The little red squirrel

Tiny sat for a long time in the top of the tree and looked away as far
as his eyes could see. In the distance rose the big yellow moon. It
shone brightly upon the treetops of the great forest, yet he could not
see Squirreltown.

At last he began to descend slowly, almost frightening to death a tree
toad that was hopping about on its little velvet toes among the green
branches.

[Illustration: TINY’S BUSHY TAIL STIFFENED WITH FRIGHT.]

Tiny’s bushy tail stiffened with fright when he heard a loud, whirring
sound and a shrill cry from the branch over his head. Two big yellow
eyes glared at him through the dense foliage. They scared him so that
he could not scamper away.

“Hoot! hoot!” cried the dreadful creature. “Why are you prowling around
my castle at this time of night? Don’t you know that I am a horned owl?
I like to eat rabbits, squirrels, and mice.”

“I did not mean to disturb you, sir,” said Tiny politely, although
his teeth chattered and his limbs refused to move. “My name is Tiny
Redsquirrel. I have lost my way. Can you tell me where to find
Squirreltown?”

“I wish I knew where it is,” said the owl, “for it wouldn’t take me
long to put an end to it. Come closer that we may have a little chat. I
like squirrels.”

“Mr. Owl, I know that it would not be prudent for me to get closer to
you,” said Tiny, without moving a step. “I want everyone to like me,
but I do not want them to like me well enough to eat me.”

“Well spoken!” cried the owl, clapping his wings and screeching loudly.
“A fairy told me, Tiny, that you were coming to my castle. I promised
her that I would not hurt you. Tell me what gift you desire above all
things else.”

“A good education,” replied Tiny promptly.

“Fine!” exclaimed the owl. “Of course, squirrels cannot expect to know
very much. Red squirrels are too mischievous to learn a great deal.
They worry robins in their nests, frighten field mice, steal from the
farmer’s granary, and spring the traps that hunters set for martens.
Can you tell me who is the wisest of all living creatures?”

“I think it must be the donkey,” said Tiny after hesitating a few
moments.

“The donkey is as stupid as a stump,” said the owl impatiently. “What
makes you think that the donkey is the wisest of all creatures?”

“An animal that makes so much noise must be very wise,” answered the
innocent squirrel.

“When you are older, you will learn that the wisest creatures seldom
make any noise at all,” said the owl with a sage toss of his head. “The
donkey is most unlike the animal that represents wisdom, and he–”

“Perhaps the wisest animal is the loon,” interrupted the squirrel.

Tiny had never heard the expression “crazy as a loon,” or he would not
have made such an absurd guess.

The owl laughed again. “Poor little squirrel,” he continued, “you are
much in need of an education, and I will help you to realize your wish.
An old loon lives two hundred yards from here in some dry muck on the
ruins of an old muskrat house. Whenever she tries to avoid danger, she
always runs the wrong way and jumps into it. Her legs are placed so
far back beneath her body that she cannot walk very long at a time
without toppling over. When she swims, she makes more noise than a
family of beavers. She screeches all the time, and consequently gets
no opportunity to think. You know that to be wise one must be a quiet
thinker. No, the loon is as dull as the donkey.”

“Then who is the wisest of all creatures?” asked Tiny, growing more and
more interested.

“Have you never heard that the owl is the symbol of wisdom?” asked the
curious creature. “There is nothing I do not know.”

“Then perhaps you can tell me where Squirreltown is situated,” said
Tiny, eagerly.

“I do not know,” replied the owl, glaring at Tiny until he again lost
courage. “I do not fill my mind with useless knowledge, since there are
so many important things to know. How ridiculous of you to ask me such
a question! You might just as well ask why the moon, although not so
large as a pumpkin, can light up this great world of ours. There are
many things that learned students cannot explain so ordinary creatures
can understand. I believe, however, that if you live long enough and
keep traveling all the time, you may find Squirreltown one of these
days.”




“This is no time for jesting,” burst forth Tiny, his heart sinking. “I
greatly desire to get home. I started out to gather our winter store in
this hunting-bag, but I got lost. Mother must be quite tired looking
for me.”

“Your mother need not wear her eyes out _looking_ for you, since you
are surely old enough to _see_ for yourself,” retorted the owl.

Tiny said that he must hasten on.

“Do not be in a hurry, my restless quadruped,” said the owl. “Squirrels
are always in a hurry. You are very nervous animals. It makes me dizzy
to look at you. I am the wisest creature of the forest, yet you do not
choose to tarry long enough to get some useful information. Do you
still desire an education, or have you changed your mind?”

“I want to get home,” sobbed Tiny.

“I will see that your wish is granted,” said the owl, more kindly.
“What else do you wish?”

“I wish to grow up to be a useful squirrel. I want to make my mother
and everybody else happy.”

The owl asked him what more he desired.

“That is all,” was the reply.

“Then do as I say,” commanded the owl. “Before you can become truly
wise, you must learn the lessons of patience and industry, and, as you
struggle, you must sing the song of contentment. I am a wise prophet,
and I will see that your wishes are fulfilled.

“To-night you must sleep out in one of those hazel bushes. Be sure to
hide yourself, for sometimes I fly about while asleep. In that case
perhaps I might eat you without knowing it. To-morrow at dawn, follow
the path that leads to the brook. Then turn to your right. If you
should turn to your left, you would soon find yourself in Big Bear
City. Keep your eyes wide open, and when you least expect it, you will
be taught the lesson of patience.

“Follow the footpath till you come to a lovely dell, where a fairy
princess will teach you the lesson of industry and the value of doing
good to others. She probably can show you the way to Squirreltown, for
she knows all about geography. But, ere you reach home, you will have
two dreadful encounters. A four-legged giant with hundreds of darts
will rush upon you when you least expect it. Do not be frightened. Be
calm and cautious. Lie close to the ground so that his darts will pass
above you, should he throw them at you. Seize one of his darts, jab
him; he will then run away.

“Soon you will find yourself in the heart of a jungle that almost all
tame beasts fear to enter. Another giant, a big black one, will try to
hurt you. However, you will be protected. Do as I command, or you will
never get back home.”

“Thank you, Mr. Owl,” said Tiny, willing to endure any hardship if he
could only see his mother again. “Should you come to Squirreltown, the
Mayor will tell you where to find me. He is stopping at the Beech Tree
Inn.”

“What kind of stops does he use?” asked the owl, much amused.

Tiny stared at him in wonderment.

“I suppose you mean that he is _staying_ at the Beech Tree Inn,” said
the owl. “I hope you have enjoyed your visit in my castle. If you will
stay a while longer I will sing. I have a most beautiful voice. I can
sing twice as loud as a village of sparrows.”

The little red squirrel did not insist upon hearing the owl prophet
sing, for that would have been bad manners.

With a polite goodnight, he scurried down the tree to a clump of hazel
bushes, where he hid himself as securely as possible. He slept very
little, for he feared that the wise owl might fly about in his sleep
and possibly devour him.

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