IX. Why Miner the Mole Lives Under Ground
 

Striped Chipmunk sat staring at a little ridge where the grass was raised up. He had often seen little ridges like that without thinking much about them. He knew that they were made by Miner the Mole. He had known that ever since he was big enough to begin to ask questions. But now as he looked at this one, it suddenly struck him that he had not seen Miner the Mole more than once or twice in all his life.

"What a queer way of living!" thought Striped Chipmunk. "It's all very well to have a snug house under the ground, where one can sleep the long cold winter away and be perfectly safe, but what any one wants to live under the ground all the time for, in the beautiful springtime and summertime and autumntime, I can't understand. Just think of all that Miner misses--the sunshine, the flowers, the songs of the birds, and the Merry Little Breezes to play with! I wonder--"

"What do you wonder?" The voice was so close to Striped Chipmunk that it made him jump. He whirled about. There was Johnny Chuck, who had tiptoed up as softly as he knew how, to give Striped Chipmunk a scare. Johnny grinned. "What do you wonder?" he repeated.

Striped Chipmunk made a face at Johnny. "I wonder something that I bet you don't know," he replied.

"That's easy," replied Johnny. "There are more things I don't know than I do know, but I'm always ready to learn. What is it this time?"

"Why does Miner the Mole live under ground all the time?" Striped Chipmunk pointed to the ridge made by Miner.

Johnny Chuck scratched his head thoughtfully.

"I don't know," he confessed finally. "I never thought of it before. Of course there must be a reason. He never comes out to play with the rest of us--just spends all his time by himself down in the dark, digging and digging. I wonder--"

"Well, what do you wonder?"

"The same thing you wonder," laughed Johnny Chuck. "If you haven't got anything else to do, let's go down to the Smiling Pool and ask Grandfather Frog; he'll be sure to know."

Striped Chipmunk hadn't anything else to do, so off they started. On the way they met Jimmy Skunk and Danny Meadow Mouse. Neither of them knew why Miner the Mole lives under ground, and because they hadn't anything better to do, they also started for the Smiling Pool.

Grandfather Frog was sitting on his big green lily-pad in the warm sunshine, and for once he didn't have to be teased for a story.

"Chug-a-rum!" said he in his deep voice. "It's very strange to me how little some folks know about their nearest neighbors." He looked up and winked at jolly, round, bright Mr. Sun.

Striped Chipmunk, Johnny Chuck, Jimmy Skunk, and Danny Meadow Mouse looked as though they felt very foolish, as indeed they did. You see, all their lives Miner the Mole had been one of their nearest neighbors, and yet they didn't know the first thing about him.

"It happened a long time ago," continued Grandfather Frog.

"When the world was young?" interrupted Danny Meadow Mouse.

"Of course," replied Grandfather Frog, pretending to be very much put out at such a foolish question. Danny hung his head and resolved that he would bite his tongue before he asked another question.

"In those days Miner's great-great-grandfather a thousand times removed didn't live under ground," continued Grandfather Frog. "Nobody did. He wasn't so very different from a lot of other animals. Food was plenty, and everybody was on the best of terms with everybody else. Mr. Mole lived just as the rest did. He went and came as he pleased, and enjoyed the sunshine and took part in all the good times of his neighbors. Everybody liked him, and whenever he made a call, he was sure of a welcome. But one thing Mr. Mole never did; he never meddled in other people's affairs. No, Sir, Mr. Mole never poked his nose in where he had no business.

"For a long time everything went smoothly with all the people of the Green Forest and the Green Meadows. Then came hard times. They grew harder and harder. Food was scarce and kept growing more scarce. Everybody was hungry, and you know how it is with hungry people--they grow ugly and quarrelsome. Matters grew worse and worse, and then it was that fear was born. The big people, like Old King Bear and Mr. Wolf and Mr. Panther and Mr. Lynx, began to look with hungry eyes on the little people, and the little people began to grow afraid and hide from the big people, and all the time they were continually quarreling among themselves and stealing from each other to get enough to eat.

"Now, as I said before, Mr. Mole never had meddled with other people's business, and he didn't now. He went off by himself to think things over. 'It isn't safe to run around any more,' said he. 'I met Mr. Wolf this morning, and he looked at me with such a hungry look in his eyes that it gave me the cold shivers. I believe he would have eaten me, if I hadn't crawled into an old hollow stump. Now I can't run fast, because my legs are too short. I can't climb trees like Mr. Squirrel, and I can't swim like Mr. Muskrat. The only thing I can do is to dig.'

"You see, Mr. Mole always had been very fond of digging, and he had done so much of it that his front legs and claws had grown very stout.

"'Now if I dig a hole and keep out of sight, I won't have to worry about Mr. Wolf or anybody else,' continued Mr. Mole to himself. So he went to work at once and dug a hole on the Green Meadows, and, because he wanted to be comfortable, he made a big hole. When it was finished, he was tired, so he curled up at the bottom for a nap. He was awakened by hearing voices outside. He knew those voices right away. They were the voices of Mr. Fox and Mr. Badger.

"'These are terrible times,' said Mr. Fox. 'I'm so hungry that I'm wasting away to a shadow. I wonder who has dug this hole.'

"'Mr. Mole,' replied Mr. Badger. 'I saw him at work here this morning.

Have you noticed how very plump he looks?'

"'Yes,' replied Mr. Fox. 'He made my mouth water the very last time I saw him. Seems to me I can smell him now. If he had made this hole just a little bit bigger I would go down and pull him out, but I am too tired to do any digging now.'

"'I tell you what,' replied Mr. Badger. 'We'll hunt together a little longer, and then if we can't find anything to eat, we'll come back, and I'll help you dig, I hate to hurt Mr. Mole, because he always minds his own business, but these are hard times, and each one must look out for himself.'

"With that they went away, leaving Mr. Mole shaking with fright at the bottom of his hole. 'It's of no use,' thought Mr. Mole. 'If I go outside, they will soon find me, and if I stay here, they will dig me out. Oh, dear, oh, dear! What ever can I do?'

"He lay there feeling very helpless and miserable, when all of a sudden a thought came to him. If he had made his hole small, just big enough for him to crawl into, Mr. Badger and Mr. Fox would have had to do a great deal of digging to make it big enough for either of them to get in! He would make a little tunnel off one side and hide in that. So he went to work and made a little tunnel off one side just big enough for him to squeeze into. He worked very hard and very fast, and by the time Mr. Badger and Mr. Fox returned, Mr. Mole was at the end of a long tunnel, so far from the hole he had first dug that he knew it would take them a long time to dig him out, even if they noticed his tunnel.

"But they didn't. They dug down to the bottom of his hole and then, because they didn't find him there, they straightway fell to quarreling, each blaming the other for suggesting such a lot of hard work for nothing. Finally they went away, still calling each other names, and from that day to this, Foxes and Badgers have never been friends.

"Mr. Mole was very thankful for his narrow escape, and it set him to thinking. If he had a lot of these underground tunnels, no one would be able to catch him. It was a splendid idea! He went to work on it at once. And then he made a discovery--such a splendid discovery! There was plenty of food to eat right down under ground--worms and grubs--all he needed. After that, Mr. Mole spent all his time in his tunnels and seldom put his nose outside. He was safe, and he was comfortable, and he could always find something to eat by digging for it.

"Little by little his old neighbors forgot all about him. Because he had little use for them, his eyes grew smaller and smaller, and when he did come up into the light, they hurt him so that he was glad to go back into the dark again. He was perfectly happy and satisfied there, and what is there in life better than to be happy and satisfied?"

"Nothing," replied Striped Chipmunk, at whom Grandfather Frog happened to be looking when he asked the question.

"Right!" replied Grandfather Frog. "And now you know why Miner the Mole lives under ground--because he is perfectly happy and satisfied there."

Just then up came Peter Rabbit, all out of breath.

"Has Grandfather Frog been telling a story?" he panted.

"Yes," replied Striped Chipmunk, winking at Grandfather Frog, "and now we are going back home perfectly happy and satisfied."

And to this day Peter Rabbit wonders what the story was that he missed.