CHAPTER VII Johnny Chuck Joins the Class
Peter Rabbit delivered Mother Nature's message to Johnny Chuck.
Johnny didn't seem at all pleased. He grumbled and growled to
himself. He didn't want to go to school. He didn't want to learn
anything about his relatives. He was perfectly satisfied with
things as they were. The truth is, Johnny Chuck was already
beginning to get fat with good living and he is naturally lazy.
As a rule he can find plenty to eat very near his home, so he
seldom goes far from his own doorstep. Peter left him grumbling
and growling, and chuckled to himself all the way back to the dear
Old Briar-patch. He knew that Johnny Chuck would not dare disobey
Old Mother Nature.
Sure enough, the next morning Johnny Chuck came waddling through
the Green Forest just as Old Mother Nature was about to open school.
He didn't look at all happy, and he didn't reply at all to the
greetings of the others. But when Old Mother Nature spoke to him
he was very polite.
"Good morning, Johnny Chuck," said she.
Johnny bobbed his head and said, "Good morning."
"I understand," continued Old Mother Nature, "That you are not at
all interested in learning about your relatives. I am sorry for
any one who doesn't want to learn. The more one knows the better
fitted he is to take care of himself and do his part in the work of
the Great World. However, it wasn't for your benefit that I sent
word for you to be here this morning. It was for the benefit of
your friends and neighbors. Now sit up so that all can get a good
look at you."
Johnny Chuck obediently sat up, and of course all the others stared
at him. It made him feel quite uncomfortable. "You remember,"
said Old Mother Nature, "how surprised you little folks were when
I told you that Johnny Chuck is a member of the Squirrel family.
Happy Jack, you go sit beside Johnny Chuck, and the rest of you
look hard at Happy Jack and Johnny and see if you do not see a
Seeing Happy Jack and Johnny Chuck sitting up side by side, Peter
Rabbit caught the resemblance at once. There was sort of family
look about them. "Why! Why-ee! Johnny Chuck does look like a
Squirrel," he exclaimed.
"Of course he looks like a Squirrel, because he is one," said Old
Mother Nature. "Johnny Chuck is very much bigger and so stout in
the body that he has none of the gracefulness of the true Squirrels.
But you will notice that the shape of his head is much the same as
that of Happy Jack. He has a Squirrel face when you come to look at
him closely. The Woodchucks, sometimes called Ground Hogs, though
why any one should call them this is more than I can understand,
belong to the Marmot branch of the Squirrel family, and wherever
found they look much alike.
"As you will notice, Johnny Chuck's coat is brownish-yellow, his
feet are very dark brown, almost black. His head is dark brown with
light gray on his cheeks. Beneath he is reddish-orange, including
his throat. His tail is short for a member of the Squirrel family,
and although it is bushy, it is not very big. He has a number of
whiskers and they are black. Some Woodchucks are quite gray, and
occasionally there is one who is almost, or wholly black, just as
there are black Gray Squirrels.
"Johnny, here, is not fond of the Green Forest, but loves the Old
orchard and the Green Meadows. In some parts of the country there
are members of his family who prefer to live just on the edge of the
Green Forest. You will notice that Johnny has stout claws. Those
are to help him dig, for all the Marmot family are great diggers.
What other use do you have for those claws, Johnny?"
"They help me to climb," replied Johnny promptly.
"Climb!" exclaimed Peter Rabbit. "Who ever heard of a Woodchuck
"I can climb if I have to," retorted Johnny Chuck indignantly. "I've
climbed up bushes and low trees lots of times, and if I can get a good
run first, I can climb up the straight trunk of a tree with rough bark
to the first branches--if they are not too far above ground. You ask
Reddy Fox if I can't; he knows."
"That's quite true, Johnny," said Old Mother Nature. "You can climb
a little, but as a real climber you are not much of a success. You
are better as a digger."
"He certainly is all right as a digger," exclaimed Peter Rabbit.
"My, how he can make the sand fly! Johnny Chuck certainly is right
at home when it comes to digging."
"You ought to be thankful that he is," said Old Mother Nature, "for
the holes he has dug have saved your life more than once. By the
way, Peter, since you are so well acquainted with those holes,
suppose you tell us what kind of a home Johnny Chuck has."
Peter was delighted to air his knowledge. "The last one I was in,"
said he, "was a long tunnel slanting down for quite a distance and
then straightening out. The entrance was quite large with a big
heap of sand out in front of it. Down a little way the tunnel
grew smaller and then remained the same size all the rest of the way.
Way down at the farther end was a nice little bedroom with some grass
in it. There were one or two other little rooms, and there were two
branch tunnels leading up to the surface of the ground, making side
or back doorways. There was no sand around either of these, and they
were quite hidden by the long grass hanging over them. I don't
understand how Johnny made those doorways without leaving any sand
on the doorsteps."
"Huh!" interrupted Johnny Chuck. "That was easy enough. I pushed
all the sand out of the main doorway so that there would be nothing
to attract the attention of any one passing near those back doorways.
Those back doorways are very handy in time of danger."
"Do you always have three doorways?" asked Happy Jack.
"No," replied Johnny Chuck. "Sometimes I have only two and once in
a while only one. But that isn't really safe, and I mean always to
have at least two."
"Do you use the same house year after year?" piped up Striped Chipmunk.
Johnny shook his head. "No," said he. "I dig a new hole each spring.
Mrs. Chuck and I like a change of scene. Usually my new home isn't
very far from my old one, because I am not fond of traveling.
Sometimes, however, if we cannot find a place that just suits us,
we go quite a distance."
"Are your babies born down in that little bedroom in the ground?"
asked Jumper the Hare.
"Of course," replied Johnny Chuck. "Where else would they be born?"
"I didn't know but Mrs. Chuck might make a nest on the ground the
way Mrs. Peter and Mrs. Jumper do," replied Jumper meekly.
"No, siree!" replied Johnny. "Our babies are born in that little
underground bedroom, and they stay down in the ground until they
are big enough to hunt for food for themselves."
"How many do you usually have?" inquired Chatterer the Red Squirrel.
"Six or eight," replied Johnny Chuck. "Mrs. Chuck and I believe
in large families."
"Do you eat nuts like the rest of our family?" inquired
"No," replied Johnny Chuck. "Give me green food every time. There
is nothing so good as tender sweet clover and young grass, unless
it be some of those fine vegetables Farmer Brown grows in his garden"
Peter Rabbit nodded his head very emphatically as if he quite agreed.
"I suppose you are what is called a vegetarian, then," said Happy
Jack, to which Johnny Chuck replied that he supposed he was. "And
I suppose that is why you sleep all winter," added Happy Jack.
"If I didn't I would starve," responded Johnny Chuck promptly.
"When it gets near time for Jack Frost to arrive, I stuff and stuff
and stuff on the last of the good green things until I'm so fat I
can hardly waddle. Then I go down to my bedroom, curl up and go
to sleep. Cold weather, snow and ice don't worry me a bit."
"I know," spoke up Striped Chipmunk. "I sleep most of the winter
myself. Of course I have a lot of food stored away down in my
house, and once in a while I wake up and eat a little. Do you
ever wake up in the winter, Johnny Chuck?"
"No," replied Johnny. "I sleep right through, thank goodness.
Sometimes I wake up very early in the spring before the snow is
all gone, earlier than I wish I did. That is where my fat comes
in handy. It keeps me warm and keeps me alive until I can find
the first green plants. Perhaps you have noticed that early in
the spring I am as thin as I was fat in the fall. This is
because I have used up the fat, waiting for the first green
things to appear."
"Do you have many enemies?" asked Peter Rabbit, who has so many
himself that he is constantly thinking of them.
"Not many, but enough," growled Johnny Chuck. "Reddy Fox, Old Man
Coyote, men and Dogs are the worst. Of course, when I was small I
always had to be watching out for Hawks, and of course, like all
the rest of us little folks, I am afraid of Shadow the Weasel.
Reddy Fox has tried to dig me out more than once, but I can dig
faster than he can. If he ever gets me cornered, he'll find that I
can fight. A small Dog surprised me once before I could get to my
hole and I guess that Dog never will tackle another Woodchuck."
"Time is up," interrupted Old Mother Nature. "Johnny Chuck has a
big cousin out in the mountains of the Great West named Whistler,
and on the prairies of the Great West he has a smaller cousin named
Yap Yap. They are quite important members of the Marmot family, and
to-morrow I'll tell you about them if you want me to. You need not
come tomorrow, Johnny Chuck, unless you want to," she added.
Johnny Chuck hung his head, for he was a little ashamed that he had
been so unwilling to come that morning.
"If you please, Mother Nature," said he, "I think I'll come. I didn't
know I had any close relatives, and I want to know about them."
So it was agreed that all would be on hand at sun-up the next
morning, and then everybody started for home to think over the
things they had learned.