Written by Thornton W. Burgess
It was one of Striped Chipmunk’s busy days. Every day is a busy day with Striped Chipmunk at this season of the year, for the sweet acorns are ripe and the hickory nuts rattle down whenever Old Mother West Wind shakes the trees, while every night Jack Frost opens chestnut burrs just to see the squirrels scamper for the plump brown nuts the next morning.
So Striped Chipmunk was very busy, very busy indeed! He whisked in and out of the old stone wall along one edge of the Green Meadows. Back and forth, back and forth, sometimes to the old hickory tree, sometimes to the hollow chestnut tree, sometimes to the great oak on the edge of the Green Forest Striped Chipmunk scampered.
Old Mother West Wind, coming down from the Purple Hills very early in the morning, had found Striped Chipmunk up before her and hard at work. Later, when jolly, round, red Mr. Sun had climbed up into the sky, the Merry Little Breezes had spied Striped Chipmunk whisking along the old stone wall and had raced over to play with him, for the Merry Little Breezes are very fond of Striped Chipmunk. They got there just in time to see him disappear under a great stone in the old wall. In a minute he was out again and off as fast as he could go to the old hickory tree.
“Oh, Striped Chipmunk, come play with us,” shouted the Merry Little Breezes, running after him.
But Striped Chipmunk just flirted his funny little tail and winked with both his bright eyes at them.
“Busy! busy! busy!” said Striped Chipmunk, hurrying along as fast as his short legs could take him.
The Merry Little Breezes laughed, and one of them, dancing ahead, pulled the funny little tail of Striped Chipmunk.
“It’s a beautiful day; do come and play with us,” cried the Merry Little Breeze.
But Striped Chipmunk flirted his tail once over his back.
“Busy! busy! busy!” he shouted over his shoulder and ran faster than ever.
In a few minutes he was back again, but such a strange-looking fellow he was! His head was twice as big as it had been before and you would hardly have known that it was Striped Chipmunk but for the saucy way he twitched his funny little tail and the spry way he scampered along the old stone wall.
“Oh, Striped Chipmunk’s got the mumps!” shouted the Merry Little Breezes.
But Striped Chipmunk said never a word. He couldn’t. He ran faster than ever until he disappeared under the big stone. When he popped his head out again he was just his usual saucy little self.
“Say, Striped Chipmunk,” cried the Merry Little Breezes, rushing over to him, “tell us how you happen to have pockets in your cheeks.”
But Striped Chipmunk just snapped his bright eyes at them and said “Busy! busy! busy!” as he scuttled over to the hollow chestnut tree.
The Merry Little Breezes saw that it was no use at all to try to tempt Striped Chipmunk to play with them or to answer questions.
“I tell you what,” cried one, “let’s go ask Great-Grandfather Frog how Striped Chipmunk happens to have pockets in his cheeks. He’ll know.”
So away they started, after they had raced over to the big hollow chestnut tree and sent a shower of brown nuts rattling down to Striped Chipmunk from the burrs that Jack Frost had opened the night before.
“Good-bye, Striped Chipmunk,” they shouted as they romped across the Green Meadows. And Striped Chipmunk stopped long enough to shout “Good-bye” before he filled his pockets with the brown nuts.
Old Grandfather Frog sat on his big green lily pad blinking in the sun. It was very still, very, very still indeed. Suddenly out of the brown bulrushes burst the Merry Little Breezes and surrounded old Grandfather Frog. And every one of them had brought to him a fat, foolish, green fly.
Grandfather’s big goggly eyes sparkled and he gave a funny little hop up into the air as he caught each foolish green fly. When the last one was safely inside his white and yellow waistcoat he settled himself comfortably on the big green lily pad and folded his hands over the foolish green flies.
“Ribbit!” said Grandfather Frog. “What is it you want this morning?”
“Oh, Grandfather Frog,” cried the Merry Little Breezes, “tell us how it happens that Striped Chipmunk has pockets in his cheeks. Do tell us, Grandfather Frog. Please do!”
“Ribbit,” said Grandfather Frog. “How should I know?”
“But you do know, Grandfather Frog, you know you do. Please tell us!” cried the Merry Little Breezes as they settled themselves among the rushes.
And presently Grandfather Frog began:
“Once upon a time—a long, long while ago—”
“When the world was young?” asked a mischievous little Breeze.
Grandfather Frog pretended to be very much put out by the interruption, and tried to look very severe. But the Merry Little Breezes were all giggling, so that presently he had to smile too.
“Yes,” said he, “it was when the world was young, before old King Bear became king. Mr. Chipmunk, Striped Chipmunk’s great-great-great-grandfather a thousand times removed, was the smallest of the squirrels, just as Striped Chipmunk is now. But he didn’t mind that, not the least little bit. Mr. Gray Squirrel was four times as big and had a handsome tail, Mr. Fox Squirrel was four times as big and he also had a handsome tail, Mr. Red Squirrel was twice as big and he thought his tail was very good to see. But Mr. Chipmunk didn’t envy his big cousins’ their fine tails; not he! You see he had himself a beautiful striped coat of which he was very proud and which he thought much more to be desired than a big tail.
“So Mr. Chipmunk went his way happy and contented and he was such a merry little fellow and so full of fun and cut such funny capers that everybody loved Mr. Chipmunk.
“One day, when the nights were cool and all the trees had put on their brilliant colors, old Mother Nature sent word down across the Green Meadows that every squirrel should gather for her and store away until she came a thousand nuts. Now the squirrels had grown fat and lazy through the long summer, all but Mr. Chipmunk, who frisked about so much that he had no chance to grow fat.
“Mr. Gray Squirrel grumbled. Mr. Fox Squirrel grumbled. Mr. Red Squirrel grumbled. But they didn’t dare disobey old Mother Nature, so they all set out, each to gather a thousand nuts. And Mr. Chipmunk alone was pleasant and cheerful.
“When they reached the nut trees, what do you suppose they discovered? Why, that they had been so greedy that they had eaten most of the nuts and it was going to be hard work to find and store a thousand nuts for old Mother Nature. Then they began to hurry, did Mr. Gray Squirrel and Mr. Fox Squirrel and Mr. Red Squirrel, each trying to make sure of his thousand nuts. They quarreled and they fought over the nuts on the ground and even up in the trees. And because they were so big and so strong, they pushed Mr. Chipmunk this way and they pushed him that way and often just as he was going to pick up a fat nut one of them would knock him over and make off with the prize.
“Poor Mr. Chipmunk kept his temper and was as polite as ever, but how did he work! His cousins are great climbers and could get the nuts still left on the trees, but Mr. Chipmunk is a poor climber, so he had to be content with those on the ground. Of course he could carry only one nut at a time and his legs were so short that he had to run as fast as ever he could to store each nut in his secret store-house and get back for another. And while the others quarreled and fought, he hurried back and forth, back and forth, from early morning until jolly, round, red Mr. Sun pulled his night cap on behind the Purple Hills, hunting for nuts and putting them away in his secret store-house.
“But the nuts grew scarcer and scarcer on the ground and harder to find, for the other squirrels were picking them up too, and then they did not have so far to carry them.
“Sometimes one of his cousins up in the trees would drop a nut, but Mr. Chipmunk never would take it, not even when he was working hard to find any, ‘for,’ said he to himself, ‘if my cousin drops a nut, it is his nut just the same.’
“Finally Mr. Gray Squirrel announced that he had got his thousand nuts. Then Mr. Fox Squirrel announced that he had got his thousand nuts. The next day Mr. Red Squirrel stopped hunting because he had his thousand nuts.
“But Mr. Chipmunk had hardly more than half as many. And that night he made a dreadful discovery—someone had found his secret store-house and had stolen some of his precious nuts.
“‘It’s of no use to cry over what can’t be helped,’ said Mr. Chipmunk, and the next morning he bravely started out again. He had worked so hard that he had grown thinner and thinner until now he was only a shadow of his old self. But he was as cheerful as ever and kept right on hunting and hunting for stray nuts. Mr. Gray Squirrel and Mr. Fox Squirrel and Mr. Red Squirrel sat around and rested and made fun of him. Way up in the tops of the tallest trees a few nuts still clung, but his cousins did not once offer to go up and shake them down for Mr. Chipmunk.
“And then old Mother Nature came down across the Green Meadows. First Mr. Gray Squirrel took her to his storehouse and she counted his thousand nuts. Then Mr. Fox Squirrel led her to his storehouse and she counted his thousand nuts. Then Mr. Red Squirrel showed her his store-house and she counted his thousand nuts.
“Last of all Mr. Chipmunk led her to his secret store-house and showed her the pile of nuts he had worked so hard to get. Old Mother Nature didn’t need to count them to see that there were not a thousand there.
“‘I’ve done the best I could,’ said Mr. Chipmunk bravely, and he trembled all over, he was so tired.
“Old Mother Nature said never a word but went out on the Green Meadows and sent the Merry Little Breezes to call together all the meadow people and all the forest folks. When they had all gathered before her she suddenly turned to Mr. Gray Squirrel.
“‘Go bring me a hundred nuts from your store-house,’ said she.
“Then she turned to Mr. Fox Squirrel.
“‘Go bring me a hundred nuts from your store-house,’ said she.
“Last of all she called Mr. Red Squirrel out where all could see him. Mr. Red Squirrel crept out very slowly. His teeth chattered and his tail, of which he was so proud, dragged on the ground, for you see Mr. Red Squirrel had something on his mind.
“Then old Mother Nature told how she had ordered each squirrel to get and store for her a thousand nuts. She told just how selfish Mr. Gray Squirrel and Mr. Fox Squirrel had been. She told just how hard Mr. Chipmunk had worked and then she told how part of his precious store had been stolen.
“‘And there,’ said old Mother Nature in a loud voice so that everyone should hear, ‘there is the thief!’
“Then she commanded Mr. Red Squirrel to go to his store-house and bring her half of the biggest and best nuts he had there!
“Mr. Red Squirrel sneaked off with his head hanging, and he began to bring the nuts. And as he tramped back and forth, back and forth, all the meadow people and all the forest folks pointed their fingers at him and cried ‘Thief! Thief! Thief!’
“When all the nuts had been brought to her by Mr. Gray Squirrel and Mr. Fox Squirrel and Mr. Red Squirrel, old Mother Nature gathered them up and put them in the secret store-house of Mr. Chipmunk. Then she set Mr. Chipmunk up on an old stump where all could see him and she said:
“‘Mr. Chipmunk, because you have been faithful, because you have been cheerful, because you have done your best, henceforth you shall have two pockets, one in each cheek, so that you can carry two nuts at once, that you may not have to work so hard the next time I tell you to store a thousand nuts.’
“And all the meadow people and all the forest folks shouted ‘Hurrah for Mr. Chipmunk!’ All but his cousins, Mr. Gray Squirrel and Mr. Fox Squirrel and Mr. Red Squirrel, who hid themselves for shame.
“And ever since that time long ago, when the world was young, the Chipmunks have had pockets in their cheeks.
“You can’t fool old Mother Nature,” concluded Great-Grandfather Frog. “No, Sir, you can’t fool old Mother Nature and it’s no use to try.”
“Thank you, thank you,” cried the Merry Little Breezes, clapping their hands. Then they all raced across the Green Meadows to shake down some more nuts for Striped Chipmunk.