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The Merry Little Breezes Save the Green Meadows
OLD Mother West Wind's family is very big, very big indeed. There are dozens and dozens of Merry Little Breezes, all children of Old Mother West Wind. Every morning she comes down from the Purple Hills and tumbles them out of a great bag on to the Green Meadows. Every night she gathers them into the great bag and, putting it over her shoulder, takes them to their home behind the Purple Hills.
One morning, just as usual, Old Mother West Wind turned the Merry Little Breezes out to play on the Green Meadows. Then she hurried away to fill the sails of the ships and blow them across the great ocean. The Merry Little Breezes hopped and skipped over the Green Meadows looking for some one to play with. It was then that one of them discovered something—something very dreadful.
It was a fire! Yes, Sir, it was a fire in the meadow grass! Some one had dropped a lighted match, and now little red flames were running through the grass in all directions. The Merry Little Breeze hastened to tell all the other Little Breezes and all rushed over as fast as they could to see for themselves.
They saw how the little red flames were turning to smoke and ashes everything they touched, and how black and ugly, with nothing alive there, became that part of the Green Meadows where the little flames ran. It was dreadful! Then one of them noticed that the little red flames were running in the direction of Johnny Chuck's new house. Would the little red flames burn up Johnny Chuck, as they burned up the grass and the flowers?
"Hi!" cried the Merry Little Breeze, "We must warn Johnny Chuck and all the other little meadow people!"
So he caught up a capful of smoke and raced off as fast as he could go to Johnny Chuck's house. Then each of the Merry Little Breezes caught up a capful of smoke and started to warn one of the little meadow people or forest folks.
So pretty soon jolly, round, red Mr. Sun, looking down from the blue sky, saw Johnny Chuck, Jimmy Skunk, Peter Rabbit, Striped Chipmunk, Danny Meadow Mouse, Reddy Fox, Bobby Coon, Happy Jack Squirrel, Chatterer the Red Squirrel, Jumper the Hare and old Mr. Toad all hurrying as fast as they could to the Smiling Pool where live Billy Mink and Little Joe Otter and Jerry Muskrat and Spotty the Turtle and Great-Grandfather Frog. There they would be quite safe from the little red flames.
"Oh," gasped Johnny Chuck, puffing very hard, for you know he is round and fat and roly--poly and it was hard work for him to run, "what will become of my nice new house and what will there be left to eat?"
The Merry Little Breeze who had brought him the warning in a capful of smoke thought for a minute. Then he called all the other Little Breezes to him.
"We must get Farmer Brown's help or we will have no beautiful Green Meadows to play on," said the Merry Little Breeze.
So together they rushed back to where the little red flames had grown into great, angry, red flames that were licking up everything in their way. The Merry Little Breezes gathered a great cloud of smoke and, lifting all together, they carried it over and dropped it in Farmer Brown's dooryard. Then one of them blew a little of the smoke in at an open window, near which Farmer Brown was eating breakfast. Farmer Brown coughed and strangled and sprang from his chair.
"Phew!" cried Farmer Brown, "I smell smoke! There must be a fire on the meadows."
Then he shouted for his boy and for his hired man and the three, with shovels in their hands, started for the Green Meadows to try to put the fire out.
The Merry Little Breezes sighed with relief and followed to the fire. But when they saw how fierce and angry the red flames had become they knew that Farmer Brown and his boy and his hired man would not be able to put the fire out. Choking with smoke, they hurried over to tell the dreadful news to the little meadow people and forest folks gathered at the Smiling Pool.
"Chug-a-rum! Why don't you help put the fire out?" asked Grandfather Frog.
"We warned Farmer Brown and his boy and his hired man; what more can we do?" asked one of the Merry Little Breezes.
"Go find and drive up a rain cloud," replied Grandfather Frog.
"Splendid!" cried all the little meadow people and forest folks. "Hurry! hurry! Oh, do hurry!"
So the Merry Little Breezes scattered in all directions to hunt for a rain cloud.
"It is a good thing that Old Mother West Wind has such a big family," said Grandfather Frog, "for one of them is sure to find a wandering rain cloud somewhere."
Then all the little meadow people and forest folks sat down around the Smiling Pool to wait. They watched the smoke roll up until it hid the face of jolly, round, red Mr. Sun. Their hearts almost stood still with fear as they saw the fierce, angry, red flames leap into the air and climb tall trees on the edge of the Green Forest.
Splash! Something struck in the Smiling Pool right beside Grandfather Frog's big, green, lily-pad.
Spat! Something hit Johnny Chuck right on the end of his funny little, black nose.
They were drops of water.
"Hurrah!" cried Johnny Chuck, whirling about. Sure enough, they were drops of water—rain drops. And there, coming just as fast as the Merry Little Breezes could push it, and they were pushing very hard, very hard indeed, was a great, black, rain cloud, spilling down rain as it came.
When it was just over the fire, the great, black, rain cloud split wide open, and the water poured down so that the fierce, angry, red flames were drowned in a few minutes.
"Phew!" said Farmer Brown, mopping his face with his handkerchief, "that was warm work! That shower came up just in time and it is lucky it did."
But you know and I know and all the little meadow people and forest folks know that it wasn't luck at all, but the quick work and hard work of Old Mother West Wind's big family of Merry Little Breezes, which saved the Green Meadows. And this, too, is one reason why Peter Rabbit and Johnny Chuck and Bobby Coon and all the other little meadow and forest people love the Merry Little Breezes who play every day on the Green Meadows.CHAPTER 2
The Stranger in the Green Forest
OLD Mother West Wind, hurrying down from the Purple Hills with her Merry Little Breezes, discovered the newcomer in the Green Forest on the edge of the Green Meadows. Of course the Merry Little Breezes saw him, too, and as soon as Old Mother West Wind had turned them loose on the Green Meadows they started out to spread the news.
As they hurried along the Crooked Little Path up the hill, they met Reddy Fox.
"Oh, Reddy Fox," cried the Merry Little Breezes, so excited that all talked together, "there's a stranger in the Green Forest!"
Reddy Fox sat down and grinned at the Merry Little Breezes. The grin of Reddy Fox is not pleasant. It irritates and exasperates. It made the Merry Little Breezes feel very uncomfortable.
"You don't say so," drawled Reddy Fox. "Do you mean to say that you've just discovered him? Why, your news is so old that it is stale; it is no news at all. I thought you had something really new to tell me."
The Merry Little Breezes were disappointed. Their faces fell. They had thought it would be such fun to carry the news through the Green Forest and over the Green Meadows, and now the very first one they met knew all about it.
"Who is he, Reddy Fox?" asked one of the Merry Little Breezes.
Reddy Fox pretended not to hear. "I must be going," said he, rising and stretching. "I have an engagement with Billy Mink down at the Smiling Pool."
Reddy Fox started down the Crooked Little Path while the Merry Little Breezes hurried up the Crooked Little Path to tell the news to Jimmy Skunk, who was looking for beetles for his breakfast.
Now Reddy Fox had not told the truth. He had known nothing whatever of the stranger in the Green Forest. In fact he had been as surprised as the Merry Little Breezes could have wished, but he would not show it. And he had told another untruth, for he had no intention of going down to the Smiling Pool. No, indeed! He just waited until the Merry Little Breezes were out of sight, then he slipped into the Green Forest to look for the stranger seen by the Merry Little Breezes.
Now Reddy Fox does nothing openly. Instead of walking through the Green Forest like a gentleman, he sneaked along under the bushes and crept from tree to tree, all the time looking for the stranger of whom the Merry Little Breezes had told him. All around through the Green Forest sneaked Reddy Fox, but nothing of the stranger could he see. It didn't occur to him to look anywhere but on the ground.
"I don't believe there is a stranger here," said Reddy to himself.
Just then he noticed some scraps of bark around the foot of a tall maple. Looking up to see where it came from he saw—what do you think? Why, the stranger who had come to the Green Forest. Reddy Fox dodged back out of sight, for he wanted to find out all he could about the stranger before the stranger saw him.
Reddy sat down behind a big stump and rubbed his eyes. He could hardly believe what he saw. There at the top of the tall maple, stripping the branches of their bark and eating it, was the stranger, sure enough. He was big, much bigger than Reddy. Could he be a relative of Happy Jack Squirrel? He didn't look a bit, not the least little bit like Happy Jack. And he moved slowly, very slowly, indeed, while Happy Jack and his cousins move quickly. Reddy decided that the stranger could not be related to Happy Jack.
The longer Reddy looked the more he was puzzled. Also, Reddy began to feel just a little bit jealous. You see all the little meadow people and forest folks are afraid of Reddy Fox, but this stranger was so big that Reddy began to feel something very like fear in his own heart.
The Merry Little Breezes had told the news to Jimmy Skunk and then hurried over the Green Meadows telling every one they met of the stranger in the Green Forest—Billy Mink, Little Joe Otter, Johnny Chuck, Peter Rabbit, Happy Jack Squirrel, Danny Meadow Mouse, Striped Chipmunk, old Mr. Toad, Great-Grandfather Frog, Sammy Jay, Blacky the Crow, and each as soon as he heard the news started for the Green Forest to welcome the newcomer. Even Great-Grandfather Frog left his beloved big, green lily-pad and started for the Green Forest.
So it was that when finally the stranger decided that he had eaten enough bark for his breakfast, and climbed slowly down the tall maple, he found all the little meadow people and forest folks sitting in a big circle waiting for him. The stranger was anything but handsome, but his size filled them with respect. The nearer he got to the ground the bigger he looked. Down he came, and Reddy Fox, noting how slow and clumsy in his movements was the stranger, decided that there was nothing to fear.
If the stranger was slow and clumsy in the tree, he was clumsier still on the ground. His eyes were small and dull. His coat was rough, long and almost black. His legs were short and stout. His tail was rather short and broad. Altogether he was anything but handsome. But when the little meadow people and forest folks saw his huge front teeth they regarded him with greater respect than ever, all but Reddy Fox.
Reddy strutted out in front of him. "Who are you?" he demanded.
The stranger paid no attention to Reddy Fox.
"What business have you in our Green Forest?" demanded Reddy, showing all his teeth.
The stranger just grunted and appeared not to see Reddy Fox. Reddy swelled himself out until every hair stood on end and he looked twice as big as he really is. He strutted back and forth in front of the stranger.
"Don't you know that I'm afraid of nothing and nobody?" snarled Reddy Fox.
The stranger refused to give him so much as a glance. He just grunted and kept right on about his business. All the little meadow people and forest folks began to giggle and then to laugh. Reddy knew that they were laughing at him and he grew very angry, for no one likes to be laughed at, least of all Reddy Fox.
"You're a pig!" taunted Reddy. "You're afraid to fight. I bet you're afraid of Danny Meadow Mouse!"
Still the stranger just grunted and paid no further attention to Reddy Fox.
Now, with all his boasting Reddy Fox had kept at a safe distance from the stranger. Happy Jack Squirrel had noticed this. "If you're so brave, why don't you drive him out, Reddy Fox?" asked Happy Jack, skipping behind a tree. "You don't dare to!"
Reddy turned and glared at Happy Jack. "I'm not afraid!" he shouted. "I'm not afraid of anything nor anybody!"
But though he spoke so bravely it was noticed that he went no nearer the stranger.
Now it happened that that morning Bowser the Hound took it into his head to take a walk in the Green Forest. Blacky the Crow, sitting on the tip-top of a big pine, was the first to see him coming. From pure love of mischief Blacky waited until Bowser was close to the circle around the stranger. Then he gave the alarm.
"Here's Bowser the Hound! Run!" screamed Blacky the Crow. Then he laughed so that he had to hold his sides to see the fright down below. Reddy Fox forgot that he was afraid of nothing and nobody. He was the first one out of sight, running so fast that his feet seemed hardly to touch the ground. Peter Rabbit turned a back somersault and suddenly remembered that he had important business down on the Green Meadows. Johnny Chuck dodged into a convenient hole. Billy Mink ran into a hollow tree. Striped Chipmunk hid in an old stump.
Happy Jack Squirrel climbed the nearest tree. In a twinkling the stranger was alone, facing Bowser the Hound.
Bowser stopped and looked at the stranger in sheer surprise. Then the hair on the back of his neck stood on end and he growled a deep, ugly growl. Still the stranger did not run. Bowser didn't know just what to make of it. Never before had he had such an experience. Could it be that the stranger was not afraid of him? Bowser walked around the stranger, growling fiercely. As he walked the stranger turned, so as always to face him. It was perplexing and very provoking. It really seemed as if the stranger had no fear of him.
"Bow, wow, wow!" cried Bowser the Hound in his deepest voice, and sprang at the stranger.
Then something happened, so surprising that Blacky the Crow lost his balance on the top of the pine where he was watching. The instant that Bowser sprang, the stranger rolled himself into a tight round ball and out of the long hair of his coat sprang hundreds of sharp little yellowish white barbed spears. The stranger looked for all the world like a huge black and yellow chestnut burr.
Bowser the Hound was as surprised as Blacky the Crow. He stopped short and his eyes looked as if they would pop out of his head. He looked so puzzled and so funny that Happy Jack Squirrel laughed aloud.
The stranger did not move. Bowser backed away and began to circle around again, sniffing and snuffing. Once in a while he barked. Still the stranger did not move. For all the sign of life he made he might in truth have been a giant chestnut burr.
Bowser sat down and looked at him. Then he walked around to the other side and sat down. "What a queer thing," thought Bowser. "What a very queer thing."
Bowser took a step nearer. Then he took another step. Nothing happened.
Finally Bowser reached out, and with his nose gingerly touched the prickly ball. Slap! The stranger's tail had struck Bowser full in the face.
Bowser yelled with pain and rolled over and over on the ground. Sticking in his tender lips were a dozen sharp little spears, and claw and rub at them as he would, Bowser could not get them out. Every time he touched them he yelped with pain. Finally he gave it up and started for home with his tail between his legs like a whipped puppy, and with every step he yelped.
When he had disappeared and his yelps had died away in the distance, the stranger unrolled, the sharp little spears disappeared in the long hair of his coat and, just as if nothing at all had happened, the stranger walked slowly over to a tall maple and began to climb it.
And this is how Prickly Porky the Porcupine came to the Green Forest, and won the respect and admiration of all the little meadow people and forest folks, including Reddy Fox. Since that day no one has tried to meddle with Prickly Porky or his business.
Excerpted from Mother West Wind's Animal Friends by THORNTON W. BURGESS, JANET BAINE KOPITO, George Kerr. Copyright © 2003 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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