Chapter XIV: A Footprint in the Mud.
 

Very early one morning Paddy the Beaver heard Sammy Jay making a terrible fuss over in the aspen trees on the edge of the pond Paddy had made in the Green Forest. Paddy couldn't see because he was inside his house, and it has no window, but he could hear. He wrinkled up his brows thoughtfully.

"Seems to me that Sammy is very much excited this morning," said he, a way he has because he is so much alone. "When he screams like that, Sammy is usually trying to do two things at once--make trouble for somebody and keep somebody else out of trouble; and when you come to think of it, that's rather a funny way of doing. It shows that he isn't all bad, and at the same time he is a long way from being all good. Now, I should say from the sounds that Sammy has discovered Reddy Fox trying to steal up on someone over where my aspen trees are growing. Reddy is afraid of me, but I suspect that he knows that Peter Rabbit has been hanging around here a lot lately, watching me work, and he thinks perhaps he can watch Peter. I shall have to whisper in one of Peter's long ears and tell him to watch out."

After a while he heard Sammy Jay's voice growing fainter and fainter in the Green Forest. Finally he couldn't hear it at all. "Whoever was here has gone away, and Sammy has followed just to torment them," thought Paddy. He was very busy making a bed. He is very particular about his bed, is Paddy the Beaver. He makes it of fine splinters of wood which he splits off with those wonderful great cutting teeth of his. This makes the driest kind of a bed. It requires a great deal of patience and work, but patience is one of the first things a little Beaver learns, and honest work well done is one of the greatest pleasures in the world, as Paddy long ago found out for himself. So he kept at work on his bed for some time after all was still outside.

At last Paddy decided that he would go over to his aspen trees and look them over to decide which ones he would cut the next night. He slid down one of his long halls, out the doorway at the bottom on the pond, and then swam up to the surface, where he floated for a few minutes with just his head out of water. And all the time his eyes and nose and ears were busy looking, smelling, and listening for any sign of danger. Everything was still. Sure that he was quite safe, Paddy swam across to the place where the aspen trees grew, and waddled out on the shore.

Paddy looked this way and looked that way. He looked up in the treetops, and he looked off up the hill, but most of all he looked at the ground. Yes, Sir, Paddy just studied the ground. You see, he hadn't forgotten the fuss Sammy Jay had been making there, and he was trying to find out what it was all about. At first he didn't see anything unusual, but by and by he happened to notice a little wet place, and right in the middle of it was something that made Paddy's eyes open wide. It was a footprint! Someone had carelessly stepped in the mud.

"Ha!" exclaimed Paddy, and the hair on his back lifted ever so little, and for a minute he had a prickly feeling all over. The footprint was very much like that of Reddy Fox, only it was larger.

"Ha!" said Paddy again. "That certainly is the foot print of Old Man Coyote! I see I have got to watch out more sharply than I had thought for. All right, Mr. Coyote; now that I know you are about, you'll have to be smarter than I think you are to catch me. You certainly will be back here tonight looking for me, so I think I'll do my cutting right now in the daytime."