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Persimmon Jim: The Possum

Chapter 2: Possum Time
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 2: Possum Time

PERSIMMON JIM, who, when a youngster, could have perched on the end of a man's finger, now weighed over thirteen pounds; but when all fluffed up he looked much heavier. His grayish fur consisted of a thick under coat of fine hairs two inches long with coarser hairs of three and a half inch length scattered through it.  The long ones, white in color, were just stiff enough to stand up well. They warded off dirt and rain from the soft black tipped fur beneath and also kept it from getting mussed. Other wild animals, without any long protecting hairs in their coats, carried only very short fur like that of the shrews and moles. Jim's nose, ears, toes and tail were hairless and needed the long fur to keep them warm during the long sleeps in cold weather.

The big 'possum did not stir from his bed in Ben Slown's haymow until night had come and quieted all the sounds of the farmyard. Already the mice were racing along the rafters and playing in the hay, already too the little brown bats had dropped from their perches in the roofs and flown out of the open window to hunt for insects of the air. Squeaks and rustlings and pattering of small feet had taken the place of the stamping of men and horses on the barn floor and the roar of tractors outside.

Jim raised his long nose, gaped and stretched. There was no need to look for enemies before he climbed out of his nest; the care-free noise of the mice was proof that nothing disturbing was about. So over the hay he walked until he came to the ladder leading down to the floor. Here he sniffed suspiciously and looked all about with his beady little eyes, while the nearest mice stopped their gaieties long enough to peer at him and wonder at his caution.

He did not like the faint scent of man he found there. Man scent meant traps to him and was nearly always dangerous; so he turned back and climbed onto a rafter, using his sharp toe nails to catch a hold in the wood. By following the rafter he reached the window, stepped out on the shingle roof, walked to a lightning-rod at the corner and then down it head first, hand over hand, with his tail wrapped around to steady him, in exactly the same way he had learned when escaping from the farmhouse attic years before.

After the ground was reached and before he took a single step, his long nose once more carefully sniffed the air. Then, apparently satisfied that no enemies were very near, Jim stealthily walked around the barn, still sniffing. Here he suddenly met Ben Slown's gray cat who, taken by surprise, sprang back with a fearful spitting noise.

Neither had ever seen the other before so each sat down to wait and see what would happen next. After a minute or two the 'possum gaped long and rudely, showing every tooth in his head, and there were a lot of them; then he stood up and, always keeping an eye on Gray Cat, resumed his walk.  His nose told him that there was no food for him in the stable, so he was little interested in that place and moved towards the kitchen end of the house.

There the smell of man was so strong that he feared to go near and soon turned back.  Finding Gray Cat following him about with suspicious curiosity, he sat down again and gave him two more long toothy gapes to think about. Gray Cat seeming this time to be properly impressed, he left him, wandered off to the hedgerow, along it to the damp shadows of a wood and then down to the edge of Goose Creek, where his whole attitude towards life seemed to change. He was hungry, and the night being warm for spring, he knew very well that frogs were about. To him, just as to so many other animals of the woods, they meant food, so now he was suddenly a wide-awake, eager hunter.

His nose soon told him that a frog was somewhere on a weedy island near the edge of the stream, and this hiding-place he reached by scrambling from stone to stone on a mud flat. Suddenly there was a squeak as the frog saw him and jumped for the water; but being two jumps from the edge was a fatal handicap, for quick as a flash the hungry 'possum whirled around with open mouth and caught the slippery fellow by one foot. There was another scramble, but when, a few minutes later, a raccoon came walking up the stream, nothing was left of the island frog; nor was there any sign of Persimmon Jim who by that time was on the other side of the wood, shuffling along in a way that showed he knew the country well and wanted to reach some special place before the approach of dawn.

...continue to Chapter 3: The New Den