Picture of single persimmon on a branch - backlit

Persimmon Jim: The Possum

Chapter 15
by Joseph Wharton Lippincott, 1924


Picture of branch with persimmons
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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 15: Ed's Conscience

Without the aid of the little woods creatures it is doubtful whether many pet ghosts could be made to haunt buildings and lonely places. In old country houses there is often, late at night, the sound of muffled footsteps, perhaps a strange knocking or thumping, a whispering or a rustling. Yes, the ghost performs at a certain hour almost as regularly as clockwork. But if it could really be seen, this spook would be found to have four legs, two very large brown eyes, the softest of fur and a body no larger than a handful of cotton.  Little Flying Squirrel makes a warm nest for herself somewhere in the spaces between the walls or just above a ceiling. After dark she slips out of some crack or hole under the eaves and sails to a neighboring tree for her nightly ramble and hunt for food. Towards morning back she comes, either by sailing from a high tree to the roof, or by climbing a vine on the outside of the house. This time she may romp a bit in the old walls, or perhaps she has a family of little ones in the nest who greet her joyously. Backwards and forwards, up and down they play, the sounds muffled and changed by wood and mortar. Yes, the ghost is "walking," but it is a very pretty ghost.

And meanwhile out in the misty meadows, along the edges of the wood, around the garden paths and over the house itself flies big Barn Owl. His wings look white, his motions are slow, there is no sound as, intent on finding the feeding mice, he skims dose to the earth and circles the most likely places. Suddenly he alights on the garden gate; a weird face is turned towards the house and a harsh scream breaks the stillness. He is answered by his mate across the valley. Silently he leaves the garden, swoops at a darting brown object in the grass, misses it and goes circling onwards in his ghostly flight.

A third ghost is the 'possum. Travelling home along some path he hears a man approaching in the darkness, and instinctively climbs the nearest post or little tree to have a better look and to get off the dangerous ground. The man passes very close by and feels himself being watched, although he cannot see the watcher. Perhaps he catches a glimpse of the gray form crouching there.  At any rate he is  uncomfortable and tries to imagine things. Next time he will be nervous when approaching that spot and may again " feel" that silent watcher, for the wild creatures are very regular in their habits; they have their favorite range and their time for covering it.

Few, however, ever heard of the ghost animal Ed saw on those two nights in March. All day Sunday he was busy packing; all evening too, for his rheumatism was especially bad and he could only work slowly. After supper he took a long look through the window and then sat in his easy chair as usual, very quiet and almost as if sound asleep. And so it happened that he saw Jim begin to tug and tear the wire off the new nails with those great jaws of his and then bend it out until an inch at a time he wormed his powerful body through the opening. In another moment the 'possum was at the hall door which was tightly closed, then at the window. And this time, strange to say, the window was.
open, just the width of a crack.

Jim glanced about the room, then tried to squeeze his nose into the opening. He could not manage it. Presently there was a ripping noise as his tooth tore off a bit of weather-stripping. Very cautiously he gnawed and ripped, while Ed stayed there watching. Every few minutes he tried his strength in lifting the sash but could not get enough leverage. Ed intentionally moved his left foot with a slight noise; instantly the gnawing stopped.

But soon Jim started to work again.  When he succeeded in getting his nose into the crack, he forced his wedge-shaped head to follow. Then his heavily muscled shoulders came to bear upon the sash and it moved visibly. He pushed and heaved and somehow slid through and out!

Ed rose quickly and threw open the window. On the grass outside, in the full light of the moon, crouched Jim half turned to show his teeth, and, if need be, to fight once again. He did not try to run; he knew that in a bare field under the bright moon that would be useless. He looked steadily at Ed, and Ed stayed there without moving.

Presently the big 'possum turned his head slightly towards the woods as if he had heard something. Slowly he straightened and then took several steps, only to whirl around as if fearing that Ed would certainly take advantage of his back being turned.  Again something in the woods seemed to call him; he took several steps more and looked back. And now his whole appearance changed. He staightened up, the hair fluffed out all over him; excitement showed in the way he walked. With nose held high to scent the breeze and ears cocked forward he started for the wood.  Smaller and smaller grew his form until at length he vanished completely in the friendly shadows.

Not till he was out of sight did Ed move.  Then with a sigh he turned back to his chair; but it might have been noticed that his head too was held high and that now his step was very much lighter.

In the morning Ed, strangely contented, journeyed south; he knew he would never return, for the warmth of the milder climes was necessary to his stiffened joints, In the little town he moved to and lived in many years, he worked at the office of a mill during, the day and at night sat as before always beside a comfortable stove if the air outside was damp, or on the porch in warm weather. More than ever he had grown into the habit of thinking. In his thoughts he would be in Goose Creek Valley slipping through the silent woods with Banjo, or perhaps following, all alone, the 'possum tracks in the soft snow.

He liked to think, with a certain pride, of big Jim autumn after autumn climbing in all his strength among the branches of the persimmon trees and watching the luscious fruit as it ripened. There would be no one there, now, able to harm the old 'possum.  He saw in his mind's eye the woods, the gurgling creek, the ferns and all of the homes of the furry creatures. Hard working little animals; he knew they earned whatever safety and happiness they secured.

And often in the picture would come Jim as he looked the last time Ed saw him, head up, fur on end, excitement in his every move as free at last, he headed again towards his favorite haunts.


AUTHOR NOTE: Persimmon Jim

Probably of all the small animals the 'possum is the most interesting. In this story, Persimmon Jim pits his strength, wisdom and courage against the dogs that always are searching for him, and comes out victorious. It is a faithful, sympathetic story of a real 'possum, of his escapes, of his feats, battles and ultimate triumph.

Other books by Joseph Wharton Lippincott are:

Bun - a Wild Rabbit.

Gray Squirrel.

Red Ben - the Fox of Oak Ridge.

Striped Coat - the Skunk.

Long Horn - Leader of the Deer.

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