Written by Thorton Burgess
Shadow the Weasel was a prisoner. He who always had been free to go and come as he pleased and to do as he pleased was now in a little narrow cage and quite helpless. For once he had been careless, and this was the result. Farmer Brown’s boy had caught him in a trap. Of course, he should have known better than to visit the henhouse a second time. He should have known that Farmer Brown’s boy would be sure to do something about it. The truth is, he had yielded to temptation when common sense had warned him not to. So he had no one to blame for his present difficulty but himself, and he knew it.
At first he had been in a terrible rage and had bitten at the wires until he had made his mouth sore. When he had made sure that the wires were stronger than his teeth, he wisely stopped trying to get out in that way, and made up his mind that the only thing to do was to watch for a chance to slip out, if the door of the cage should happen to be left unfastened.
Of course it hurt his pride terribly to be made fun of by those who always had feared him. Happy Jack Squirrel was the first one of these to see him. Farmer Brown’s boy had put the cage down near the foot of the big maple tree in which Happy Jack was living, because Shadow had driven him out of the Green Forest. As soon as Happy Jack had made sure that Shadow really and truly was a prisoner and so quite harmless, he had acted as if he were crazy. Perhaps he was—crazy with joy. You see, he no longer had anything to be really afraid of, for there was no one but Shadow from whom he could not get away by running into his house. Billy Mink was the only other who could follow him there, and Billy was not likely to come climbing up a tree so close to Farmer Brown’s house.
So Happy Jack raced up and down the tree in the very greatest excitement, and his tongue went quite as fast as his legs. He wanted everybody to know that Shadow was a prisoner at last. At first he did not dare to go very close to the cage. You see, he had so long feared Shadow that he was still afraid of him even though he was so helpless. But little by little Happy Jack grew bolder and came very close.
Of course Happy Jack hastened to tell everybody he met all about Shadow, so it wasn’t long before Shadow began to receive many visitors. Whenever Farmer Brown’s boy was not around there was sure to be one or more of the little people who had feared Shadow to come and see him. Somehow it seems as if always it is that way when people get into trouble. You know it is very easy to appear to be bold and brave when there is nothing to be afraid of. Of course that isn’t bravery at all, though many seem to think it is.
Now what do you think that right down in their hearts all these little people who came to see Shadow the Weasel hoped they would see? Why, they hoped they would see Shadow afraid. Yes, Sir, that is what they hoped. But they didn’t and that is where they were disappointed. Not once did Shadow show the least sign of fear. He didn’t know what Farmer Brown’s boy would do with him, and he had every reason to fear that if he was not to be kept a prisoner for the rest of his natural life, something else would happen. But he was too proud and too brave to let anyone know that any such fear ever entered his mind. Whatever his faults, Shadow is no coward. He boldly took bits of meat which Farmer Brown’s boy brought to him, and not once appeared in the least afraid, so that, much as he disliked him, Farmer Brown’s boy actually had to admire him. He was a prisoner, but he kept just as stout a heart as ever.
When the little people of the Green Forest and Green Meadows who fear Shadow the Weasel found that he was a prisoner, many of them took particular pains to visit him when the way was clear, just to tell him that they were not afraid of him and that they were glad that he was a prisoner. Shadow never said a word in reply. He was too wise to do that. He just turned his back on them. But all the time he was storing up in his mind all these things, and he meant, if ever he got free again, to make life very uncomfortable for those whose silly tongues were trying to make him more miserable than he already felt.
But these little people didn’t stop to think of what might happen. They just took it for granted that Shadow never again would run wild and free in the Green Forest, and so they just let their tongues run and enjoyed doing it. Perhaps they wouldn’t have, if they could have known just what was going on in the mind of Farmer Brown’s boy. Ever since he had found Shadow in the trap which he had set for him in the henhouse, Farmer Brown’s boy had been puzzling over what he should do with his prisoner. At first he had thought he would keep him in the cage the rest of his life. But somehow, whenever he looked into Shadow’s fierce little eyes and saw how unafraid they looked, he got to thinking of how terrible it must be to be shut up in a little narrow cage when one has had all the Green Forest in which to go and come.
He remembered that after all Shadow was one of Old Mother Nature’s little people, and that he must serve some purpose in Mother Nature’s great plan. Bad as he seemed, she must have some use for him. Perhaps it was to teach others through fear of him how to be smarter and take better care of themselves and so be better fitted to do their parts. The more he thought of this, the harder it was for Farmer Brown’s boy to make up his mind. But if he couldn’t keep him as a prisoner, what could he do?
He was scowling down at Shadow one morning and puzzling over this when a happy idea came to him. “I know what I’ll do!” he exclaimed and without another word he picked up the cage with Shadow in it and started off across the Green Meadows, which now, you know, were not green at all but covered with snow. Happy Jack watched him out of sight. He had gone in the direction of the Old Pasture. He was gone a long time, and when he did return, the cage was empty.
Happy Jack blinked at the empty cage. Then he began to ask in a scolding tone, “What did you do with him? What did you do with him?”
Farmer Brown’s boy just smiled and tossed a nut to Happy Jack. And far up in the Old Pasture, Shadow the Weasel was once more free. It was well for Happy Jack’s peace of mind that he didn’t know that.
Taking things for granted doesn’t do at all in this world. To take a thing for granted is to think that it is so without taking the trouble to find out whether it is or not. It is apt not only to get you yourself into trouble, but to make trouble for other people as well. Happy Jack saw Farmer Brown’s boy carry Shadow the Weasel away in a cage, and he saw him bring back the cage empty. What could he have done with Shadow? For a while he tried to get Farmer Brown’s boy to tell him, but of course Farmer Brown’s boy didn’t understand Happy Jack’s language.
Now Happy Jack knew just what he would like to believe. He would like to believe that Farmer Brown’s boy had taken Shadow away and that he would never see him again. And because he wanted to believe that, it wasn’t very hard to believe it. There was the empty cage. Of course Farmer Brown’s boy wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of trapping Shadow unless he intended to get rid of him for good.
“He’s gotten rid of him, that’s what he’s done!” said Happy Jack to himself, because that is what he would have done if he had been in Farmer Brown’s boy’s place. So having made up his mind that this is what had been done with Shadow, he at once told all his friends that it was so, and was himself supremely happy. You see, he felt that he no longer had anything to worry about. Yes, Sir, Happy Jack was happy. He liked the house Farmer Brown’s boy had made for him in the big maple tree close by his own house. He was sure of plenty to eat, because Farmer Brown’s boy always looked out for that, and as a result Happy Jack was growing fat. None of his enemies of the Green Forest dared come so near to Farmer Brown’s house, and the only one he had to watch out for at all was Black Cat. By this time he wasn’t afraid of her; not a bit. In fact, he rather enjoyed teasing her and getting her to chase him. When she was dozing on the doorstep he liked to sneak up very close, wake her with a sharp bark, and then race for the nearest tree, and there scold her to his heart’s content. He had made friends with Mrs. Brown and with Farmer Brown, and he even felt almost friends with Bowser the Hound. Sometimes he would climb up on the roof of Bowser’s little house and drop nutshells on Bowser’s head when he was asleep. The funny thing was Bowser never seemed to mind. He would lazily open his eyes and wink one of them at Happy Jack and thump with his tail. He seemed to feel that now Happy Jack was one of the family, just as he was.
So Happy Jack was just as happy as a fat Gray Squirrel with nothing to worry him could be. He was so happy that Sammy Jay actually became jealous. You know Sammy is a born trouble maker. He visited Happy Jack every morning, and while he helped himself to the good things that he always found spread for him, for Farmer Brown’s boy always had something for the little feathered folk to eat, he would hint that such goodness and kindness was not to be trusted, and that something was sure to happen. That is just the way with some folks; they are always suspicious.
But nothing that Sammy Jay could say troubled Happy Jack; and Sammy would fly away quite put out because he couldn’t spoil Happy Jack’s happiness the least little bit.
Sammy Jay chuckled as he flew across the snow-covered Green Meadows on his way to his home in the Green Forest. He chuckled and he chuckled. To have heard him you would have thought that either he had thought of something very pleasant, or something very pleasant had happened to him. Once he turned in the direction of Farmer Brown’s house, but changed his mind as he saw the Black Shadows creeping out from the Purple Hills, and once more headed for the Green Forest.
“Too late to-day. Time I was home now. It’ll keep until to-morrow,” he muttered. Then he chuckled, and he was still chuckling when he reached the big hemlock tree, among the thick branches of which he spent each night.
“Don’t know what started me off to the Old Pasture this afternoon, but I’m glad I went. My, my, my, but I’m glad I went,” said he, as he fluffed out his feathers and prepared to tuck his head under his wing. “It pays to snoop around in this world and see what is going on. I learned a long time ago not to believe everything I hear, and that the surest way to make sure of things is to find out for myself. Nothing like using my own eyes and my own ears. Well, I must get to sleep.” He began to chuckle again, and he was still chuckling as he fell asleep.
The next morning Sammy Jay was astir at the very first sign of light. He waited just long enough to see that every feather was in place, for Sammy is a bit vain, and very particular about his dress. Then he headed straight for Farmer Brown’s house. Just as he expected he found Happy Jack Squirrel was awake, for Happy Jack is an early riser.
“Good morning,” said Sammy Jay, and tried very hard to make his voice sound smooth and pleasant, a very hard thing for Sammy to do, for his voice, you know, is naturally harsh and unpleasant. “You seem to be looking as happy as ever.”
“Of course I am,” replied Happy Jack. “Why shouldn’t I be? I haven’t a thing to worry about. Of course I’m happy, and I hope you’re just as happy as I am. I’m going to get my breakfast now, and then I’ll be happier still.”
“That’s so. There’s nothing like a good breakfast to make one happy,” said Sammy Jay, helping himself to some suet tied to a branch of the maple tree. “By the way, I saw an old friend of yours yesterday. He inquired after you particularly. He didn’t exactly send his love, but he said that he hoped you are as well and fat as ever, and that he will see you again some time. He said that he didn’t know of anyone he likes to look at better than you.”
Happy Jack looked flattered. “That was very nice of him,” he said. “Who was it?”
“Guess,” replied Sammy.
Happy Jack scratched his head thoughtfully. There were not many friends in winter. Most of them were asleep or had gone to the far away southland.
“Peter Rabbit,” he ventured.
Sammy shook his head.
Again Sammy shook his head.
“Jumper the Hare!”
“Guess again,” said Sammy, chuckling.
“Little Joe Otter!”
“Wrong,” replied Sammy.
“I give up. Who was it? Do tell me,” begged Happy Jack.
“It was Shadow the Weasel!” cried Sammy, triumphantly.
Happy Jack dropped the nut he was just going to eat, and in place of happiness something very like fear grew and grew in his eyes. “I—I don’t believe you,” he stammered. “Farmer Brown’s boy took him away. I saw him take him.”
“But you didn’t see what he did with Shadow,” declared Sammy, “He took him ‘way up in the Old Pasture and let him go, and I saw him up there yesterday. That’s what comes of guessing at things. Shadow is alive and well. Well, I must be going along. I hope you’ll enjoy your breakfast.”
And with this, off flew Sammy Jay.
As for Happy Jack, he worried for a little while, but as Shadow didn’t come, and there was nothing else to worry about, little by little Happy Jack’s high spirits returned, until he was as happy as ever.