THE BLUEBIRDS & THEIR NEIGHBOURS
The Adventures of Barney the Shrew
WHISKERS the Mouse was not the only one who moved away from the Granary when Spot the Skunk moved in. There were many other mice who looked for a safer place to live. Some of them investigated the Woodshed by the Grand Old House, but they soon learned that the Woodshed was not a peaceful place to live. The reason it was not a peaceful place for mice was that Barney the Shrew lived there.
Now, Barney the Shrew was very small. He was the smallest animal that lived on the Old Homestead, or in North America, for that matter. In fact, he was scarcely as large as a half-grown mouse. We might think that Barney would have feared the friends of Whiskers the Mouse because he was so much smaller, but that was not the case. No, sir When Barney met any of Whiskers' friends, he braced himself by standing with his front feet apart, and challenged anyone to pass. If they did not retreat, there was sure to be a fight; and usually it ended by Barney's making a meal of Mr. Mouse. That was why Whiskers' friends did not stay long when they came to explore the Woodshed They were really afraid of Barney.
Barney the Shrew liked the Woodshed, and intended to keep it for his home. You see, Barney was very fond of ants and bugs and sawflies. Whenever Bud Smith cut some wood or carried some into the Grand Old House, there were sure to be a number of wood ants or sawflies or grubs fall out of the wood. After Bud was gone, Barney would steal out and eat them. In fact, Barney spent most of his time both day and night searching for food. Besides having a very mean temper, Barney also had an appetite that was never satisfied. Even after Barney had eaten his fill of insects, in a short time he was hungry again. He ate more than any other animal inn comparison with his size, sometimes devouring two or three times his own weight each day. If Barney did not have food, he would have starved to death within two or three days.
That was why Barney must always be looking for something to eat. Sometimes he fought with others of his own family, for he was so ill-tempered and unsociable that he liked to live alone. If he killed another shrew, even though it was as large as himself, he sometimes ate it at one meal. Yes, Barney certainly did have a ravenous appetite, and no doubt that was what made him so mean. Whenever we eat more than we should, or eat things that are not good for us, we get irritable and ill-tempered. That was just the way it was with Barney.
Barney was never satisfied unless he was eating; and so when he had cleaned up all the ants and sawflies and other food in the Woodshed, he decided he would explore the Grand Old House. He was quite sure he would find something there to eat. If insects were scarce, he could always find other things to eat such as flour. Or he might even make a meal of a mouse whenever he was able to find one.
And so Barney left the Woodshed for a visit to the Grand Old House. Of course, Barney did not know that Spot the Skunk had driven many of Whiskers' friends out of the Granary, and that some of them had come to the Grand Old House with the idea of sneaking in whenever the screen door was left open just a crack. Barney did not know that Bud Smith had noticed a large number of mice running around at times, and had been setting traps for them.
It did not take Barney long to find a tiny, hole at the top of the foundation, and crawl inside. Even though Barney's eyes were so small that he could scarcely see, he had a very sensitive nose. His nose was long and covered with long hairs, and he used it a great deal when he was hunting. He moved it from side to side, and if there was an insect or other food near, he was sure to find it. Barney could run up and down the side of a log or wall as easily as he could walk on the ground; and when he was hunting, he hurried here and there, with his long nose working into every hole and crack.
As soon as Barney got into the Grand Old House, the first thing he did was to run here and there looking for something to eat. Of course, Bud Smith saw him. Bud thought he was, a half-grown mouse that had crept in, and that came near to being the end of Barney. Just as Bud was about to strike Barney with a large fly swatter that happened to be handy, he noticed Barney's long nose. It looked just a little like the long nose of a runty pig that had grown a snout entirely out of size for the rest of its body. And so when Bud saw Barney's nose, he knew that Barney was not a common mouse. Even while Bud was watching Barney, he saw him pick up a dead house fly and eat it. Then Bud decided to let Barney live. Anyone who would help him catch flies was welcome.
Bud remembered that he had killed a number of flies on the back porch, and he hurried away to see if he could find some. Soon he returned with a dozen or more, one of which he dropped in front of Barney. Barney thought it was strange that a fly should drop right in front of him, but he asked no questions. After he had eaten it, he sat up and wiggled his nose to see if he could find where it came from. He thought he could smell more flies, and sure enough he could, for Bud was holding another just above Barney's nose.
After that Barney ate the flies from between Bud's fingers as fast as Bud could hold them within reach; and if Bud was a little slow getting them in place, Barney would get very impatient.
It was great sport for Bud; but when he had to go after another supply of flies, along came Hunting Cat and spoiled it all. Most large animals did not care to bother Barney. He had a musky odor that they did not like. But Hunting Cat probably thought Barney was a mouse. He thought he would make a meal of Barney; but sometimes even Hunting Cat missed his mark, just as he was ready to pounce on Barney, Barney grew impatient and decided he would look for some flies himself. Under a door he went, and left Hunting Cat feeling foolish indeed.
Hunting Cat Gets Into Trouble
WHEN Barney the Shrew disappeared under the door and left Hunting Cat staring at a crack, it was a big disappointment to Hunting Cat. But Hunting Cat did not sit around and think about his disappointments. Instead, he soon tried something else. In a little while he pushed open the screen door and started toward the Green Meadow. He was not quite sure what he would find to, dine on, but he knew that at that time of year there were Wild Creatures of all kinds in the Green Meadow.
Now, in some ways, Hunting Cat was all right. He helped to keep Whiskers the Mouse and his friends from destroying Farmer Smith's grain, and now and then he would catch a rat. On the other hand, Hunting Cat was not so good. He liked to prowl wherever the Wild Creatures stayed, and he was not at all particular what he killed. He would just as soon murder an innocent song bird as anything, rather, in fact. Whenever Hunting Cat started toward the Green Meadow, Bud knew that he had evil in his heart. So Bud tried to keep him at home where he could help scare away the mice.
When Bud came back to feed Barney the Shrew more flies, Barney was gone. Bud had not noticed 'Hunting Cat, and did not know that he had tried to catch Barney. All Bud knew was that Barney was gone. After looking for him awhile, Bud gave up trying to find him, and went out to see how Weaver the Oriole was progressing with his nest.
Bud did not notice Hunting Cat sneaking down through `the tall grass. Hunting Cat had heard Burlingame the Lark calling somewhere in the Green Meadow, and had decided that meadow lark would taste good for a change.
My--real-name's--Burlingame," announced' Mr. Lark from the top of a fence post. "My--real-name's--Burlingame."
Hunting Cat stopped and listened to Burlingame's fluting voice. He wanted to make quite sure where Burlingame was sitting. Then he would sneak as near as possible and wait until Burlingame flew down to the ground for a play in the grass. Burlingame liked to sneak through grass looking for grasshoppers and other food. His back was striped; and when he walked with his head down to hide his yellow breast, he looked just like the grass, especially after it had dried somewhat. He was very hard to see. But ever so often Burlingame stopped and called his name from the grass, and disclosed his hiding place.
Hunting Cat thought that he could easily sneak up on Burlingame unseen in the grass, for Hunting Cat was striped himself and not easy to see. He knew that somewhere under a clump of grass, with a Hidden Grass Tunnel leading to it, Mrs. Lark had a nest, and not far from where Burlingame was singing. Hunting Cat thought he might find it.
Burlingame was always happy. He was even more good-natured than Robin Red. It was a very cold and storm day indeed when Burlingame did not sing. If the Laughing Yellow Sun appeared for but a moment, you could have heard Burlingame greet him with, "My--real-name's-Burlingame." Of course, Burlingame had many other songs besides just telling his name. He had almost as many as Singer the Warbler. So every time Burlingame sang, he helped Hunting Cat to find him.
Soon Burlingame became hungry, and flew down into the grass. There were many kinds of bugs and grasshoppers moving around, and soon he was having a fine time chasing them. He was so interested he forgot entirely that Hunting Cat or Sharpshin the Hawk or Reddy Fox might be near.
Hunting Cat waited patiently behind a bunch of tangled grass while Burlingame came nearer. He was used to waiting. Sometimes he sat beside the Friendly Burrow of Dodger the Gopher for an hour or more waiting for him to come out. And so he did not mind waiting a while for Burlingame the Lark. He twitched the tip of his tail slightly, and bared his sharp claws. He placed his hind feet firmly on the ground so that he would not slip when he sprang. He was all ready to pounce as soon as Burlingame looked the other way. Suddenly there was a dull thud on the ground beside Hunting Cat, and a large rock rolled through the grass. Of course, Burlingame was alarmed and flew to the top of a fence post, leaving Hunting Cat to his disappointment.
Hunting Cat knew very well what had happened. He had heard rocks thud around him before when he was in mischief. He knew that Bud had seen him and had thrown a rock at him.
That night when Hunting Cat came to the Grand Old House for his supper, Bud was waiting for him. Bud had a little bell on a collar, and he fastened this around Hunting Cat's neck. It was a bell like those Mrs. Smith put on her turkeys to keep Ranger the Coyote from catching them. When Ranger the Coyote heard it, it made him suspicious, and he was afraid to attack Mr. Turkey.
But that was not the reason Bud put the bell on Hunting Cat. Oh no! He put it on Hunting Cat as a warning to his Feathered Friends. Whenever Hunting Cat tried to sneak up on them, they would hear the bell. If Hunting Cat were just sitting still waiting for Whiskers the Mouse, the bell would not ring. And; so Bud thought it was a clever idea.