The wild folk in Pleasant Valley were whispering strange stories to one another. If the stories were true, they were most amazing. And if they were merely made up to cause talk, certainly they succeeded.
Perhaps if somebody less tricky than Peter Mink and Tommy Fox had started these odd tales, the rest of the wild folk might have been quicker to believe them.
Anyhow, the news offered the best of excuses for gossip. And many of the field-and forest-people repeated it so often that they almost began to believe it themselves.
All but old Mr. Crow. He declared stoutly that the whole thing was nothing but a hoax.
"You can't fool me!" he told people. But when they said that they had no intention of trying to, he had to change his statement. "I mean"--he explained--"I mean that neither Tommy Fox nor Peter Mink can fool me. They can't make me believe that they've seen anybody hanging by his tail in a tree-top."
"Why not?" asked Mr. Crow's cousin, Jasper Jay.
"Becaws----" said Mr. Crow. And then he corrected himself once more. "Because," he replied, "no 'possum ever came so far North as this. I've spent a good many winters in the South, and I ought to know. And besides," he added, "although a 'possum can hang by his tail, there never was one that could throw a stick or a stone. And I ought to know, for I've spent a good many winters in the South, where the 'possums live."
Everybody had to admit that old Mr. Crow must know what he was talking about. And people began to feel rather foolish when they realized how near they had been to letting those two rascals--Peter Mink and Tommy Fox--deceive them.
As for old Mr. Crow, having persuaded his neighbors to his way of thinking, he began to be more pleased with himself than ever. And he spent a good deal of time sitting in a tall tree near the cornfield, with his head on one side, hoping that his friends would notice how wise he looked.
He was engaged in that agreeable pastime one afternoon when--thump!--something struck the limb on which he was perched.
Mr. Crow gave a squawk and a jump. And then he glanced quickly toward the ground.
There was no one anywhere in sight. So Mr. Crow looked somewhat silly. For a moment he had thought that Johnnie Green had thrown something at him. But he saw at once that he was mistaken. Of course it could have been nothing more than a dead branch falling.
He settled himself again, trying to appear as if he hadn't been startled, when--plump!--something gave him a smart blow on his back.
Old Mr. Crow flopped hastily into a neighboring tree. And this time he looked up instead of down.
At first he could see nothing unusual. And he had almost made up his mind that something had fallen out of the sky, when a head showed itself from behind a limb and a queer, wrinkled face peered at him.
Mr. Crow did not recognize the face. It was an odd one. In fact, he thought he had never seen an odder. But if he thought the face a queer one, it was not half as peculiar as the stranger's actions.
For, as Mr. Crow watched him, the stranger slipped into full view, hanging by his tail and one hand from a limb, while with the other hand he waved a red cap.
Old Mr. Crow's mouth fell open. For a time he said never a word.
And for him, that was quite out of the ordinary.