The woodchuck spilled himself from under me, slid short about, and tumbled off for home by way of the dewberry-patch.
He had made a good start before I was righted and again in motion. Now it was steep, very steep, uphill—which did not seem to matter much to the woodchuck, but made a great difference to me. Then, too, I had counted on a simple, straightaway dash, and had not saved myself for this lap and climbing home-stretch.
Still I was gaining,—more slowly this time,—with chances yet good of overtaking him short of the hole, when, in the thick of the dewberry-vines, I tripped, lunged forward three or four stumbling strides, and saw the woodchuck turn sharp to the right in a bee-line for his burrow.
I wheeled, jumped, cut after him, caught him on the toe of my boot, and lifting him, plopped him smoothly, softly into his hole.
It was gently done. And so beautifully! The whole feat had something of the poetic accuracy of an astronomical calculation. And the perfectly lovely dive I helped him make home!
I sat down upon his mound of earth to get myself together and to enjoy it all. What a woodchuck! Perhaps he never could do the trick again; but, then, he won’t need to. All the murder was gone from my heart. He had beaten the boots. He had beaten them so neatly, so absolutely, that simple decency compelled me then and there to turn over that Crawford peach-tree, root and stem, to the woodchuck, his heirs and assigns forever.
By way of celebration he has thrown out nearly a cart-load of sand from somewhere beneath the tree, deepening and enlarging his home. My Swedish neighbor, viewing the hole recently, exclaimed: “Dose vuudshuck, I t’ink him kill dem dree!” Perhaps so. As yet, however, the tree grows on without a sign of hurt.
But suppose the tree does die? Well, there is no certainty of its bearing good fruit. There was once a peddler of trees, a pious man and a Quaker, who made a mistake, selling the wrong tree. Besides, there are other trees in the orchard; and, if necessary, I can buy peaches.
Yes, but what if other woodchucks should seek other roof-trees in the peach row? They won’t. There are no fashions, no such emulations, out-of-doors. Because one woodchuck moves from huckleberries to a peach-tree is no sign that all the woodchucks on the hillside are going to forsake the huckleberries with him. Only humans are silly enough for that.
If the woodchucks should come, all of them, it would be extremely interesting—an event worth many peaches.
Thou shalt not preach.
The woods were as empty as some great empty house; they were hollow and silent and somber. I stood looking in among the leafless trees, heavy in spirit at the quiet and gloom, when close by my side spoke a tiny voice. I started, so suddenly, so unexpectedly it broke into the wide December silence, so far it echoed through the empty forest halls.