Over fallen twigs

Tiny never forgot the pleasant half hour that followed his graduation.
Although he felt happy, he was sorry to leave dear old Beaver Creek
with its many delightful associations. After waving a friendly farewell
to Mr. Opossum, Jolly Gopher, and his other chance acquaintances, he
turned to bid his classmates goodby. The bird choir was still singing
its sweetest airs.

“Your poem was very good for a beginner,” said Miss Hare, with a smile.
“I suspect that you spent much time in its preparation.”

“I expect to write a better one in a year from now,” replied Tiny.

“You did not get frightened at all,” said timid Katie Goose, who had
been unable to read her composition loud enough for her audience to
hear.

“One is never afraid of an audience unless he is afraid of himself,”
said Tiny. “I hope your future life will be happy, Katie.”

“Thank you,” replied Katie. “I want to be a lovely character like my
aunt, dear old Mother Goose.”

“I want to thank you for your kindness to me, Mr. Owl,” continued
the squirrel, running to where the wise trustee of the school sat
listening to the merry chorus of voices. “I have done nothing to pay
for my board and tuition. In fact, I never knew there was such a thing
as money, and that animals should pay for what they get from others,
instead of trying to steal it.”

“Do not worry about that,” said the owl, kindly. “Miss Hare’s school is
free to pupils that cannot pay. It is kept up by taxes paid by the good
citizens of Joy County. In this day of free schools, it is a terrible
crime for animals to neglect their education.”

“I shall organize a school in Squirreltown as soon as I return,” said
Tiny. “The little ones would be more benefitted if they would exercise
their brains as well as their legs.”

“I wish you success,” said the owl prophet, kindly. “Your education has
just begun. Even if you should live as many years as a turtle does, you
would never learn all there is to know. Most squirrels observe closely,
but almost every squirrel does not think as much as he should.”

“I am going now,” said Tiny. “Please also accept my thanks for your
kindness to my mother during my absence from home. I hope you will come
to Squirreltown and give me a chance to entertain you.”

“Thank you,” replied the owl. “I should be glad to carry you home, but
I believe you are old enough to find your own way. There are many other
lessons for you to learn, and there are other dreadful battles that you
must fight alone. Always be brave and hopeful, no matter what befalls
you.”

Tiny bade Miss Hare goodby, and she wished him success. He tried to
find Billy Beaver, but the good janitor had already started up creek to
his work. One by one the graduates left the school for their various
homes, and, when Tiny started forth on his journey, Beaver Creek was
quiet and deserted. With a sigh of regret he gazed back at the domes of
the buildings, and in his heart wished that he might return.

As he turned into the narrow path that led to the north, he heard the
noise of pattering feet. In a few moments Winkie Weasel was beside him,
panting heavily.

“I am going with you as far as Deertown,” said he. “What a pleasant
visit we shall have on the way! You were always kind to help me with my
lessons, and I thank you.”

“I suppose you are anxious to get back home,” said Tiny, as they
hurried along.

“Not very,” replied Winkie, seriously. “My home is not pleasant.
However, I am going to try to exert a good influence over those with
whom I live. Weasels fight most of the time, you know. I shall try to
teach them that vegetables are as wholesome as meat, and that weasels
would be just as healthy if they did not eat every little animal that
crossed their path.”

For a long time they chatted concerning their classmates and the
graduating exercises. They praised their teacher’s elegant manners,
Mrs. Goose’s excellent morals and grand air, the pretty faces of the
Otter sisters, the beautiful bower that Billy Beaver and his friends
had made, and the neat schoolroom. Winkie congratulated Tiny again and
again upon his splendid victory.

When it grew dark, they stopped to rest. Tiny, with the quill Mother
Goose had given him securely tied to his body, carefully climbed a
tree. He found a cozy spot sheltered by broad leaves. In the meantime,
Winkie found comfortable quarters in a hollow log. Soon they fell
asleep.

In the middle of the night an awful storm arose. The lightning flashed
and the thunder roared. The trees bent and swayed in the angry winds.
It seemed to Tiny that the world was coming to an end; but he was brave
and hopeful, for he knew that the sunshine would be bright on the
morrow.

When the storm had abated somewhat, he fell asleep again. However, he
slept badly. He thought some cruel animal was about to spring upon him
and swallow him in one gulp. He was a really brave little creature, but
such dreams are prone to disturb even the boldest animal.

He shuddered and opened his eyes with a start. Not six feet away two
terrible eyes of fire were fixed upon him. He then knew that his dream
was real. In the flash of lightning that followed, he could see a large
animal about to spring at him. Its legs were powerful, its feet were
heavy, and its claws glistened. Another flash of lightning revealed the
pointed ears of the terrible beast.

Tiny tried to escape, but the branch of the tree was slippery with
rain. In a twinkling he received a terrific blow from an enormous paw.
Then followed a crash of thunder, an angry roar, and the frightened
shriek of a poor helpless squirrel.

“Oh, save me from the lynx–the lynx!” he cried.

Both he and the bloodthirsty creature had fallen to the ground. Tiny
knew that in another moment he might meet with a tragic fate. Another
flash of lightning showed the lynx, with his fur standing straight and
his back curled, ready to pounce upon him.

[Illustration: WHEN THE LIGHTNING FLASHED AGAIN HE DASHED FORWARD AND
THRUST THE PEN INTO THE DELICATE NOSTRILS OF THE LYNX.]

Darkness came again. Tiny was so badly stunned for a while that he
could hardly move. He stood dumbly awaiting the final blow. Then a loud
roar of pain resounded through the forest. It was evident to Tiny that
some creature was attacking the lynx. The little squirrel unloosened
the pen that had been given him. When the lightning flashed again, he
dashed forward and thrust it into the delicate nostril of the lynx.
There was another cry, more of surprise than of pain, and the ferocious
animal disappeared in the blackness of night.

“We are safe now,” said Winkie Weasel’s welcome voice. “It is fortunate
that I came with you. Just as the lynx was about to destroy you, I
rushed out of the stump and gave his tail a bite that he will not soon
forget. I think, judging by the way he yelled, he must have thought he
was struck by lightning.”

Tiny was too weak to reply. He stood shivering in the rain, yet he
was grateful that he had learned the value of friendship. Winkie, who
enjoyed dreadful encounters, pushed him back into the stump that he
might protect him through the night. There they remained until daybreak.

“Now, forget about the lynx and don’t be so cast down,” were the first
words that Winkie said on the following morning. “Don’t hold any
ill-will towards him. He was only thinking what a fine meal you would
make. All animals are looking out for themselves.”

A turn in the long path brought them into Deertown. A number of red
deer were lying together upon the grassy turf. They had slept well, for
the branches of the trees had formed a thick canopy over their heads.
A stag with a reddish-brown coat and big branching antlers was guarding
them. Several pretty fawns with brown eyes and white coats were playing
hide-and-seek in the bushes. Although deer are quick to hear the
footsteps of larger animals, they paid no heed to the little newcomers.

[Illustration: “ISN’T THE STAG A NOBLE-LOOKING CREATURE?”]

“Isn’t the stag noble-looking!” cried Tiny. “What a big creature he is!”

“He is very proud,” said Winkie, less admiringly. “He is also selfish,
for he becomes angry if any other stag comes inside his family circle.”

“Isn’t it fortunate that we don’t have to wear antlers?” laughed Tiny.
“How funny you would look, Winkie, with horns or antlers!”

“It is said that one can tell the age of a stag by looking at his
antlers,” replied Winkie, with the sprightliness that Tiny enjoyed.
“Perhaps Mother Goose is thankful, too, that she doesn’t have them.”

Not far beyond Deertown, the two associates separated. Tiny was to go
directly north, while Winkie was to pass through several winding paths
to Weasel Bog.

“Goodby, Tiny. Carry your prize safely home, and tell your mother that
you well deserved it,” said Winkie. “Some day I will bring my family to
see you.”

“I am afraid you wouldn’t be very welcome in Squirreltown,” said Tiny.
“However, I will meet you alone at any time you suggest. I will fetch
you something good to eat.”

“Squirrels are all right in their bad opinions of weasels,” said
Winkie, regretfully. “I never thought how scandalous my family would
act, if I took them to Squirreltown. I do not wish to visit your
village, but I will meet you at any place you may suggest. I want to
see you only. Let me hear from you often.”

“All right,” replied Tiny, cheerily.

With another farewell he turned north and ran as fast as he could. Two
or three times he stopped to eat some delicious acorns and other food
he found by the wayside, for Nature has bountifully provided for the
squirrel race.

He might have reached home without any more dreadful encounters, had
it not been for his curiosity. While resting on the lower branch of a
beech tree, he saw an animal with soft, silky fur, fast asleep on the
bough above his head. He did not know that the pretty, innocent-looking
creature was a wild cat, one of the most terrible beasts of the wood.
The thoughtless squirrel stole noiselessly to the side of the sleeping
animal and made a shrill, screeching noise.

[Illustration: HE RAN WITH ALL HIS MIGHT ALONG THE PATH.]

The wild cat awoke. Instantly it changed to a ferocious monster, with
ruffled fur and eyes that seemed to shoot forth flames. With a snarl of
rage, it dashed at its disturber. Tiny, whose heart beat wildly, dashed
down the tree. Instead of seeking refuge in some knothole, he ran with
all his might along the path. He expected to be killed at any moment.
Horror made him run all the faster, for he knew that the wild cat was
the most dreadful animal he could possibly arouse.

Over fallen twigs and branches the frightened squirrel leapt, little
thinking of other dangers that might befall him. At last his strength
began to fail. He knew that he could hold out but a few minutes longer.
Torn by brush and briers, he ascended an oak tree. A little door stood
ajar. He rushed through the tiny opening and fell prostrate.

When he regained his senses, a little gray animal with liquid dark eyes
was bending over him.

“Bushy Graysquirrel!” he cried in delight.

“I am very glad to receive you in my new home,” was Bushy’s welcome
greeting.

“I am so glad to see you!” exclaimed Tiny. “I was running away from a
wild cat, and met you by accident.”

“I saw you running,” answered Bushy. “However, I did not see a wild
cat. Squirrels run faster than wild cats, so I suppose he gave up the
chase.”

“I am not a coward,” declared the red squirrel, somewhat embarrassed,
“but I think it is best to run when a wild cat comes into one’s life.”

“In this forest are few wild cats,” asserted Bushy. “They seldom
disturb us, unless they are provoked.”

“What are you doing here?” asked Tiny, when he had fully recovered from
his shock.

“I live here in the country now,” was the reply. “Perhaps you do not
know that I have a mate. He is out getting acorns for our luncheon. Of
acorns there is a great plenty in this part of the woods. They cover
the ground.”

“Has Squirreltown changed much?” he inquired.

“You would hardly know the place,” answered the gray squirrel. “All
our playmates have grown up. Peggy and her mate live in the city, and
Polly Blacksquirrel and her mate own the big beech by the brook. Dr.
Flyingsquirrel has retired from business on account of his great age.
He must be nearly five years old. Your mother, however, is well and
happy. Many citizens has Squirreltown. Not one in a hundred leaves it
for the country. I–”

“Do you ever visit there?” interrupted Tiny.

“Neither of us has been back for some time,” said Bushy. “We will go
over to-night to attend the celebration.”

“What celebration?”

“One which is to be given upon your return home,” laughed Bushy.

Tiny then remembered that Mr. Owl had promised the winner of the prize
a still greater reward. He felt very grateful and happy, but did not
think it polite to question Bushy any further.

After a short visit with his old friend, Tiny bade her goodby, and
resumed his journey. He hurried along almost as fast as he did when he
thought the wild cat was after him, for he was anxious to see his dear
old home once more, and to receive his mother’s welcome greeting.

While he was drinking at a small stream, he heard a shrill cry. Before
he could turn round, he was pushed off his feet. Over and over he
rolled, until he almost fell into the water.

“Tiny, Tiny, I am so glad to see you!” cried a well known voice.

“Chatty Chipmunk!” exclaimed Tiny, equally delighted; for there was his
earliest playmate dancing about like a wild creature. “Never before
have I received such an unexpected greeting.”

“I learned that you would be home to-day, and have come to meet you,”
continued Chatty. “Near the city wait a number of your old friends. I
couldn’t stand still, so here I am.”

“Are you still fond of playing?” asked Tiny, somewhat amused at his gay
friend.

“Yes. I don’t suppose that I ever shall take life seriously,” was the
laughing reply. “Nature never intended that I should work or study.
However, I have a thrifty mate, and she makes a very comfortable living
for me. Every one of those animals at Squirreltown avoids me, but I do
not care.”

“If I were mayor of Squirreltown, I would make you work or let you
starve,” said Tiny, severely.

“Your education has not improved your appearance,” said Chatty, quickly
changing the subject. “You look old and all mussed up.”

“Animals who spend all their time in study are apt to become careless
of their personal appearance,” explained Tiny. “You forget, however,
that I have had a long journey, and that animals of good taste do not
try to look too sleek when they travel. They do not wish to attract
attention.”

“Of what use are books and study?” inquired Chatty.

“They are of no use to such as you,” replied the squirrel impatiently.

“And what are you doing with that old goose quill strapped to your
back?”

“That is the prize I won for good scholarship,” said Tiny, rather
disdainfully.

“How funny!” cried the chipmunk, laughing until his sides ached. “How
could an animal spend so much time studying, just to win a goose quill?”

“You and I do not see things alike, Chatty,” said Tiny, with an air of
superiority. “It is not possible for an uneducated animal like you to
feel the noble sentiment that makes this goose quill dear to me.”

“You are as queer as some human beings,” declared Chatty. “I have heard
of a silly man that studied for many years to win an old piece of
sheepskin.”

Tiny wisely forbore further argument. After a few minutes’ rest was
taken, he arose, and together they hastened to Squirreltown.

When the grand old trees of the city appeared to view, Tiny shouted for
joy. There is nothing in life so dear as home and its associations,
and the country in which one lives, and the individuals with whom one
associates.

Although sentinels had been stationed at the entrances of the highways
to meet Tiny, he stole up a back street; for he wished to see his
mother first of all.

Mrs. Redsquirrel was preparing the last meal of the day. Although
somewhat older in appearance than when he left her, she seemed as
beautiful as ever to Tiny.

“Mother!” he cried, as he rushed into the house.

With shrieks of joy, the good creature bounded over the table and to
and fro until she was exhausted.

“Welcome! welcome home!” she cried, her little heart fairly bursting
with motherly love and joy.

They chatted until dusk began to steal over Squirreltown. At last they
were interrupted by Chatty Chipmunk.

“You are under arrest, Tiny,” he said, gravely. “I am bidden by the
mayor to take you to the park which faces the city hall.”

Tiny and his mother good-naturedly followed Chatty, thinking that
perhaps he was, as of old, playing some joke upon them.

“Be merciful to me, Tiny,” pleaded Chatty, on their way to the park.
“Remember that I am your oldest friend. I promise you that I will lead
a useful life in the future. My greatest regret now is that I trifled
all my time away when I was young.”

Tiny did not reply. They had entered the green park, facing which was a
decayed log with many doors and windows. It was used as a city hall.

[Illustration: WHAT WAS TINY’S SURPRISE TO FIND ALL THE CITIZENS OF
SQUIRRELTOWN GATHERED THERE TO MEET HIM!]

What was Tiny’s surprise to find all the citizens of Squirreltown
gathered there to meet him. There were the aged mayor at the door of
the city hall, the militia, the policemen, and all the aldermen and
other dignitaries of the city. Every one was dignified and silent. Tiny
and his mother were led by two policemen to the little balcony over the
entrance to the building. They were unable to speak, from surprise and
wonderment.

“Hoot! hoot! hoot!” rang out from a bough over their heads. This cry
was evidently another signal to enforce perfect order. Tiny gazed up
timidly, and saw the yellow eyes of the owl prophet staring down upon
him.

“Citizens of Squirreltown,” cried Mr. Owl, “I, the wisest of all living
creatures, take pleasure in presenting to you, Mr. Tiny Redsquirrel,
the new mayor of Squirreltown!”

Flapping his wings in approbation, he flew away, never to return again.

Then wild cheers rent the air. Never since that time has Squirreltown
been so riotous. Before Tiny could realize his exalted position, he was
surrounded by his old friends. There were Dr. Flyingsquirrel and his
family, Chatty Chipmunk and his mate, Peggy and Bushy Graysquirrel,
Polly Blacksquirrel, and many others, cheering and wishing him success
and happiness.

Hundreds of lightning bugs circled above their heads, throwing out
green and orange-colored rays. Billy Foxsquirrel and his band whistled
gay airs; a frog orchestra close by joined them; and a chorus of
friendly mosquitoes, and other insects, completed the grand refrain.
Until far into the night, laughter and rejoicing reigned triumphant.
What Tiny did for Squirreltown in after years is more than any boy or
girl could imagine.