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Persimmon Jim: The Possum

Chapter 5: A Fight In The Woods
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 5: A Fight In The Woods

THERE is a great deal of wild life about a hollow tree. The one in which Persimmon Jim had made a bed was a partly dead red oak which grew near a sunny bend in Goose Creek. Flickers and downy woodpeckers singled out this tree in their hunts for nesting sites, and peered hopefully into the hollow. Gray Squirrel visited it regularly on his way to get a drink, often running up its straight side just to see whether it was still occupied. Sometimes great crested flycatchers and noisy nuthatches flew to it in nesting time, as if knowing from afar that it was hollow. Bees buzzed about it, ants climbed up and down in long wavy lines, flies and wasps sunned themselves on its bark. Seldom would any animal, bird or insect pass it without a look. It was indeed the most interesting tree in that particular little wood.

Jim visited it only occasionally because it seemed too noticeably popular. It was the kind of tree which, his experience had shown him, boys found and examined in their hunting expeditions. But Jim had it entered in his memory chart as the only good den, except one other, in that corner of the Valley.

The other good den was located under a hickory stump on the hillside and was also interesting to Jim because in it lived a wonderful lady 'possum who had come there that spring from far down the creek where food had been scarce. Many 'possums had come and gone in the Valley, but none so bewitching to Jim as this one. To him she was everything that was beautiful.

Therefore, when in the cool of the evening Screech Owl and Jim awoke and, parting the best of friends, started out on their night's rambles, the big 'possum turned his steps in the direction of the old stump. It 'was a short walk, but through swampy places and heavy bramble thickets where travel was unpleasant and slow for a barefooted creature. Bun, the woods rabbit, whose feet were fur shod, had cut paths here for himself, but these had a way of ending suddenly or forking and circling in bewildering ways which made them useless for any other animal.

However, Jim at last neared the stump and saw the gray form of a 'possum in front of it. This he quickly found was not his lady love but the surly fellow who had taken his bed under the pigsty. Jim's blood began to boil with jealousy. This other fellow certainly needed a lesson this time, and he was the one to give it. Rising on his toes until he stood at his full height and looked truly formidable, he circled the other with bared teeth over which the gums clicked insultingly.

The other fellow showed his teeth just as angrily and hissed like a poisonous snake about to strike. He too had an old score to settle, and he knew that from the dark entrance of the stump the coy little lady 'possum was watching them.

Jim made a lunge at his enemy which brought forth a furious growl, but which was met by a wide-open mouth full of sharp teeth. Try as he would he could not pass that grinning trap. He did, however, press the other further back, tooth against tooth, and then at last in a furious push, turn him just enough to get a side hold which brought out a whole mouthful of fur. Instantly the other lost his temper and judgment completely and flew at Jim with a roar of hate.

Jim dodged and bit in reply. More fur flew. Again they sparred slowly with wideopen jaws, and then Jim by a clever twist got a real hold on the other's thick neck and strained until he turned him over on his side and had him down. Then he began to punish him; he nipped the fur out, he bit the other's stout legs and writhing tail, he rolled him in the dirt until out of breath and choking with the fur. Then the other fellow escaped and lumbered off with Jim after him.

Through the brambles these two found their way, one grimly following the other, too out of breath to growl; then into the
swamp and over to the skunk cabbage patch where the mud lay heavy. There Jim's fleeing enemy got mired and there Jim left him, a sorry sight with no more fight in his cowardly body. Screech Owl alone was watching and he hooted scornfully from a hemlock overhead.

Jim walked slowly back to the stump.  He was still mad clear through and ready to fight whoever else might come. What right had strange rivals to trespass on his range ! Just let another show himself!

And sure enough, in front of the stump he surprised another 'possum. With bared teeth and fur on end Jim labored up the hill. As he came close his jaws opened like an alligator's and he towered over the other as he thrust for a punishing grip. But that thrust never went home. Jim had stopped in the very middle of it, his mouth half closing in something like a broad grin.  How quickly his whole mood changed!

The little lady 'possum, however, believed in making him pay for his mistake.  She met him with sharp, gleaming teeth, and nipped at him until he was very glad to back down the hill. He defended himself as best he could, meeting tooth with tooth and sparring hard at times, always, however, with that surprised grin, which perhaps made the little lady punish him all the more.

Yes, it was tooth for tooth there in the still starlight beside the hickory stump, but very different from the fight between the two rivals only a few minutes earlier. At last Jim's smile got the better of him and the little lady 'possum could not make him pretend to defend himself any more, so she stopped teasing him, at least for the moment. But as they dined together on a dead hen, dug up from the place where Sam Collins had carefully buried her, and as they travelled back to the woods, goodnatured Jim received many another sly nip from sharp little teeth. Yes, his lady love was an awful tease; but Jim, like many another lover, kept his smile.

...continue to Chapter 6: The Rivals