The Raccoon and the Bees by Howard B. Famous

A RACOON was dozing, perched up in a big tree one fine, bright summer day. He lay on a broad limb high up in the tree. There was a fresh breeze stirring, and he swayed to and fro with the branches.

He had been rocking on this lofty perch for some time, with his eyes half closed, when he was roused by the shouting of some small, bare-footed boys who were playing in a hayfield close by. Coonie, as he was called for short, after yawning and stretching for some minutes, finally shifted his position so as to see the boys. He had watched them often from the top of a tree, and he always enjoyed the fun, because they did such queer things.

It was some minutes before he could find out what they were doing, but at last he discovered that they had found a bumble-bees’ nest. They had long paddles in their hands and were running around, yelling, and waving the paddles frantically. Occasionally one of the boys screamed, and then several of the others would run toward him, all beating the air with their paddles.

Coonie watched very closely and saw one boy run up to the hive, give it a quick poke, and then scamper away. With every poke at the hive, a number of bees would fly out of the opening and sail away on the air.

Finally a small boy approached the hive and gave it a hard poke. Instantly about a dozen bees swarmed out, and the boy started to run. He had gone but half a dozen feet, however, when he tripped and fell, and by the way he rolled and kicked, it was plain to be seen that the bees were getting the better of him.

It was great fun watching them, and Coonie decided that he would get a nearer view, so he crawled down the tree in a hurry and ran to the big oak at the edge of the field. From there he could get a full view of the battle. He chuckled to himself as he thought of the fun he was having all by himself.

The battle between the boys and the bees was raging furiously by this time. The boys charged time after time, and with each attack became bolder and bolder, until finally Coonie saw that they were winning. The plucky little bees fought bravely to defend their home, but the boys were too strong for them, and one by one they fell and were crushed or beaten to pieces with the paddles.

After two or three pokes at the hive to make sure that none of the bees remained, a great shout went up from the boys who surrounded the deserted nest.

Children, have you ever seen a wild bees’ nest—a real bumble-bees’ home?

They are nearly always built on the ground, and are made of little pieces of grass piled and woven together into a little mound. At the very top there is a small hole which is used as the doorway through which the bees enter. The wall is not very thick, but is put together tightly so the wind will not blow it away, and it is hollow.

It is in this mound that the bees store their honey for the winter. During the warm summer days they work hard, carrying tiny drops of honey which they gather from the flowers and storing it so they will have something to eat during the cold weather.

When the cold winds come, in the fall and winter, and the flowers are dead, the little workers stop their labor and gather together in the home they have been preparing all summer. When the snow comes, the little grass storehouse is buried snug and warm underneath the white blanket.

It was just such a nest as this that Coonie watched the boys robbing of its treasure. Poor little bees! All their hard work had been in vain, and they had even lost their little lives in the brave effort to protect their winter’s food supply.

But even from his hiding place Coonie could see that the boys had not won the battle without some losses. Big lumps were beginning to swell up on their faces and arms, and the little boy who had tripped and fallen could hardly see because his eyes were nearly swollen shut.

The boys tore away the mound and took out the honey, layer by layer, and squeezed out the golden syrup. Just as they were licking the last drops from their sticky fingers, Coonie saw a man walking towards them. When he was near enough, he began talking to them in an angry way.

“Why, Mr. Jones,” Coonie heard one boy say, “you don’t use bumble-bees’ honey, do you?”

“No, boys, I don’t use the honey myself, but I don’t want you to kill the bees or rob their nests so they will have to starve. Bees do a great deal of good on the farm.”

“What good are bumble-bees?” one of the boys asked.

“Why, they do a lot of good. They distribute the pollen from the heads of the clover, and that makes the seed mature and develop.”

This was news to Coonie, for he never knew before that bumble-bees were of any use, but then he had never had much to do with them. One day when he was playing he had caught a bee in his little paws and had received a sting, and he never forgot how sore his paws were and how they swelled so that he was unable to climb for several days. Since that time he had always made it a practice to move away when a bee came too close.

After the boys were gone and Farmer Jones had gone back to his house, Coonie decided that he would go over to the field and see what the inside of the bees’ nest looked like.

As he approached the field where the battle had taken place, much to his surprise, he saw his friend Woodchuck snooping around among the ruins. When Coonie reached him, he sat up on his hind feet and began licking his paws.

“Hello, Chuck,” Coonie said. “What are you doing? Why, your face is a sight. My, such a dirty face. Why, Chuck, I am surprised,” and he noticed the greedy look in Chuck’s eyes.

“Yum! yum!” was the only reply he received and Chuck began picking around in the grass.

 “YUM, YUM, BUT IT IS FINE”
“YUM, YUM, BUT IT IS FINE”

“I say, Chuck,” Coonie said again, “what are you doing?”

“Doing?” echoed Chuck. “Why, this is the best food I have had for a long time, Coonie. My face may be a little sticky, but it can be washed, so I don’t care. Such a treat as I have had! I am sorry you missed it all. I saw some boys capering and scampering around here this afternoon, and as soon as they left I came over to see what it was all about, and this is what I found,” and Chuck held up a small yellow pod. “Just taste one, Coonie, it is sweeter than any berry I ever tasted. Yum, yum, but it is fine.”

“Hum!” sniffed Coonie. “It may suit your taste, but honey is much too sticky for me.”

“Well, I’m glad you don’t want any,” Chuck replied. “You always were rather particular, but I am only Chuck anyhow, and as some people call me a hog—a ground-hog, you know—I might as well live up to my name.”

“But, Chuck, just go down to the brook and look at your face.”

Chuck, seeing that his supply of sweets was exhausted, did as Coonie suggested and waddled toward the brook, Coonie accompanying him.

As Chuck was washing his face and paws, Coonie remarked that he knew where there was plenty of the kind of honey Chuck had been feasting on. “Only,” he added, “it is much cleaner than what you have been eating.”

“Oh, Coonie, tell me where it is, won’t you, please?” cried Chuck, stopping his toilet and catching up Coonie’s paw. “I just dearly love it, and I’ll be your lifelong friend if you will tell me where it is so I can get some more.”

Now Coonie felt very mischievous, and he thought of a plan that would give him some fun.

 “OH, COONIE TELL ME WHERE IT IS”
“OH, COONIE TELL ME WHERE IT IS”

“Why, Chuck,” he replied, “you would not expect me to tell you where all this honey is, would you? You would go eat it all up in one night. You are such a ‘hoggie’ you know.”

“Oh, be a good friend, Coonie, and tell me. If you only knew how badly I want some more.”

“Well, I’ll tell you,” Coonie said, “but there may be some danger in getting it.”

“I’ll never stop for the danger,” Chuck boasted.

“You remember Farmer Jones, don’t you?”

“I should say I do. I’ll never forget the whole family. Do you remember the time we were caught stealing the corn in his crib last fall? And, oh, that fierce dog! Indeed, I never will forget him. If it is Farmer Jones’ honey, it is perfectly safe, for it makes me shiver to even think of that dog, Jack.”

“Oh, I knew that you would be afraid,” taunted Coonie. “Tomorrow is Saturday, and the Jones always go to town on Saturday. I have been planning to go over and give myself a little treat.”

“But, Coonie, how about the dog?”

“Oh, he goes to town with them. I have watched them from the tree where I live, and they never miss going on Saturday afternoons, and taking the dog with them.”

“But how do you know where the honey is, Coonie?”

“How? Why, I have often sampled it.”

Now Coonie told a falsehood when he said he had eaten some of the honey, but he was anxious to have some fun, and so he resorted to a falsehood in order to carry out his plans. This plan never pays, as you will see later.

“Have you really sampled it, Coonie?” Chuck asked. “And is it good, and is it very hard to get?”

Chuck was all excitement, for he could not get rid of the memory of the taste of the honey he had just been eating.

“‘Hard to get?’” repeated Coonie. “Why, Chuck, there are great piles of it, and knowing the grounds as I do, it will be easy to get it. Now you meet me tomorrow and I’ll take you over with me. Meet me by the big oak tree in the corner of the woods, just after noon tomorrow. I must leave you now, because I am going fishing to-night with some of the other coons that live near me. Good-bye until tomorrow,” and Coonie went away with a chuckle.

 CHUCK ARRIVED AT THE BIG OAK TREE
CHUCK ARRIVED AT THE BIG OAK TREE

The next afternoon, Chuck arrived at the big oak tree in the corner of the woods. But there was no Coonie waiting for him. He walked around the tree several times to make sure and then mounted a nearby stump. The woods were very quiet save for the droning of insects, and the sun that shone between the leaves beat down very hot. Before Chuck knew it he had fallen asleep at his post.

When Coonie came trotting up and saw Chuck perched there fast asleep he said to himself: “What a fine chance to play a trick.” So he picked a long blade of grass with a feathery end and crept up from behind so carefully that not a twig cracked. When he was within arm’s reach he tickled poor Chuck way up his nose.

Chuck waked with a start and bounded right into the air, landing at some distance off. He had no idea that someone had played a trick on him.

“What ails you, Chuck?” Coonie cried, running up, with a friendly, anxious expression on his face, for Chuck was almost sneezing his head off.

“Guess—a—nasty old—fly—crawled up—my—nose,” Chuck managed to get out between sneezes.

“Too bad, old chap,” said Coonie, giving him a friendly pat on the shoulder. “ Come along with me and we’ll get some honey, and that will make you feel better.” Still sneezing, Chuck trotted off with Coonie across the fields.

When they reached Farmer Jones’ barnyard everything seemed very quiet and sleepy around there.

“Is that where the honey is kept?” whispered Chuck, as Coonie took a peep in at the barn-door.

“No,” answered Coonie, “I just wanted to see if the double-buggy was there. It is not, and now I feel perfectly sure they have all gone to town and taken the dog with them.”

Then they felt quite safe. Very boldly they walked around to the gate in the yard where Coonie said the honey was. “Hurrah,” he cried, “someone has left the gate open for us. They must have been expecting us!”

“I have never been in here before,” said Chuck. “What are all those square white boxes along the fence?”

“Those are called bee-hives,” Coonie answered, a little proudly, to think he knew so much. “The honey is kept inside.”

“But how do we get at it?” asked Chuck. “Those little holes in front look hardly big enough for me to get my paw through, much less my head and shoulders.”

“Oh,” laughed Coonie, “how stupid you are! You just go up and knock very loudly at the door and when a bee comes out, you ask if he hasn’t something to eat for a poor fellow, who has come a long way and is very hungry and tired. But should he pay no attention to you, hit him with your paw. This will frighten the others so they will bring out all the honey you wish and leave it there on the ledge for you. Come on, I’m hungry, aren’t you, Chuck?”

 HE GRABBED UP A BIG STICK
HE GRABBED UP A BIG STICK

“Am I?” said Chuck. “Well, I should say so.” He was licking his jaws in memory of the little feast he had had the day before.

Coonie looked at Chuck out of the corners of his mischievous eyes, but Chuck never guessed he was laughing at him when he added, “I’ll take a hive at this end, you can have one at that. Let’s hurry.”

Chuck was in a hurry indeed. Already he felt sure he could smell the honey, so he left Coonie and ran toward the hive at the end of the row in high spirits. But before he knocked on it he stopped and looked back. He wanted to see how Coonie was getting along.

Now, Coonie did not really want any honey. All he wanted to do was to play a joke on his friend, but it very often happens that the practical joker gets the worst of it in the end. And as Coonie stepped up to the hive and pretended to knock, he put his paw right down on top of the Queen Bee, whom he did not see sunning herself on the ledge.

The Queen Bee has no sting, you know, and cannot defend herself. She is by no means helpless, however. She has, in fact, an entire army ready to fight for her at a moment’s call.

When the other bees heard their Queen’s cry for help they all rushed out of their hives and began at once attacking Coonie. They buzzed angrily around him and burrowed into his fur until he rolled over and over on the ground, doubled up with the pain.

This was what Chuck saw when he turned around to find out how Coonie was getting along! He grabbed up a big stick, but he soon saw there was nothing he could do to help.

He also saw that the bees in their mad attack had left their fort unguarded. So he stuck his paw inside the door and broke off a good sized piece of comb full of nice, yellow honey. Then he started for the woods again as fast as he could.

 

Coonie did not see Chuck as he shot past him a few minutes later, trying to shake off the bees that still clung to him, as he ran. And a few days later, when they met down by the brook, Coonie pretended not to see him.

“Howdy, Coonie,” Chuck called out in his cheery way. “Where are you going so fast? Well, I never,” he added, noticing Coonie’s bumps and bandages. “Have you been in a fight?”

“Just a little fuss with Farmer Jones’ dog. He’s twice my size and a regular bully,” Coonie answered, as he brushed by Chuck in such a hurry that he did not hear the latter call after him.

“Say, old friend, meet me by the big oak tree in the corner of the woods tomorrow and we’ll go after some more of that good honey!”

It was Chuck’s turn to laugh now, for “he laughs best who laughs last,” you know.