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- The Tale of Tommy Fox - 2/10 -


couldn't keep his greedy eyes off fat old Mother Grouse! And he squatted down beside a bush and stared at her.

Old Mother Grouse didn't mind that. She just stared back at Tommy Fox; and she didn't say a word to him, which somehow made Tommy still more peevish.

How long Tommy would have stayed there it would be hard to tell. But in a little while something happened that sent him home on the run. If Mrs. Grouse and Tommy had been looking out as sharply as they generally did, Farmer Green's boy never could have crept up so close to them. But they were so busy staring at each other that they never saw Farmer Green's boy at all.

Now, Johnnie Green had his gun with him, for he was hunting grouse. He did not see Tommy Fox at all, because Tommy was hidden behind the bush. But Johnnie Green saw old Mother Grouse; and almost as soon as he saw her he fired.

The old shot-gun made a tremendous roar. The woods rang and echoed with the noise. And Tommy Fox saw a cloud of feathers float down from the limb where old Mother Grouse had been sitting. But old Mother Grouse herself flew away. The shot had knocked out some of her tail- feathers, but hadn't hurt her at all.

It all happened very quickly. And Tommy Fox felt himself leaping high in the air. He was so frightened that he had jumped almost out of his skin. And he ran and ran, and ran faster than he had ever run before in all his rather short life.

Johnnie Green saw him run. But his gun wasn't loaded now, and he couldn't shoot. And he didn't have his dog with him, either. It was lucky for Tommy Fox that there was no dog there. For Tommy was so scared that he forgot all about jumping sideways, and running in circles, as his mother had taught him. He just ran straight for his home in the middle of the big field; and when he got there he scurried through the door and scampered inside; and he never came out again all that day.

III

TOMMY FOX LEARNS TO HUNT

Tommy Fox was hunting crickets in the field near his mother's house. Being a young fox, not much more than half-grown, Tommy knew very little of hunting. In fact, crickets were about the only thing he could hunt and _catch_. Of course, any one can _hunt_. The hard part of it is to _catch_ what you are hunting.

Tommy was glad that he knew how to capture crickets, for he was very fond of them. To be sure, it took a great many crickets to satisfy his hunger. But they were good when he wanted a light lunch; and there was fun, too, in hunting them.

This is the way Tommy Fox caught crickets. He would stand very still in the tall grass and watch sharply. Wherever he saw the grass moving, Tommy would pounce upon that spot, bringing his two front paws down tight against the ground. And in the bunch of grass that lay beneath his paws Tommy almost always found a fat cricket.

There was just one drawback about that kind of hunting. He could catch crickets only upon still days, when there was no wind; because when the wind blew, the grass waved everywhere, and Tommy couldn't tell whether it was crickets or whether it was wind that made the grass move.

Well, upon this very day when Tommy Fox was amusing himself, and swallowing crickets as fast as he could grab them, his mother came out of her house and watched him for a little while. Tommy was feeling quite proud of his skill.

"I can hunt--can't I, Mother?" he exclaimed. "Watch me! I get them almost every time!" he boasted.

Mrs. Fox did not answer. She was thinking deeply. She knew that there were a great many things she must teach her son, because he was growing up; and some day he would be leaving home to go out into the world and take care of himself. And Mrs. Fox knew that Tommy would have to learn to catch bigger things than crickets in order to keep from starving.

Pretty soon Mrs. Fox started across the field. She was gone rather a long time. But she came back at last, carrying something that squirmed and twisted and wriggled. Whatever it was that Mrs. Fox was bringing home, it was furry, and quite big and heavy. When Tommy saw it he stopped hunting crickets at once. He knew what his mother had. It was a woodchuck!

"Hurrah!" he shouted. "I'm hungry! May I eat all of him I want?" You might think that he had swallowed so many crickets that he wouldn't want anything more to eat just then. But to tell the truth, it was very seldom that Tommy Fox wasn't hungry as a bear.

"Not so fast!" Mrs. Fox said. "I'm going to teach you to hunt. And you're to begin with this woodchuck. Now I'm going to let him go, and you must catch him." So Mrs. Fox let the woodchuck slip away; and off he scampered, with Tommy after him. Mrs. Fox followed close behind. And soon she saw Tommy give a great spring and land right on top of the woodchuck.

Tommy was greatly excited. But he was hungry, too, "May I eat him now?" he asked.

"No! Let him go again," his mother commanded. "And see if you can catch him more quickly next time."

Tommy obeyed. And though he overtook the woodchuck sooner, he was not so careful to avoid the 'chuck's sharp teeth, and he got a savage nip right on his nose.

Tommy was surprised. He was so surprised that he dropped the woodchuck. And you may believe that Mr. Woodchuck lost no time. He scurried away as fast as his legs would carry him.

Tommy began to whimper. His nose hurt; and he thought he had lost his dinner, too.

But Mrs. Fox bounded after Mr. Woodchuck and brought him back again. She made Tommy stop crying. And he had to begin his lesson all over again.

When Mrs. Fox thought that Tommy had learned enough for that day they both sat down and made a meal of that unfortunate Mr. Woodchuck. And Tommy felt that he had already become a mighty hunter. He hadn't the least doubt that he could go into the woods and catch almost anything he saw.

We shall see later whether Tommy Fox knew as much as he thought he did.

IV

MOTHER GROUSE'S CHILDREN

The very next day after his first lesson in hunting, when his mother had brought home the live woodchuck, Tommy Fox went off into the woods alone. He had made up his mind that he would surprise his mother by bringing home some nice tidbit for dinner--a rabbit, perhaps, or maybe a squirrel. He wasn't quite sure _what_ it would be, because you know when hunting you have to take what you find--if you can catch it.

Tommy Fox hadn't been long in the woods before he had even better luck than he had expected. He was creeping through a thicket, making no noise at all, when what should he see but that sly old Mother Grouse, with all her eleven children! They were very young, were old Mother Grouse's children; and they hadn't yet learned to fly. And there they were, all on the ground, with the proud old lady in their midst.

Tommy Fox was so pleased that he almost laughed out loud. He tried to keep still; but he couldn't help snickering a little. And old Mother Grouse heard him. She started to fly. But instead of tearing off out of danger, she lighted on the ground quite near Tommy.

"How stupid of her!" he thought. "I'll just catch the old lady first, and then get the youngsters afterward. _They_ can't fly away."

So Tommy made a leap for old Mother Grouse. He just missed her.

She rose in the nick of time and slipped away from him. But she didn't fly far. So Tommy followed. And he stole up very slyly; and once more, when he was quite near the old lady, he sprang at her.

It was really very annoying. For again old Mother Grouse just escaped. Again she flew a little further away, lighted on the ground, and seemed to forget that Tommy Fox was so near.

That same thing happened as many as a dozen times. And the twelfth time that Mrs. Grouse rose before one of Tommy's rushes she didn't come down again. She lighted in a tree. And since it appeared to Tommy that she had no intention of leaving her safe perch, he gave up in disgust. He was very angry because he hadn't caught old Mother Grouse. But there was her family! He would get _them_--the whole eleven of them! And he turned back toward the place where he had first come upon them.

Now, sly old Mother Grouse had played a trick on Tommy Fox. If he had just left her alone he could have caught every one of her children. But she had tempted him to follow her. And every time she rose from the ground and flew a short distance, she led Tommy further away from her little ones.

Tommy had some trouble in finding the exact spot where he had stumbled upon Mrs. Grouse and her children. But he found it again, at last. And little good it did him; for not a trace of those eleven young grouse could he discover. They had all disappeared--every single one of them! _They_ knew what to do when their mother led Tommy Fox away. Each of them found a safe hiding-place. Some of them burrowed beneath the fallen leaves; some of them hid behind old stumps; some of them crept into a hollow log. And try as he would, Tommy Fox was unable to find so much as one downy feather.

He was so disappointed--and so ashamed--that he went home and stayed


The Tale of Tommy Fox - 2/10

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