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Jeremy Squirrel &
Michael Beaver

CHAPTER 2.
GATHERING FOOD WHILE DANGER LURKS


Steven Rabbit &
Ruthie Woodchuck

SEVERAL DAYS WENT BY. The other little animals forgot how they had laughed at Kathy because each day Miz Shirley Badger took her pupils on an exciting field trip. It was fall, and they were learning to gather their own food.

One day, Jeremy Squirrel found ripe acorns and hickory nuts where they had dropped from tall trees. He gathered them into neat piles. Because he was small and quick, he scampered up one tree after another, looking for holes in which to store the nuts. Sometimes he leapt from one tree to another, using his long fluffy tail for balance so that he would not fall. Jeremy did not know it, but when winter arrived, he would keep warm by wrapping that same long fluffy tail around himself.

Steven Rabbit and Ruthie Woodchuck searched for bright green clover patches hidden in the tall grass of the meadow. When they found one, Steven and Ruthie each began at one edge of the clover patch and nibbled their way toward the middle. In the middle, they bumped noses and laughed. Then they ran off to find another clover patch to start another game.

Like Jeremy Squirrel, Steven was small and quick. He had long ears, but only a fluffy puff for a tail.

Ruthie Woodchuck, on the other hand, was bigger than the other animals, and getting bigger. She put on lots of fat in the fall, for she would sleep the winter away in her underground house. She would not even wake up to eat. Next spring, Ruthie would come out of her house rumpled and skinny. And VERY hungry.

Michael Beaver gnawed busily at the young tree saplings growing along the brook. By and by, the remains of several saplings lay on the ground. Michael's fur was glossy brown. He was a slow mover on the ground. In the water, he was a powerful swimmer, helped by his broad flat tail. When he dove into the water he could slap the water with his tail to signal other animals that there was danger nearby.

Kathy Possum gathered ripe berries, eating them one by one as she moved slowly from bush to bush. Soon her furry little face was stained red with raspberry juice. Some juice even ran down her front. Kathy was a small, gray animal, like Jeremy Squirrel. But her tail was long and bare, instead of fluffy like Jeremy's. Her ears were black, and her small paws and the end of her nose were pink.

And their teacher, Miz Shirley Badger, tall, with striped fur, walked round and round in a circle. She watched each little animal working to gather food.

Although her pupils did not know it, she was also keeping watch for the mean old coyote. She knew the mean old coyote was very fond of young animal for dinner. He wasn't fussy. If he could catch a squirrel, or a woodchuck, or even a small beaver, he was happy.

Neither Miz Shirley Badger nor her pupils knew that the mean old coyote sat watching them. He peered at the group from behind a big tree in the forest. His sharp yellow teeth showed in a mean grin. He thought about dinner, trying to decide which one he'd have the best chance of catching.

On the other hand, he was deeply afraid of Miz Shirley Badger's long claws. While badgers are great diggers of holes, using their claws, those claws can rip long gashes in a coyote's fur coat. And however hungry he was, the mean old coyote had no wish to be raked by Miz Shirley Badger's claws. So, he sat and thought. And as he thought, he made a plan.

Crouching low, he crept from behind the tree. Slowly, ever so slowly, placing each paw carefully so as to make no noise, he began to sneak toward Steven Rabbit and Ruthie Woodchuck. Those two were nibbling away in a clover patch.

Now and then the coyote turned his head, keeping an eye on Miz Shirley Badger. He shivered a little, thinking of her long claws, for coyotes are cowardly as well as sneaky. But he was very hungry, and he decided he just had to take the chance of catching something small and furry for dinner.

He did not see Kathy Possum, just rounding a berry bush, not far from where Steven Rabbit and Ruthie Woodchuck were almost bumping noses in the clover patch.

Miz Shirley Badger was alongside the brook eyeing Michael Beaver's big pile of young saplings.

And Jeremy Squirrel had almost disappeared behind a heap of acorns to which he was adding a few hickory nuts.

So the coyote concentrated hard on Steven and Ruthie as he crept ever nearer to them, step by slow step. He parted the tall grass and, looking over his shoulder, saw that Miz Shirley Badger was talking to Michael Beaver. Now, NOW was his chance. The mean old coyote lunged toward Steven and Ruthie.

No one could say for sure what happened next. But everyone agreed that while Steven Rabbit leapt into the nearby berry bushes, Ruthie Woodchuck simply froze. Her underground house was a long way from the clover patch, and there was no other hole for her to dive into. She let out a shriek of terror.

And then, suddenly, it seemed everyone was in motion. Michael Beaver dived into the brook. Jeremy Squirrel scrambled up a tall tree and didn't stop climbing until he had reached the topmost branch. Miz Shirley Badger whirled, saw the mean old coyote in one glance, and streaked toward him.

And just then, little Kathy Possum ambled out from the berry bush between the coyote and Ruthie Woodchuck. Kathy opened her mouth to ask why Ruthie had shrieked when she saw the coyote leaping toward her through the tall grass.

Kathy toppled over backward. Her mouth was open, her eyes were wide and staring, and all four legs stuck up straight and stiff in front of her as she lay still.

The coyote, thrown off balance by the sight of Kathy lying in his path, spun away from Ruthie Woodchuck who was still frozen in terror.

And now Miz Shirley Badger was upon the coyote. Growling and snarling, she rushed at him, fully intending to rip him to shreds with her long powerful claws. And he, in fear of his life, turned and ran as he had never run before. Past the meadow, over the brook and into the forest he ran. Michael Beaver, peeping from behind a rock in the brook, shouted, "That way, he went that way," as Miz Shirley Badger hurtled after him.

At the brook, Miz Shirley Badger stopped, panting heavily. She stood, paws on hips, glaring fiercely after the coyote who was now disappearing into the dark forest.

"Try to catch MY pupils, will you? I think NOT!" she muttered to herself.

Jeremy Squirrel climbed down from his perch at the top of the tree. "Gosh, Miz Badger," he said, "you sure scared him away. Was that the mean old coyote?"

"Yes, Jeremy," said Miz Shirley Badger still puffing, "that was the coyote. Now, will you please go and tell the others to join us here at the edge of the brook."

And Jeremy loped off to find Ruthie, Steven, and Kathy.

Michael Beaver hauled himself up over the bank of the brook. His fur was wet and sleek from his dive into the brook. "Why didn't you chase him some more, Miz Badger?" he asked, "Why didn't you?"

Miz Shirley Badger eyed him. "Because my first responsibility is to my pupils. I must make sure you are all right." She didn't say so to Michael, but she knew the coyote could run faster than she could.

Just then Jeremy returned with Steven Rabbit hopping beside him and Ruthie Woodchuck scuttling behind them, glancing fearfully over her shoulder. But where was Kathy Possum?

"Miz Badger," Jeremy panted, "something's wrong with Kathy. She's lying over there and she won't move and," he paused for breath, "it looks like she's got blood all over her."

"Oh, dear, oh dear," said Miz Shirley Badger, and she began to stride briskly in the direction Jeremy was pointing. "Pupils, you come with me," she called over her shoulder. And off she went, trailed by Jeremy and Steven, with Ruthie and Michael waddling in the rear.

Sure enough, there was little Kathy Possum, still lying where she had toppled backward. The other animals crept closer to each other and to Miz Shirley Badger. Stooping low, and gathering the little animals into her long furry arms, she whispered, "You stay right here and wait for me."

Miz Shirley Badger could be stern and gruff, as all badgers are, but now, with her pupils clustered fearfully around her she spoke softly and comfortingly. "We're having an adventure," she said, "an exciting adventure. And it isn't over yet." She patted small furry shoulders all around and left them to wait for her.

The little animals huddled together, watching to see what their teacher would do about Kathy Possum.

First, Miz Shirley Badger bent over Kathy Possum. Kathy was stiff and motionless. Then the teacher sniffed at Kathy's chest. This isn't blood, she thought, it's berry juice. Thank goodness. She crouched beside Kathy and whispered something into her small black ear.

While the other students watched, holding their breath, Miz Shirley Badger lifted Kathy gently and placed her on her four stiff legs. Still Kathy did not move but stood there rigid. Then Miz Shirley Badger stroked Kathy's back and crooned to her, "There, there, it's all right, teacher is here. Wake up, little Kathy."

The other animals looked at each other. How could Kathy be sleeping? they wondered.

As Miz Shirley Badger continued to croon to Kathy and stroke her back, Kathy blinked. Then Kathy shut her open mouth, blinked twice more, and shook herself all over. Miz Shirley Badger sat back and her whiskers twitched in a big smile. "That's better," she said, as the other little animals stared in amazement.

They rushed forward then and gathered around Kathy. "Oh, Kathy," cried Jeremy Squirrel, "I thought you were dead!" He looked at her closely. "I thought you must be dead with all that blood on you."

Miz Shirley Badger chuckled. "Jeremy, that's berry juice," she said. Then, with one arm around Kathy, she motioned the other animals to sit in a circle around them. "You can see that Kathy is all right," she said, "aren't you, Kathy?"

Kathy nodded and yawned, showing her pink tongue and her sharp little teeth. She leaned against Miz Shirley Badger, blinking sleepily.

Steven Rabbit peered at her. Maybe she had been asleep, he thought. But how could she be? From the safety of the berry bushes, he had seen the mean old coyote come leaping toward Ruthie and Kathy. Steven scratched one long ear and wondered.

Miz Shirley Badger was continuing, ". . . and tomorrow in class we'll talk about how small animals must always be on the lookout for big hungry animals." She looked around the circle of her pupils. "Wasn't this an exciting adventure?" she asked.

"Yes, Miz Badger," the little animals chorused happily, now that the danger was past, Miz Badger clapped her paws. "All right, class, back to school and then home." And to herself she thought, My goodness, this was enough adventure for today! She led the way along the tall grass at the edge of the meadow.

Jeremy Squirrel and Steven Rabbit scampered along behind her. Michael Beaver and Ruthie Woodchuck hurried to keep up. And Kathy Possum brought up the rear, walking slowly and dreamily. Every now and then, Steven glanced back at her curiously. Again he wondered how she could have gone to sleep, just when the mean old coyote was leaping at her.

After school, Miz Shirley Badger walked with Kathy to Grandma Possum's house. While Kathy washed berry juice from her fur, Grandma Possum and Miz Shirley Badger talked quietly. Then Miz Shirley Badger admired Kathy's little pink plate and her two-handled mug as Kathy drank her chocolate milk and ate cookies.

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