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- The Tale of Tommy Fox - 3/10 -


there. But he had learned something. Yes! Tommy Fox knew that if he ever met old Mother Grouse and her family again he would catch her children first. Afterward he would try to capture the sly old lady herself. But he didn't believe, just then, that he would ever be able to catch her. You see, Tommy realized that he wasn't quite so clever as he had thought.

V

TOMMY FOX IS HUNGRY

Tommy Fox kept a sharp look-out to see what he could capture to eat. But he could discover nothing at all. To be sure, there were birds in the trees, and birds' nests too, and Tommy was very fond of birds' eggs. But he couldn't climb trees. The birds were out of his reach; and so were the squirrels. He saw plenty of red squirrels, and gray squirrels, and little striped chipmunks. They looked down from the branches and chattered and scolded at him. They were perfectly safe, and they knew it.

Tommy Fox sat down to think. As I have said, he was hungry. And there is nothing that sharpens a fox's wits like hunger. He looked very innocent, as he rested under a big chestnut tree, and gazed up at a gray squirrel which was perched on a limb over his head.

"Run along, Tommy Fox," the squirrel said to him.--"There's no use of your staying here. I shan't come down until you're gone."

Tommy didn't say anything. He just whined a few times, and held his paw against his stomach. And he gave one or two groans.

The gray squirrel came a little further down the tree and looked at Tommy again. He wondered if Tommy was ill. And then, when Tommy stretched himself out on the ground and lay quite still the gray squirrel was sure that Tommy Fox had eaten something that hurt him.

"What is it?" the squirrel inquired.

Tommy looked up and murmured something. The squirrel couldn't hear what he said, but he thought he caught the word _poison_. And he decided that Tommy had probably devoured a poisoned chicken-head which Farmer Green had thrown out for him.

I am afraid that the squirrel didn't feel very sorry. He didn't like Tommy Fox, for Tommy was always trying to catch him. But if he wasn't sorry, he was curious. And he sat up on a low branch and looked at Tommy for a long time.

Tommy Fox never moved again. His eyes were shut; his beautiful red tail, with its white tip, lay limp on the ground; and his legs stuck out as stiff as pokers.

Mr. Gray Squirrel felt sure that Tommy was very ill. He called and called to Tommy. But he got no reply. And at last he decided that Tommy must be dead. So he slipped down the tree to the ground, to get a better look.

At first Mr. Gray Squirrel stayed close to the tree, so that he could scamper up again in case he was mistaken. But Tommy Fox never moved an eyelash. And at last Mr. Gray Squirrel grew quite bold. He edged closer to Tommy. He had never been so near a fox before, and he was curious to see what he looked like. He stole up beside Tommy and was just about to call to his friends in the next tree-top to come down, when he received the surprise of his life.

As Mr. Gray Squirrel watched, he thought he saw one of Tommy Fox's eyelids quiver. And a great fear seized him. Had he been mistaken? Was Tommy Fox playing dead?

VI

MR. GRAY SQUIRREL'S MISTAKE

Mr. Gray Squirrel certainly was mistaken, when he thought that Tommy Fox was dead and came down out of the chestnut tree to look at him. Tommy wasn't even ill. You remember that he was very hungry? And that he had not been able to find anything to eat? Tommy could not climb the tree, where Mr. Gray Squirrel sat. So the only thing left for him to do was to make Mr. Gray Squirrel come down where _he_ was.

That was what Tommy Fox was thinking about, when he sat there on his haunches and looked up so innocently at Mr. Gray Squirrel. As Tommy sat there a bright idea came to him. So he held his paw to his stomach and pretended to be ill. And as soon as he saw that Mr. Gray Squirrel thought he was ill, Tommy fell over on his side and made believe he was dead.

Though his eyes were shut tight, Tommy's ears were so sharp that he could tell when Mr. Gray Squirrel came down the tree. And he could hear him slowly picking his way nearer and nearer. Tommy's nose was sharp, too, and he could smell Mr. Gray Squirrel. He smelled so good that Tommy couldn't help opening one eye the least bit, just to see him. That was when Mr. Gray Squirrel noticed that his eyelid quivered. And Tommy saw at once that Mr. Gray Squirrel had caught that flicker of his eyelid, and that he was frightened. Tommy knew then that he must act quickly.

He jumped up like a flash. But quick as he was, Mr. Gray Squirrel was even quicker. He reached the tree just ahead of Tommy Fox; and though Tommy leaped high up the trunk, he was too late. Mr. Gray Squirrel scrambled up the tree so fast that his big, bushy tail just whisked across Tommy's face. And in another second he was safe in the tree- top, chattering and scolding, and calling Tommy names.

Tommy Fox felt very foolish. He realized that if he had jumped up without first opening his eye he would not have given Mr. Gray Squirrel any warning; and then he would have caught the plump old fellow. But it was too late now. Another time he would know better. And he sneaked off, to try the same trick on one of Mr. Gray Squirrel's friends.

It was no use. Mr. Squirrel followed him, jumping from one tree-top to another, and made a great noise, calling after him, and jeering at him, and telling all his friends about the mean trick Tommy had tried to play on him.

And to Tommy's great disgust, an old crow high up in a tall tree heard the story, and haw-hawed loudly, he was so amused. He made such a racket that all the forest-people heard him; and Tommy knew that there was no sense in trying to catch a squirrel around there _that_ day. He went down into the meadow and began hunting crickets. And though he didn't have as good a lunch as he wanted, probably he ate all that was good for him.

VII

TOMMY CHASES MR. WOODCHUCK

Tommy Fox went up into Farmer Green's back-pasture, which, lay even nearer Blue Mountain than the field where Tommy and his mother lived. He skulked along among the rocky hummocks, and the old stumps which dotted the pasture thickly. His ears and his eyes and his nose were all alert to discover any small animal that might be stirring-- especially his nose; for Tommy could smell things when they were a long way off.

Tommy's mother had explained to him that he must always hunt with the wind blowing in his face; because then the breeze brought to him the scent of any animal that might be in front of him, whether it happened to be an animal that Tommy was hunting, or some animal that was hunting _him_. In that way Tommy would be able to know what was ahead of him, even if he couldn't see it.

[Illustration: Mr. Woodchuck Whisked Down Out of Sight]

But if he were careless, and trotted along with the wind blowing _behind him_--ah! that was quite different. The other forest-people would all know he was coming, for then _they_ would be able to get Tommy's scent. And some day, if he were so foolish as to go about with the wind at his back, some day he might stumble right onto a wildcat, or a dog, or a man, or some other terrible creature.

Well--Tommy remembered all these things that his mother had told him. The wind blew fresh in his face. And to his delight all at once he smelled a woodchuck. There was no mistaking that savoury smell. It affected Tommy very pleasantly--much as you are affected by catching a whiff of hot peanuts, or pop-corn, or candy cooking on the stove.

Tommy stole along very carefully. And as he peered around a stump he saw, not ten jumps ahead of him, a fine, fat woodchuck. Tommy crept up a little closer; and then he sprang for Mr. Woodchuck with a rush.

Pudgy Mr. Woodchuck saw Tommy just in time. He turned tail and ran for his life; and he was so spry, though he was quite a fat, elderly gentleman, that he reached his hole and whisked down out of sight just as Tommy was about to seize him.

Tommy was disappointed. But he was determined to get that woodchuck, and he began to dig away at Mr. Woodchuck's hole. You see, Mr. Woodchuck was smaller than Tommy Fox, and since the underground tunnel that led to his home was only big enough to admit _him_, Tommy was obliged to make it larger. Though Mr. Woodchuck's hole was under a shady oak tree, Tommy found digging to be somewhat warm work, so he took off his neat, red coat and hung it carefully upon a bush.

He worked very hard, for he was eager to find Mr. Woodchuck. In fact, the further Tommy dug into the ground the more excited he grew. And he had just decided that he had almost reached the end of the tunnel, and that a little more digging would bring him inside of Mr. Woodchuck's house, when he met with an unexpected check.

To Tommy's dismay, Mr. Woodchuck's tunnel led between two roots of the big oak, and Tommy could not squeeze between them. He reached his paws through the narrow opening and crowded his nose in as far as it would go. But that was all he could do. He did not doubt that somewhere in beyond, in the darkness, Mr. Woodchuck was having a good laugh because Tommy had done all that work for nothing.


The Tale of Tommy Fox - 3/10

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