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Siccatee, the Squirrel by Ellen Velvin

Poor Siccatee was in great trouble.

She had been very busy for some time past laying up food for the winter, and it had taken many weeks' hard work. She had selected the very best nuts, acorns, corn, berries and seeds, and all through the beautiful autumn days had scarcely rested for a moment, so eager had she been to lay in a good stock.

Not a single unsound, worm-eaten or empty nut had she allowed to go into her stores. She had taken each one in her little fore paws, looked it carefully over, turning and twisting it about and examining it from every point of view with her keen little eyes; and then, when she had made quite sure that it was a good one and perfectly sound, she had trotted off with it in her quick way, which was something between a hop and a gallop, and hidden it in a nice place at the root of some old tree, or in some cleverly hidden crevice.

Her husband had helped her as much as he could, and had contributed many dainties.

Their beautiful home was in a wood by the side of the sea, and the people in the big house at the bottom of the wood sometimes threw out dainties in the shape of fruit, scraps of meat and bread, and many kinds of berries.

But Siccatee herself was too frightened to go down on the beach, for she was a very nervous little thing. Sentre, her husband, was quite daring, and not easily frightened. They had worked very hard together, and their children, who were now getting quite strong and big, had done their best to help them. Only that morning Siccatee woke up feeling quite bright and cheerful, for she had accumulated nearly enough winter food for herself and her little ones; but then, that very afternoon, just as she was taking two big beechnuts to one of her secret hiding-places, she saw two Horrible Humans standing close to it.

Siccatee suddenly stopped, hugging the two nuts tightly to her breast with her funny little paws, and whisking her tail nervously up and down, making waves in the pretty, gray fur, while her nervous little mouth worked convulsively. For, oh, what should she do if they found her treasures?

Quick as a flash she bounded behind a tree, for, with her wonderfully quick eyesight and senses always on the alert, she scented danger in a moment.

Once behind a tree, nothing could be seen of Siccatee but her bright eyes and just the tip of her bushy tail. And even these were not noticed by the Humans.

After all, the Horrible Humans were only a little boy and a little girl. But, oh, what mischief they did in the next few moments! They seemed to be picking ferns and flowers, and for a few moments Siccatee hoped that they would pass her hoarding-place unnoticed. But, alas! just as they were turning away, the little boy caught sight of the hollow in the tree, and, having a boy's natural curiosity, he straightway went to investigate.

Siccatee's little heart beat and throbbed and thumped until she felt nearly suffocated. Her bright little eyes almost started out of her head with fear, and her tail waved, and waved, and waved—a true index of the agitation of its owner.

She remembered that she had hidden her treasures in the tree as far back as she could go, and had carefully covered them with some powdery earth. Perhaps they would think there was only earth in the hollow and not disturb it.

But in another moment the boy gave a scream of delight. For a moment Siccatee could not see what he was doing, as his body was bent over the hole. Then he suddenly stood up and called to his sister, and there, dragged out on the ground and strewn all about, was one of Siccatee's beautiful winter hoards!

She did not know herself, until she saw it thrown out, what a quantity of food she and her family had collected.

The Humans did not seem to want the things after all, for the boy kicked them about, which made Siccatee very angry. And the little girl, after picking them up, threw them down again.

It was so dreadful to see her precious treasures strewn about in this fashion, and kicked and bruised, that Siccatee, in spite of her self- control, gave a little, sobbing cry.

The children heard it, and suddenly caught sight of her, and then, oh, what a chase began! The boy began to throw stones and pieces of wood, and actually dared to throw some of her own nuts at Siccatee.

By this time she was at the top of the tree, and now her grief changed to anger—real anger—and she sat on one of the boughs and scolded as hard as she could. Her funny little "prit, prit, p-r-i-t," amused the children, and the more she scolded the more they laughed.

At last Siccatee grew disgusted and left that tree to go to another, and then another, and still another; springing such distances and at such a height that the children thought she would be dashed to pieces every moment. But not a bit of it. Siccatee, like all squirrels, was very sure-footed, and rarely made a false step. If, by any chance, she should loose her foothold, she would spread out her legs and funny, bushy tail, drop lightly to the ground and bound away as though nothing had happened. But she took care not to lose her foothold now, with those Horrible Humans so near. All she thought about was to get away from them as quickly as possible, and to lead them away from her other hiding-places.

Luckily they had found but one. She had several others near the big tree—for this was her home tree, and there she and her husband had lived for two or three years, and reared several families.

[Illustration: "SAT ON ONE OF THE BOUGHS AND SCOLDED AS HARD AS SHE
COULD."]

But while all this was going on, Siccatee called to her husband, and in a very few minutes he joined her. He was much bigger than Siccatee and not so nervous, and on hearing what had happened flew into a great rage, and dared and defied his enemies in the same way that his wife had done—that is, by sitting on a bough and scolding them.

The children pelted the two squirrels with everything they could find, but they dodged so quickly and so cleverly that not a single thing touched them.

But after a time the children grew tired of throwing stones and sticks, and as it made their necks ache to look up so high, they gave up the chase and went home, and that was the last that Sentre and Siccatee saw of them for a long time.

But this unpleasant incident had upset them both very much, and when their children joined them a few minutes later, they gave them many warnings and cautions about always keeping a sharp lookout for danger.

At last all ventured down, and, while keeping a sharp lookout with their bright little eyes, gazed on the ruin the children had wrought. Fortunately, it was not the most valuable of their hoards, for it contained no eggs or insects.

After much consultation and discussion, the squirrels decided not to use this hiding-place again—at any rate, not that winter—for it would never do to run the risk of having it disturbed a second time.

So they set to work, found a nice crevice in a big rock, and worked hard all day long collecting another store.

Siccatee would not allow her family to eat too many nuts just then. She knew that the time was coming when young birds, mice and insects would be very scarce. So she impressed it upon them to make the very most of their time, and eat as much of that kind of food as they could get. They might have a nut or two, occasionally, she said, and meanwhile she would teach them the proper way in which to eat a nut or an egg.

Siccatee had found an egg in some hay in a little wooden hut, next to the house at the foot of the wood, and this she had carried very carefully to one of her stores. She considered that this would be a good time to teach her children—there were two of them, fine young specimens of American squirrels—their first important lesson.

So she stood up, holding the egg firmly with her fore paws, then, with a crisp snap of her sharp little teeth, she broke the shell, and cleverly sucked out the inside of it; not all, because she wanted her little ones to taste and see how good an egg really was. And very good they thought it—so good that in a few moments the egg was empty and the two young squirrels were quarreling over the shell. But Siccatee soon settled that by a scolding and several sharp pats.

But she had not finished her lesson yet, and next showed them how to eat a nut. She held the nut very much in the same way that she had held the egg. First of all, she bit off one end of the nut with her teeth, then broke away the rest of the shell, carefully pulling off the little brown husk on the kernel, then munched it in her funny little way as though it was the greatest dainty she had ever tasted.

The young squirrels grew quite excited over this, and kept breaking and peeling nuts until their mother told them they had had enough, and sent them off to bed for the night.

Soon after this winter suddenly appeared, covering the earth and trees and bushes with a thick, white mantle—so thick and white that all the paths in the woods were hidden and all the trees and bushes looked alike, but Sentre and Siccatee and their children knew their home, and, having wonderful memories, never made a mistake about finding either their home or their stores of food.

Some of their storehouses were quite a distance off, and in various directions, but never by any chance did either Sentre or Siccatee forget where they were. And, although the soft, white mantle had covered all the little hiding-places, neither were in the least uneasy, but, when one or the other wanted something for dinner, they trotted off lightly and nimbly, making straight for one of the hoards; scratching away the snow, and having taken out a few nuts, or berries, or dried scraps of meat, or bread, scrambled off to eat it at his or her leisure.

It was a very hard winter, and had it not been that these little American squirrels were such good housekeepers they would have fared very badly, and their young ones would probably have died from cold and want. But they had plenty of food and a nice, warm nest—the very same nest in which they had lived for several seasons.

This nest was made of leaves, moss, grass, little twigs, hair, feathers, little scraps of wool which the sheep had thoughtfully left on the brambles—anything, in fact, that was soft, and comfortable, and warm. It was woven so carefully that neither rain nor snow could get into it, and was so firmly wedged in its place that no wind could blow it away. Therefore, when they had all taken a little exercise, had a good meal, and trotted home again, they nestled down in their warm, cozy home, and were just as happy as they could be.

But when Christmas was over and January had come and gone, the young squirrels got restless and tiresome, and began to behave very badly— so badly that sometimes they did not come home for a couple of nights and days, and at last they went away altogether.

But the parent squirrels did not seem to mind it, and it was rather a relief to be quiet and peaceable, and not have so much noise and quarreling, and as Mother Earth was beginning to look green again, Sentre and Siccatee felt very happy and were scarcely ever apart.

They began to find mice, young birds and insects again, and very glad they were, for they were tired of dried roots and odd scraps.

All that spring they were very busy, as usual, for squirrels always seem to be busy, no matter what time of the year it may be. They are busy in the spring getting ready for the little baby squirrels; busy all the summer attending to them and feeding them; busy all the autumn collecting their winter stores, and busy all the winter finding their food and teaching their children the manners and customs of squirreldom.

As the spring went on the two squirrels grew more busy, if possible, than ever, and by the beginning of summer, in the old nest which they had done up and renovated, were four, tiny baby squirrels, and both Sentre and Siccatee were fully convinced that they were finer babies than they had ever had before. They both took the greatest care of them all through that summer, and when autumn came round once more began the same thing over again—collecting food for the winter and teaching their little ones how to eat eggs and nuts; how to climb trees, and leap from bough to bough, and how to drop in time of danger on their outspread little feet and bushy tails, and so save themselves from injury.

And, curiously enough, one day Siccatee came across the same Horrible Humans that had caused her so much trouble the year before. They were both a little taller and broader, but that they were the same there could be no doubt. Siccatee found out that they came to the house at the foot of the hill every year, and very sorry she was, for it was only last year that they had spoiled one of her best storehouses.

This year something far more terrible happened. Of all her four children, Siccatee loved best of all little Graycoat, who was certainly a very beautiful baby squirrel. He was so soft and fluffy; had such a beautiful, silvery gray tail; such pretty, delicate feet and limbs, and neat, small head, with bright little eyes that were never still for a single moment.

Now, Graycoat was fond of wandering off by himself—being a bit of a dreamer—and one beautiful day he happened in some extraordinary way to jump right into the lap of one of the Humans, who were sitting there in the woods.

It was the lap of the little girl, and in an instant she had thrown her apron over Graycoat and he was a prisoner.

In vain he cried and shrieked for his mother, and in vain she answered from the bough above, chattering and scolding and calling him beseechingly in most piteous tones. But the little girl kept tight hold and carried poor Graycoat to the house at the foot of the hill, and here, after being petted and stroked, and looked at until he was nearly dead with fright, Graycoat was put into a horrible prison with iron bars; and although he climbed and climbed and worked hard all day, he never seemed to get any further up and could see no chance of getting out. The children, wishing to be kind, but not realizing how dreadfully cruel it was to keep him in the cage at all, put his little prison out on the veranda, and it was with an aching heart and tears of agony that Siccatee saw her beloved little one shut up in that cruel cage.

She crept close and talked to Graycoat in a soft, guttural tone, and when night drew on, and all was still and silent outside the house, Siccatee would go to the prison and bite and gnaw with her little teeth, and scratch with her little paws, straining every nerve in her poor little body to set her darling free.

Graycoat's poor little heart would beat with hope every time his mother came, and, when she hopped swiftly and softly away in the early morning, Graycoat's little heart would sink again, and he would send forth a pitiful little cry after his mother—a cry that went to her very heart.

From the time that Graycoat was taken prisoner Siccatee scarcely ate or slept. Carefully hidden behind the nearest tree, her bright little eyes would peep out, and her soft tail wave up and down while she watched every action and incident in the new life of her little one.

As night crept on, she would once more steal forth to the cage, and try again and again at the same useless, hopeless task of breaking those cruel bars.

She had not forgotten her other children, but she knew they could now look out for themselves, had plenty to eat, and a good, comfortable home in the old tree. So she paid little attention to them, and devoted all her thoughts and energies to her unfortunate, little Graycoat.

Then came one cold, frosty night—so cold that the poor little baby squirrel shivered and shook as though with an ague. Siccatee sat as close to the bars of the prison as she could sit, and did her best to warm Graycoat with the heat from her own little body. But Graycoat missed the nice, warm nest in the tree, and although the side that was nestling against his mother was fairly warm, his other side felt cold and stiff.

In fact, he felt stiff all over, for the unnatural life, the different food, the cruel prison bars, and last, but not least, the cold, frosty night were too much for him, and quite suddenly he left off leaning against his little mother, and lay on the floor of his prison cold and stiff.

Poor Siccatee was in great distress. She ran round and round the cage, calling him, scolding him and beseeching him to speak to her. Her bright eyes were full of tears, and her poor little body shook with cold and distress.

In vain she put first one tiny paw through the cage and tried to arouse him, and then the other. It was no use. Graycoat neither moved nor answered, and at last with a pitiful little cry Siccatee lay down by the cage, put one little paw through the bars as though in a last appeal to her darling, and, shivering with cold and anguish, drew one long sobbing breath, and lay just as still as Graycoat.

And when the children came in the morning, they were greatly surprised and deeply distressed to find two dead squirrels—one baby squirrel inside the cage, and one mother squirrel outside.

But even then they did not seem to realize how dreadfully cruel they had been in suddenly taking away a wild, free creature from the fresh, open air, beautiful woods and trees, and, best of all, joyous freedom, and putting him in a tiny, narrow cage, where there was only just room enough for him to turn round.

They could not realize that nothing they could do or give him could ever make up to the active, little creature the loss of his beautiful, woodland home and his free life.