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by Thornton Burgess.
Age Rating 4 to 8.


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Start of Story

"Caw, caw, caw, caw!" Blacky the Crow sat in the top of a tall tree and seemed trying to see just how much noise he could make with that harsh voice of his. Peter Rabbit peered out from the dear Old Briar-patch and frowned. "If I had a voice as unpleasant as that, I'd forget I could talk. Yes, Sir, I'd forget I had a tongue," declared Peter. Somebody laughed, and Peter turned quickly to find Jimmy Skunk. "What are you laughing at?" demanded Peter. "At the idea of you forgetting that you had a tongue," replied Jimmy. "Well, I would if I had a voice like Blacky's," persisted Peter, although he grinned a wee bit foolishly as he looked at Jimmy Skunk, for you know Peter is a great gossip. "It's lucky for you that you haven't then," retorted Jimmy. "I'm afraid that you would lose your tongue just as old Mr. Crow did." That sounded like a story. Right away Peter sat up and took notice. "Did old Mr. Crow really lose his tongue? How did he lose it? Why did he lose it? When--"

Jimmy Skunk clapped a hand over each ear and pretended that he was going to run away. Peter jumped in front of him. "No, you don't!" he cried. "You've just got to tell me that story, Jimmy Skunk." "What story?" asked Jimmy, as if he hadn't the least idea in the world what Peter was talking about, though of course he knew perfectly well. "Caw, caw, caw, caw!" shouted Blacky the Crow from the distant tree-top. "The story of how old Mr. Crow lost his tongue. You may as well tell me first as last, because I'll give you no peace until you do," insisted Peter. Jimmy grinned. "If that's the case, I guess I'll have to," said he. "Wait until I find a comfortable place to sit down. I never could tell a story standing up." At last he found a place to suit him and after changing his position two or three times to make sure that he was perfectly comfortable, he began. "Once upon a time--" "Never mind about that," interrupted Peter. "I don't see why all stories have to begin 'Once upon a time.' It seems as if everything interesting happened long ago."

"If you don't watch out, this story won't begin at all," declared Jimmy. Peter looked properly ashamed for interrupting, and Jimmy started again. "Once upon a time old Mr. Crow, the great-great-ever-so-great-grandfather of Blacky, over there, possessed the most wonderful tongue of any of the little people who ran, walked, crawled, or flew. He could imitate any and everybody, and he did. He could sing like Mr. Meadow Lark, or he could bark like Mr. Wolf. He could whistle like Mr. Quail, or he could growl like old King Bear. There wasn't anybody whose voice he couldn't imitate and do it so well that if you had been there and heard but not seen him, you never would have guessed that it was an imitation. "Now the imp of mischief was in old Mr. Crow, just as it is in Blacky to-day, and he was smart too. There wasn't anybody smarter than old Mr. Crow. It's from him that Blacky gets his smartness. It didn't take him long to discover that no one else had such a wonderful tongue. It was even more wonderful than the tongue of old Mr. Mocker the Mocking Bird. Mr. Mocker could imitate the songs of other birds, but old Mr. Crow could imitate anybody, as I have said. He puzzled over it a good deal himself for a while. He couldn't understand how he could make any sound he pleased, while his neighbors could make only a few special sounds.

"Being very smart and shrewd, just as Blacky is, he finally made up his mind that it must be in his tongue. As soon as he thought of that, he started out to find out, and on one excuse or another he managed to get all his neighbors to show him their tongues. Sure enough, his own tongue was different from any of the others. It was split a little, so that it was almost like two tongues in one. "'That's it,' he chuckled. 'I knew it. It's this little old tongue of mine. Nobody else has got one like it, but nobody knows that but me. I must make good use of it. Yes, Sir, I must make good use of it.' "Now when old Mr. Crow said that, he didn't really mean good use at all. That is, he didn't mean what you or I or any of his neighbors would have called good use. What he did mean was the use that would bring to himself the greatest gain in pleasure, and being a great joker, he began by having a lot of fun with his neighbors. When he saw Mr. Rabbit, your grandfather a thousand times removed, coming along, he would hide, and just as Mr. Rabbit was passing, he would snarl like Mr. Lynx. Of course Mr. Rabbit would be scared almost to death, and away he would go, lipperty-lipperty-lip, and old Mr. Crow would laugh so that he had to hold his black sides. He would hide in the top of a tree near Mr. Squirrel's home, and just when Mr. Squirrel had found a fat nut and started to eat it, he would scream like Mr. Hawk and then laugh to see Mr. Squirrel drop his nut and dive headfirst into the nearest hole. He would squeak like a mouse when Mr. Fox was passing, just to see Mr. Fox hunt and hunt for the dinner he felt sure was close at hand.

"But after a while Mr. Crow wasn't satisfied with harmless jokes. Times were getting hard, and everybody had to work to get enough to eat. This didn't suit Mr. Crow at all, and one day when he chanced to discover one of his neighbors just sitting down to a good meal, a new idea came to him. He stole as near as he could without being seen and suddenly growled like old King Bear. Of course that meal was left in a hurry. 'It is too bad to see all that good food go to waste,' said Mr. Crow and promptly ate it. "After that, instead of hunting for food himself, he just kept a sharp eye on his neighbors, and when they had found something he wanted, he frightened them away and helped himself. All the time he was so sly about it that never once was he suspected. He was a great talker, was Mr. Crow, and spent a great deal of time gossiping, and he was always one of the first to offer sympathy to those who had lost a meal.

"Now all this time, unknown to old Mr. Crow, Old Mother Nature knew just what was going on, for you can't fool her, and it's of no use to try. One morning Mr. Crow discovered Mr. Coon just sitting down to a good breakfast. He stole up behind Mr. Coon and opened his mouth to bark like Mr. Coyote, but instead of a bark, there came forth a harsh 'Caw, caw, caw.' It is a question which was the more surprised, Mr. Coon or Mr. Crow. Mr. Coon didn't forget his manners. He politely invited Mr. Crow to sit down and take breakfast with him. But Mr. Crow had lost his appetite. Somehow his tongue felt very queer. He thanked Mr. Coon and begged to be excused. Then he hurried over to the nearest pool of water in which he could see his reflection and stuck out his tongue. It was no longer split into a double tongue. Then old Mr. Crow guessed that Old Mother Nature had found him out and punished him, but to make sure, he flew to the most lonesome place he knew of, and there he tried to imitate the voices of his neighbors; but try as he would, all he could say was 'Caw, caw, caw.' "For a long, long time after that no one ever heard Mr. Crow say a word. His neighbors didn't know what to make of it, for you remember he had been a great gossip. They said that he must have lost his tongue. Of course he hadn't, but he felt that he might as well have. And ever since then the Crow family has had the harshest of all voices."

"Caw, caw, caw!" shouted Blacky from the top of the tree where he was sitting. "I wonder," said Peter Rabbit thoughtfully, "if he could imitate other people if his tongue should be split." "I've heard say that he could," replied Jimmy Skunk, "but I don't know. One thing is sure, and that is that he is just as smart and sly as his great-great-ever-so-great-grandfather was, and I guess it is just as well that his tongue is just as it is."

the end

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