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CHATTERER WORKS HARD
WHEN Chatterer had left the Green Forest because of his terrible fear of Shadow the Weasel, he had been fat. At least, he had been fat for him. All through the pleasant fall, while he had been gathering his supply of nuts and seeds to store away for the winter, he had eaten all he could hold and had filled his red coat out until it actually felt too tight. But now that same red coat hung so loose on Chatterer that it looked too big for him. Yes, Sir, Chatterer had grown so thin that his coat actually looked too big for him. And he was growing thinner every day.
You see, most of the food had been collected and stored away long ago, and Chatterer had to run about a great deal and hunt very hard to find enough to eat day by day, while as for filling a new store-house, — that seemed impossible! Still Chatterer kept trying, and day by day he managed to add a little to the supply of seeds. But it was pretty poor fare at best. There were no plump nuts or tasty pine-seeds, such as filled his store-houses in the Green Forest, because no nut or pine-trees grew near the Old Orchard, and Chatterer didn't dare go back to the Green Forest for fear that Shadow the Weasel would find him and track him to his new home. So he patiently did his best to find food close at hand. But it was discouraging, terribly discouraging, to work from sun-up to sun-down, running here, running there, running everywhere, until he was so tired he was ready to drop, and knowing all the time that the snow might come any day and bury what little food there was. Oh, those were hard days for Chatterer the Red Squirrel, very hard days indeed.
One morning he started very early and made a long journey by way of the old stone wall and the rail fences down to Farmer Brown's cornfield. Of course Farmer Brown had long ago taken away the corn, but in doing it, a great many grains had been scattered about on the ground, half buried where they had been trodden on, hidden under leaves and among weeds and under the piles of stalks from which the ears had been stripped. For the first time for days Chatterer felt something like cheer in his heart, as he scurried about hunting for and finding the plump yellow grains. First he ate all he could hold, for he saw that then there would be plenty to take home. Then he stuffed his cheeks full, scrambled up on the rail fence, and started for his new home in the Old Orchard.
"It is a terrible long way to have to carry all my supplies," thought he, as he sat up on the top of a post to rest. "I don't see how I ever can do it. Well, I certainly can't, if I sit here all day!" With that he jumped down to the rail below him. He was half way across when he noticed a crack in it. It looked to him as if that rail were hollow part way. A great idea came to him. His eyes grew bright with excitement. He ran the length of the rail and back again, looking for an opening. There was none. Then very slowly and carefully he worked his way back, stretching his head over so that he could look underneath. Almost over to the next post he found what he had so hoped to find. What was it? Why, a knot-hole. Yes, Sir, a knot-hole that opened right into the hollow in the rail. It wasn't quite big enough for Chatterer to squeeze through, but that didn't trouble him. He emptied the corn from his cheeks and then he went to work with those sharp teeth of his and in a little while, a very little while, that knot-hole was plenty big enough for Chatterer to slip through.
His eyes snapped with pleasure as he explored the hollow rail. "I'll make this my store-house!" he cried. "I'll fill it full of corn, and then when I am hungry in the winter, I can run down here and fill up. It will be a lot better than trying to carry the corn up to the Old Orchard." And with that, Chatterer began the work of filling the hollow rail with corn.