One day, when Keoonik was in swimming, Ableegumooch ran off with a string of eels he had left on the shore. Keoonik rushed out of the water and went in angry pursuit. He had no difficulty in tracking the rabbit, for the mark of the fish, touching the ground between jumps, clearly showed the way. He was astonished, however, when the trail ended at a clearing in the woods where a withered old woman sat by a small fire.
"Kwah-ee, Noogumee," said Keoonik, using the formal address for an elderly female. "Did you see a rabbit hopping this way, dragging a string of eels?" "Rabbit? Rabbit?" muttered the old woman. "What kind of animal is that?"
The otter explained that it was a small brown jumping creature with long ears and a short tail. "I saw no such animal," the old squaw grumbled, "but I'm glad you came along, for I'm cold and sick. Do please gather a little wood for my fire." Obligingly, Keoonik went off to do so. Returning with the wood, he stared around in surprise. The old woman was gone. On the spot where she had sat, he saw the mark of a rabbit's haunches, and familiar paw-prints leading away in to the woods. Then he remembered that Ableegumooch was very clever at changing his appearance and fooling people.
"Oh, that miserable rabbit!" cried Keoonik and set off again on the trail. This time the tracks led straight to a village of the Penobscot Indians, where Keoonik could see the rabbit in conversation with a thin sad man wearing the feather of a Chief in his hair string. The wily otter cut himself a stout stick and waited behind a tree. Presently, Ableegumooch came strolling down the path, his face creased in an absent-minded frown. Keoonik was ready for him. He brought the stick down on the rabbit's head with a thud, and Ableegumooch collapsed on the grass. "That should teach him," thought Keoonik, with satisfaction, and he sat down to wait for the rabbit to recover. Presently Ableegumooch came to his senses and staggered to his feet with a dazed expression. "What did you do with my eels?" demanded Keoonik.
"I gave them to the Indians," muttered the rabbit, exploring the bump on his head with a groan. "What did you do that for, you silly creature?" "Those Penobscots are starving, Keoonik," said the rabbit. "For many moons someone has been stealing their food." "Just the same," grumbled Keoonik, "those were my eels."
The rabbit thumped his hind legs on the ground with an air of great determination.
"Keoonik, we must find the robbers and punish them!"
"We?" asked Keoonik in astonishment.
"Yes, you and I," said his companion firmly. "Let there be a truce between us until we discover the thieves." Keoonik thought to himself that Ableegumooch was a fine one to complain of people stealing other people's food! However, he too felt sorry for the Penobscots. "All right," he agreed. "We'll have a truce," and they shook hands solemnly. Then they started back to the village to ask the Chief what they might do to help, but when they were still some way off they saw two other animals talking to him. These were Uskoos the Weasel and Abukcheech the Mouse, two animals so troublesome even their own families would have nothing to do with them.
"Let's listen," whispered Ableegumooch, drawing Keoonik behind a tree.
"We will find those robbers for you, Chief," they heard Uskoos say. "Don't you worry about a thing." "You can depend on us," chimed in Abukcheech.
Ableegumooch nudged the otter.
"Did you hear that?"
"I heard," said Keoonik. "So the Indians don't need our help after all."
"I wonder," said the rabbit thoughtfully.
"What do you wonder? And why are we whispering?"
"Shhh! Let's think about it a little, Keoonik. Have you any idea how those two get their living? They sleep all day and go hunting only after dark."
"Some of us like to hunt after dark," Keoonik said fairly.,p> "Well, but listen," said the rabbit. "All the fur robes in the camp have been chewed and scratched and spoiled. What animals chew and scratch wherever they go?"
"Weasels and mice," answered Keoonik promptly. "Very well. Let's follow them and see what happens."
So Keoonik and Ableegumooch, keeping out of sight themselves, followed the weasel and the mouse a very long way, to a large burrow in the side of a hill where a number of other weasels and mice of bad reputation were gathered. All greeted Uskoos and Abukcheech and listened to what they had to say, while the rabbit and otter, hidden behind a blueberry bush, listened too.
"We were very sympathetic," smirked Uskoos, "and said we would help them."
"So now they won't suspect us," said Abukcheech, and all the mice and weasels chortled gleefully.
"It is time now," said Uskoos, "to call all the animals together and plan the conquest of the Penobscots. For we are smarter than the Indians and deserve to have all the food for ourselves."
"Very true!" all shouted.
"How will we get the rest to join us?" asked Abukcheech.
"The smaller ones will be afraid to say no to us," declared Uskoos. "We will use trickery on the others. We will tell them the Penobscots plan to destroy all the animals in the land, and we must unite in order to defend ourselves."
"Then, with Wolf and Bear and Moose to help us," cried Abukcheech, "we'll soon have all the Indians at our mercy!"
The otter and the rabbit could hardly believe their ears. Someone must warn the Indians.
"Come on," whispered Keoonik, but the rabbit only crouched where he was, tense and unmoving. The fact is, he wanted to sneeze! Ableegumooch wanted to sneeze more than he ever wanted to sneeze in his life before, but he mustn't sneeze--the sound would give them away. So he tried and he tried to hold that sneeze back. He pressed his upper lip, he grew red in the face, and his eyes watered-- but nothing was any good.
Instantly, the weasels and mice pounced on Keoonik and Ableegumooch and dragged them out of hiding.
"Spies!" growled Uskoos.
"Kill them, kill them!" screamed Abukcheech.
"I have a better plan," said Uskoos. "These two will be our first recruits." Then he told the prisoners they must become members of his band, or be killed.
Poor Ableegumooch. Poor Keoonik. They did not wish to die, yet they could never do as the thieves wished, for the Penobscots were their friends. Ableegumooch opened his mouth, meaning to defy the villains no matter what the consequences, and then his mouth snapped shut. He had heard a strange sound, the sound of a flute piping far away, and he knew what it was. It was the magic flute of Glooscap, and the Great Chief was sending him a message. Into the rabbit's head popped the memory of something Glooscap had said to him once long ago, half in fun, half in earnest. "Ableegumooch," he seemed to hear the words again, "the best way to catch a snake is to think like a snake!" At once the rabbit understood. He set himself to think like the mice and the weasels, feeling the greed and selfishness that was in them. Then he had a plan.
"Very well," he said, "we will join you. Those Indians are certainly very cruel and dishonest. They deserve the worst that can happen to them. Why, only yesterday"--and here he gave Keoonik a secret nudge--"my friend and I saw them hide away a great store of food in a secret place. Didn't we, Keoonik?"
"Oh, yes, certainly," stammered Keoonik, wondering what trick the rabbit was up to now.
The weasels and mice jumped about in mad excitement. "Where? Where? Where is this place?"
"Take us there at once!" cried Uskoos, licking his lips.
"Certainly," said Ableegumooch, starting old towards the woods. "Just follow us."
Abukcheech the Mouse was right at their heels, but Uskoos soon shouldered him aside. Then each animal fought to be in front, and in this way all rushed through the forest, across the meadows, down into the valleys and over the hills, until at last--pushing and panting and grunting--they all reached the bottom of a grassy hill. Ableegumooch pointed to a pile of rocks at the top.
"You will find the wealth you seek up there," he cried. "Hurry, hurry! The best will go to those who get there first."
Away they all went, each struggling to be first. The rabbit and the otter stood aside and watched as the wild mob scrambled up the hill--up and up until suddenly, too late to stop, they found themselves teetering on the edge of a cliff, with nothing in front of them but space, and the sea far below. Those who were first tried to stop but were pushed over by those crowding behind--and so, screaming with terror, down they all went, headlong into the sea.
"Well," said Keoonik, peering over the edge of the cliff with a shiver, "their tribes are well rid of them."
"So are the Penobscots," said the rabbit. "And now that together we have saved our friends from the mice and the weasels, Keoonik, let us go home together in peace as good neighbours should."
"I'm willing," said the otter, but he had no sooner taken a step than he sprawled on the ground. Ableegumooch had tripped him.
"That's for the knock on the head!" the rabbit laughed, and made for the woods. Picking himself up furiously, Keoonik was after him, shouting, "Just wait till I catch you, I'll teach you to play tricks!" Their truce was over.
And Glooscap, looking down from Blomidon, laughed at their antics, for he knew that with all their mischief there was no greed or spite in the hearts of Keoonik and Ableegumooch, against the Indians or against each other.
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