Picture of single persimmon on a branch - backlit

Persimmon Jim: The Possum

Chapter 6: The Rivals
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 6: The Rivals

WHEN the birds began to wake up in the early morning light, some singing, others calling to make sure their mates had come safely through the night, Jim left his companion at the entrance of her snug den and started on his lonely way to the oak.

Evening, however, found him once more at the hickory stump, waiting for the lazy little lady 'possum to come out. When finally she appeared, yawning and apparently very much bored at sight of him, he might have thought that he was the last thing on earth she wanted to see; but this was far from true. Indeed wherever Jim chose to lead, the little lady followed, perhaps remembering that it was he who on the previous evening had found the tasty hen. And so they made their way around Ben Blown's farm, picking up wild strawberries here and there and at length climbing Ben's best cherry tree where for a full hour they stuffed themselves with the reddest, ripest fruit. No cherry, even though swinging tantalizingly from the top of a slender twig, could escape such climbers, who could use tails and even teeth in the work.

Underneath the tree a flying squirrel and two white-footed mice were busy collecting cherry stones which they carried, one at a time, to safe storage places, for the stones contained kernels which would keep fresh indefinitely. Their work was more difficult than that of Groundhackie who would take their place in the daytime and stuff his two cheek pouches with the pits, thus carrying off eight or ten at one time. But Groundhackie lived in a stone wall at some distance from the cherry tree while Whitefoot's den was in a crack of the old tree itself and Flying Squirrel's nest in a rotten limb of the very next tree. All that the little furry creatures needed to attract them were safe holes for dens and just enough food to keep them alive and happy.

Before the 'possums left the tree, Striped Coat, the skunk, suddenly appeared among the shadows to join in the feast. His coming drove away Whitefoot and Flying Squirrel, though it was only the scent of ripe cherries which had brought him from a bug hunt in the meadow. Flying Squirrel squeaked angrily from a low limb, then soared on outstretched legs to the base of his den tree and ran up for a nap. When the big fellows were about, the little ones rested. Presently, too, Jim's rival, the surly 'possum, appeared. He had found the trail from the hickory stump and cautiously followed it.  Now, while Jim glared down at him he ambled about with White Stripe lazily picking up whatever fruit the others shook down or dropped in their munching.

A fit of barking from Ben's hound who slept on the porch broke up the party for that night. The hound saw or smelled or perhaps heard something he did not like and decided to make a row over it without taking the trouble to leave the spot he had warmed on the door mat. At once the wild creatures scattered, the 'possums leaving last and very reluctantly.

Jim had no chance to see what path his rival took and so let him off without another beating. It was indeed all he could do to keep track of his companion who hurried as fast as she could to the safer shadows of the woods. There they rested on a woodpile and, after awhile, finding morning near, hunted beds among the dry leaves underneath the logs. As long as the weather was balmy, changing a den meant little to either of them.

In the afternoon it thundered and rained very hard. The water poured down the logs and wet everything underneath. The 'possums, driven from their beds, sat as far out of the wet as they could get and kept continually shaking and licking the drops of water out of their fur. It was a miserable day.

At dusk, Jim crawled out for a look at the weather, and found his rival just then coming around the corner of the wood-pile in search of them. The other 'possum's fur was wet and mussed and his temper very bad. Recklessly he made his way to the entrance under the logs and would have gone in if Jim had not seized him by the tail and, bracing his legs against the wood, literally pulled him back. The other instantly turned on him and, catching him off guard, got a grip on his hind leg and dug in painfully with his sharp teeth.

Jim twisted back and caught the other by the side of the head in his powerful jaws, and together they rolled over and wrestled like cats, their handĚlike feet gripping wherever they found a hold in each other's fur. Still the rival clung to Jim's leg until his teeth met and almost locked over the bone, and Jim unable to make any impression on the other's hard head, caught him by the fat front leg just above the elbow.  Again they rolled over, tugging at each other but never letting go. All the muscles in Jim's great shoulders could not break the other's hold, all the fighting force in his long jaws could not punish him enough to make him let go. The rival had a perfect grip and he knew it. And he was game too and had a jealous hatred for Jim which had been steadily growing until it was ungovernable fury.

Jim was an older 'possum, but he had all the strength and fire of his younger days and experience gained in many fights. Any other hold he could have thrown off, but this one worried him and besides he was growing tired and losing much blood.

In Jim there was not one yellow streak.  He had never lost, and he had the spirit which fights through to the end. This was the fight of his life and he was going to win it.

Waiting patiently until he got his breath, Jim began the fight all over again in his own way. He let go suddenly and fastened on the other's back before it could be twisted into a safe position. His enemy dug his claws into Jim's face and Jim shifted his grip like lightning to a hind leg.

Then the unexpected happened. The little lady 'possum threw herself on the two fighters and tried to stop the fight. She bit and clawed and growled at the grim, silent ones. They did not respond and she moved away discouraged. It began to rain again. Then came a mighty clap of thunder and a downpour. The low clouds seemed to have burst and let down all they contained. The two 'possums were literally drowned apart.

They dragged themselves under the woodpile and, forgetting each other, began to lick off the water and dirt. The little lady 'possum came to help, but it was Jim she worked over-Jim alone whose torn fur she cleaned and smoothed.

After a time the downpour lessened and gradually died out entirely. Then the little lady 'possum started out again and Jim, with mighty effort, got up and followed, one leg at first dragging. The rival looked around and started to get up too. It was an effort; he sank back and stayed comfortably under the wood-pile. The yellow streak had showed itself.

And while the rival slept, those two Jim and his little lady love-wandered along Goose Creek which was now a roaring torrent. They moved slowly, for Jim could travel only with difficulty and his companion, seeming to know this, stopped often and watched him with her beady eyes.  They could not reach the hickory stump nor the hollow oak, nor did they try to. The woods were warm and sweet, the air was still, only the waters in Goose Creek murmured and gurgled ceaselessly. And under an overhanging rock they found a new home which was like fairyland. Green mosses clung to the stone above, ferns spread on all sides, soft birch leaves blown in by autumn winds, covered the floor of the cozy cave. Over them and around them stretched the friendly woods. Goose Creek, near by, rushed and rippled, whirled and . foamed until the flood gradually died down and it too seemed to sleep.

...continue to Chapter 7: Summer Nights