The Adventures of Johnny Chuck  by Thornton Burgess

The School in the Old Orchard

Little Foxes, little Chucks,

Little Squirrels, Mice and Mink,

Just like little boys and girls,

Go to school to learn to think.

Y OU didn't know that, did you? Well, it's a fact. Yes, Sir, it's a fact. All the babies born in the Green Forest or on the Green Meadows or around the Smiling Pool have to go to school just as soon as they are big enough to leave their own doorsteps. They go to the greatest school in the world, and it is called the School of Experience.

Old Mother Nature has charge of it, but the teachers usually are father and mother for the first few weeks, anyway. After that Old Mother Nature herself gives them a few lessons, and a very stern teacher she is. They just have  to learn her lessons. If they don't, something dreadful is almost sure to happen.

Of course Sammy Jay knew all this, because he had had to go to school when he was a little fellow. So Sammy was not much surprised when, from his snug hiding-place in one of the old apple-trees, he discovered that there was a school in Farmer Brown's old orchard. Johnny Chuck was the teacher and his three baby Chucks were the pupils. Sammy Jay was so interested in that funny little school in the old orchard that he quite forgot to think about mischief.

The very first lesson that the three little Chucks had to learn was obedience. Johnny Chuck was very particular about that. You see he knew that unless they learned this first of all, none of the other lessons would do them much good. They must first learn to mind instantly, without asking questions. Dear me, dear me, Johnny Chuck certainly did have his hands full, teaching those three little Chucks to mind! They were such lively little chaps, and there was so much that was new and wonderful to see, that it was dreadfully hard work to sit perfectly still, just because Johnny Chuck told them to. But if they didn't mind instantly, they were sure to have their ears soundly boxed, and sometimes were sent back to the house without a taste of the sweet, tender, young clover of which they were so fond.

After a few lessons of this kind, they found out that it was always best to obey instantly, and then Johnny began to teach them other things, things which it is very important that every Chuck should know.

First, there were signals. When Johnny whistled a certain way, it meant "A stranger in sight; possible danger!"

Then each little Chuck would sit up very straight and not move the teeniest, weeniest bit, so that from a little distance they looked for all the world like tiny stumps. But all the time their sharp little eyes would be looking this way and that way, to see what the danger might be. After a while Johnny would give another little whistle, which meant "Danger past." Then they would once more begin to fill their little stomachs with sweet, tender, young clover.

Sometimes, however, Johnny would whistle sharply. That meant "Run!" Then they would scamper as fast as they could along the nearest little path to the house under the old apple-tree in the far corner, and never once look around. They would dive head first, one after the other, in at the doorway, and not show their noses outside again until Johnny or Polly Chuck told them they could.

Then there was a still different whistle. It meant "Danger very near; lie low!" When they heard that, they flattened themselves right down in the grass just wherever they happened to be, and held their breath and didn't move until Johnny signaled that they might. Of course, there never was any real danger. Johnny was just teaching them, so that when danger did come, as it surely would, sooner or later, they would know just what to do.

It surely was a funny little school, and sometimes Sammy Jay had hard work to keep from laughing right out.