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Michael Beaver


Miz Shirley Badger

MICHAEL BEAVER WAS PRACTICING. He swam back and forth in the brook, listening for Miz Shirley Badger's signal. Birds tossed their songs into the afternoon, and above him, dragonflies hovered and danced, their transparent wings glinting in the sun. They were curious about him, but Michael paid no attention to them; he was concentrating.

At last Miz Badger called, "Now." And Michael raised his broad, flat tail above the water and quickly brought it down, SLAP! The dragonflies took fright and flew away. The birds fell silent.

Michael swam toward Miz Badger who was standing on the bank. "That was very good," she said. "I think that will do. Come and join us now."

Miz Shirley Badger, teacher of the young animals at the Woodland School, turned to her other pupils. They stood in a group far back at the edge of the forest bordering the brook. "Could you all hear Michael's danger warning?" she called.

"Oh, yes," said Ruthie Woodchuck, the first pupil to answer. Jeremy Squirrel, Steven Rabbit, and Kathy Possum agreed. "This last time was really loud," said Steven.

Michael hauled himself out of the water and shook himself. His brown fur coat settled itself into its usual sleek lines. He looked up at Miz Badger, his front paws crossed on his chest.

"Very good, Michael," Miz Badger repeated. "All of us heard the slap of your tail."

"My tail is tired," said Michael. "I must have slapped it on the water six times."

Ruthie Woodchuck giggled softly.

But Miz Badger was going on as if she hadn't heard Ruthie's giggle, "Tomorrow we'll continue our lesson on danger signaling." She looked over at Ruthie. "And we'll begin with you."

Steven Rabbit nudged Ruthie and whispered, "You'd better practice your whistle tonight."

Oh, no, Ruthie thought. Steven's right; I'd better practice. I know I can do it, but can I do it loud enough? she asked herself.

"Class dismissed," said Miz Badger. "We'll meet in the clearing as usual tomorrow."

Jeremy Squirrel, Kathy Possum, Steven Rabbit, and Ruthie Woodchuck set off together toward the old oak tree from where they would go their separate ways.

Michael slid back into the brook and began to swim toward his house and the dam he was building. He wasn't too tired to gnaw down one or two tree saplings to add to the dam, he thought. Yes, his tail was tired, but his teeth weren't. He turned in the water and swam to the bank.

It was early summer and the sun was setting later and later. It was not quite dusk as Michael examined the young trees set back a little way from the bank where he was constructing the dam. Already he had gnawed down many of the saplings and dragged them to the dam. Even though the dam was far from finished, it had created a pool of deeper water behind it. Michael's round house, or lodge, of rock, mud, and tree limbs rose out of this pool.

Michael clicked his front teeth together once or twice and set to work. He preferred working at night; there were fewer interruptions. But as he gnawed, he remembered to be alert for danger, as Miz Badger had taught.

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