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The Weasel
by [?]

The weasel is the boldest and most bloodthirsty of our small mammals; indeed, none of our larger beasts are more so. There is something devilish and uncanny about it. It persists like fate; it eludes, but cannot be eluded. The terror it inspires in the smaller creatures–rats, rabbits, chipmunks–is pitiful to behold. A rat pursued by a weasel has been known to rush into a room, uttering dismal cries, and seek the protection of a man in bed. A chipmunk will climb to the top of a tall tree to elude it, and then, when followed, let go its hold and drop with a cry of despair toward the ground. A friend of mine, walking along the road early one morning, saw a rat rush over the fence and cross a few yards ahead of him. Pressing it close came a weasel, which seized the rat before it could gain the opposite wall. My friend rushed to the aid of the rat with his cane. But the weasel dodged his blows, and in a moment or two turned fiercely upon him. My friend aimed more blows at it without effect, when the weasel began leaping up before him, within a few feet of his face, its eyes gleaming, its teeth threatening, and dodging every blow aimed at it. The effect, my friend says, was singularly uncanny and startling. It was like some infuriated imp of Satan dancing before him, and watching for a chance to seize him by the throat or to dash into his eyes. He slowly backed off, beating the air with his cane. Then the weasel returned to the disabled rat and attempted to drag it into the wall. My friend now began to hurl stones at it, but it easily dodged them. Now he was joined by another passer-by, and the two opened upon the weasel with stones, till finally, in dodging one, it was caught by the other, and so much hurt that it gave up the rat and sought shelter in the wall, where it was left waiting to secure its game when its enemies should have gone on.

I must give one more instance of the boldness and ferocity of the weasel. A woman in northern Vermont discovered that something was killing her hens, often on the nest. She watched for the culprit, and at last caught a weasel in the act. It had seized the hen, and refused to let go when she tried to scare it away. Then the woman laid hold of it and tried choking it, when the weasel released its hold upon the hen and fastened its teeth into her hand between the thumb and forefinger. She could not choke it off, and ran to a neighbor for help, but no one could remove it without tearing the flesh from the woman’s hand. Then some one suggested a pail of water; into this the hand and weasel were plunged, but the creature would not let go even then, and did not until it was drowned.

The weasel is a subtle and destructive enemy of the birds. It climbs trees and explores them with great ease and nimbleness. I have seen it do so on several occasions. One day my attention was arrested by the angry notes of a pair of brown thrashers that were flitting from bush to bush along an old stone wall in a remote field. Presently I saw what it was that excited them,–three large red weasels, or ermines, coming along the stone wall, and leisurely and half playfully exploring every tree that stood near it. They had probably robbed the thrashers. They would go up the trees with great ease, and glide serpent-like out upon the main branches. When they descended the tree, they were unable to come straight down, like a squirrel, but went around it spirally. How boldly they thrust their heads out of the wall, and eyed me and sniffed me as I drew near,–their round, thin ears, their prominent, glistening, bead-like eyes, and the curving, snake-like motions of the head and neck being very noticeable. They looked like blood-suckers and egg-suckers. They suggested something extremely remorseless and cruel. One could understand the alarm of the rats when they discover one of these fearless, subtle, and circumventing creatures threading their holes. To flee must be like trying to escape death itself. I was one day standing in the woods upon a flat stone, in what at certain seasons was the bed of a stream, when one of these weasels came undulating along and ran under the stone upon which I was standing. As I remained motionless, he thrust out his wedge-shaped head, and turned it back above the stone as if half in mind to seize my foot; then he drew back, and presently went his way. These weasels often hunt in packs like the British stoat. When I was a boy, my father one day armed me with an old musket and sent me to shoot chipmunks around the corn. While watching the squirrels, a troop of weasels tried to cross a bar-way where I sat, and were so bent on doing it that I fired at them, boy-like, simply to thwart their purpose. One of the weasels was disabled by my shot, but the troop was not discouraged, and, after making several feints to cross, one of them seized the wounded one and bore it over, and the pack disappeared in the wall on the other side.