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The Opossum
by [?]

A new track has appeared upon the snow in my neighborhood here on the Hudson within the past few years. It is a strange track, and suggests some small, deformed human hand. If the dwarfs or brownies we read of in childhood were to walk abroad in winter, they might leave such an imprint behind them as this.

This track, which we seldom see later than December, is made by the opossum. This animal is evidently multiplying in the land, and is extending its range northward. Ten years ago they were rarely found here, and now they are very common. I hear that they are very abundant and troublesome on parts of Long Island. The hind foot of the opossum has a sort of thumb that opposes the other toes, and it is the imprint of this member that looks so strange. The under side of the foot is as naked as the human hand, and this adds to the novel look of the track in the snow.

Late in the fall, my hired man set a trap in a hole in hopes of catching a skunk, but instead he caught a possum by one of its fore feet. The poor thing was badly crippled, and he kept it in a barrel for a couple of weeks and fed it, to try and make amends for the injury he had done. Then he gave it its freedom, though the injured foot had healed but little.

Soon after he set his trap in the same hole, and to his annoyance caught the possum again, this time by one of the hind feet. He brought the quiet, uncomplaining creature to me by its prehensile tail, and asked me what should be done with or for it. I concluded to make a hospital for it in one corner of my study. I made it a nest behind a pile of magazines, and fed and nursed it for several weeks. It never made a sound, or showed the least uneasiness or sign of suffering, that I was aware of, in all that time. By day it slept curled up in its nest. If disturbed, it did not “play possum,” that is, did not feign sleep or death, but opened its mouth and grinned up at you in a sort of comical, idiotic way. At night it hobbled about the study, and ate the meat and cake I had placed for it. Sometimes by day it would come out of the corner and eat food under the lounge, eating very much after the manner of a pig, though not so greedily. Indeed, all its motions were very slow, like those of the skunk.

The skin of the opossum is said to be so fetid that a dog will not touch it. A dog is always suspicious of an animal that shows no fear and makes no attempt to get out of his way. This fetidness of the opossum is not apparent to my sense.

After a while my patient began to be troublesome by climbing upon the book-shelves and inspecting the books, so I concluded to discharge him from the hospital. One night I carried him to the open door by his tail, put him down upon the door-sill, and told him to go forth. He hesitated, looked back into the warm room, then out into the winter night, then thought of his maimed feet, and of traps in holes where unsuspecting possums live, and could not reach a decision. “Come,” I said, “I have done all I can for you; go forth and shift for yourself.” Slowly, like a very old man, he climbed down out of the door and disappeared in the darkness. I have no doubt he regained his freedom with a sigh. It is highly probable that, if a trap is set in his way again, he will put his foot in it as innocently as before.