Written by Clara Dillinger Pierson.
During the warm weather, the Minks did not come often to the pond. Then they had to stay nearer home and care for their babies. In the winter, when food was not so plentiful and their youngest children were old enough to come with them, they visited there every day. It was not far from their home.
The Minks lived by a waterfall in the river, and had burrows in the banks, where the young Minks stayed until they were large enough to go out into the world. Then the fathers and mothers were very busy, for in each home there were four or five or six children, hungry and restless, and needing to be taught many things.
They were related to the Weasels who lived up by the farmyard, and had the same slender and elegant bodies and short legs as they. Like the Weasels, they sometimes climbed trees, but that was not often. They did most of their hunting in the river, swimming with their bodies almost all under water, and diving and turning and twisting gracefully and quickly. When they hunted on land, they could tell by smelling just which way to go for their food.
The Minks were a very dark brown, and scattered through their close, soft fur were long, shining hairs of an even darker shade, which made their coats very beautiful indeed. The fur was darker on their backs than on the under part of their bodies, and their tapering, bushy tails were almost black. Their under jaws were white, and they were very proud of them. Perhaps it was because they had so little white fur that they thought so much of it. You know that is often the way—we think most of those things which are scarce or hard to get.
There was one older Mink by the river who had a white tip on his tail, and that is something which many people have never seen. It is even more uncommon than for Minks to have white upper lips, and that happens only once in a great while. This Mink was a bachelor, and nobody knew why. Some people said it was because he was waiting to find a wife with a white tip on her tail, yet that could not have been, for he was too wise to wait for something which might never happen. However, he lived alone, and fished and hunted just for himself. He could dive more quickly, stay underwater longer, and hunt by scent better than any other Mink round there. His fur was sleeker and more shiny than that of his friends, and it is no wonder that the sisters of his friends thought he ought to marry them.
When the Minks visited together, somebody was sure to speak of the Mink’s luck. They said that, whatever he did, he was always lucky. “It is all because of a white tip on his tail,” they said. “That makes him lucky.”
The young Minks heard their fathers and mothers talking, and wished that they had been born with white tips on their tails so that they could be lucky too. Once the Bachelor heard them wishing this, and he smiled and showed his beautiful teeth, and told them that it was not the tip of his tail but his whole body that made him lucky. He did not smile to show his teeth, because he was not at all vain. He just smiled and showed his teeth.
There was a family of young Minks who lived at the foot of the waterfall, where the water splashed and dashed in the way they liked best. There were four brothers and two sisters in this family, and the brothers were bigger than the sisters (as Mink Brothers always are), although they were all the same age. One was very much larger than any of the rest, and so they called him Big Brother. Big Brother thought there was never such a fine Mink as the Bachelor, and he used to follow him around, and look at the tip on his tail, and wish that he was lucky like him. He wished to be just like him in every way but one; he did not want to be a bachelor.
The other young Minks laughed at Big Brother, and asked him if he thought his tail would turn white if he followed the Bachelor long enough. Big Brother stood it very patiently for a while; then he snarled at them, and showed his teeth without smiling, and said he would chase anybody who spoke another word about it. Minks are very brave and very fierce, and never know when to stop if they have begun to fight; so, after that, nobody dared tease Big Brother by saying anything more about the Bachelor. Sometimes they did look at his tail and smile, but they never spoke, and he pretended not to know what they meant by it.
A few days after this, the Bachelor was caught in a trap—a common, clumsy, wooden trap, put together with nails and twine. It was not near the river, and none of his friends would have found him, if Big Brother had not happened along. He could hardly believe what he saw. Was it possible that a trap had dared to catch a Mink with a white-tipped tail? Then he heard the Bachelor groan, and he knew that it was so. He hurried up to where the trap was.
“Can’t you get out?” he said.
“No,” said the Bachelor. “I can’t. The best way to get out is not to get in—and I’ve gotten in.”
“Can’t you do something with your lucky tail to make the trap open?” asked Big Brother.
“I could do something with my teeth,” answered the Bachelor, “if they were only where the tip of my tail is. Why are Minks always walking into traps?” He was trying hard not to be angry, but his eyes showed how he felt, and that was very angry indeed.
Then Big Brother became very excited. “I have good teeth,” said he, “Tell me what to do.”
“If you will help me out,” said the Bachelor, “I will give you my luck.”
“And what shall I do with the tail I have?” asked the young Mink, who thought that the Bachelor was to give him his white-tipped tail.
“Never mind now,” answered the Bachelor, and he told the young Mink just where to gnaw. For a long time there was no sound but that of the young Mink’s teeth on the wood of the trap. The Bachelor was too brave to groan or make a fuss, when he knew there was anybody around to hear. Big Brother’s mouth became very sore, and his stomach became very empty, but still he kept at work. He was afraid somebody would come for the trap and the Mink in it, before he finished.
“Now try it,” he said, after he had gnawed for quite a while. The Bachelor backed out as far as he could, but his body stuck in the hole. “You are rumpling your beautiful fur,” cried the young Mink.
“Never mind the fur,” answered the Bachelor. “I can smooth that down afterward. You will have to gnaw a little on this side.” And he raised one of his hind feet to show where he meant. It was a beautiful hindfoot, thickly padded, and with short partly webbed toes, and no hair at all growing between them. The claws were short, sharp, and curved.
Big Brother gnawed away. “Now try it,” he said. The Bachelor backed carefully out through the opening and stood there, looking tired and hungry and very much rumpled.
“You are a fine young Mink,” he said. “We will get something to eat, and then we will see about making you lucky.”
They went to the river bank and had a good dinner. The Bachelor ate more than Big Brother, for his mouth was not sore. But Big Brother was very happy. He thought how handsome he would look with a white-tipped tail, and how, after he had that, he could surely marry whoever he wished. It was the custom among his people to want to marry the best looking and strongest. Indeed it is so among all the pond people, and that is one reason why they care so much about being strong. It is very hard for a young Mink to have the one he loves choose somebody else, just because the other fellow has the bushiest tail, or the longest fur, or the thickest pads on his feet.
“Now,” said the Bachelor, “we will talk about luck. We will go to a place where nobody can hear what we say.” They found such a place and lay down. The Bachelor rolled over three times and smoothed his fur; he was still so tired from being in the trap. Then he looked at the young Mink very sharply. “So you want my tail?” he said.
“You said you would give me your luck,” answered Big Brother, “and everybody knows that your luck is in your tail.”
The Bachelor smiled. “What will you do with the tail you have?” he said.
“I don’t know,” answered Big Brother.
“You wouldn’t want to wear two?” asked the Bachelor.
“Oh, no,” answered Big Brother. “How that would look!”
“Well, how will you put my tail in place of yours?” asked the Bachelor.
“I don’t know,” answered the young Mink, “but you are so wise that I thought you might know some way.” He began to feel discouraged, and to think that the Bachelor’s offer didn’t mean very much after all.
“Don’t you think?” said the Bachelor slowly, “don’t you think that, if you could have my luck, you could get along pretty well with your own tail?”
“Why, yes,” said the young Mink, who had begun to fear he was not going to get anything. “Yes, but how could that be?”
The Bachelor smiled again. “I always tell people,” he said, “that my luck is not in my tail, and they never believe it. I will tell you the secret of my luck, and you can have luck like it, if you really care enough.” He looked all around to make sure that nobody was near, and he listened very carefully with the two little round ears that were almost hidden in his head-fur. Then he whispered to Big Brother, “This is the secret: always do everything a little better than anybody else can.”
“Is that all?” asked the young Mink.
“That is enough,” answered the Bachelor. “Keep trying and trying and trying, until you can dive deeper, stay underwater longer, run faster, and smell farther than other Minks. Then you will have good luck when theirs might not be so lucky. You will have plenty to eat. You can win every fight. You can have sleek, shining fur. Luck is not a matter of white-tipped tails.”
The more the young Mink thought about it, the happier he became. “I don’t see that I am to have your luck after all,” he said. “When I have learned to do everything in the very best way, it will be luck of my own.”
“Of course,” answered the Bachelor. “Then it is a kind of luck that cannot be lost. If I carried mine in the tip of my tail, somebody might bite it off and leave me unlucky.”
Big Brother kept the secret, and worked until he had learned to be as lucky as the Bachelor. Then he married the person he wanted, and she was very beautiful and strong. It is said that one of their sons has a white-tipped tail, but that may not be so.