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Ruthie Woodchuck &
Kathy Possum


Steven Rabbit &
Jeremy Squirrel

NEXT DAY, MIZ BADGER'S PUPILS STOOD FACING HER. "Pick your hiding spots first, but don't go to them until you hear Ruthie's whistle."

Steven, Jeremy, Kathy, and Michael moved away. Ruthie stood beside Miz Badger, trembling just a little. Her mouth was dry, and she cleared her throat. Oh, yes, she had practiced last night with Steven coaching her. "Louder," he had said, until she thought she would scream. But danger signals were so important, and she just had to do it right. Her life and those of her friends depended on hearing danger signals loud enough and in time for them to hide from whatever big hungry animal was looking for dinner.

"Now," said Miz Badger.

Ruthie stood up on her hind legs, took a deep breath, and whistled. Just as she had practiced with Steven, it was loud and clear. The other animals scattered: Steven and Kathy dived into pickery berry bushes, Jeremy scampered up a tree, and Michael dived into the brook.

"Again," said Miz Badger.

And Ruthie stood tall and whistled once more. She dropped back on all fours and looked up at Miz Badger.

"That was EXCELLENT!" said Miz Badger. "A very satisfactory woodchuck whistle. I think the others could hear you very well. What about it?" Miz Badger called to them.

From deep in the berry bushes, Steven and Kathy cried, "Yes!" Jeremy headed down the tree, meeting Michael coming out of the water. "Yes!" they shouted.

"I thought Ruthie might need to work more on her whistle today," said Miz Badger, "but she did so well that we can move on to Jeremy and Steven instead."

Ruthie beamed and twitched her whiskers. Praise from Miz Badger didn't come her way very often. She waddled over to stand next to Steven. "I really appreciate your coaching me last night," she whispered to him. "For once I could do something right." She added, "Are you ready to do your signal?"

"Sure," said Steven, "my back feet and legs are strong. And I've been practicing too. Just wait and see."

"Jeremy," Miz Badger was saying, "if you'll climb up the tree again, I'll give you the signal. And you others, go once again to your hiding places, but not into them until you hear Jeremy."

Up in the tree, Jeremy waited.

"Now," called Miz Badger.

Twitching his tail rapidly up and down, Jeremy began a furious chattering. He fairly danced on the tree limb as he chrrrrrrred, his entire body in motion. Birds flew out of the tree, squawking.

"Oh, we hear that," called Kathy and Steven and Ruthie from the pickery berry bushes where they had dived once more. "I heard it too," shouted Michael Beaver.

What a performance! Miz Badger exclaimed to herself. "My goodness, Jeremy," she said, "you'll have the whole forest in an uproar! I think once is enough!"

"Whew," puffed Jeremy, as he joined the group returning from their hiding places.

"Now, Steven, are you ready?" asked Miz Badger. "I don't think the rest of you need to hide. Just back off a way."

Steven crouched, waiting for Miz Badger's signal. "Now," she said, and Steven immediately began a rhythmic thumping with his back legs and feet. The ground trembled as he thumped, and Kathy Possum put her paws to her ears. Jeremy, Ruthie, and Michael stood with their mouths open. Wow! Kathy whispered.

Miz Badger held up a paw and there was silence. "Well," she said finally, "you have all done wonderfully well. I am extremely proud of you." She paused and looked at each animal in turn. "I know you will now be ready to hide if you hear a danger signal from one of the others. Don't delay, hide at once." She thought for a moment as the young animals stared at her expectantly. "We will meet one last time tomorrow, for I have taught you all you need to know--how to find food, how to hide from predators, how to signal danger and what to do when you hear such a signal."

"Oh," said Kathy Possum suddenly, "remember the mean old coyote?" Ruthie added quickly, "And that smelly Big Millie, the Cross-Eyed Bear!" The others nodded, remembering how Miz Badger had saved them from danger.

Miz Badger looked round at her pupils as they sat quietly once again. "Tomorrow you will graduate from the Woodland School."

Oh, my. This was not what they had expected to hear. Each one wondered silently, am I truly ready to be on my own?

As if she knew what they were thinking, Miz Badger said again, "You have all done well, and you ARE ready to be on your own. I will see you tomorrow."

The young animals turned in a group and wandered away together. No one spoke; they were busy with their own thoughts.

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