It was not very many nights after Big Brother had tumbled from the maple-tree, when he and the other children were invited to a Raccoon party down by the pond. The water was low, and in the small pools by the shore there were many fresh-water clams and small fishes, such as Raccoons like best of all.
A family of six young Raccoons who lived very near the pond had found them just before sunrise, when they had to climb off to bed. They knew there was much more food there than they could eat alone, so their mother had let them invite their four friends who lived in the hollow of the oak-tree.
The party was to begin the next evening at moonrise, and the four children who lived in the oak-tree got their invitation just as they were going to sleep for the day. They were very much excited over it, for they had never been to a party.
“I wish we could go now,” said Big Brother.
“Yes, lots of fun it would be now!” answered Little Brother. “The sun is almost up, and there are no clouds in the sky. We couldn’t see a thing unless we shaded our eyes with our fore paws, and if we had to use our fore paws in that way we couldn’t eat.”
“You do eat at parties, don’t you?” asked Little Sister, who had not quite understood what was said.
“Of course,” shouted her brothers. “That is what parties are for.”
“I thought maybe you talked some,” said Big Sister.
“I suppose you do have to, some,” said Big Brother, “but I know you eat. I’ve heard people tell about parties lots of times, and they always begin by telling what they ate. That’s what makes it a party.”
“Oh, I wish it were nighttime and time to go,” sighed Little Brother.
“I don’t,” said Little Sister. “I wouldn’t have any fun if I were to go now. I’d rather wait until my stomach is empty.”
“There!” said their mother. “You children have talked long enough. Now curl down and go to sleep. The birds are already singing their morning songs, and the Owls and Bats were dreaming long ago. It will make night-time come much sooner if you do not stay awake.”
“We’re not a bit sleepy,” cried all the young Raccoons together.
“That makes no difference at all,” said their mother, and she spoke quite sternly. “Cuddle down for the day now, cover your eyes, and stop talking. I’m not saying you must sleep, but you must stop talking.”
They knew that when she spoke in that way and said “must,” there was nothing to do but to listen. So they cuddled down, and every one of them was asleep before you could drop an acorn. Mother Raccoon had known it would be so.
When they awakened, early the next night, each young Raccoon had to make himself look as neat as possible. There was long fur to be combed, faces and paws to be washed, and twenty-three burrs to be taken out of Little Brother’s tail. He began to take them out himself, but his mother found that whenever he got one loose he stuck it onto one of the other children, so she made him sit on a branch by himself while she worked at the burrs. Sometimes she couldn’t help pulling the fur, and then he tried to wriggle away.
“You’ve got enough out,” he cried. “Let the rest go.”
“You should have thought sooner how it would hurt,” she said. “You have been told again and again to keep away from the burrs.” Then she took out another burr and dropped it to the ground.
“Ooh!” he said. “Let me go!”
“Not until I am done,” she answered. “No child of mine shall ever go to a party looking as you do.”
After that Little Brother tried to hold still, and he had time to think how glad he was that he didn’t have any more burrs than he did. If he had gotten more onto himself, he would have had to wait while they were pulled off again, and then they might have been late for the party. If he had been very good, he would have been glad they didn’t have to be hurt as he was. But he was not very good, and he never thought of that.
When he was ready at last, Mother Raccoon made her four children sit in a row while she talked to them. “Remember to walk on your toes,” said she, “although you may stand flat-footed if you wish. Don’t act greedy if you can help it. Go into the water as much as you choose, but don’t try to dive, even if they dare you to. Raccoons can never learn to dive, no matter how well they swim. And be sure to wash your food before you eat it.”
All the young Raccoons said “Yes, Mom,” and thought they would remember every word. The first moonbeam shone on the top of the oak-tree, and Mrs. Raccoon said: “Now you may go. Be good children and remember what I told you. Don’t stay too long. Start home when you see the first light in the east.”
“Yes, Mom,” said the young Raccoons, as they walked off very properly toward the pond. After they were well away from the oak-tree, they heard their mother calling to them: “Remember to walk on your toes!”
Raccoons cannot go very fast, and the moon was shining brightly when they reached the pond and met their six friends. Such frolics as they had in the shallow water, swimming, twisting, turning, scooping up food with their busy fore paws, going up and down the beach, and rolling on the sand! They never once remembered what their mother had told them, and they acted exactly as they had been in the habit of doing every day.
Big Brother looked admiringly at his own tail every chance he got, although he had been told particularly not to act as if he thought himself fine-looking. Little Brother rolled into a lot of sand-burrs and got his fur so matted that he looked worse than ever. Big Sister snatched food from other Raccoons, and no one of them remembered about walking on tiptoe. Little Sister ate half the time without washing her food. Of course that didn’t matter when the food was taken from the pond, but when they found some on the beach and ate it without washing—that was dreadful. No Raccoon who is anybody at all will do that.
The mother of the family of six looked on from a tree nearby. The children did not know that she was there. “What manners!” said she. “I don’t think I will invite them here again.” Just then she saw one of her own sons eat without washing his food, and she groaned out loud. “My children are forgetting too,” she said. “I have told him hundreds of times that if he did that way every day he would do so at a party, but he has always said he would remember.”
The mother of the four young Raccoons was out hunting and found herself near the pond. “How noisy those children are!” she said to herself. “Night people should be quiet.” She tiptoed along to a pile of rocks and peeped between them to see what was going on. She saw her children’s footprints on the sand. “Aha!” she said. “So they did walk flat-footed after all.”
She heard somebody scrambling down a tree nearby. “Good-evening,” said a pleasant Raccoon voice near her. It was the mother of six. “Are you watching the children’s party?” asked the newcomer. “I hope you did not notice how badly my son is behaving. I have tried to teach my children good manners, but they will be careless when I am not looking, and then, of course, they forget in company.”
That made the mother of the four feel more comfortable. “I know just how that is,” she said. “Mine mean to be good, but they are so careless. It is very discouraging.”
The two mothers talked for a long time in whispers and then each went to her hole.
When the four young Raccoons came home, it was beginning to grow light, and they kept close together because they were somewhat afraid. Their mother was waiting to see them settled for the day. She asked if they had had a good time, and said she was glad they got home promptly. They had been afraid she would ask if they had washed their food and walked on their toes. She even seemed not to notice Little Brother’s matted coat.
When they awakened the next night, the mother hurried them off with her to the same pond where they had been to the party. “I am going to visit with the mother of your friends,” she said, “and you may play around and amuse yourselves.”
The young Raccoons had another fine time, although Little Brother found it very uncomfortable to wear so many burrs. They played tag in the trees, and ate, and swam, and lay on the beach. While they were lying there, the four from the oak-tree noticed that their mother was walking flat-footed. There was bright moonlight and anybody might see her. They felt dreadful about it. Then they saw her begin to eat food which she had not washed. They were so ashamed that they didn’t want to look their friends in the eye. They didn’t know their friends were feeling in the same way because they had seen their mother doing the same things.
After they reached home, Big Brother said, very timidly, to his mother: “Did you know you ate some food without washing it?”
“Oh, yes,” she answered; “it is a bother to dip it all in water.”
“And you walked flat-footed,” said Little Brother.
“Well, why shouldn’t I, if I want to?” said she.
The children began to cry: “P-people will think you don’t know any b-better,” they said.
“Oh!” said their mother. “Oh! Oh! So you think that my manners are not so good as yours! Is that it?”
The young Raccoons looked at each other in a very uncomfortable way. “Ah, We suppose we don’t always do things right ourselves,” they answered, “but you are grown up.”
“Yes,” replied their mother. “And you will be one day soon.”
For a long time nobody spoke, and Little Sister cried quietly. Then Mrs. Raccoon spoke more gently: “The sun is rising,” she said. “We will go to sleep now, and when we awaken to-morrow night we will try to have better manners, so that we need not be ashamed of each other at parties or at home.”
Long after the rest were dreaming, Big Sister nudged Big Brother and woke him. “I understand it now,” she said. “She did it on purpose.”
“Who did what?” he asked.
“Why, our mother. She was rude on purpose to let us see how it looked.”
Big Brother thought for a minute. “Of course,” he said. “Of course she did! Well she won’t ever have to do it again for me.”
“Nor for me,” said Big Sister. Then they went to sleep.