Killer to put his teeth into when he woke up from his daytime sleep and went hunting. But Chaik was determined Killer wouldn’t make his supper off a bird, either. Every time one lit to drink at Doctor Muskrat’s Pond Chaik would send it away.

He told some one reason for leaving and some another, just whatever he thought would scare them the most. Once a whole flock of gorgeous little fellows swooped down and he was puzzled. They were warblers from the far-away south; they come up north every summer, but they live all by themselves and speak their own language, so none of the northern birds can talk to them at all. “Now, how in the world can I frighten those silly little spiggoty birds?” he mused with his head on one side, most discouraged. “They won’t listen to reason.”

Suddenly he began chuckling to himself. “If they can’t talk my talk they can’t talk the marsh hawk’s, either.” He practised quietly for a minute or two. Then he began to shout the hawk’s hunting call. “Kee-yah!” he squawked. “Kee-yah!” And you should have heard those warblers flutter their wings. They flew off without even stopping to look behind them.

It was really a fine imitation. It fooled more than the scary little spiggoty birds. It fooled the marsh hawk himself. He woke up on his perch down in the bulrushes where he dozes until the mice begin to stir for their suppers. He thought surely it was one of his sons who was hunting with his mother over in the Big Marsh, on the far-away side of the Deep Woods, where the Woodsfolk think the sun goes to sleep. “What’s he doing here?” wondered the old bird. “Surely his mother never sent him to tell me we were going to start south ahead of the storm.” And up he flew, craning his neck all around and calling.

Of course Chaik knew better than to answer. He dropped down under the leaves of the pickery thorn tree of the Quail’s Thicket and hid from the hawk by scrambling around its trunk, keeping always on the opposite side of it. “Lucky thing for me Killer the Weasel isn’t on the prowl for me right now,” he thought. “I believe this is a poor place to sleep. These leaves will let in ever so much rain, and if the owls should take to hunting me from above and Killer from below they wouldn’t be very long about catching me.”

Just then his heart ’most stopped beating; he heard a rustling beneath him—right at the very foot of the tree he was hiding on. He squinched himself flat tight against the bark so he looked like nothing more than a bumpy knothole and peeked—into the smiling face of Tad Coon.

Chaik dropped from the tree and told Tad all about everything


“Tad Coon!” gasped Chaik Jay. “What are you doing here? My, but I’m glad you came.” And he dropped down from the trunk of the pickery thorn tree.

He told Tad all about everything; how the other Woodsfolk had gone up to stay at Tommy Peele’s barn while Killer lived at the pond, and how he’d fooled the mice into leaving it, and scared the birds so the wicked beast wouldn’t find a thing to eat when he did wake up except crawfish and snails, and angleworms, and he doesn’t like them.

“Te-hee!” snickered Tad into his fur, because he was trying not to make any noise about it. “That’s a wonderful joke. How hungry he’s going to be! And hunger bites the inside of your ribs worse than the Buzzers with hot tails I shook down on Trailer the Hound bite the outside of them. Not a thing can he eat anywhere around unless he tries to catch the hawk. I believe I’ll paddle out to his perch and warn him.”

“Yes,” cheeped Chaik, in a discouraged voice, “or unless he catches me. I still can’t use my wing.”

“Oh, you can come up to the barn,” said Tad easily. “There are lots of fine places to perch in.”

“But I can’t get there,” Chaik explained.

“Sure you can,” Tad grinned. “I came down here with Louie Thomson. Watch the Dog said he was coming after his little skin tree he sleeps in. (Tad meant Louie’s blanket tent, you know.) He’s going to live with the house folks until after the big storm that’s coming. Just let him catch you and he’ll take you home and feed you till you can fly.”

“Oh, no! Oh, no! I wouldn’t dare do that! Not even with Tommy Peele,” fluttered Chaik. “I couldn’t stand being locked up.”

“Locked up! How long do you s’pose you’d be locked up while I was running around with my handy-paws? It’s better than being eaten, isn’t it?” Tad demanded.

“Ye-es,” chirped the bird, rather doubtfully.

“Then get on a branch and flutter so he’ll see you,” ordered Tad, as cheerfully as though it were the most natural thing in the world for birds to let themselves be caught by their little boy friends.

So Chaik hopped and sidled out to the tip of a bough where Louie could see him.

The little boy couldn’t have helped finding him, for there sat Tad Coon right beneath him, with his sniffy black nose turned up, pointing straight at him. And Chaik Jay was fluttering in a scared way.

“You rascally old thing!” scolded Louie. Of course he thought Tad was the one the pretty blue bird was afraid of; he never dreamed any one would be afraid of him any more, because he never dreamed of hurting his wild friends. “Is that the kind of a beast you are? You’re all right while you know you can’t catch him, but the minute he can’t fly you want to eat him. Well, I won’t let you. If you’re so hungry you can’t wait till supper time you can go catch yourself a frog!”

A lot Tad cared! He knew Louie wouldn’t hurt him, and he didn’t know what the scolding was about—he guessed maybe Louie thought someone had hurt Chaik’s wing on purpose. He just winked the tips of his ears to cheer up the bird when the little boy reached out his hand to take him.

It was a very gentle hand.

It tried very softly to untangle Chaik’s feet from the branch. Before either of them knew just exactly how it happened Chaik found himself holding on very tight to Louie’s soft, warm finger instead of the rough wood, balancing himself with his well wing. And suddenly he found he wasn’t scared any more. He felt perfectly safe and happy. And you know how Louie Thomson would feel! He was so pleased and proud he just couldn’t get home fast enough to show his mother.

Do you know how happy Chaik Jay felt when he went riding up the lane perched on Louie’s finger? He felt so happy he got actually impudent. He looked up at the marsh hawk, still skimming over Doctor Muskrat’s Pond wondering who had called him, and gave the hawk’s hunting call again. That brought the hawk circling right over them. The hawk came so near Louie could see the black tips to his blue-gray wings, like a seagull’s, and the wide black bar on the end of his tail, and his feathery whiskers—even the surprised look in his eyes, as bright and coppery as a new penny.

“Well, I’m ruffled!” he exclaimed, quite indignantly. “Were you the one giving my call?”

“Surely,” said that very impudent jay, bobbing his head and flicking his own striped tail. “I thought you might want to know there’s not a claw stirring in all these Woods and Fields except yours and Killer the Weasel’s and those of the Bad Little Owls.”

“Ha-a-ah!” The hawk made a cup of his tail and wings and hung above them for a moment while he thought this over. “Thanks,” he said, and his voice wasn’t nearly as harsh. “I’m glad to know it. If that’s what’s going on, the pond is no place for me!” He’s not a very big hawk, you know—not nearly as big as the fine red lady hawk who came to help Stripes Skunk kill the crook-tailed snake which stole eggs from the meadowlarks. He had good reason to be afraid of Killer. So round he turned and Louie saw the queer white patch on his back that you only notice from behind go jogging off toward his mate on the far-off side of the Deep Woods.

So when the wicked weasel woke up and squeezed himself through the narrow crack between his two stones, he didn’t see any one at all. “That’s queer,” he thought. “It’s certainly supper time for those juicy little rabbits.” He listened. He didn’t hear any one at all, so he began exploring, with his nose to the ground. And he could smell where all the Woodsfolk had been scuttling around—tracks and tracks of them. That satisfied him. “They’ll be coming down for a drink before long,” he told himself. “I’ll just step under this bush, where they won’t see me too soon, and wait for them.”


Well, Killer waited, and waited, and waited. But nobody came at all. Nobody unless you count the bats. Killer didn’t because only a bird can catch them when they’re awake, and it’s a mighty lucky bird if it does.

He got hungrier, and hungrier, and hungrier. Still nobody came. And the hungrier he got the madder he was because the Little Screecher Owls had brought him there. He thought they were playing a trick on him. So he began to slip from one tree to another, hunting for the one they perch in.

The ground under an owl’s perch always has little gray wads of fur and feathers and bones beneath it—the leftovers of the last food the owls have been eating.

If there are very many weasels and cats to bother them, the owls neatly carry these to some other tree than the one they sleep in. But these Bad Little Owls were too lazy to attend to their housekeeping. Killer put his nose into a whole pile of this rubbish the very first thing.

“Robin!” he sniffed. “Let me think. That owl said she didn’t hunt robins. Then she stole them; she stole them from under the Robins’ Roost. I’ll teach that owl to let my birds alone, just exactly wherever I choose to leave them. She stole those robins! I’ll——” But he pricked up his ears because he heard the little owls begin to talk on their perch just over his head.

“I wonder if Killer and the Woodsfolk have made friends by now,” said one. “I’ve been listening ever since I woke up, and I haven’t heard a thing.”

“Few beasts can move so quietly that an owl doesn’t hear them even if he’s listening,” thought Killer proudly.

“Of course they’ve made friends,” said the lady owl. “If they made friends with Stripes Skunk, of course they would with him. He’s ever so much smarter, and I think he’s much handsomer.” She did, too. Owls think it’s fine to be fierce looking.

“But what if they don’t?” insisted her mate.

“Why, then I’ll show him where they have their holes and help him hunt them, that’s all,” she answered.

“A-ha!” said Killer to himself. “That won’t be a bad plan. I won’t quarrel with her yet. I’ll let her help me all she can before I get even with her. All the same, I want to know what that man is doing out here, and why she didn’t warn me.”

He meant Louie Thomson.

If those little owls had known there wasn’t another thing for him to eat in all the Woods and Fields except the flittery bats, which he couldn’t catch, and Chatter Squirrel, safely hidden in his secret nest, they’d have had the appetites scared right out of them—and that’s the most you can possibly scare an owl. But they didn’t. So there they perched, feasting on the robins they had stored in their hole, which they used for a pantry.

“Speaking of holes,” said the little he-owl, “I’ve been wondering if we oughtn’t to look up some more. This one we have will never hold all we’ll have to hide when that weasel begins killing the Woodsfolk.”

“It’s no use,” answered his wicked little wife. “Those Woodsfolk are all too big for us to carry. We’ll have to eat them where he leaves them, like we did when Silvertip was doing our hunting.”

“Silvertip!” bristled the weasel. “O-ho! I remember that fox. He couldn’t catch me. I’m too smart for him. But I’d better keep an eye out. I wonder where he is now?”

“I wish Killer would catch some more robins,” said the little he-owl, wiping his beak clean of the feathers that were sticking to it. “They’re very convenient, and we’ve eaten all but the very last one. Shall I get it?”

“Um-hm!” the weasel nodded to himself. “Now I understand. You birds invited me here to do your hunting, did you? Well, I’ll see to it you don’t get anything you don’t earn.” But of course he didn’t say it—not yet. He wanted to hear what else they’d talk about.

“Only one robin left!” exclaimed the lady owl. “My claws! Who’d have thought we’d eat those birds all up in such a short time? You must have been at them while I was sleeping, you greedy thing! I’ve had hardly any of them.” She clattered her beak at the other owl so angrily that he moved away from her down the limb.

“You’ve had as many as I have,” he whimpered. “Can’t we show Killer the stump where the mice live? They’d be easy to carry, and he’d kill any amount of them.”

“Fine!” she agreed. “We’ll need them. There’s going to be a storm.”

“Well, we might just as well eat this robin then,” argued her piggy little mate, “and then we can clean out the hole and leave it all ready to store the mice in.”

Killer listened while the owl tugged and grunted, getting the bird out of his narrow pantry door. Suddenly he called: “I’ll trouble you for that robin. It’s mine, and I want it myself!”

Plunk! Down fell the bird, ’most on top of the wide burdock leaf where Killer was hiding from them. But that wasn’t on purpose. The little he-owl never meant to let it fall—he just jumped so hard from fright that he dropped it.

My, but his wife wanted to peck him! She didn’t dare, for fear Killer would see how angry she was about losing it. She gave her husband a horrid glare with her scary, starey eyes, and then she said in her politest voice: “Certainly, Mr. Weasel, you’re welcome to anything we have.”

“But I don’t see how you come to have it,” said Killer rudely.

“Owl custom, owl custom, my dear sir,” said she, preening herself so her feathers wouldn’t ruffle and show how scared she was. “We pick up the odds and ends you clever hunters don’t care about, and store them up here in our hole. You can see it from where you are, and I’m sure I hope you’ll help yourself whenever you feel like it.” All this time she was saying to herself: “That’s the last thing we’ll hide in this hole, now he knows where it is.” Wasn’t she deceitful?

“You’re very kind, I’m sure,” he answered more politely. “But I’ve hurt my paw so I can’t climb.” He said that because he hoped the owls would go on roosting there so he could come and catch them in the daytime if he wanted to.

“Isn’t that too bad,” she sympathized. Really she was glad; her feathers unruffled again, now that she felt sure he couldn’t sneak up on her while she wasn’t looking.

By this time he was picking the robin’s bones. Pretty soon he licked his whiskers with a raspy tongue; it made cold shivers run through those bad little birds. Even the lady owl was sorry she’d brought him to Tommy Peele’s Woods and Fields. That’s what she got for losing her temper. She wondered how long he’d been listening and what he’d heard.

The wicked weasel knew just what she was thinking about. He said in a voice as raspy as his tongue: “I heard you say something about a mouse’s stump. That sounds like a quick place to get a full meal before this storm that’s coming. I’ll ask you to take me there so I won’t have to waste any time hunting for it. But first I want to ask you some questions. Come down here so I don’t have to shout. Come along!”

His wife stared at the Bad Little Owl and the Bad Little Owl stared back at her. Their eyes grew wider and shinier, and their clothes felt pin-featherier than ever they had since the day those birds were hatched. My, but they were scared! Slowly they both turned to stare down at Killer the Weasel, who sat beneath their tree. And let me tell you he wasn’t the handsome, slicked-up beast with the pricky ears and the arched neck and the fluffed tail who had tried to make friends with the Woodsfolk—he looked too sharp-toothed and snaky for anything.

“Hustle!” called Killer in his raspy voice. “I’m not going to shout at you way up there for every one to hear, and I’m not going to hunt, until I know several things that you forgot to tell me when you invited me here. But we’ve no time to waste. If this turns out to be a three-days’ storm we’ll be hungry enough by the end of it, even if we get a good meal before it begins. Come along!” He fixed his eye on the lady owl, and she saw a red spark gleaming in it.

She didn’t mean to come—not she. But somehow she couldn’t seem to help herself. Before he knew quite what she was doing, down she came. She grabbed at the springy, pickery stem of a wild raspberry—no bird in its sane senses would ever think of perching on one—and there she hung. But she knew he could jump right up and catch her.

“Now!” he hissed in that dreadful whisper things from under-the-earth use, whether they wear fur or scales, “Where’s Silvertip the Fox, my deadly enemy?”

“Silvertip? Oh, he’s duck hunting in the Big Marsh, way off the other side of the Deep Woods,” lied the owl. She didn’t dare tell him Silvertip was dead.

“Ah,” growled the weasel. “Well, then, why didn’t you warn me about that man?” (He meant Louie Thomson.) “Did you think I wouldn’t know these woods are full of his jaws, just gaping for me to put my foot in one?” (He meant traps, of course.)

“Who-o-o!” exclaimed the owl. “That man hasn’t any more jaws or claws than a hoptoad. Men don’t get them till they’re grown, and he’s just a little harmless wild one. He never hunts; he lives on corn. Once in a while he comes over here for a root from Doctor Muskrat, who owns the pond—just like the other wild things do if they’re sick or hurt. Then he goes back again.”

“Hey? What’s that? A wild man? There isn’t any such thing!” snarled Killer.

“Well, he’s wild. You could see for yourself even the rabbits weren’t afraid of him,” the owl kept on arguing.

The weasel thought for a minute. That certainly was true; so were the corncobs, left from Louie’s feast, he saw piled beside the little blanket tent. “All right,” said he. “Then show me the mouse’s stump. Flap along, bird, flap along!”


I just tell you the wife of the Bad Little Owl was glad to get on her wings. She flew so fast that her mate, flying along behind her, said: “Hey! Killer can’t keep up with us at this rate. Where are you going?”

“I’m scared to death of that wicked weasel,” she answered. “I’m going as fast and as far as ever I can.”

“What a way to talk!” he hooted indignantly. “The poor fellow was hungry. No wonder he was cross. Just as soon as he gets a good meal he’ll be friendly again. We can’t change our hunting ground with this storm coming on. There won’t be any grasshoppers to speak of, and it takes so many of them to make a meal. We mightn’t have the luck to catch a sparrow, and we wouldn’t know a single mousehole. It’s too dangerous.”

“It’s not nearly as dangerous as Killer!” snapped his wife. “He didn’t make you come right down close to him, the way he made me. He could have caught me. I won’t risk it again.”

“He made me give him that robin,” answered the little he-owl. “But I don’t care a bit. I’m tired of eating robins. Think of all we had to carry home from the Robins’ Roost. And we didn’t help him kill a single one. Now, if we help him kill the mice we’ll get every other one of them. Um-m!” And he smacked his beak. Wasn’t he just a greedy little bird?

The Owl helps Killer find the stump where the mice live

His mate wheeled around to think it over. She certainly didn’t like the looks of that storm. Besides, it wouldn’t hurt to just show Killer the stump. The minute he took his eye off her she’d hide and she wouldn’t come back until after he had eaten and gone. She could hear him calling. Her mate answered with the funny little yap owls use between them when they are hunting together. Down she dropped, but she gripped her claws good and tight into the branch of a tree near the mouse’s stump before she called, “Here we are!”

“Huh-huh-huh,” panted the wicked beast. “I didn’t know where you had gone. Snff, snff! Lots of tracks here, all right enough!” he chuckled. It was inky dark, so of course he couldn’t see that the footprints of the mice were all leading out and none leading back in again; you remember Chaik Jay had sent every last tail scuttling out of the Woods and Fields as fast as mice could run. Scritch, scritch! If Great-grandfather Fieldmouse had heard Killer’s claws tearing at the rotten wood he wouldn’t have boasted that no one but a bear could break in and eat them. Then——

Boom! Crash-h-h! R-r-r-rip! Splash! Down in one blinding sheet came the first rain of that storm. It was surely a bad one!

The hoptoad was right when he said there was going to be rain—“floods of it.” There was. And there was wind and lightning and thunder and terrible squeaking and squawking and rustling and pounding—all the noises that make a storm such a scary thing. Of course it wasn’t as bad as Chaik Jay told the mouse it was going to be, but the mice didn’t know that. They were all hidden in the stone pile by the cornfield fence, or in logs and stumps in the Deep Woods. Some of them even went all the way up to Tommy Peele’s barn and hid in the strawstack. They didn’t hide in the haystack because——

But first I want to tell you the rest of what happened down by Doctor Muskrat’s Pond. The owls tried to fly home, but their wings got so waterlogged with the rain they had to creep into the hollow oak that was blown down in the terrible storm—the time Nibble Rabbit rescued the Woodsfolk who were living in it and had a storm party in his little cornstalk tent.

Killer tried to hide in his crack between two stones in the bank of Doctor Muskrat’s Pond. But the water found him. First it trickled in from the ground above, where Louie Thomson’s little blanket tent used to stand, and most washed him out; and then the pond grew fuller and fuller and higher and higher until it most drowned him. So he had to go out in all that rain, gnashing his teeth and swearing.

“Those pesky owls!” he snarled (only he said something worse than just “pesky”). “I’m going to drag them out of their snug hole by their scrawny little necks and eat them and live in it myself till this storm is gone.”

Up he climbed. His paw wasn’t hurt a bit—when he told the owl it was he was only pretending, you know. Of course the owls weren’t in it. He squeezed into it himself, but it was so small for him he had to double all up inside and the mouse bones in the bottom of it were very uncomfortable. Wasn’t he starved and squirmy and peevish, the wicked thing!

But the Woodsfolk weren’t. Nibble Rabbit knew his way about Tommy Peele’s barn quite as well as he knew his way about the Woods and Fields. And that made Silk-ears think he was smarter than ever. Doctor Muskrat learned from the white ducks, who aren’t nearly as stupid as they look, all about the ponds the rain was making, so he was happy. And Stripes Skunk had the finest hunting in the world in the haystack. He stationed one of his kittens at each of the rat holes, so whenever Ouphe’s sons or grandsons tried to dodge out of the stack to hunt a meal someone was sure to catch him. He turned into a feast instead of finding one. So they were all very comfortable and happy. Except the bad rats!

Pretty clever of them, wasn’t it? But you forget that Killer was clever, too. Though I don’t blame you for that—so did the Woodsfolk. They never dreamed that Killer would find out where they’d run away to. Or that he’d be bold enough to follow them. People always forget that the old saying “He who fights and runs away may live to fight another day,” doesn’t mean that he who runs away gets out of fighting for good and all.

No, it was war to the tooth in the end. Fur and feathers fought together on both sides, for the Bad Little Owls kept right on helping Killer—they didn’t dare not to. And every decent bird was more than willing to wear out his summer wings, if need be, to help good old Doctor Muskrat and his friends. So it was pretty even.

But the Woodsfolk won in the end—’cause they had help that was neither one nor tother—feathers or fur, or even skin or scales. It was something Mother Nature herself had never dreamed of in the First-Off Beginning of Things. It was——

Why, Great beef-bones! as Watch would say. Here I am at ’most the very last line in this book. Well, you’d better copy that wise dog and think about all the nicest things you know to keep from worrying while you wait for the next story to find out just what it was.

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