XXII. The Test
 

Well, it was no wonder that Mr. Crow was surprised when he found that some people wanted to put him out of the meeting just because he had said one word. Had he not always talked more than anybody else at those sunset meetings in the pine woods?

Luckily, no one made a move to oust him. And he managed to keep silent for a little while. But he was so angry that he did not hear what the stranger was saying. At last, however, Mr. Crow began to pay attention again.

"Do you want to know why times are hard and food is scarce in this neighborhood?" the impudent fellow asked.

Everybody except old Mr. Crow answered, "Yes!" And after the echo had died away the stranger continued:

"It's because you need a new leader," he declared. "I understand that a person called 'Old Mr. Crow' has been your leader for a good many years. And my advice to you, friends, is this: Get rid of him!"

A good deal of applause greeted his words. But some of the older and wiser of his listeners shook their heads.

"Who is there that could take Mr. Crow's place?" a voice called.

At that question the stranger coughed slightly and said:

"Of course, I wouldn't suggest any one specially, being a newcomer here myself. And if the position were offered to me, I don't know that I could accept it, though I have had so much experience."

The young fellows on the limb with Mr. Crow at once set up a great cawing.

"We want you!" they chanted. Old Mr. Crow might have been a scarecrow, for all the attention they paid to him. And he did not dare open his mouth. Many others took up the cry. And a great hub-bub arose--a beating of wings, and flying up and down, and jostling. Some of the younger ones squawked like chickens; others pretended to cry like children. But most of the company cawed in their loudest tones, until the whole valley rang with the uproar.

Then one of old Mr. Crow's best friends spoke up and said:

"It's plain that a good many people want you for a leader, stranger."

"Then I'd be very happy to act as such," the bold fellow replied. "And I'll begin at once."

But the elderly person who had just spoken said that there was no hurry and that the stranger ought first to be put to a test.

"We want to make sure that you're a good leader," he explained. "And I would suggest that you go to see Farmer Green to-morrow, tell him that we object to his putting tar on his corn, and ask him not to do it again next spring."

The stranger looked somewhat uneasy, as he listened. But after he had pondered for a few moments he said briskly:

"I'll do that! I'll go to Farmer Green to-morrow (he won't be busy, for to-morrow's Sunday), and I'll make him agree to what you want."

"We'll meet again on Monday, at sunset," Mr. Crow's friend announced.

And then the meeting broke up in the wildest disorder.

As for old Mr. Crow, he crept away without speaking to anyone. And always, before, he had made more noise than any ten of the others.