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Snapping Turtle

CHAPTER 3.
BRAVE MICHAEL BEAVER


Mother Duck and her
Ducklings

THE LITTLE GROUP STOPPED AT THE OLD OAK TREE. "Say," said Michael Beaver, "why don't you all come with me and take a look at the dam I'm building." The rest of them looked at each other. Why not? Somehow they were reluctant to take leave of the others, and this was something they could still do as a group.

"Okay," said Jeremy, speaking for the rest of them.

Michael led the way, followed by the others. On land he waddled, but in the water he was graceful as could be, pushing himself with his powerful back legs and steering himself with his broad, flat tail. Now he plunged into the brook, and, as the others watched, he glided toward the pool created behind the dam he was building.

A mother duck and several half-grown ducklings glanced at him. Mother was teaching the ducklings to dive in the pool for food. Two of the ducklings were bottom-up in the pool, peering around underwater for tasty plant roots. They all had grown used to this sleek, furry animal dragging saplings and tree limbs through the water to add to his dam, and they paid little attention to him.

Michael's four friends admired the dam and Michael's lodge which rose high above the water. "I'm enlarging my house," said Michael, "because eventually I'll need more room for a family."

"If you ever get around to it," said Jeremy, snickering. "You'll be building that dam for years. But the construction is very solid, I think," he added. "You've got mud and rocks as part of it, too," he observed.

"Isn't it awfully hard work?" asked Ruthie Woodchuck.

"Well, yes," admitted Michael, "but I have to keep gnawing saplings and tree limbs--otherwise my front teeth grow too fast."

Ruthie and Kathy Possum stepped over to the bank of the pool and dabbled their paws. Neither was fond of water, but they enjoyed making little splashes.

Steven Rabbit had continued to inspect the dam with interest. "What's that thing?" he asked suddenly. He had been looking at the top of the dam when he saw a piece of it begin to move. Slowly, very slowly, it crawled to the edge of the dam.

"Oh! How ugly!" exclaimed Ruthie. She and Kathy stepped back quickly from the edge of the pool. "Michael, what is it?"

The thing was big and oval-shaped, with moss-covered ridges all over it. A long neck stuck out of it with a huge beaked head at one end. A ridged tail stuck out of the other end. Four large, stout legs with claws brought the thing closer and closer to the edge of the dam.

"Oh, no!" cried Michael, "it's a snapping turtle and it's going after the ducklings." His tail slapped the water. Mother duck began quickly to herd her ducklings toward the bank. Little legs paddled furiously as mother quacked, "Hurry, hurry!" The two who had been bottom-up trailed behind their mother, trying frantically to keep up.

And now the snapping turtle had slipped from the dam's edge. It was in the water after the ducklings. Paddling swiftly with his back paws, Michael seized a tree limb from his dam. Holding it in his front paws as he swam after the turtle, he was soon alongside it. The thing never looked at him, so intent was it on that last duckling. Dinner, it was thinking. Michael jabbed at the turtle with the tree limb. That caught its attention and it turned its fierce, ugly head toward him.

On the bank, Jeremy was chattering and twitching his tail up and down so fast that it was just a blur. Ruthie was squealing, and Steven was thumping the ground with all his might. Kathy Possum was almost toppling over with fright.

And far away, Miz Badger on her way home heard the commotion and smiled to herself. Her pupils were practicing danger signals, she thought.

But at the brook, the danger was real. "Oh, Michael, be careful," whispered Kathy Possum, as the creature turned toward Michael. And then, just when its great horned beak opened to attack Michael, he jammed the tree limb into the beak. CRUNCH! The beak came down on the limb, almost severing it in half. But the limb held. The beak could neither close nor open; it was stuck fast in the limb. Its small, mean eyes glared at Michael. What was it thinking? Certainly there was rage gleaming in those eyes . . .

Michael swam away quickly, looking for the mother duck and the ducklings. They were all on the bank crouching under a bush, the ducklings huddled under their mother's wings. They were safe. The danger to them was over.

Farther down the bank, Michael's friends were cheering. He hauled himself up to join them, and fell flat on the ground, panting. They gathered around him, all talking at once. "Are you hurt?" they asked. As the only animal large enough, Ruthie tried to help him to his feet. "I'm all right," said Michael, getting up on all fours and shaking himself. Water droplets flew everywhere, and his friends backed away.

As one, they turned to gaze at the pool. The creature was swimming in circles, its beak still stuck in the tree limb, and its mean eyes still glittering with anger. Kathy Possum shuddered and looked away. "Horrible," she said, and Steven patted her shoulder.

"Could have got you, Michael," said Jeremy. "Could have bitten off your leg with that beak."

They were all quiet then, thinking of what could have happened to Michael.

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