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EPILOGUE

QUIETLY, SUMMER WAS COMING TO AN END. Already the trees looked dusty and tired. Dusk came earlier these days, and the crickets had begun chirping as night fell. Fireflies no longer dotted the long grass of the meadow in the evening, turning their lighted tails on and off. The birds which would be migrating gathered in tree tops, twittering loudly as they argued about the best route to take south. High overhead, geese parents were teaching their young ones to fly in V-formation. The young geese appeared to be slow learners. Autumn would find them flying in close precision, but now they straggled this way and that across the sky as their parents honked furiously.

But on that afternoon in late summer it was very quiet in the Woodland School clearing. Miz Shirley Badger paced round and round, considering lesson plans for the fall term of the Woodland School. Word had gone out through the forest and meadow that a new class for the youngest animals was about to begin. She wondered who her new pupils would be.

Rustlings and whispers made her turn sharply. And as she gazed, out from behind a tall tree came a parade. Steven Rabbit led the way, followed by Kathy Possum. Jeremy Squirrel was there, and Michael Beaver waddled beside him. Last of all came Ruthie Woodchuck, also waddling slowly for she had again spent the summer eating and eating and eating.

The little group surrounded Miz Badger. She clapped her paws, astonished. A big smile spread across her normally stern face. "My, how you all have grown!" she cried.

Steven hopped forward. With him was a small, shy version of himself. "I'd like you to meet my daughter, Pixie," he said, and pushed the little one forward. "This is Miz Shirley Badger," he said to her. "She will be your teacher."

"How do you do, Pixie," said Miz Badger, stooping low. "I'm very pleased that your daddy has brought you."

Kathy Possum stepped forward. My goodness! thought Miz Badger, Kathy is twice as big as the last time I saw her!

Kathy turned her head and three small heads peeked out from the fur on her back. "Miz Badger, these are my daughters, Holly, Molly, and Dolly. I brought them to meet you." Well, thought Miz Badger, no wonder Kathy appeared much larger; she was carrying her daughters snuggled into her fur.

It was Jeremy Squirrel's turn. He led two small squirrels up to Miz Badger. "I'd like you to meet my sons, Alex and Owen." The two young squirrels looked up, their paws crossed on their chests. Miz Badger towered above them and they ducked their heads shyly. She stooped to pat each one on the shoulder. "You look just like your daddy when I met him for the first time," she said. And Jeremy smiled proudly.

Ruthie Woodchuck waddled forward. "Hello, Miz Badger," she said. "I've been so busy eating and eating, I didn't have time to meet any other woodchucks. So I don't have any children to bring." She giggled. "But no big hungry animal found me either, thanks to the lessons I learned from you." She looked around at her friends. "Michael, you don't have any little beaver kits with you?"

Michael bobbed his head. "No," he said, "maybe next year. I was awfully busy this summer. Working on the dam, you know. I took time off to come with the others. Didn't want to miss this gathering."

Miz Badger surveyed the group gathered around her. "This is a wonderful reunion, and I am so pleased to meet your children. I hope they will be as willing to learn as you all were. The lessons might have been difficult--gathering your own food, finding hiding places, practicing your danger signals, AND being alert for danger at all times . . ."

Ruthie looked closely at Miz Badger. Could it be? Was that a tear running down her furry face? She waddled over to look up at Miz Badger and blurted out, "We were so afraid of you at first, but we know now you worked us hard for our own good. And the proof that we learned your lessons is that WE'RE ALL HERE!" she cried triumphantly. "We love you, Miz Badger!"

"And I love you, Ruthie--and all the rest of you," said Miz Badger, and she gathered them close for one last long hug.


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