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CHAPTER 2.
MIZ BADGER'S HUNGRY PUPILS


Kathy Possum, Jeremy Squirrel & Michael Beaver

THEY FOUND THE OTHER YOUNG ANIMALS sitting in front of Miz Shirley Badger. Michael Beaver was there and Jeremy Squirrel and little Kathy Possum. Tall, erect, and rather stern-looking, Miz Badger looked at each of her pupils in turn.

"Good morning," she said, "and welcome back to the Woodland School."

"Good morning, Miz Badger," said all the young animals together.

"First, please tell us how you spent the winter. You go first, Michael," said Miz Badger.

Michael Beaver looked down at his front paws. He said, "It's a good thing I had worked hard on my house." He gazed up at Miz Badger. "I had built a good thick dam with tree saplings and mud and rocks, but with all the ice on the pond, it was hard to get out for food. My food pocket of tree limbs on the bank of the pond came in handy, and I didn't have to go far. But the food is almost gone now." He added, "And I'm hungry."

Miz Badger nodded approvingly. "Very good, Michael. Yes, I'm sure you're hungry, and we'll attend to that shortly. But first, let's hear from Jeremy about how he spent the winter."

Jeremy Squirrel ran his paws along his big fluffy tail. "I wrapped my tail around me to keep out the cold," he said. "Even though I was snug in a hole in the old oak tree, the wind was fierce sometimes." He continued, "I did get out once in awhile, but the nuts I had buried were mostly impossible to get at. So I'm hungry too."

"Yes," said Miz Badger. "And you, Steven?"

"Oh, I made out all right," said Steven Rabbit. "I gnawed bark from shrubs and bushes, and now that the clover is growing . . . Gosh, it tastes good!" He couldn't help it, he just had to hop up and down once or twice.

Kathy Possum raised her paw. "Miz Badger," she said, "Grandma Possum and I found a place where we were able to get food all winter." Kathy turned around to look at her tail. "But I did get frostbitten," she added.

The other animals looked at her. Sure enough, they could see that her bare tail was shorter than it had been, and the tips of her small black ears looked sort of ragged.

Miz Badger considered. "Where is this place, Kathy?" asked Miz Badger. "Is there enough food left for all of us?"

"Oh, yes, Miz Badger, lots!" said Kathy.

"What about it, class," said Miz Badger, "shall we follow Kathy?"

"Oh, yes, Miz Badger," they shouted, Ruthie loudest of all, "we're so hungry."

As they hurried away from the clearing, Miz Badger questioned Kathy about the food they were going to look for. But as always, she was alert for trouble. Trouble usually came in the form of a big, hungry animal looking for a small animal for dinner.

Somewhere behind them, Miz Badger could hear a muffled crashing sound, but it seemed to come from deep in the forest. She had an idea what, or who, it might be, so she kept her ears perked, even as she and Kathy talked. Above them, a hawk made lazy circles in the sky. Miz Badger saw him drop lower to look over her group of little animals, but she knew she could deal with him if he decided to attack. She said nothing to her pupils, but kept a wary eye on him. Soon he sailed away out of sight.

Kathy led them beside a brook which was rushing along freely, now that the winter ice had melted. Finally, she stopped by an apple tree. "See," she said, "there are soft apples on the ground. They're mushy, but they taste good. Grandma Possum and I dug them out from under the snow. We ate a lot of them."

Miz Badger turned with her arms out as her pupils rushed forward eagerly. "Wait, wait," she cried. She cocked an ear, listening to the crashing sound which seemed to be coming closer. "Gather round me," she said, and as they came to her, she turned and pointed behind her. "Do you hear that noise?"

"I do," said Ruthie. "What is it?"

"I'm not sure, but just in case, let's all keep together. No running out ahead of the group. Kathy, are we close to the food?"

"Yes," said Kathy, and pointed.

There, alongside the brook, just beyond the apple tree, was a garden. Or what was left of a garden that had been snow-covered all winter.

The garden was edged on two sides by leafless pickery berry bushes, but inside the hedge formed by the bushes . . . Oh, boy! The little animals gazed hungrily. The garden looked sad and forlorn, but they saw stalks of brussels sprouts, leaning toward the ground and still covered with small green balls. There were pumpkins, sunken in spots, but still orange. Some carrot tops waved limply. Poles stuck in the ground were covered with the dry leaves of bean vines, but here and there bean pods dangled among the leaves. A cabbage or two had split open. The outer leaves were black, but crisp green and white showed in the middle. The vegetables plus the mushy apples looked like a banquet to the small hungry animals.

Ruthie was the first to dart forward. She went straight to the carrot tops and began to dig. Beneath the drooping tops were carrots and Ruthie's strong claws dug up one after another. She chewed so fast that bits of carrot flew out from each side of her mouth.

Michael Beaver studied the garden thoughtfully. Finally he moved into the tangle of brussels sprouts stalks. "Would you like these little green balls?" he asked Steven Rabbit. "I'll eat the stalks and you can have these."

"Great," cried Steven, and hopped over to join Michael. Together they set to work--Michael chomping the tough, fibrous stalks, and Steven biting quickly through one round sprout after another.

Jeremy Squirrel examined the bean pods dangling among the dried leaves. He pulled one pod from a dead vine and gnawed it open with his sharp front teeth. "These beans taste almost like nuts," he shouted, looking up and reaching for more pods.

Kathy Possum tried the pumpkin. The flesh inside the skin was soft and stringy, and soon Kathy was draped in ribbons of orange pumpkin as she munched happily.

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