THAT SLY OLD WOODCHUCK

By William O. Stoddard

"Deah me! Dey's jes' one moah row ob taters. I's hoein' de bes' I know."

Julius leaned on his hoe for a moment. His bright black face was turned a little anxiously toward the front fence. Over in the road beyond that there stood a white boy, of about his own size, and he was calling:

"Quib! Quib! Come here!"

"Dar he goes!" said Julius. "Dey'e got him agin. He's de bes' dog for woodchucks, he is! An' I can't go 'long. Tell you wot, dough, if I'd ha' t'ought he'd run away 'fore I'd hoed dese taters, I'd nebber hab gibben him dat big bone. De rascal! He's jes' hid it away, somewhar, down 'mong de cabbages."

That was what Quib had done with his precious bone; but now his little, lean, yellow legs were carrying him rapidly down the road, with half a dozen very noisy boys behind him.

"Pete! Pete Corry! Where was it you saw that woodchuck?"

"Finest woodchuck you ever saw in all your life!" was Pete's reply.

"He'll get away from us!"

"No, he won't. Abe Selover is watching for him. That woodchuck is in the stone-heap at the corner of old Hamburger's pasture-lot."

Quib must have understood what Mart Penniman said, for he did not halt for one second till he reached the bars that led into that very field. It was more than a quarter of a mile from the potato-patch, but Quib had barked all the way—probably out of respect for the size and importance of the coming woodchuck.

Mart Penniman and Abe Selover had started their great "game" on the way home from driving their cows. They had raced him across the pasture and along the fence, into the stone-heap, and then Abe had staid to keep watch while Mart went after Julius Davis's dog. That meant also, of course, as large a crowd of boys as he could pick up in going and coming.

It was a sad thing for Julius that his mother had set him at the potato-patch, and that Quib had broken his contract with the bone.

Quib was not usually so treacherous, but he happened to be on friendly terms with every boy of that hunting-party.

They had all helped him chase woodchucks at one time or another, and he had great confidence in them, but that was nothing at all to their confidence in him.

The pasture bars did not stop a single one of the woodchuck-hunters. All the boys went over while Quib was wriggling under, through a hole he knew, and there, almost right before them was the stone-heap. It was quite a large one, and it was thickly overgrown with wild raspberry vines.

"Abe—is he there?"

"He didn't get away, did he?"

"Are you sure he is in there?"

"Quib! Quib!" shouted Abe. "Woodchucks! Quib, woodchucks! Right in here. Find 'em!"

Quib was dancing around in a quiver of noisy excitement, for he had caught a sniff of something under the first bush he sprang into.

How he did bark and yelp and scratch, for about a minute!

"Poys! Poys! Vat is all dis? Vat you want vis mein stone-heap, eh?"

It was old Hamburger himself climbing the fence, and he looked longer and leaner just then, and had more pipe in his mouth, than the boys thought they had ever seen before.

"The finest woodchuck you ever saw, Mr. Hamburger," began Cole
Thomas, by way of an apology.

"Vootchuck! Dat's it! Ant so you puts a tog into mein stone-heap, and you steps onto mein grass, ant you knock ober all mein beautiful mullein-stalks and mein thistles and mein scoke-veeds!"

Puff! puff! came the great clouds of smoke from the grim lips of the old German, but it struck Cole Thomas that Mr. Hamburger himself was on the watch for that woodchuck.

Bow-wow-yow-yelp! and Mart shouted:

"There he goes!"

"Hi! We'll get him!" screamed Abe.

"Take him, Quib! Take him!"

Quib had started a woodchuck.

There was never a stone-heap piled up that had room in it for both a dog and a woodchuck.

Mr. Hamburger took the pipe out of his mouth, which was a thing nobody could remember ever having seen him do.

"Dose poys! Dat vootchuck! De tog is a goot von. Dey vill preak dare little necks. Joost see how dey run! But de tog is de pest runner of dem poys, egsept de vootchuck."

Mr. Hamburger did not run. Nobody had ever seen him do any such thing as that.

But he walked on across the pasture-lot, toward the deep ravine that cut through the side of the hill to the valley.

All that time poor Julius had been hoeing away desperately upon the last row of his mother's potatoes, and she had been smiling at him from the window. She was anxious he should get through, for she meant to send him to the village for a quarter of a pound of tea.

It was just as Julius reached the last hill that the baby cried, and when Mrs. Davis returned to the window to say something about the store and the kind of tea she wanted, all she could see of Julius was the hoe lying beside that last hill.

"Ef he hasn't finished dem taters and run away!"

She would have been proud of him if she could have seen how wonderfully fast he did run away, down the road he had seen Quib and the other hunters.

"Dey's into de lot!" he exclaimed, when he came to the bars. "Dar's Pete Corry's ole straw hat lyin' by de stone-heap. Mus' hab been somefin' won'erful, or he'd nebber forgot his hat."

That was an old woodchuck, of course, or he would not have been so large, and it may be he knew those boys as well as Quib did. If not, it was his own fault, for every one of them had chased him before, and so had Quib.

He knew every inch of that pasture-lot, and he knew the shortest way to the head of the deep ravine.

"Boys!" shouted Abe Selover, with all the breath he had. "Boys!
He's going for the glen! Now we've got him!"

The ravine was a rocky and wonderful place, and all the boys were perfectly familiar with it, and considered it the grandest play-house in the world, or, at least, in the vicinity of the village. If Quib once got the woodchuck penned up among those rocks, they could play hide-and-seek for him till they should find him.

Some city people that had a picnic there once had called it a "glen," and the name had stuck to it, mainly because it was shorter than any other the boys could think of; and, besides that, the schoolmaster of the district two years before (who didn't suit the trustees) had been named Glenn, and so the word must have been all right.

Some of the boys were near enough to see the woodchuck make for the two maples at the head of the ravine, and Bob Hicks tumbled over Andy Thompson while he was shouting:

"Catch him, Quib!"

After they got past those two maple trees there was no more fast running to be done.

Down, down, deeper and rockier and rougher every rod of it, the rugged chasm opened ahead of them, and it was necessary for the boys to mind their steps. It was a place where a woodchuck or a small dog could get around a good deal faster than any boy, but they all followed Quib in a way that would have scared their mothers if they had been there.

"It's grand fun!" said Mart Penniman. "Finest woodchuck you ever saw!"

"Come on, boys!" shouted Abe Selover, away ahead. "We'll get him, this time."

Abe had a way of being just the next boy behind the dog in any kind of chase, and they all clambered after him in hot haste.

On went Quib, and even Abe Selover could not see him more than half the time, for he had an immense deal of dodging to do, in and out among the rocks and trees, and it was dreadfully shady at the bottom of that ravine.

The walls of rock, where Abe was, rose more than sixty feet high on either side, and the glen was only a few rods wide at the widest place.

"He's holed him! He's holed him! Come on! we've got him, now!"

Quib was scratching and yelping like an insane dog at the bottom of what looked like a great crack between two rocks, in the left-hand side of the glen as you went down. The crack was only an inch or so wide at the bottom, and twisted a good deal as it went up, for the rock was of the kind known as "pudding-stone." There was a hole, just there, large enough for a woodchuck, but too small for a dog.

"Dig, boys! Dig!"

"Dig yourself," said Pete Corry. "Who's going to dig a rock, I'd like to know?"

"Let Quib in, anyhow. He'll drive him out."

Abe was prying at that hole with a dead branch of a tree, and, almost while he was speaking, a great piece of the loose pudding-stone fell off and came thumping down at his feet.

"A cave, boys, a cave! Just look in!"

Quib did not wait for anybody to look in, but bounded through the opening with a shrill yelp, and Abe Selover squeezed after him.

Pete Corry felt a little nervous when he saw how dark it was, but he followed Abe; and the other boys came on as fast as the width of the hole would let them.

That is, they crept through, one boy at a time.

What surprised them was, that the moment they had crawled through that hole they could stand up straight.

"Where's the woodchuck?" asked Bob Hicks.

"Woodchuck? Why, boys, this is a regular cave," replied Abe.

"Quib's in there, somewhere," said Mart Penniman. "Just hear him yelp!"

"Hold on," said Cole Thomas—"there's more light coming in. We shall be able to see, in a minute."

The fact was that it took a little time for their eyes to get accustomed to the small amount of light there was in that cave.

The cave itself was not very large.

It grew wider for about twenty feet from the hole they came in by, and the floor, which was covered with bits of rock, sloped upward like the roof of a house, only not quite so abruptly.

In the middle it was more than a rod wide. Then it grew narrower, and steeper, and darker with every step. But they knew about where the upper end must be, for they could hear Quib barking there.

"It's dark enough," said Andy.

"Come on, boys!" shouted Abe Selover. "We'll have that woodchuck this time. He's in this cave, somewhere."

They were not very much afraid to keep a little way behind Abe
Selover, and in a few minutes they heard him say:

"Quib! Is he there? Have you got him?"

Quib barked and whined, and the sound seemed to come from away above them.

"Come on, boys! I can see a streak of light. It's like climbing up an old chimney. Quib's almost on him."

All that time, while they were groping through that cave, Julius
Davis was looking around the pasture-lot after them.

He would have been glad of a small glimpse of Quib, but all he had found as yet was Mr. Hamburger, who was standing under an old butternut-tree and looking down at a round, hollow place in the ground.

He was smoking very hard.

"Hab you seen my dog?" asked Julius.

"Hold shtill, poy! Joost you vait. Hi! Dere goes dose vootshuck!"

"Dat's so. He's coming right up out ob de hole, and dar ain't no dog to foller him!"

Away went the woodchuck, and Julius gave him up for lost; but Mr.
Hamburger smoked harder than ever and looked down at the hole.

"Hark! Hear dem? It is de tog. Pless mein eyes, if dey didn't chase dose vootshuck right oonder mein pasture-lot!"

Julius could hear Quib bark now, away down there in the ground, and he could not stand still on any one side of that hollow. So he danced up and down on every side of it.

One minute,—two, three minutes,—it was a dreadfully long time, —and then it was the voice of Abe Selover mixed with a long yelp from Quib.

"Come on, boys! I've shoved him through. I'm going right up after him. Nothing to pull away but some sods."

"Dat's de tog!" exclaimed Mr. Hamburger. "Keep shtill, black poy!
De rest of dose vootshucks is coming. Keep shtill."

Nothing but some sods to pull away, to make that hole large enough, and then Abe Selover's curly head popped out, and the rest of him followed, grimy and dirty, but in a great fever of excitement and fun.

After him climbed the other boys, one by one.

"Mr. Hamburger, did you see where that woodchuck went to?"

"De vootshuck? I don't know him. But de black poy haf run after de tog, ant he vas run so fast as nefer you saw. Vare you leetle vootshucks coom from, eh? You climb oonder mein pasture?"

"No use, Abe," said Mart Penniman. "We've missed that woodchuck this time."

"We've found the cave, though," said Pete Corry. "It's through that he got away from us so many times."

"I dell you vat," said Mr. Hamburger; "de nex' time you leetle vootshucks vant to chase dat oder vootshuck, you put a pag ofer dese hole. Den you shace him round among de rocks, and you will catch de tog ant de vootshuck into de same pag."

"That's what we'll do," said Abe Selover. "But not to-day, boys. He was the finest woodchuck I ever saw, but we've missed him this time."