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Miss Peggy’s Proteges
by [?]

The string of Peggy’s sunbonnet had become untied–so had her right shoe. These were not unusual accidents to a country girl of ten, but as both of her hands were full she felt obliged to put down what she was carrying. This was further complicated by the nature of her burden–a half-fledged shrike and a baby gopher–picked up in her walk. It was impossible to wrap them both in her apron without serious peril to one or the other; she could not put either down without the chance of its escaping. “It’s like that dreadful riddle of the ferryman who had to take the wolf and the sheep in his boat,” said Peggy to herself, “though I don’t believe anybody was ever so silly as to want to take a wolf across the river.” But, looking up, she beheld the approach of Sam Bedell, a six-foot tunnelman of the “Blue Cement Lead,” and, hailing him, begged him to hold one of her captives. The giant, loathing the little mouse- like ball of fur, chose the shrike. “Hold him by the feet, for he bites AWFUL,” said Peggy, as the bird regarded Sam with the diabolically intense frown of his species. Then, dropping the gopher unconcernedly in her pocket, she proceeded to rearrange her toilet. The tunnelman waited patiently until Peggy had secured the nankeen sunbonnet around her fresh but freckled cheeks, and, with a reckless display of yellow flannel petticoat and stockings like peppermint sticks, had double-knotted her shoestrings viciously when he ventured to speak.

“Same old game, Peggy? Thought you’d got rather discouraged with your ‘happy family,’ arter that new owl o’ yours had gathered ’em in.”

Peggy’s cheek flushed slightly at this ungracious allusion to a former collection of hers, which had totally disappeared one evening after the introduction of a new member in the shape of a singularly venerable and peaceful-looking horned owl.

“I could have tamed HIM, too,” said Peggy indignantly, “if Ned Myers, who gave him to me, hadn’t been training him to ketch things, and never let on anything about it to me. He was a reg’lar game owl!”

“And wot are ye goin’ to do with the Colonel here?” said Sam, indicating under that gallant title the infant shrike, who, with his claws deeply imbedded in Sam’s finger, was squatting like a malignant hunchback, and resisting his transfer to Peggy. “Won’t HE make it rather lively for the others? He looks pow’ful discontented for one so young.”

“That’s his nater,” said Peggy promptly. “Jess wait till I tame him. Ef he’d been left along o’ his folks, he’d grow up like ’em. He’s a ‘butcher bird’–wot they call a ‘nine-killer ‘–kills nine birds a day! Yes! True ez you live! Sticks ’em up on thorns outside his nest, jest like a butcher’s shop, till he gets hungry. I’ve seen ’em!”

“And how do you kalkilate to tame him?” asked Sam.

“By being good to him and lovin’ him,” said Peggy, stroking the head of the bird with infinite gentleness.

“That means YOU’VE got to do all the butchering for him?” said the cynical Sam.

Peggy shook her head, disdaining a verbal reply.

“Ye can’t bring him up on sugar and crackers, like a Polly,” persisted Sam.

“Ye ken do anythin’ with critters, if you ain’t afeerd of ’em and love ’em,” said Peggy shyly.

The tall tunnelman, looking down into the depths of Peggy’s sunbonnet, saw something in the round blue eyes and grave little mouth that made him think so too. But here Peggy’s serious little face took a shade of darker concern as her arm went down deeper into her pocket, and her eyes got rounder.

“It’s–it’s–BURRERED OUT!” she said breathlessly.

The giant leaped briskly to one side. “Hol’ on,” said Peggy abstractedly. With infinite gravity she followed, with her fingers, a seam of her skirt down to the hem, popped them quickly under it, and produced, with a sigh of relief, the missing gopher.