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Persimmon Jim: The Possum

Chapter 12
by Joseph Wharton Lippincott, 1924

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Persimmon Jim: The Possum  Intro    |    Preface    |    Ch. 1    |    Ch. 2    |    Ch. 3    |    Ch. 4    |    Ch. 5    |    Ch. 6    |    Ch. 7    |
                                              Ch. 8    |   
Ch. 9    |    Ch. 10    |    Ch. 11    |    Ch. 12    |    Ch. 13    |    Ch. 14    |    Ch. 15  |

Chapter 12: The Chicken Thief

NOVEMBER came with biting winds and sleet storms. Jim, having learned a lesson he would never forget, returned to his old-time, careful way of living. While rabbit hunters and their dogs scoured the fields by day and Ed Johnson spent moonlight nights in tramping the woods with Banjo, Jim stuck to Ben Slown's haymow or to the safe den under Sam Collins's pigsty where he was near a food supply and would not be likely to be discovered.

He had lost touch with· the young one, who preferred to stay in the hickory stump; and after that night escape from the persimmon tree he had not again seen the the stranger from the other side of the Valley. His old rival too was gone, where, only Ed Johnson could tell. This was the time when the wild creatures were being thinned out all over the land.

Jim lay low and went out little. The dogs could not find him in daytime; he felt safe. And safe he was as long as he continued to feed on scraps left by the pigs; but this food supply was suddenly cut off by a swarm of rats which came in from the fields when the ground froze. The rats fed whenever they pleased and cleaned up everything before Jim dared come out.  Nor could he catch or punish them; they lived in small holes and always had some avenue of escape.

It was then that hunger drew him irresistibly to Sam Collins's hen-house where rows of silly, fat hens sat on perches just
above the ground. Two nights Jim looked at them and turned away; but on the third night hunger made him a little more reckless and he went about under the roost snuffing and longing for a feast. Some of the sleepy hens saw him when he passed the window and made warning sounds in their throats which aroused the others. Heads came from under wings and all watched.

Jim heard the rustling and moved away cautiously but happened to cross a streak of moonlight under a foolish pullet. Up she flew with an hysterical squawk and hitting the window flopped down on the floor.  Loosing her head, she then dashed about under the roosts, almost knocking Jim over with one collision and ending up by stopping just in front of him. This was too much for any 'possum. Jim caught her in a flash and dragged her outside. In the morning Sam Collins found the remains and knew that once again Persimmon Jim was on the rampage.

Sam then had a talk with Ed Johnson who told him about the rats in the pigsty.  It was decided to set traps in the hen-house for the 'possum and also in the sty for the rats. This was not good strategy, for two rats which were caught by their legs were promptly killed and eaten by Jim who thereupon had no reason to go out hunting.  The same thing happened several times, and every time Ed thought that Gray Cat or other rats had eaten his captures. Jim of course avoided the poorly concealed traps himself and got along very well. 

The rats, however, soon became wise and avoided the traps; therefore Sam Collins lost another pullet. Three days later he lost a third, and that night all the chickens were in an uproar. Then he and Ed fixed up a patent trap-door on the house which the 'possum would let fall behind him when he entered. They felt very hopeful about this device; but when Jim two nights later sprang the trap and was locked in, he thrust one of his inch long tusks into the edge of the door and tore it to pieces. Then, choosing the nearest hen he carried her out and feasted under the corn-crib.

However, he knew enough to move away that night and make a bed in Ben Slown's haymow. Here he encountered cold weather and snow, so slept for several days without so much as moving a foot. He was fat enough to do this. Ben only lost one hen, but that was like wormwood to the farmer and he too consulted Ed Johnson.

Ed had a pretty clear idea about the 'possum hiding some place in Ben's farm buildings, and he set to work to find out where. More by luck than anything else he visited the haymow and caught sight of the hole in the hay through which Jim went in and out of his bed. Ed's heart began to thump a little harder as he approached, well knowing that at last he had found the old one's den. There seemed no way of escape; in another moment the 'possum would be his.

Ed moved the hay with his foot; he saw nothing. He moved some more and dexterously laid bare the whole bed-Persimmon Jim was not there. Once more he had sensed danger in advance and moved away in time. He was now in the hollow oak near Goose Creek in a wonderful bed of grass and leaves which he had just carried in to keep him warm during the long sleep ahead. Traps could be planted all over the farms without luring him now. He had his winter fat and, according to the law of nature, he was going to live on it.

The snow came in a heavy blanket soon after Christmas. Ice inches thick covered the smoother portions of the Creek and thrust its roots deep into the swamps wherever the snow and the spagnum moss were not thick enough to repel it. The trees had a cheerless look, even the evergreens being shabby and frost pinched. Gray Squirrel and Red Squirrel found their hidden nut stores very important to them in these days and soon had made tracks from tree to tree all over the woods. All the grass being covered, Bun went about at night cutting off tender twigs and gnawing the buds and the bark. The short-tailed meadow mice and the shrews were busy with tunnels under the snow. Brown Weasel and Mink ran up and down Goose Creek searching the banks for food, and Muskrat swam under the ice to the sunken willow limbs, or made short trips to the wild flag and calamus beds. All of them were fully clothed in long winter fur; all of them had warm winter beds. Gray Fox too and Screech Owl were abroad as usual, and Gray Cat roamed the fields in search of juncos and the other winter birds.

Only the fat ones slept-Coon and Striped Coat and Persimmon Jim, and Woodchuck down in his burrow well below the frost line. They too had warm beds, and they had earned their rest by working all the harder when food was plentiful.
Let the icy wind whistle all it chooses, let the snow gather and pack, or whirl away to form beautiful drifts; what need for them to care!

...continue to Chapter 13: The Last 'Possum