Mother West Wind 'Why' Stories by Thornton W. Burgess
I. Why Striped Chipmunk is Proud of His Stripes
The Merry Little Breezes of Old Mother West Wind are great friends of Striped Chipmunk. They hurry to call on him the very first thing every morning after Old Mother West Wind has brought them down from the Purple Hills. They always beg him to stop and play with them, but often he refuses. But he does it in such a merry way and with such a twinkle in his eyes that the Merry Little Breezes never get cross because he won't play. No, Sir, they never get cross. If anything, they think just a little bit more of Striped Chipmunk because he won't play. You see, they know that the reason he won't play is because he has work to do, and Striped Chipmunk believes and says:
"When there is work for me to do The sooner started, sooner through."
So every morning they ask him to play, and every morning they laugh when he says he has too much to do. Then they rumple up his hair and pull his whiskers and give him last tag and race down to the Smiling Pool to see Grandfather Frog and beg him for a story. Now Grandfather Frog is very old and very wise, and he knows all about the days when the world was young. When he is feeling just right, he dearly loves to tell about those long-ago days.
One morning the Merry Little Breezes found Grandfather Frog sitting as usual on his big green lily-pad, and they knew by the way he folded his hands across his white and yellow waistcoat that it was full of foolish green flies.
"Oh, Grandfather Frog, please do tell us why it is that Striped Chipmunk has such beautiful stripes on his coat," begged one of the Merry Little Breezes.
"Chug-a-rum! They are stripes of honor," replied Grandfather Frog, in his deep, gruff voice.
"Honor! Oh, how lovely! Do tell us about it! Please do!" begged the Merry Little Breezes.
"Chug-a-rum!" began Grandfather Frog, his big, goggly eyes twinkling. "Once upon a time, when the world was young, old Mr. Chipmunk, the grandfather a thousand times removed of Striped Chipmunk, lived very much as Striped Chipmunk does now. He was always very busy, very busy, indeed, and it was always about his own affairs. 'By attending strictly to my own business, I have no time to meddle with the affairs of my neighbors, and so I keep out of trouble,' said old Mr. Chipmunk,"
"Just what Striped Chipmunk says now," broke in one of the Merry Little Breezes.
"That shows that he is just as wise as was his grandfather a thousand times removed, about whom I am telling you," replied Grandfather Frog. "Old Mr. Chipmunk wore just a little, plain brown coat. It didn't worry him a bit, not a bit, that his coat was just plain brown. It kept him just as warm as if it were a beautiful red, like that of Mr. Fox, or handsome black and white, like that of Mr. Skunk. He was perfectly satisfied with his little plain brown coat and took the best of care of it.
"One day as he was hurrying home to dinner, he climbed up on an old stump to look around and make sure that the way was clear. Over in a little path in the meadow grass was walking old Mr. Meadow Mouse. He was strolling along as if there was nothing in the world to fear. Way back behind him in the same little path, walking very fast but very quietly, was big Mr. Bob Cat. His eyes were yellow, and a hungry look was in them. He didn't see Mr. Meadow Mouse, but he would in a few minutes. Mr. Chipmunk saw that he would, and that there was no place for Mr. Meadow Mouse to hide.
"'Humph! I never meddle in other people's affairs, and this is none of my business,' said little Mr. Chipmunk.
"But old Mr. Meadow Mouse was a friend. He thought a great deal of Mr. Meadow Mouse, did little Mr. Chipmunk. He couldn't bear to think of what would happen to Mr. Meadow Mouse if big Mr. Bob Cat should catch him. Then, almost without realizing what he was doing, little Mr. Chipmunk began to shout at big Mr. Bob Cat and to call him names. Of course big Mr. Bob Cat looked up right away and saw little Mr. Chipmunk sitting on the old stump. His eyes grew yellower and yellower, he drew his lips back from his long, sharp teeth in a very angry way, and his little bob tail twitched and twitched. Then, with great leaps, he came straight for the old stump on which little Mr. Chipmunk was sitting.
"Little Mr. Chipmunk didn't wait for him to get there. Oh, my, no! He took one good look at those fierce, hungry, yellow eyes and long, cruel teeth, and then he whisked into a hole in the old stump. You see, there wasn't time to go anywhere else. Big Mr. Bob Cat found the hole in the stump right away. He snarled when he saw it. You see it was too small, very much too small, for him to get into himself. But he could get one hand and arm in, and he did, feeling all around inside for little Mr. Chipmunk. Little Mr. Chipmunk was frightened almost to death. Yes, Sir, he was frightened almost to death. He made himself just as flat as he could on the bottom of the hollow and held his breath.
"'You'd better come out of there, Mr. Chipmunk, or I'll pull you out!' snarled Mr. Bob Cat.
"Little Mr. Chipmunk just snuggled down flatter than ever and didn't say a word. Mr. Bob Cat felt round and round inside the hollow stump and raked his long claws on the sides until little Mr. Chipmunk's hair fairly stood up. Yes, Sir, it stood right up on end, he was so scared. When it did that, it tickled the claws of Mr. Bob Cat. Mr. Bob Cat grinned. It was an ugly grin to see. Then he reached in a little farther and made a grab for little Mr. Chipmunk. His wide-spread, sharp claws caught in little Mr. Chipmunk's coat near the neck and tore little strips the whole length of it.
"Of course little Mr. Chipmunk squealed with pain, for those claws hurt dreadfully, but he was glad that his coat tore. If it hadn't, Mr. Bob Cat would surely have pulled him out. After a long time, Mr. Bob Cat gave up and went off, growling and snarling. When he thought it was safe, little Mr. Chipmunk crawled out of the old stump and hurried home. He ached and smarted terribly, and his little plain brown coat was torn in long strips.
"'This is what I get for meddling in the affairs of other folks!' said little Mr. Chipmunk bitterly. 'If I'd just minded my own business, it wouldn't have happened.'
"Just then he happened to look over to the house of Mr. Meadow Mouse. There was Mr. Meadow Mouse playing with his children. He didn't know a thing about what his neighbor, little Mr. Chipmunk, had done for him, for you remember he hadn't seen Mr. Bob Cat at all. Little Mr. Chipmunk grinned as well as he could for the pain.
"'I'm glad I did it,' he muttered. 'Yes, Sir, I'm glad I did it, and I'm glad that Neighbor Meadow Mouse doesn't know about it. I'm glad that nobody knows about it.
'A kindly deed's most kindly done In secret wrought, and seen of none.
And so I'm glad that no one knows.'
"Now just imagine how surprised little Mr. Chipmunk was, when in the fall it came time to put on a new coat, to have Old Mother Nature hand him out a beautiful striped coat instead of the little plain brown coat he had expected. Old Mother Nature's eyes twinkled as she said:
"'There's a stripe for every tear made in your old coat by the claws of Mr. Bob Cat the day you saved Mr. Meadow Mouse. They are honor stripes, and hereafter you and your children and your children's children shall always wear stripes.'
"And that is how it happens that Striped Chipmunk comes by his striped coat, and why he is so proud of it, and takes such good care of it," concluded Grandfather Frog.