Flat Tail, The Beaver by Edward Eggleston

Story type: Literature

A colony of beavers selected a beautiful spot on a clear stream, called Silver Creek, to build themselves a habitation. Without waiting for any orders, and without any wrangling about whose place was the best, they gnawed down some young trees and laid the foundation for a dam. With that skill for which they are so remarkable, they built it so that it would protect them from cold, from water, and from their foes. When it was completed, they were delighted with it, and paddled round joyously in the pond above, expressing their pleasure to each other in true beaver style.

In this colony there was one young beaver, by the name of Flat Tail. His father, whose name was Mud Dauber, had been a celebrated beaver, who, having very superior teeth, could gnaw through trees with great rapidity. Old Mud Dauber had distinguished himself chiefly, however, by saving the dam on three separate occasions in time of flood. He had done this by his courage and prudence, always beginning to work as soon as he saw the danger coming, without waiting till the damage had become too great to repair.

But his son, this young fellow Flat Tail, was a sorry fellow. As long as old Mud Dauber lived, he did pretty well, but as soon as his father died Flat Tail set up for somebody great. Whenever any one questioned his pretensions, he always replied:

“I am Mud Dauber’s son. I belong to the best blood in the colony.”

He utterly refused to gnaw or build. He was meant for something better, he said.

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And so one day in autumn, when the beavers were going out in search of food for winter use, as Flat Tail was good for nothing else, they set him to mind the dam. After they had started, Flat Tail’s uncle, old Mr. Webfoot, turned back and told his nephew to be very watchful, as there had been a great rain on the head-waters of Silver Creek, and he was afraid there would be a flood.

“Be very careful,” said Webfoot, “about the small leaks.”

“Pshaw,” said Flat Tail, “who are you talking to? I am Mud Dauber’s son, and do you think I need your advice?”

After they had gone the stream began to rise. Little sticks and leaves were eddying round in the pool above. Soon the water came up faster, to the great delight of the conceited young beaver, who was pleased with the opportunity to show the rest what kind of stuff he was made of. And though he disliked work, he now began to strengthen the dam in the middle where the water looked the most threatening. But just at this point the dam was the strongest, and, in fact, the least in danger. Near the shore there was a place where the water was already finding its way through. A friendly kingfisher who sat on a neighboring tree warned him that the water was coming through, but always too conceited to accept of counsel, he answered:

“Oh, that’s only a small leak, and near the shore. What does a kingfisher know about a beaver dam anyway! You needn’t advise me! I am the great Mud Dauber’s son. I shall fight the stream bravely, right here in the worst of the flood.”

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But Flat Tail soon found that the water in the pond was falling. Looking round for the cause, he saw that the small leak had broken away a large portion of the dam, and that the torrent was rushing through it wildly. Poor Flat Tail now worked like a hero, throwing himself wildly into the water only to be carried away below and forced to walk up again on the shore. His efforts were of no avail, and had not the rest of the Silver Creek beaver family come along at that time, their home and their winter’s stock of provisions would alike have been destroyed. Next day there was much beaver laughter over Flat Tail’s repairs on the strong part of the dam, and the name that before had been a credit to him was turned into a reproach, for from that day the beavers called him, in derision, “Mud Dauber’s son, the best blood in the colony.”

Don’t neglect a danger because it is small; don’t boast of what your father did; and don’t be too conceited to receive good advice.

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