“Confound him for a puppy!” said old Nutcracker, when his wife repeated these sayings to him. “Featherhead is a fool. Common, forsooth! I wish good, industrious, painstaking sons like Tip Chipmunk WERE common. For my part, I find these uncommon people the most tiresome. They are not content with letting us carry the whole load, but they sit on it, and scold at us while we carry them.”
But old Mr. Nutcracker, like many other good old gentlemen squirrels, found that Christmas dinners and other things were apt to go as his wife said, and his wife was apt to go as young Featherhead said; and so, when Christmas came, the Chipmunks were not invited, for the first time in many years. The Chipmunks, however, took all pleasantly, and accepted poor old Mrs. Nutcracker’s awkward apologies with the best possible grace; and young Tip looked in on Christmas morning with the compliments of the season and a few beech-nuts, which he had secured as a great dainty. The fact was, that Tip’s little striped fur coat was so filled up and overflowing with cheerful good-will to all, that he never could be made to understand that any of his relations could want to cut him; and therefore Featherhead looked down on him with contempt, and said he had no tact, and couldn’t see when he was not wanted.
It was wonderful to see how, by means of persisting in remarks like these, young Featherhead at last got all his family to look up to him as something uncommon. Though he added nothing to the family, and required more to be done for him than all the others put together,– though he showed not the smallest real perseverance or ability in anything useful,–yet somehow all his brothers and sisters, and his poor foolish old mother, got into a way of regarding him as something wonderful, and delighting in his sharp sayings as if they had been the wisest things in the world.
But at last old papa declared that it was time for Featherhead to settle himself to some business in life, roundly declaring that he could not always have him as a hanger-on in the paternal hole.
“What are you going to do, my boy?” said Tip Chipmunk to him one day. “We are driving now a thriving trade in hickory-nuts, and if you would like to join us–”
“Thank you,” said Featherhead; “but I confess I have no fancy for anything so slow as the hickory trade; I never was made to grub and delve in that way.”
The fact was that Featherhead had lately been forming alliances such as no reputable squirrel should even think of. He had more than once been seen going out evenings with the Rats of Rat Hollow,–a race whose reputation for honesty was more than doubtful. The fact was, further, that old Longtooth Rat, an old sharper and money-lender, had long had his eye on Featherhead as just about silly enough for their purposes,–engaging him in what he called a speculation, but which was neither more nor less than downright stealing.
Near by the chestnut-tree where Nutcracker Lodge was situated was a large barn filled with corn and grain, besides many bushels of hazel- nuts, chestnuts, and walnuts. Now old Longtooth proposed to young Featherhead that he should nibble a passage into this loft, and there establish himself in the commission business, passing the nuts and corn to him as he wanted them. Old Longtooth knew what he was about in the proposal, for he had heard talk of a brisk Scotch terrier that was about to be bought to keep the rats from the grain; but you may be sure he kept his knowledge to himself, so that Featherhead was none the wiser for it.
“The nonsense of fellows like Tip Chipmunk!” said Featherhead to his admiring brothers and sisters–”the perfectly stupid nonsense! There he goes, delving and poking, picking up a nut here and a grain there, when I step into property at once.”