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Big Millie the Cross-Eyed Bear

CHAPTER 3.
DANGER


Miz Shirley Badger

AND OFF TO ONE SIDE, MIZ BADGER STOOD watching and listening. Her pupils were messy eaters, she thought as she looked at them, but no wonder. Winter had been cold and snowy, and they were very hungry. I might try a bit of cabbage, she thought to herself, but just then her sharp ears caught a thumping sound, not far off. And her twitching nose picked up from a passing breeze a smell she recognized. Not a nice smell. A very BAD smell, in fact. "Ugh, I know who THAT is," she said to herself as she wheeled to look back at the forest. Danger was on its way, lumbering toward them.

Miz Badger clapped her paws together sharply and called out, "Quickly, quickly, you must all hide. Remember last fall how you learned to escape danger. You must do so, NOW!"

Heads jerked up, food dropped from paws and mouths. They asked no questions, they just moved.

Michael Beaver ran to the rushing stream and plunged in. The brook carried him along as he paddled furiously to keep from being swept away. He landed against a large boulder and huddled behind it. Jeremy Squirrel leapt to the apple tree, climbing quickly to a tall branch where he sat, his tail twitching. Steven Rabbit dived into the pickery berry bush hedge and crouched, keeping his ears back. Trailing shreds of pumpkin, Kathy Possum went after him and they huddled together in the thicket peering out fearfully.

"What is it?" Kathy whispered. "I'm scared."

"I don't know," Steven whispered back. "I'm scared too. Keep down." And they flattened themselves against the ground.

Only Ruthie Woodchuck continued to chew carrots. So intent was she on filling her empty stomach that she hadn't heard Miz Badger's warning through her noisy crunching.

Miz Badger strode toward the edge of the forest. She hoped her pupils were in hiding as they had been taught. She didn't see that behind her Ruthie was not in hiding, that she was still eating.

And then, suddenly, the danger was there! And it was huge and black and smelly. Big Millie, the Cross-Eyed Bear stomped noisily out of the forest, her immense head moving ponderously from side to side, her mouth open showing enormous yellow teeth. She was followed by two small versions of herself, Big Millie's twin cubs.

Two days earlier, Big Millie had awakened to spring. Like Ruthie Woodchuck, she had slept away the winter, hibernating in her snug den. Her cubs had been born while she slept. With the smell of spring in her snout-like nose, Big Millie craved food. The cubs were hungry as well, mewling and whining at her heels.

So Big Millie had taken the cubs to a nearby garbage dump, a favorite eating spot of hers. She introduced the cubs to moldy pizza, rotten potato peelings, and other stinky leftovers. Big Millie and the cubs had burrowed deep into the piles of garbage, looking for more, more, more, until finally, mother and cubs sat back and looked at one another.

"Time for dessert," said Big Millie at last, thinking of mushy apples, and she set off through the forest, followed by the twins. Their fur coats were decorated with bits of garbage giving off the bad smell which Miz Shirley Badger had detected on the breeze.

Smashing her way through the forest underbrush, Big Millie growled and snorted to herself. Always bad-tempered, her mood was improved only slightly by the meal she had eaten at the dump. Other forest animals scurried away when they heard Big Millie coming. It was common knowledge that Big Millie would eat anything she could catch.

And suddenly, there she was at the apple tree. Miz Shirley Badger took one quick breath and strode forward, snarling a warning. Big Millie swung her head, her small, mean eyes glaring at Miz Badger.

"Scoot," Big Millie said to the twins, "climb the tree." One on each side of the trunk, obediently the cubs clambered up the apple tree. Nobody argued with Big Millie.

Jeremy Squirrel watched them coming up and quickly leapt from branch to branch to the very top of the tree. Shutting his eyes, he clung there trembling.

Michael Beaver peeped around the boulder he was hiding behind. He saw Big Millie rear up on her hind legs and he ducked back behind the boulder.

Flat on the ground inside the pickery berry bushes, Steven Rabbit and Kathy Possum listened, their hearts pounding.

And finally, finally, Ruthie Woodchuck looked up. She gasped, dropping a carrot. It was a dreadful monster! And the monster had seen her. Oh, oh, oh! It was trying to slap Miz Shirley Badger out of its path and come after her. She froze, terrified.

Big Millie growled and snuffled, waving her paws threateningly. She took a lumbering step forward. Even with her crossed eyes she had spotted Ruthie Woodchuck. Garbage was all very well for a quick meal, but fresh small animal was even better.

Ruthie suddenly found her voice and shrieked. It was then that Miz Badger realized that Ruthie was not hiding, that she was in terrible danger.

Fearlessly, Miz Badger lunged. Like a boxer landing punches, one, two, she slashed at Big Millie's exposed belly with her long, sharp claws. Again and again, she struck while Big Millie swayed above her. Big Millie dropped to all fours. Miz Badger lunged again and her claws raked Big Millie across her ugly snout of a nose.

Big Millie was not used to being attacked. Usually she did the attacking. Briefly she considered teaching Miz Shirley Badger a thing or two. . .but there were the cubs to think of. She backed away, growling at them to follow her. The cubs slid backward down the tree and ran to Big Milie.

Ruthie found her legs under her at last and scuttled for safety to the pickery berry bush hedge. She puffed and panted as she crouched down beside Steven and Kathy. "Awful," she gasped, "just awful. . ." And that was all she had breath for.

Up in the treetop, Jeremy opened his eyes and looked down. There was the monster, muttering and growling and licking her sore nose, but backing away into the forest, her cubs stumbling along beside her. "Whew," said Jeremy, watching from his perch.

Miz Badger too was puffing and panting. She looked around for her pupils and found them all safe, even the heedless Ruthie Woodchuck. Well, thank goodness for that. Miz Badger looked at her paws. Nasty bits of garbage had stuck to the claws so she went to the brook and rinsed them. Then she helped Michael Beaver clamber over the boulder onto dry ground.

Michael shook himself briskly and water droplets flew everywhere. "What was that great big monster?" he asked Miz Badger, and shook himself again. His fur settled into its normally sleek lines.

"All right, pupils," called Miz Badger, beckoning to Michael to follow her, "you may come out now. We'll discuss what just happened here."

Jeremy Squirrel leapt nimbly down the apple tree, branch by branch. Steven Rabbit and Kathy Possum crawled from beneath the pickery berry bush hedge. And, last of all, very slowly, Ruthie Woodchuck pushed her way out of the hedge, leaving tufts of her fur coat stuck on the pickers. "Ouch, ouch," she said, as she joined the others who sat quietly looking up at Miz Shirley Badger.

"That monster," said Miz Badger, "was Big Millie, the Cross-Eyed Bear. And you are right to be afraid of her. She is a predator who will eat anything, including small animals."

Ruthie Woodchuck shivered. She had had a narrow escape from that enormous monster.

Miz Badger continued, "I'm proud of you. Last fall, you learned how to hide from danger, and you did very well today."

Four of the little animals looked at each other. Ruthie Woodchuck fidgeted. She had not done well at hiding until it was almost too late.

"The lesson for today, class, is that you must be always alert to danger. It can come noisily, like Big Millie, or slowly and silently, like the mean old coyote, last fall."

Again, the animals looked at each other. They were remembering how Miz Badger had saved them from the mean old coyote.

"If you sense danger at any time, you must hide," said Miz Badger. "It is better to hide half a dozen times for nothing than to fail to hide just once," she paused, "and be caught." She looked sternly at Ruthie Woodchuck, who dropped her eyes as a big tear rolled down her furry face.

"And you must always have a hiding place in mind, no matter where you are," Miz Badger went on, "so that you can get to it quickly when you sense danger."

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