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Mother West Wind's Neighbors
By THORNTON W. BURGESS, George Kerr, Jane Baine Kopito
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2003 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Why Johnny Chuck Does Not Like Blacky the Crow
JOHNNY Chuck sat in his doorway and watched the world go by. It was a very pleasant world, a very pleasant world indeed, thought Johnny Chuck. Every one was out that pleasant May morning. Johnny Chuck had slipped from his bed very early, but before he had washed himself Jimmy Skunk had stuck his head in at the door and shouted: "Good morning, Johnny Chuck!"
Johnny Chuck had said "Good morning, Jimmy Skunk," had finished dressing, and then gone out to get his breakfast. Far, far away beyond the Green Meadows, Old Mother West Wind was just beginning to turn a great windmill to pump water for some thirsty cows in Farmer Brown's barn-yard. The Merry Little Breezes were hopping and skipping over to the Smiling Pool to pay their respects to Great-Grandfather Frog. Old Mr. Toad already was at work in his garden. Yes, it surely was a very pleasant world.
Johnny Chuck ate his breakfast and then sat on his door-step. His heart was light, for he possessed the best thing in the world, which is contentment. Pretty soon he saw Blacky the Crow fly over to Farmer Brown's cornfield and begin to pull up the tender young corn.
"Dear me, dear me, Blacky the Crow is sure to get into trouble," thought Johnny Chuck.
Sure enough, Blacky the Crow did get into trouble. Johnny Chuck saw a puff of smoke over in the cornfield. Then he heard a loud bang, and Blacky the Crow rose into the air in a hurry. As he flew, three black feathers floated down to the ground. Blacky the Crow had been shot by Farmer Brown's boy, who had been hiding in the cornfield. But Blacky was more frightened than hurt, and he flew across the Green Meadows to the Lone Pine to nurse his hurts and his temper.
Now it is seldom that any one can get into trouble without getting some one else into trouble also. If Blacky the Crow had let Farmer Brown's corn alone, Farmer Brown's boy would not have come out with his gun. But now that he was out with his gun, he thought he would find something else to shoot at, just for fun.
He remembered Johnny Chuck's house, so he began to creep up very, very carefully to try to catch Johnny Chuck napping. Now Johnny Chuck had done no harm, so he did not suspect harm from Farmer Brown's boy. Instead of watching him, Johnny Chuck settled himself comfortably to watch the antics of the Fieldmice children at play.
Suddenly up rushed one of the Merry Little Breezes quite out of breath.
"Get into your house, Johnny Chuck, quick!" he cried.
Long, long ago Johnny Chuck had learned to obey first and ask questions later. Now he didn't so much as turn his head to see what the trouble might be, but turned a back somersault down his doorway. Just then there was a terrible "bang," and the sand at the entrance to Johnny Chuck's house was blown in all directions by the shot. But Johnny Chuck was safe down below. Farmer Brown's boy had been just too late.
Poor Johnny Chuck! His heart went pit-a-pat, pit-a-pat, pit-a-pat, and he trembled all over. He was dreadfully frightened. All the joy of the beautiful sunshiny day was gone. He didn't dare stick so much as the tip of his little black nose out of his door for fear that Farmer Brown's boy was waiting there with his gun. Worse still, he knew that Farmer Brown's boy knew of his snug little home and so, of course, it was no longer safe. He had got to go out and make a new home. Yes, Sir, Johnny Chuck had got to move, and all because Blacky the Crow had been in mischief.
Now just as Johnny Chuck suspected, Farmer Brown's boy sat down to wait for Johnny to come out. He loaded his gun, and then he sat very still, watching Johnny Chuck's doorway. The Merry Little Breezes saw him sitting there, and they were afraid, terribly afraid, that Johnny Chuck would come out. And if he did—what, oh, what could they do?
Then one of them had an idea, such a bright idea! In a flash he had rushed over and snatched the big straw hat from the head of Farmer Brown's boy. All the other Merry Little Breezes clapped their hands for joy. They remembered how they once had saved Mrs. Redwing's speckled eggs, so they all joined in and took turns kicking the old straw hat ahead of them across the Green Meadows. It made a splendid football, that old straw hat, and in the fun of kicking it they almost forgot what had started the new game.
Of course Farmer Brown's boy put his gun down and ran after his hat. The Merry Little Breezes would sometimes let him just touch it with the tips of his fingers, but he never could quite get hold of it. Finally the Merry Little Breezes, lifting all together, took the old hat up, up, up, and sailing it out over the Smiling Pool, dropped it right over the big green lily-pad on which Great-Grandfather Frog was dozing and dreaming of the days when the world was young.
"Chug-a-rum," shouted Grandfather Frog, and dived with a great splash into the Smiling Pool, to come up on the other side that he might see what it was that had fallen from a clear sky over his big green lily-pad.
While Farmer Brown's boy cut a long pole and with it fished in the Smiling Pool for his old straw hat, one of the Merry Little Breezes hurried back to Johnny Chuck's house to tell him that the way was clear, and that it was quite safe for him to come out. You may be sure Johnny Chuck was glad, very glad to hear that. Very, very cautiously he poked his little black nose out of his doorway. Way down by the Smiling Pool he could see Farmer Brown's boy fishing for his old straw hat. Johnny Chuck didn't wait to see him get it. No, Sir! Johnny Chuck just whispered "Good-by" to his snug little home and scampered up the Lone Little Path as fast as he could.
Pretty soon he came to a secret little path he had made for just such a need; no one knew of it but himself. The secret little path led to a spot Johnny Chuck had long before picked out for a new home, if ever he should need one.
Without wasting a minute, he began to dig as never had he dug before. My, how the sand did fly!
Late that afternoon Johnny Chuck's new home was finished and Johnny Chuck sat in his doorway looking over the Green Meadows and watching the world go by. It was a very beautiful world, a very beautiful world indeed, thought Johnny Chuck. His new home was even better than his old one, and he was sure that no one knew of the secret little path that led to it. He was happy, was Johnny Chuck, for once more he had found the best thing in the world, which is contentment.
Presently he saw Farmer Brown's boy coming down the Lone Little Path across the Green Meadows. With him was another boy, and they each carried two pails of water. Johnny Chuck sat up very straight to watch.
Down the Lone Little Path went Farmer Brown's boy and the other boy, straight to Johnny Chuck's old home. First they put a big stone over what used to be Johnny Chuck's back door. Then they began to pour water down the front door. They were trying to drown out Johnny Chuck. Back and forth, back and forth they went, lugging the heavy pails of water.
Johnny Chuck chuckled as he watched them. But, oh, how thankful he was that he had moved so promptly that morning, and how grateful to the Merry Little Breezes he felt for their help.
After a time the boys gave it up and trudged wearily up the Lone Little Path with their empty pails. Johnny Chuck laughed softly to himself as he watched them go. Then he trotted down his secret little path to the Lone Little Path and down the Lone Little Path on to the Green Meadows, where the Merry Little Breezes were at play, to thank them for what they had done for him that day and to join them in a last mad frolic before Old Mother West Wind should take them to their home behind the Purple Hills.
"Caw, caw, caw," said Blacky the Crow, flying over to the Lone Pine.
"Now I wonder who he is making trouble for," thought Johnny Chuck.
And this is why Johnny Chuck does not love Blacky the Crow.CHAPTER 2
Unc' Billy Possum Arrives
THERE was another stranger in the Green Forest. Where he came from or who he was no one knew. The Merry Little Breezes had found him very busily examining a hollow tree, just as if he meant to stay. They watched him for a few minutes, then hurried off to spread the news. Peter Rabbit was the first they met, and Peter listened gravely as, all talking at once, they told him about the stranger.
When the Merry Little Breezes had hurried on, Peter started for the Green Forest. Peter went on tiptoe as he approached the hollow tree. He wanted to see the stranger before the stranger saw him. No one was in sight. Peter sat down behind a stump and waited. Pretty soon a funny face was poked out of the hollow tree. Peter had to clap his hands over his mouth to keep from laughing right out. It was the face of a little old man, a sharp little face with a sharp little nose, that looked as if it might poke into anybody's business.
The stranger looked this way and that way. Then he came out of the hollow, where Peter could have a good look at him. He wore a suit of grayish white, a rough, tumbled suit of which he seemed to take no care at all. He wore black gloves and black stockings through which his white fingers and toes showed. And he had a long tail, a tail that looked very like the long tails of the Rat family, only it was much larger. Altogether the stranger looked quite innocent and harmless and Peter decided to make himself known.
"Good morning," said Peter, stepping out from behind the stump.
The stranger looked down at him and grinned. "Mornin', Suh," said he.
"May I ask where you come from and how long you are going to stay?" asked Peter Rabbit in his most polite manner, and Peter can be very polite when he wants to be.
The stranger showed all his teeth again in another grin. "Yo' may," said he. "Ah reckons yo' alls doan know me. Ah comes from ol' Virginny, and this place is so like mah ol' home that Ah reckon Ah'll stay. Some folks calls me Ol' Bill Possum, but most folks calls me Unc' Billy."
"I'm pleased to know you, Uncle Billy, and I hope you'll like the Green Forest and the Green Meadows," said Peter.
Unc' Billy chuckled. "Ah's right sho' Ah shall," he replied. Then he leaned over and very slowly winked at Peter Rabbit. "Can yo' tell me, Suh, if any poultry live around here?" he asked.
Peter looked a wee bit puzzled. "If you are asking about hens," he replied, "Farmer Brown has some very fine ones over beyond the Green Meadows."
Unc' Billy winked again. "Ah'm right sho' Ah'll stay," said he.
Peter Rabbit and the Merry Little Breezes soon had the news spread not only all through the Green Forest itself but all over the Green Meadows. Of course everybody soon found some excuse to visit the hollow tree where Unc' Billy Possum had decided to make his home.
Unc' Billy was tired after his long journey and was fast asleep inside the hollow tree when the first of the callers arrived, so they sat down around the foot of the tree to wait. Every few minutes another visitor would arrive. Each would appear very much surprised to find the others there and would look a little foolish. Each pretended that it was merely chance that had brought him that way. But no one seemed to have business important enough to take him away, and pretty soon nearly all the little people of the Green Forest and Green Meadows were seated at the foot of the hollow tree.
Finally Johnny Chuck grew tired of waiting. "I begin to believe that we have been fooled and that there isn't any stranger here at all," said he.
"There is, too, for I talked with him," said Peter Rabbit indignantly. "If you know him, why don't you call him out so we can all meet him?" asked Jimmy Skunk.
"I—I—I don't think it would be polite," replied Peter Rabbit. But this wasn't the real reason. Down in his heart Peter was just a wee bit afraid. You see, he didn't know as the stranger would like it, and Peter had looked up at some very sharp teeth when Unc' Billy Possum had grinned down on him that morning.
"Let's send Chatterer the Red Squirrel up to look in and see if there is any one in the hollow tree," said Reddy Fox.
"No, you don't, Reddy Fox!" shouted Chatterer, who is quick-tempered and a terrible scold, and he began to call Reddy names in such a shrill voice that he waked Unc' Billy.
Very slowly Unc' Billy Possum climbed out of the hollow where all could see him. He looked down, and then he grinned until he showed all his white teeth.
"How do yo' alls do?" asked Unc' Billy. "'Pears to me that yo' alls are right smart interested in mah ol' hollow tree."
"It isn't the hollow tree; it's yourself, Uncle Billy," explained Peter Rabbit. "These are your new neighbors come to make a call."
Unc' Billy grinned again. "Ah cert'nly feel honored. Ah think Ah will come down and shake hands," said he.
Danny Meadow Mouse looked at Unc' Billy's white teeth and remembered that he couldn't stop any longer. So did Striped Chipmunk and Whitefoot the Wood Mouse. In fact, by the time Unc' Billy reached the ground there was no one there but Reddy Fox. But as they left, each had promised to call again.
Unc' Billy grinned at Reddy Fox and showed all his teeth once more.
"I'm pleased to meet you, Mr. Possum," said Reddy respectfully, which wasn't at all what he had meant to say, and then he started off to tell Granny Fox all about it.
It was a few days later that Jimmy Skunk felt a great emptiness in his stomach. Jimmy sat down and gently rubbed his stomach, as he tried to decide what would taste best for his supper.
"Let me see," said Jimmy, "I had beetles for breakfast and grasshoppers for dinner, and now for supper I want a change. What shall it be?"
Just then a sleepy "cockadoodledoo" sounded from way over towards Farmer Brown's. Jimmy Skunk rubbed his stomach and chuckled softly. "It's an egg I want; it certainly is an egg, maybe two, perhaps three."
The black shadows crept out from the Purple Hills across the Green Meadows. Jimmy watched them impatiently. How slow they were! He did wish they would hurry. With every little minute he grew hungrier. It wouldn't do to go up to Farmer Brown's hen-house until it was so dark that Farmer Brown's boy would have gone into the house.
Slowly the shadows crept up towards the hen-house, until finally it was all in darkness. Softly Jimmy Skunk crept up to a hole of which he knew. Just outside he sat down and listened for a few minutes. He could hear the biddies clucking sleepily. When all was still, Jimmy Skunk crept inside, and if you had been there to see, you would have found him wearing his broadest smile, for, I am sorry to say, Jimmy Skunk felt quite at home in Farmer Brown's hen-house.
"Let me see, old Mrs. Speckles lays the largest eggs, and young Mrs. Topknot lays the sweetest eggs, and old Mrs. Featherlegs lays the most beautiful eggs. I think I'll try Mrs. Topknot's first," said Jimmy to himself.
He went straight to Mrs. Topknot's nest and reached in. It was empty. Jimmy made a wry face and hurried over to the nest of Mrs. Speckles. Not an egg could he feel. Jimmy's heart sank. Could it be that Farmer Brown's boy had gathered the eggs before dark? It must be, though he usually gathered them in the morning. Jimmy hurried over to the nest of Mrs. Featherlegs. Ha! what was that? It was an egg! Jimmy reached in with both hands to take it out. How queer and light it felt! Jimmy's fingers slipped around to one end. There was a hole there! Jimmy was holding nothing but an empty shell.
Then Jimmy Skunk knew that it was not Farmer Brown's boy who had been before him, but some one who likes eggs as well as he does. For a minute Jimmy lost his temper and ground his teeth, he was so angry.
"It must be that glutton, Shadow the Weasel," he muttered, as he began to search in all the other nests within reach. Not an egg was to be found.
Now there were a lot of nests that Jimmy couldn't reach, for he is not a climber. He was looking up at these hungrily when he noticed something hanging from one of them. He reached up and gave it a sharp pull. Down, right on top of Jimmy Skunk, tumbled Unc' Billy Possum with a big egg in his hands!
Jimmy was so startled that he started to run. Then he turned to look back. There lay Unc' Billy flat on his back, grinning and trying to get his breath.
"Good evening, Suh. These are monstrous fine eggs yo' alls have so convenient, Suh," said Unc' Billy Possum.
When Jimmy Skunk found that it was Unc' Billy Possum who had been before him in Farmer Brown's hen-house and stolen all the eggs within reach from the ground, he was mad.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded.
"Enjoying mahself most amazingly, Suh," replied Unc' Billy, patting the freshly laid egg he was holding.
"You've got no business here!" said Jimmy fiercely, for the sight of that egg Unc' Billy was holding so tightly made his stomach feel emptier than ever, and that was very empty indeed.
"Ah beg yo' pardon, but may Ah ask what business brings yo' here?" asked Unc' Billy, and his grin grew broader than ever.
"I—I—I—" Jimmy didn't know just what to say.
Unc' Billy chuckled. "Ah guess your business and mah business in this henhouse would amount to the same thing if we were to ask Farmer Brown, and he would say that we hadn't any business here at all," said he. Then he rolled the egg he was holding over to Jimmy Skunk. "Ah done eat all Ah can hold, so Ah takes pleasure in giving this to yo'," and once more Unc' Billy grinned.
Excerpted from Mother West Wind's Neighbors by THORNTON W. BURGESS, George Kerr, Jane Baine Kopito. Copyright © 2003 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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