The story of two raccoon cubs and two man cubs
Once there was a mother raccoon who had three cubs; they all lived in the woods eating fruits and berries and birds’ eggs. Whenever they were on a tree top and heard a noise, they would jump head foremost to the ground and scamper off with their tails in the air.
One day when the cubs had grown to be quite large sized raccoons, their mother took them up all together to the top of an orange tree—you must know that in South America orange trees, which came originally from Spain, now grow wild in the forest—and spoke to them as follows:
“Cublets, you are almost big enough to be called raccoons; and it is time you began to hunt for your meals by yourselves. It is very important for you to know how to do this, because, when you get to be old, you will go around all alone in the world, as all raccoons do. The oldest of you likes snails and cockroaches. He must hunt around woodpiles and under trunks of rotting trees, where there are always plenty of snails and cockroaches. The next to the oldest of you seems to like oranges. Up to the month of December there will be plenty of oranges right here in this grove. The youngest of you is always asking for birds’ eggs. Well, there are birds’ nests everywhere. All he will have to do is hunt. But one thing, however: he must never go down to the farm looking for eggs. It is very bad for raccoons to go near farms.
“Cublets, there is one thing more you must all be afraid of: dogs! dogs! Never go near a dog! Once I had a fight with a dog. Do you see this broken tooth? Well, I broke it in a fight with a dog! And so I know what I am talking about! And behind dogs come people, with guns, and the guns make a great noise, and kill raccoons. Whenever you hear a dog, or a man, or a gun, jump for your lives no matter how high the tree is, and run, run, run! If you don’t they will kill you as sure as preaching!”
That is what the mother raccoon said to her cublets. Whereupon, they all got down from the tree top, and went each his own way, nosing about in the leaves from right to left and from left to right, as though they were looking for something they had lost. For that is the way raccoons hunt.
The biggest of the cubs, who liked snails and cockroaches, looked under every piece of dead wood he came to and overturned the piles of dead leaves. Soon he had eaten such a fine meal that he grew sleepy and lay down in a nice cozy bed of leaves and went to sleep. The second one, who liked oranges, did not move from that very grove. He just went from one tree to another eating the best oranges; and he did not have to jump from a tree top once; for neither men, nor dogs, nor guns, came anywhere near him.
But the youngest, who would have nothing but birds’ eggs, had a harder time of it. He hunted and hunted over the hillsides all day long and found only two birds’ nests—one belonging to a toucan, with three eggs in it, and the other belonging to a wood dove, with two eggs in it. Five tiny little eggs! That was not very much to eat for a raccoon almost big enough to go to school. When evening came the little cub was as hungry as he had been that morning; and he sat down, all cold and tired and lonesome, on the very edge of the forest.
From the place where he was sitting he could look down on the green fields of the farm, and he thought of what his mother had said about such places.
“Now, why did mamma say that? Why shouldn’t I go looking for eggs down along those fences on the farm?”
And just as he was saying this all to himself, what should he hear but the song of a strange bird: “Cock-a-doodle-doo-oo-oo”; coming from far, far away and from the direction of the farmhouse.
“My, did you ever hear a bird sing so loud?” said the cublet to himself. “What a big bird it must be! And its eggs must be the size of a cocoanut!”
“Cock-a-doodle-doo-oo-oo,” came the bird’s song again. The hungry little raccoon just couldn’t do without one of those eggs the size of a cocoanut. The bird was singing somewhere off to the right. So he made a short cut through the woods toward the field on the other side.
The sun was setting, but the raccoon cub ran with his tail in the air. At last he came to the edge of the woods, and looked down again into the fields.
Not far away now he could see the farmhouse. There was a man in the yard. The man was wearing long boots, and leading a horse by the bridle into a barn. On the fence in the barnyard, the little raccoon saw his bird.
“What a silly little ’coon I am,” he said to himself. “That isn’t a bird! That’s a rooster! Mamma showed him to me one day, when we were on top of a big tree up in the woods. Roosters have a fine song; and they have a great many hens that lay sweet eggs. I think I could eat a dozen of those eggs, right now!”
For some time the little raccoon sat looking at the rooster and the barn and the farmhouse, and thinking of what his mother had said. But at last he thought: “Mamma is far away! She will never know”; and he made up his mind that as soon as it was dark he would run down to that hen coop and see what he could find.
Before long the sun had gone completely and it was so dark you could hardly see your hand before your face. Walking on tiptoe, the little raccoon came out from the shadow of the woods, and began making his way toward the farmhouse.
When he got into the yard, he stopped and listened carefully. Not a sound! The little raccoon was as happy as could be: he was going to eat a hundred, a thousand, two thousand of those eggs! He looked around for the hen coop. There it was! He stole up to the door and peered in.
On the ground, and right in front of the door, what should he see but an egg? And such a large egg! If it was not as big as a cocoanut, it was at least as big as an orange! And how brightly it shone in the dark! “Guess I’ll keep that egg for dessert,” thought the cub for a moment. But his mouth began to water and water, and he simply couldn’t wait. He stepped up and put his front teeth into that egg. But—
He had hardly touched it when there was a sharp snapping noise. The little raccoon felt a hard blow strike him in the face, while a stinging pain caught him in his right forepaw.
“Mamma! Mamma!” he called, jumping wildly this way and that. But he could not get his foot loose. He was caught in a trap! And just at that moment a dog began to bark!
All that time when the little raccoon had been waiting in the woods for night to come, so that he could go down to get his eggs in the hen coop, the man who owned the farmhouse had been playing with his children on the lawn in the yard. One of them was a little girl five years old; and the other was a little boy six years old. Both had golden hair. They were chasing their father about and falling down every so often on the grass. Then they would get up again and run some more. The man would also pretend to fall and the three of them were having a splendid time.
When it grew dark, the man said:
“Now let’s go and set our trap in the hen coop, so that if the weasel comes to-night to kill our chickens and eat our eggs, we will catch him.”
They went and set the trap. Then the family had dinner, and the little boy and the little girl were put to bed.
But they were both very much excited about the trap and the weasel. They could not sleep. Finally they sat up in their beds and began to throw pillows at each other. Their father and mother were reading down in the dining room. They heard what the children were doing; but they said nothing.
Suddenly the pillow-throwing stopped; and after a moment the little boy called:
“Papa! Papa! The weasel is in the trap. Don’t you hear Tuké barking? Let us go too, papa!”
Tuké, you see, was the name of the dog!
Their father said they might, provided they put their shoes on. He would never let them go out at night, barefooted, for fear of coral or rattlesnakes.
So they went in their pajamas, just as they were.
And what, if you please, did they find in the trap? Their father stooped down in the doorway of the hen coop, holding Tuké back by the collar. When he stood up, he was holding a little raccoon by the tail; and the little raccoon was snapping and whistling and screaming “Mamma! Mamma!” in a sharp, shrill voice like a cricket’s.
“Oh, don’t kill him, papa! He is such a pretty little ’coon!” said the boy and the girl. “Give him to us, and we will tame him!”
“Very well,” said the father. “You may have him. But don’t forget that raccoons drink water when they are thirsty, the same as little boys and girls.”
He said this because once he had caught a wildcat and given it to them for a pet. They fed it plenty of meat from the pantry. But they didn’t dream that it needed water. And the poor wildcat died.
The cage where the wildcat had been kept was still standing near the hen coop. They put the raccoon into the cage, and went back into the house. This time, when they went to bed, they fell fast asleep at once.
About midnight, when everything was still, the little raccoon, who had a very sore foot from the cuts made in it by the teeth of the trap, saw three shadows come creeping up toward his cage; for the moon was now shining faintly. They came closer and closer, moving softly and noiselessly over the ground. His heart gave a great leap when he discovered that it was his mother and his two brothers, who had been looking for him everywhere.
“Mamma! Mamma!” he began to cry from his cage, but soft-like, so as not to wake up the dog. “Here I am, here I am. Oh, get me out of here! I’m afraid! I’m afraid! Mamma! Mamma! Mamma!” The little raccoon was choking with tears!
The mother and the two brother raccoons were as happy as could be to find him! They rubbed their noses against him through the wires in the cage, and tried to stroke him with their paws. Then they set to work to get him out, if they could. First they examined the wiring of the cage, and one after another they worked at it with their teeth. But the wire was thick and tough, and they could do nothing with it. Then an idea came to the mother raccoon.
“People cut wires with files! Where can we get a file? A file is a long piece of iron with three sides, like the rattle of a rattlesnake. You push it away from you across the wire, and then you draw it toward you. Finally the wire breaks. Let’s hunt around in the blacksmith shop, and we may find one.”
They hurried off to the shop where the farmer kept his tools. Soon they found the file and came back with it to the cage. Thinking it must be very hard to file off a wire, they all took hold of the file and started pushing it back and forth between two of the wires. They pushed so hard that the cage began to shake all over and made a terrible noise. In fact, it made such a loud noise that Tuké woke up and set to barking at the top of his voice. The raccoons were frightened out of their wits; and for fear the dog might ask them where they got that file, they scampered off, with their tails in the air, toward the forest.
The little boy and the little girl woke up very early in the morning to go to see their new pet, who had been brooding sadly in his cage all night long.
“What shall we call him?” asked the little boy.
“Seventeen,” answered the little girl. “I can count to seventeen!”
And what did “Seventeen” have for breakfast? One of those hen’s eggs he had tried so hard to get the night before. And after the hen’s egg, a grasshopper, and then a piece of meat, and then a bunch of grapes and finally a lump of chocolate! By the end of the day, he was letting the two children reach their finger through the cage to scratch his head; and so pleased was he at all that was now happening to him that he liked being a prisoner in a cage almost as much as being a free raccoon cub on the mountain side. He was all taken up with the nice things that were placed in his coop for him to eat; and he liked those two yellow-headed children who kept coming to look at him!
That night and the following one, Tuké, the dog, slept so close to “Seventeen’s” cage that when his mother and his two brothers came back to make another try at rescuing him, they did not dare approach. But on the third night everything was as it should be. They went directly to the shop, got the file, and hurried to the cage.
“But mamma,” said the little raccoon, “I guess I’d rather stay where I am. They feed me all the eggs I want, and they are very kind to me. Today they told me that if I was good, they would soon let me go about the yard loose. There are two of them, with yellow hair. And they are man cubs, just as we are ’coon cubs. We shall have a fine time playing together.”
The three wild raccoons were very sad to hear all this; but they made the best of it, and went away, just promising to come back and see “Seventeen” every night.
And so they did. Each evening, as soon as it was dark and whether it was fair or rainy, the mother raccoon came with her two cublets to see their little brother. He gave them bread and chocolate, which he handed out between the wires of his cage; and they ate it on the ground nearby.
In two weeks, he was let loose to run about the yard; and every night he went back to his cage of his own accord to sleep. He had his ears tweeked a number of times, when the farmer caught him too close to the hen coop; otherwise he had no trouble at all. The two children became much attached to him; and when the wild raccoons heard how kind those man cubs were to their little brother, they began to be as fond of them as he was.
But one night, when it was very dark and very hot and a thunderstorm was gathering on the mountains, the wild raccoons called to “Seventeen” in vain. “Seventeen! Seventeen! Seventeen!” But he did not answer. In great alarm they crept up to the cage and looked in.
They drew back just in time. There in the door of the cage a big rattlesnake lay coiled. They had almost touched him with their noses. And now they knew why “Seventeen” failed to answer! The rattlesnake had bitten him and probably he was already dead.
The three raccoons decided they must first punish the rattlesnake. They rushed upon him from three directions and snipped his head off before he knew what they were about. Then they hurried inside the cage. “Seventeen” was lying there on the floor in a pool of blood, his feet up in the air, and his sides shaking as he panted for breath. They caressed him with their tongues and licked his body all over for more than a quarter of an hour. But it did no good. “Seventeen” finally opened his mouth and stopped breathing altogether. He was dead. Raccoons ordinarily are not much harmed by rattlesnake poison. Some other animals are not hurt at all. But this snake had bitten “Seventeen” right through an artery; and he had died, not of the poison, but from loss of blood.
The mother raccoon and her two cublets wept over his body for a long time; then, since they could do nothing further for him, they left the cage where he had been so happy and went back to the woods. But they kept thinking all the time: “What will the two man cubs say when they find that their little playmate is dead? They will probably be very, very sad and cry a long time!” They had grown to love the man cubs just from what “Seventeen” had said of them; and one thought was in their three heads—to relieve the sorrow of the two man cubs as best they could.
They talked the matter over earnestly; and at last they agreed to the following plan. The second youngest cublet looked almost like the raccoon who was dead. He had the same markings, was about the same size, and carried himself in much the same way. Why shouldn’t he go and crawl into the cage, taking the place of his brother? The man cubs would probably be surprised; but nothing more. The four of them had talked about everything that went on at the farm so much, that the new raccoon could easily pretend he had been there all along. He might do it so well even, that the man cubs would not notice anything at all.
So they ran back to the cage, and the little raccoon took the place of his dead brother. The mother raccoon and her remaining cub took hold of “Seventeen” with their teeth and dragged him away off to the woods, where they buried him under the leaves.
The next day, the man cubs were surprised at a number of strange habits “Seventeen” seemed to have learned during the night. But the new cub was just as affectionate to them as the real “Seventeen” had been; and they never guessed what had happened. The two man cubs played about with the raccoon cub all day long as usual; and at night the two wild raccoons came to pay their usual visit. The tame raccoon saved bits of his boiled eggs for them each time; and they would sit down and eat them on the ground in front of the cage. He told them all that happened at the farm; and they told him all the news about doings in the woods.