THE BLUEBIRDS & THEIR NEIGHBOURS

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CHAPTER 19

Spot the Skunk Finds a Home

"WHEW !" said Johnny Chuck, as he limped toward' his Friendly Burrow; "that was a close call, sure enough."

Spot the Skunk lowered his tail, and turned to see who was talking.

"Indeed it was," said Spot "It was the closest call I have had in many a day."

"The closest call you have had," said Johnny Chuck. "Whom do you think Aquila was after?"

"Why, me, of course," said Spot.

Johnny Chuck showed the gash on his back to Spot the Skunk. "Does that look as if he was after you?" he asked. "I must go right in and have Mrs. Chuck attend to this wound; it will never do to neglect it."

When Johnny Chuck went into, his Friendly Burrow, Spot the Skunk turned and galloped leisurely in the direction of the Little Jungle Thicket. From there he crossed over to the shadow of the Hedgerow that ran along the back of the Apple Orchard. By the time he reached the far end of the Hedgegrow, and had stopped now and then to eat a grasshopper or a beetle, the Long Shadows covered the Great Wide World, and those of the Wild that play during the day had gone to sleep. One by one, those that sleep during the day and play at night, like Spot the Skunk, were start on their evening rambles.

Spot the Skunk was not quite sure where to go when he reached the end of the Hedgerow. He had explored many places on the Old Homestead, but had not found a place that quite suited him for a summer home. He wondered if he dared investigate the Rambling Old Barn and some of the other places near it. He was afraid that Nero the Hound might smell him after his encounter with Aquila the Golden Eagle. But Spot was anxious to find a home where he could take Mrs. Spot. You see Spot was not exactly brave; we might say that he was foolish or thoughtless. Perhaps it was because. he trusted in his powerful gun for protection. If Nero the Hound came after him, there would be something doing. And so Spot started for the Rambling Old Barn with his funny little gallop.

Not far from the Rambling Old Barn, Spot the Skunk came to the Granary. It had been filled with corn part of the past winter, but Farmer Smith had sold most of it. Of course, he had saved some to feed to Old Sorrel and the other horses.

Spot stopped at one corner of the Granary and sniffed. The Playful Air Whiffs were filled with the odor of Whiskers the Mouse. Even as Spot stood there sniffing, he could hear Whiskers and his family squeak and run about in the grain.

Now, if there was one thing that Spot the Skunk liked more than another to eat, it was mouse-warm, juicy mouse. Spot could make Hunting Cat ashamed of himself when it came to catching mice. He could crawl around through small holes where Hunting Cat could not go, and he could dig out mice nests and do lots of things that Hunting Cat was too lazy to do. Hunting Cat would rather wait until the friends of Whiskers the Mouse showed themselves, and then pounce on them. But sometimes Whiskers' friends learned to stay in places where Hunting Cat could not go. Then they were safe.

Spot sniffed at another corner of the Granary. That settled it as far as he was concerned. If only he could get under, he was sure it was just the place he was looking for. It would be a safe place for him, it would be warm and dry; and there would be plenty of mice to eat. And so Spot the Skunk went on around the Granary, looking for a hole where he might get under and do some exploring. But there was not a hole in sight. The Granary rested on a rock foundation, and whoever had made it had not thought it necessary to leave a door for Spot the Skunk. Around and around went Spot, wondering how he could get under.

At last he found a hole. It was a very small hole that Miner the Mole had made. Spot started to dig his way under the Granary. The ground was hard and dry for a way, but after a while it was softer. Soon Spot felt the earth give way, and he found himself under the Granary. You should have heard Whiskers the Mouse and his family scamper when they knew that Spot had found them.

About the time that Spot succeeded in getting under the Granary, Bud Smith came out of the house after a pail of water.

"Phew! " he exclaimed; "there must be a skunk somewhere near. I believe I'll see if it is bothering the chickens."

After Bud had lighted a lantern and had whistled for Nero the Hound, he set out in the direction from which the odor was coming. It did not take Nero long to find the freshly dug opening under the Granary, and he called Bud with his loud, deep voice.

"Now, that's funny, said Bud, when he saw the small hole leading under the rock foundation. "That hole is too small for a skunk to crawl through, yet that surely must be a skunk. I believe I'll just set a trap for him before he finds the chicken house."

And so Bud set a trap right in front of the hole, and put a box over it to keep Nero the Hound from getting his foot in it. Then he went to the house, feeling sure that the next morning he would have a skunk in the trap.

Of course, Spot the Skunk had been frightened when he heard Nero's voice outside. He crawled back to the farthest corner he could find. After Bud left, Spot made a bed out of corn husks that Whiskers the Mouse had carried in, and went to sleep. He felt rather secure in his new home even though he had been discovered.

CHAPTER 20

Whiskers the Mouse Decides to Move

AFTER Spot the Skunk had slept a while, he was awakened by the sound of mice. He could hear mice running and squeaking all around him. Whiskers the Mouse and his large family were back at play again. And so Spot started out to explore his new home under the Granary. He could smell mice odors everywhere, and once he almost caught Whiskers himself as he darted across in front of him.

At last Spot came to a ball of corn husks and old paper. It smelled like mouse, and Spot tore it open with his long claws. Inside there was a tiny cradle made of corn silks, hair, and other soft things. And in the middle, Spot found nine tiny, pink Mouselets. That was just the kind of breakfast Spot was looking for, and in a short time he had eaten the very last one.

"Yum, yum," said Spot the Skunk, as he started toward the hole where Bud Smith had set the trap for him, "that was a good breakfast, a very good breakfast indeed. I believe I'll go after Mrs. Spot, and then we can hunt together."

Spot came to the doorway he had made, and went outside. There was no trap in sight anywhere. You see, Farmer Smith had also smelled Spot under the Granary and had investigated. When he saw Spot's tracks, he knew it was Spot and not Mephitis. He knew Spot was there after mice, and that pleased Farmer Smith. And so he had taken up the trap, and had told Bud about it. Of course, Bud had thought that he was protecting Old Cluck and her twelve Chicklets when he set the trap. He did not know Spot as well as Farmer Smith knew him. He thought Spot the Skunk was Mephitis the Skunk, and he was afraid that if it were Mephitis, he might visit Old Cluck's coop for a meal of young chicken.

Mephitis is not as bad as he is sometimes thought to be. If he can find plenty of beetles and grasshoppers and other food that he likes, he is not likely to bother Old Cluck much. But Bud did not know that. He thought all skunks were bad, because he had heard that they killed chickens. Of course, sometimes Mephitis the Skunk cannot find enough food; and after, he once gets a taste of chicken, he is likely to come back after more. Sometimes we form bad habits; and if we do not break them, they will lead us into trouble. That is exactly what happens to Mephitis when he starts to steal chickens.

Spot the Skunk was not likely to bother Old Cluck's babies, because he could usually find plenty of mice. And how Spot did like mice to eat! Sometimes he even lived under houses if there were plenty of mice, and he was a good neighbor if he was not molested.

But there was Whiskers the Mouse. It would be hard to find any good in him. He ate Farmer Smith's grain and other things and what he did not eat he spoiled with his odor. Then, he chewed holes in the grain sacks, and gnawed holes in the floor of the Granary. Farmer Smith was very glad to know that Spot had moved in under the Granary, and that was why he took up the trap. When Bud heard that Spot the Skunk was there to help them, he was glad that he had not caught him.

So within two days Spot brought Mrs. Spot back with him. Then you should have heard the mice scamper. While Spot was hunting under one end of the Granary, Mrs. Spot was looking for mice nests under the other end. It surely was a trying time for Whiskers the Mouse and his family.

Whiskers the Mouse lived in a Soft Little Nest that he and Mrs. Whiskers had built under the Granary. Or perhaps we should say that Mrs. Whiskers lived there, for Whiskers was seldom home. He would rather scamper through holes and over grain sacks with other mice than stay home and help Mrs. Whiskers care for the Mouselets in their Soft Little Nest. When Spot and Mrs. Spot moved in and began searching for the Soft Little Nest of Whiskers the Mouse, Whiskers was as usual away off somewhere in the Granary playing, and Mrs. Whiskers was at home alone with her babies,

"Oh, dear, what shall I do?" said Mrs. Whiskers. "I do wish that Whiskers would come home." She could hear Mrs. Spot rummaging in the rubbish that had accumulated under the Granary, and all the time Mrs. Spot was coming closer,

Mrs. Spot was having a fine time. She thought she had never lived in a home that was quite so nice. She explored here and there to see what she could find, and at last she found the Soft Little Nest of Whiskers the Mouse. She tore it open, and what do you think she found? The nest was entirely empty!

You see, when Mrs. Whiskers heard the Spots rummaging around under the Granary, she, knew that it would not be long until they would smell out her Soft Little Nest. And so she grabbed Squeaky Whiskers by his pink little stomach and hurried up through a hole in the floor of the Granary. It did not take long to find a place to drop Squeaky, and soon she was back after one of his sisters. In no time the Soft Little Nest was empty, and there were Squeaky and his brothers and sisters lying safely on the Granary floor under a corn husk.

My, how worried Whiskers the Mouse was when he came home later and found that Mrs. Spot had torn open the Soft Little Nest. He thought that all the Little Whiskers had been eaten. Of course, he soon found Mrs. Whiskers looking for a new place to build a Soft Little Nest where Spot the Skunk could not come. Then he felt better. But he did not feel safe while Spot the Skunk was around, and he told Mrs. Whiskers so.

"I think we should move over to the Rambling. Old Barn for a while," he said to Mrs. Whiskers. And so it was decided.

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