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When the Moon is Full by Zoe Meyer

 

One summer night when the moon hung so low that it seemed to have become entangled in the branches of a giant spruce, a comical furry face wearing a black mask across the eyes appeared at an opening high up in a tree. A moment later Ringtail, the big raccoon, scrambled to the ground and set off in search of food. His brown fur was long and thick, and his big tail with its seven dark rings was the pride of his heart. In the wilderness, life is a serious business, yet the big raccoon enjoyed to the utmost the blessings which Providence had heaped upon him.

Not far from the home tree lay a tamarack swamp to which Ringtail now made his way, having in mind a certain still, deep pool, bordered with rushes and lilies and teeming with fish, frogs, and tadpoles, fare beloved of raccoons. While yet some distance from the pool he could hear the chorus of the frogs, the shrill tenor of the smaller ones accented at regular intervals by the deep base of bullfrogs, and at the sound his mouth watered in anticipation.

[Illustration: The big frog was flipped out upon the bank.]

Stealthily though Ringtail advanced, sharp eyes noted his approach. The chorus stopped abruptly and when he stood upon the edge of the pool not a frog was to be seen. The raccoon, however, being wise in the ways of frogs, was not discouraged. He crept out to the tip of the half submerged log, where he crouched, prepared for the long and patient wait which is so often the price of a meal in the wilderness. As he had hoped, the inhabitants of the pool soon forgot the presence of the motionless animal, taking him for a part of the log upon which he crouched. Gradually the chorus was resumed, at first on the farther shore, then coming nearer until, close at hand, sounded a hoarse, deep bellow which betokened the presence of a big bullfrog. Ringtail's mouth watered afresh, but he moved not so much as a muscle. The frog was as yet too far away to risk a catch.

A moment later its bulging eyes appeared, almost under the nose of the raccoon. Quick as a flash a little black, hand-like paw was thrust into the water and the big frog was flipped out upon the bank. Having secured it, Ringtail returned to the tip of his log where he proceeded to dip the body of the frog into the water again and again until every speck of leaf mold and dirt was washed away. Then he dispatched it with great relish.

As the commotion had disturbed the rest of the inhabitants of the pool, Ringtail now wisely turned his back upon the swamp and set out for fresh hunting-grounds. He wandered through the forest until he came to the bank of a clear stream which he knew of old to be well stocked with fish. Owing to recent rains at its source the stream had risen and the current was swift and strong. In the shallows where it had spread over its low banks, Ringtail found an abundance of food and fed daintily. Each morsel was thoroughly washed before he swallowed it, a habit of all raccoons, even though the morsel may have only that moment been taken from the water.

Ringtail's feast suffered a sudden interruption. A few paces farther on another raccoon had been having a similar meal when Ringtail appeared. Now the first comer believed the feast to be his by right of discovery and therefore advanced threateningly upon the intruder. Ringtail was surprised but not disturbed. Fighting was almost as much fun as feasting. Accordingly, when the other animal appeared ready to quarrel, Ringtail, although he had eaten all he desired, advanced joyously to the fray.

The two were evenly matched and for a time they rolled about, locked in each other's embrace, neither gaining the advantage. A porcupine dawdling along the trail stopped to look at the belligerents with cold little eyes; then, grunting disdainfully, he waddled to the edge of the stream to see what prize could be worth so great an exertion. As they fought, the raccoons drew nearer and nearer to the porcupine, who did not offer to move. Another lurch would undoubtedly have brought them into contact with his bristling quills had they not in the nick of time discovered their danger. Instantly they separated and leaped back. The leap brought them to the slippery mud at the edge of the stream and the next moment both rolled helplessly into the flood.

They rose gasping, but the current, which at that point set well in toward the bank, seized and bore them struggling for some distance before they managed to scramble upon a large branch that the stream was carrying. There they clung, all desire for fight wiped out by the sudden plunge.

For a time they rode, looking longingly at the banks which seemed to glide rapidly to the rear. Then their queer craft was swept into a side current and grounded, while the raccoons lost no time in wading to shore. On the bank they cleaned and smoothed their bedraggled fur until it was once more dry and fluffy; then, without a backward glance, each hurried away, Ringtail to his home tree, where he arrived just as the rosy fingers of dawn appeared in the east. The warmth of his snug hollow felt very grateful after his sudden immersion and his ride in the cool night air.

The next night found Ringtail entirely recovered from his adventure and once more abroad. He wandered until he emerged from the forest at the edge of a bit of cleared ground. Before him lay a moon-washed open space and beyond that rose tall, green ranks of corn, a sight that filled the raccoon's heart with joy. He quickly crossed the clearing and, bearing down a stalk, stripped it of its husk and sank his teeth into the milky kernels. Ringtail dearly loved sweet corn and he ate until his round, furry sides were distended and he could hold no more. Then he ran up and down through the rustling field, bearing down great quantities, merely sampling their sweetness and leaving behind a wide swath of ruin.

The next morning when the farmer beheld the work of destruction, his wrath was great and he vowed vengeance upon all the raccoon tribe. That night he lay in wait at the edge of the field with his gun. No marauder appeared, yet in the morning he found that a new section had been visited. It looked as if a dozen raccoons had feasted. A grand hunt followed, but Ringtail, safe in his hollow tree at the edge of the tamarack swamp, heard the distant barking of the dogs without alarm. The hunt swept off in another direction and quiet again fell upon the wilderness.

Thus the summer with its long, sunny days and velvety nights sped by and was succeeded by the moon of falling leaves. The air was tinged with frost and the forest flamed with color. The cornfield no longer held a lure for Ringtail, but the beech trees were dropping their little, three-cornered nuts and the big raccoon was still fat and happy.

Late one night, when he had feasted well and was making his way slowly homeward, he heard the barking of a dog. He paused in the trail to listen. His sharp ears soon assured him that but a single enemy was upon the trail and he started on again, not at all alarmed. He made good time for so fat a fellow but it soon became apparent that he would be overtaken before he could reach the home tree. Accordingly he sought out a large beech tree and, backing up to its great trunk, waited for his foe.

He did not have long to wait. A black and white dog soon burst into view, nose to earth, and almost ran into the waiting Ringtail before he became aware of the raccoon's presence. With a yelp of surprise Pal halted so abruptly that he skidded in the dry leaves, while the big raccoon hissed warningly. For a long moment the two eyed each other, each seemingly unwilling to offer the offensive. Pal barked sharply, but the sound produced no effect upon the raccoon. Then the dog began circling the tree. Ringtail circled with him, always presenting a formidable front.

Ordinarily the peace-loving canine would hardly have attacked the raccoon, but the madness of the season was racing in the veins of the Hermit's dog and he longed for heroic adventure. So, after slowly circling the tree several times, he threw caution to the winds and closed in. Ringtail was ready, and for a time there was an inextricable tangle of raccoon and dog. Then Pal backed off, bleeding in several places, while the big raccoon, panting and disheveled, still stood with back against the tree.

For a moment the two glared at each other. Then Pal's look wavered. He glanced up into the tree and thence into the forest. Then he yawned as if he had lost all interest in the affair and, trotting off, was soon out of sight among the dark trees. Ringtail was free to continue his way homeward, limping slightly but proud of his victory. Before going to sleep he spent some time cleansing his matted fur and restoring it to its usual soft and lustrous state.

A few nights later Ringtail met with a strange adventure, one which left him thoroughly puzzled. He had left his hollow tree early in the evening, very hungry after his hours of fasting. Coming upon a bed of wake-robins, which covered the forest floor with their spotted leaves, he stopped to dig up a few of the peppery roots. Washing them in a near-by stream, he devoured them, blinking his eyes comically over an unusually hot one. Then he wandered on in search of beechnuts, his appetite only made keener by this peppery salad.

Not far from the rail fence which guarded the clearing of the Hermit, he came upon a little open glade carpeted with moss and surrounded by great trees. From the side opposite Ringtail a strange yellow radiance streamed out over the glade. In its brightness a number of rabbits were disporting themselves, jumping about as if in some queer dance, pausing occasionally to stare into the center of that fascinating glow. Now and then one would vanish into the darkness to right or left, but another was sure to take its place.

Ringtail stared, the light reflected from his bright little eyes. Slowly he crept nearer, lured by that strange radiance, fearful, yet unable to resist. The rabbits vanished at his approach, while a tiny wood-mouse which had stolen up, fled with a squeak of panic. But for once Ringtail had no eyes for plump wood-mice. He stared a moment, then moved aside into the darkness where his eyes were not so blinded, and looked about him.

The light came from a small object set upon the ground. Ringtail walked all around it, passing within a few feet of a spot where the Hermit sat concealed in a thicket of wild cherry. The man had secreted himself behind his dark-lantern in such a way that the wind would blow toward him, so no scent of human presence reached the inquisitive raccoon, who continued his cautious circling until he emerged again into the radiance of the lantern. His fur bristled and the rings upon his tail stood out sharply, while his queer little masked face held such a puzzled look that the Hermit chuckled to himself.

“You would make a fine pet, old Ringtail, but I suppose it would be a shame to deprive you of your liberty,” thought he, as he looked admiringly at the big animal. His experiment with the light was proving even more successful than he had hoped.

For some time Ringtail remained in the vicinity of the light, generally just out of its glow. Several times he circled the lantern, regarding it curiously but keeping at a respectful distance, for it much resembled a trap. At length, however, the pangs of hunger asserted themselves and he went on his way reluctantly, looking back often until the strange glow was hidden from sight. Beechnuts were forgotten, but he made a satisfying meal on fresh-water clams and several big, juicy tadpoles before he turned his face toward the home tree.

By going some distance out of his way he came again to the little open glade. This time it was illumined only by the radiance of the harvest moon, a radiance very familiar and therefore not particularly interesting to the big raccoon. The night was far spent when he reached his hollow tree and climbed to his doorway. There he was sharply silhouetted for a moment against the low-hanging moon before he vanished into the friendly darkness. The bottom of the hole was made soft with a thick covering of leaves into whose warmth Ringtail sank with a sigh of content, and at once fell asleep.

The first dull cold days, heavy with their hint of coming snow, found the big raccoon fat and sleepy, ready to go into winter quarters. Ringtail seldom braved the gales of winter. He was an indolent, peace-loving fellow, who would not have been able to cope with the hunger and cold of the snowy months. The home hollow was not quite deep enough to suit his fancy, so for one whole day he wandered about, investigating tree after tree before he found one to his liking. Occasionally he would enter a hole to find it occupied by another raccoon who only looked at him sleepily and went on with his comfortable doze.

All day dark clouds had hung over the wilderness. Late in the afternoon a few big flakes, harbingers of the coming storm, drifted slowly to earth. The sight caused Ringtail to hasten his investigations and at last he discovered a place quite to his liking. It was a warm deep hollow, well up from the ground in a big beech tree, its doorway opening toward the south.

When Ringtail poked in his furry face, he found another raccoon already in possession of the snug hollow, but this fact did not trouble him at all. He slid down into the hole, which was carpeted almost a foot deep with beech leaves, and, instead of resenting the intrusion, the other raccoon only sighed comfortably and went back to sleep. Ringtail squeezed his big body into the warm bed of leaves, cuddling his nose into the thick fur of his bedfellow and protecting his feet with his own bushy tail. And there the two slept contentedly, a furry brown ball, until the warm spring sun peeping in at their doorway called them forth.

 
 
 

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