Happy Jack Squirrel sat on the tip of one of the highest branches of a big hickory tree. Happy Jack was up very early that morning. In fact, jolly, round, red Mr. Sun was still in his bed behind the Purple Hills when Happy Jack hopped briskly out of bed. He washed himself thoroughly and was ready for business by the time Mr. Sun began his climb up in the blue, blue sky.
You see, Happy Jack had found that big hickory tree just loaded with nuts all ripe and ready to gather. He was quite sure that no one else had found that special tree, and he wanted to get all the nuts before anyone else found out about them. So he was all ready and off he raced to the big tree just as soon as it was light enough to see.
“The nuts that grow in the hickory tree—
They’re all for me! They’re all for me!”
Happy Jack was humming that little song as he rested for a few minutes ’way up in the top of the tree and wondered if his storehouse would hold all these big, fat nuts. Just then he heard a great scolding a little way over in the Green Forest. Happy Jack stopped humming and listened. He knew that voice. It was his cousin’s voice—the voice of Chatterer the Red Squirrel. Happy Jack frowned. “I hope he won’t come over this way,” muttered Happy Jack. He does not love his cousin Chatterer anyway, and then there was the big tree full of hickory nuts! He didn’t want Chatterer to find that.
I am afraid that Happy Jack was selfish. There were more nuts than he could possibly eat in one winter, and yet he wasn’t willing that his cousin, Chatterer the Red Squirrel, should have a single one. Now Chatterer is short-tempered and a great scold. Someone or something had upset him this morning, and he was scolding as fast as his tongue could go, as he came running right towards the tree in which Happy Jack was sitting. Happy Jack sat perfectly still and watched. He didn’t move so much as the tip of his big gray tail. Would Chatterer go past and not see that big tree full of nuts? It looked very much as if he would, for he was so busy scolding that he wasn’t paying much attention to other things.
Happy Jack smiled as Chatterer came running under the tree without once looking up. He was so tickled that he started to hug himself and didn’t remember that he was holding a big, fat nut in his hands. Of course he dropped it. Where do you think it went? Well, sir, it fell straight down, from the top of that tall tree, and it landed right on the head of Chatterer the Red Squirrel!
“My stars!” cried Chatterer, stopping his scolding and his running together, and rubbing his head where the nut had hit him. Then he looked up to see where it had come from. Of course, he looked straight up at Happy Jack.
“You did that purposely!” screamed Chatterer, his short temper flaring up.
“I didn’t!” snapped Happy Jack.
Oh, dear, oh, dear, such a sight! two little Squirrels, one in a gray suit and one in a red suit, contradicting each other and calling names! It was such a sad, sad sight, for you know they were cousins.
Two angry little people were making a dreadful noise in the Green Forest. It was a beautiful morning, a very beautiful fall morning, but all the beauty of it was being spoiled by the dreadful noise these two little people. You see they were quarreling. Yes, sir, they were quarreling, and it wasn’t at all nice to see or nice to hear.
You know who they were. One was Happy Jack Squirrel, who wears a coat of gray, and the other was Chatterer the Red Squirrel, who always wears a red coat with vest of white. When Happy Jack had dropped that nut from the tiptop of the tall hickory tree and it had landed right on top of Chatterer’s head it really had been an accident. All the time Happy Jack had been sitting as still as still could be, hoping that his cousin Chatterer would pass by without looking up and so seeing the big fat nuts in the top of that tree. You see Happy Jack was greedy and wanted all of them himself. Now Chatterer the Red Squirrel has a sharp temper, and also he has sharp eyes. All the time he was scolding Happy Jack and calling him names Chatterer’s bright eyes were taking note of all those big, fat hickory-nuts and his mouth began to water. Without wasting any more time he started up the tree to get some.
Happy Jack grew very angry, very angry indeed. He hurried down to meet Chatterer the Red Squirrel and to prevent him climbing the tree.
“You keep out of this tree; it’s mine!” he shrieked.
“No such thing! You don’t own the tree and I’ve got just as much right here as you have!” screamed Chatterer, dodging around to the other side of the tree.
“ ’Tis, too, mine! I found it first!” shouted Happy Jack. “You’re a thief, so there!”
“You’re a pig, Happy Jack! You’re just a great big pig!”
“I’m not a pig! I found these nuts first and I tell you they’re mine!” shrieked Happy Jack, so angry that every time he spoke he jerked his tail. And all the time he was chasing round and round the trunk of the tree trying to prevent Chatterer getting up.
Now Happy Jack is ever so much bigger than his cousin Chatterer but he isn’t as spry. So in spite of him Chatterer got past, and like a little red flash was up in the top of the tree where the big, fat nuts were. But he didn’t have time to pick even one, for after him came Happy Jack so angry that Chatterer knew that he would fare badly if Happy Jack should catch him. Round and round, over and across, this way and that way, in the top of the tall hickory tree raced Chatterer the Red Squirrel with his cousin, Happy Jack the Gray Squirrel, right at his heels, and calling him everything bad to be thought of. Yes, indeed it was truly dreadful, and Peter Rabbit, who happened along just then, put his hands over his ears so as not to hear such a dreadful quarrel.
Striped Chipmunk was sitting just inside a hollow log, studying about how he could fill up his new storehouse for the winter. Striped Chipmunk is very thrifty. He likes to play, and he is one of the merriest of all the little people who live on the Green Meadows or in the Green Forest. He lives right on the edge of both and knows everybody, and everybody knows him. Almost every morning the Merry Little Breezes of Old Mother West Wind hurry over to have a frolic with him the very first thing. But though he dearly loves to play, he never lets play interfere with work. Whatever he does, be it play or work, he does with all his might.
“I love the sun; I love the rain;
I love to work; I love to play.
Whatever it may bring to me
I love each minute of each day.”
So said Striped Chipmunk, as he sat in the hollow log and studied how he could fill that splendid big new storehouse. Pretty soon he pricked up his funny little ears. What was all that noise over in the Green Forest? Striped Chipmunk peeped out of the hollow log. Over in the top of a tall hickory tree a terrible fuss was going on. Striped Chipmunk listened. He heard angry voices, such angry voices! They were the voices of his big cousins, Happy Jack the Gray Squirrel and Chatterer the Red Squirrel.
“Dear me! Dear me! How those two do quarrel! I must go over and see what it is all about,” thought Striped Chipmunk.
So, with a flirt of his funny, little tail, he scampered out of the hollow log and over to the tall hickory tree. He knew all about that tree. Many, many times he had looked up at the big fat nuts in the top of it, watching them grow bigger and fatter, and hoping that when they grew ripe, Old Mother West Wind would find time to shake them down to him. You know Striped Chipmunk is not much of a climber, and so he cannot go up and pick the nuts as do his big cousins, Happy Jack and Chatterer.
When he reached the tall hickory tree, what do you think was happening? Why, those big, fat nuts were rattling down to the ground on every side, just as if Old Mother West Wind was shaking the tree as hard as she could. But Old Mother West Wind wasn’t there at all. No, sir, there wasn’t even one of the Merry Little Breezes up in the treetops. The big fat nuts were rattling down just on account of the dreadful quarrel of Striped Chipmunk’s two foolish cousins, Happy Jack and Chatterer.
It was all because Happy Jack was greedy. Chatterer had climbed the tree, and now Happy Jack, who is bigger but not so spry, was chasing Chatterer round and round and over the treetop, and both were so angry that they didn’t once notice that they were knocking down the very nuts over which they were quarreling.
Striped Chipmunk didn’t stop to listen to the quarrel. No, sir-ee! He stuffed a big fat nut in each pocket in his cheeks and scampered back to his splendid new storehouse as fast as his little legs would take him. Back and forth, back and forth, scampered Striped Chipmunk, and all the time he was laughing inside and hoping his big cousins would keep right on quarreling.
Happy Jack and Chatterer were out of breath. Happy Jack was puffing and blowing, for he is big and fat, and it is not so easy for him to race about in the treetops as it is for his smaller, slim, nimble cousin, Chatterer. So Happy Jack was the first to stop. He sat on a branch ’way up in the top of the tall hickory tree and glared across at Chatterer, who sat on a branch on the other side of the tall tree.
“Couldn’t catch me, could you, smarty?” taunted Chatterer.
“You just wait until I do! I’ll make you sorry you ever came near my hickory tree,” snapped Happy Jack.
“I’m waiting. Besides, it isn’t your tree any more than it’s mine,” replied Chatterer, and made a face at Happy Jack.
Happy Jack hopped up as if he meant to begin the chase again, but he had a pain in his side from running so hard and so long, and so he sat down again. Right down in his heart Happy Jack knew that Chatterer was right, that the tree didn’t belong to him any more than to his cousin. But when he thought of all those big, fat nuts with which the tall hickory tree had been loaded, greedy thoughts chased out all thoughts of right and he said to himself again, as he had said when he first saw his cousin, that Chatterer shouldn’t have one of them. He stopped scolding long enough to steal a look at them, and then—what do you think Happy Jack did? Why, he gave such a jump of surprise that he nearly lost his balance. Not a nut was to be seen!
Happy Jack blinked. Then, he rubbed his eyes and looked again. He couldn’t see a nut anywhere! There were the husks in which the nuts had grown big and fat until they were ripe, but now every husk was empty. Chatterer saw the queer look on Happy Jack’s face, and he looked too. Now Chatterer the Red Squirrel had very quick wits, and he guessed right away what had happened. He knew that while they had been quarreling and racing over the top of the tall hickory tree, they must have knocked down all the nuts, which were just ready to fall anyway. Like a little red flash, Chatterer started down the tree. Then Happy Jack guessed too, and down he started as fast as he could go, crying, “Stop, thief!” all the way.
When he reached the ground, there was Chatterer scurrying around and poking under the fallen leaves, but he hadn’t found a single nut. Happy Jack couldn’t stop to quarrel any more, because you see he was afraid that Chatterer would find the biggest and fattest nuts, so he began to scurry around and hunt too. It was queer, very queer, how those nuts could have hidden so! They hunted and hunted, but no nuts were to be found. Then they stopped and stared up at the top of the tall hickory tree. Not a nut could they see. Then they stared at each other, and gradually a foolish, a very foolish look crept over each face.
“Where—where do you suppose they have gone?” asked Happy Jack in a queer-sounding voice.
Just then they heard someone laughing fit to kill himself. It was Peter Rabbit.
“Did you take our hickory nuts?” they both shouted angrily.
“No,” replied Peter, “no, I didn’t take them, though they were not yours, anyway!” And then he went off into another fit of laughter, for Peter had seen Striped Chipmunk very hard at work taking away those very nuts while his two big cousins had been quarreling in the treetop.
Happy Jack didn’t look happy a bit. Indeed, Happy Jack looked very unhappy. You see, he looked just as he felt. He had set his heart on having all the big, fat nuts that he had found in the top of that tall hickory tree, and now, instead of having all of them, he hadn’t any of them. Worse still, he knew right down in his heart that it was his own fault. He had been too greedy. But what had become of those nuts?
Happy Jack was studying about this as he sat with his back against a big chestnut tree. He remembered how hard Peter Rabbit had laughed when Happy Jack and his cousin, Chatterer the Red Squirrel, had been so surprised because they could not find the nuts they had knocked down. Peter hadn’t taken them, for Peter has no use for them, but he must know what had become of them, for he was still laughing as he had gone off down the Lone Little Path. While he was thinking of all this, Happy Jack’s bright eyes had been wide open, as they usually are, so that no danger should come near. Suddenly they saw something moving among the brown-and-yellow leaves on the ground. Happy Jack looked sharply, and then a sudden thought popped into his head.
“Hi, there, Cousin Chipmunk!” he shouted.
“Hi, there, your own self!” replied Striped Chipmunk, for it was he.
“What are you doing down there?” asked Happy Jack.
“Looking for hickory nuts,” replied Striped Chipmunk, and his eyes twinkled as he said it, for there wasn’t a hickory tree near.
Happy Jack looked hard at Striped Chipmunk, for that sudden thought which had popped into his head when he first saw Striped Chipmunk was growing into a strong, a very strong, suspicion that Striped Chipmunk knew something about those lost hickory nuts. But Striped Chipmunk looked back at him so innocently that Happy Jack didn’t know just what to think.
“Have you begun to fill your storehouse for winter yet?” inquired Happy Jack.
“Of course I have. I don’t mean to let Jack Frost catch me with an empty storehouse,” replied Striped Chipmunk.
“When leaves turn yellow, brown, and red,
And nuts come pitter, patter down;
When days are short and swiftly sped,
And Autumn wears her colored gown,
I’m up before old Mr. Sun
His nightcap has a chance to doff,
And have my day’s work well begun
When others kick their bedclothes off.”
“What are you filling your storehouse with?” asked Happy Jack, trying not to show too much interest.
“Corn, nice ripe yellow corn, and seeds and acorns and chestnuts,” answered Striped Chipmunk. “And now I’m looking for some big, fat hickory nuts,” he added, and his bright eyes twinkled. “Have you seen any, Happy Jack?”
Happy Jack said that he hadn’t seen any, and Striped Chipmunk remarked that he couldn’t waste any more time talking, and scurried away. Happy Jack watched him go, a puzzled little frown puckering up his brows.
“I believe he knows something about those nuts. I think I’ll follow him and have a peep into his storehouse,” he muttered.
Striped Chipmunk was whisking about among the brown-and-yellow leaves that covered the ground on the edge of the Green Forest. He is such a little fellow that he looked almost like a brown leaf himself, and when one of Old Mother West Wind’s Merry Little Breezes whirled the brown leaves in a mad little dance around him, it was the hardest work in the world to see Striped Chipmunk at all. Anyway, Happy Jack Squirrel found it so.
You see, Happy Jack was spying on Striped Chipmunk. Yes, sir, Happy Jack was spying. Spying, you know, is secretly watching other people and trying to find out what they are doing. It isn’t a nice thing to do, not a bit nice. Happy Jack knew it, and all the time he was doing it, he was feeling very much ashamed of himself. But he said to himself that he just had to know where Striped Chipmunk’s storehouse was, because he just had to peep inside and find out if it held any of the big, fat hickory nuts that had disappeared from under the tall hickory tree while he was quarreling up in the top of it with his cousin, Chatterer the Red Squirrel.
But spying on Striped Chipmunk isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Happy Jack was finding it the hardest work he had ever undertaken. Striped Chipmunk is so spry, and whisks about so, that you need eyes all around your head to keep track of him. Happy Jack found that his two eyes, bright and quick as they are, couldn’t keep that little elf of a cousin of his always in sight. Every few minutes he would disappear and then bob up again in the most unexpected place and most provoking way.
“Now I’m here, and now I’m there!
Now I am not anywhere!
Watch me now, for here I go
Out of sight! I told you so!”
With the last words, Striped Chipmunk was nowhere to be seen. It seemed as if the earth must have opened and swallowed him. But it hadn’t, for two minutes later Happy Jack saw him flirting his funny little tail in the sauciest way as he scampered along an old log.
Happy Jack began to suspect that Striped Chipmunk was just having fun with him. What else could he mean by saying such things? And yet Happy Jack was sure that Striped Chipmunk hadn’t seen him, for, all the time he was watching, Happy Jack had taken the greatest care to keep hidden himself. No, it couldn’t be, it just couldn’t be that Striped Chipmunk knew that he was anywhere about. He would just be patient a little longer, and he would surely see that smart little cousin of his go to his storehouse. So Happy Jack waited and watched.
Striped Chipmunk would shout in his shrillest voice:
“Hipperty, hopperty, one, two, three!
What do you think becomes of me?”
Then he would vanish from sight all in the wink of an eye. You couldn’t tell where he went to. At least Happy Jack couldn’t, and his eyes are sharper than yours or mine. Happy Jack was spying, you remember. He was watching Striped Chipmunk without letting Striped Chipmunk know it. At least he thought he was. But really he wasn’t. Those sharp twinkling eyes of Striped Chipmunk see everything. You know, he is such a very little fellow that he has to be very wide-awake to keep out of danger.
And he is wide-awake. Oh, my, yes, indeed! When he is awake, and that is every minute of the daytime, he is the most wide-awake little fellow you ever did see. He had seen Happy Jack the very first thing, and he had guessed right away that Happy Jack was spying on him so as to find out if he had any of the big, fat hickory nuts. Now Striped Chipmunk had all of those fat hickory nuts safely hidden in his splendid new storehouse, but he didn’t intend to let Happy Jack know it. So he just pretended not to see Happy Jack, or to know that he was anywhere near, but acted as if he was just going about his own business. Really he was just having the best time ever fooling Happy Jack.
“The corn is ripe; the nuts do fall;
Acorns are sweet and plump.
I soon will have my storehouse full
Inside the hollow stump.”
Striped Chipmunk sang this just as if no one was anywhere near, and he was singing just for joy. Of course Happy Jack heard it and he grinned.
“So your storehouse is in a hollow stump, my smart little cousin!” said Happy Jack to himself. “If that’s the case, I’ll soon find it.”
Striped Chipmunk scurried along, and now he took pains to always keep in sight. Happy Jack followed, hiding behind the trees. Pretty soon Striped Chipmunk picked up a plump acorn and put it in the pocket of his right cheek. Then he picked up another and put that in the pocket in his left cheek. Then he crowded another into each; and his face was swelled so that you would hardly have guessed that it was Striped Chipmunk if you had chanced to meet him. My, my, he was a funny sight! Happy Jack grinned again as he watched, partly because Striped Chipmunk looked so funny, and partly because he knew that if Striped Chipmunk was going to eat the acorns right away, he wouldn’t stuff them into the pockets in his cheeks. But he had done this very thing, and so he must be going to take them to his storehouse.
Off scampered Striped Chipmunk, and after him stole Happy Jack, his eyes shining with excitement. Pretty soon he saw an old stump which looked as if it must be hollow. Happy Jack grinned more than ever as he carefully hid himself and watched. Striped Chipmunk scrambled up on the old stump, looked this way and that way, as if to be sure that no one was watching him, then with a flirt of his funny little tail he darted into a little round doorway. He was gone a long time, but by and by out he popped, looked this way and that way, and then scampered off in the direction from which he had come. Happy Jack didn’t try to follow him. He waited until he was sure that Striped Chipmunk was out of sight and hearing, and then he walked over to the old stump.
“It’s his storehouse fast enough,” said Happy Jack.
Happy Jack Squirrel stood in front of the old stump into which he had seen Striped Chipmunk go with the pockets in his cheeks full of acorns, and out of which he had come with the pockets of his cheeks quite empty.
“It certainly is his storehouse, and now I’ll find out if he is the one who got all those big, fat hickory nuts,” muttered Happy Jack.
First he looked this way, and then he looked that way, to be sure that no one saw him, for what he was planning to do was a very dreadful thing, and he knew it. Happy Jack was going to turn burglar. A burglar, you know, is one who breaks into another’s house or barn to steal, which is a very, very dreadful thing to do. Yet this is just what Happy Jack Squirrel was planning to do. He was going to get into that old stump, and if those big, fat hickory nuts were there, as he was sure they were, he was going to take them. He tried very hard to make himself believe that it wouldn’t be stealing. He had watched those nuts in the top of the tall hickory tree so long that he had grown to think that they belonged to him. Of course they didn’t, but he had made himself think they did.
Happy Jack walked all around the old stump, and then he climbed up on top of it. There was only one doorway, and that was the little round hole through which Striped Chipmunk had entered and then come out. It was too small for Happy Jack to even get his head through, though his cousin, Chatterer the Red Squirrel, who is much smaller, could have slipped in easily. Happy Jack sniffed and sniffed. He could smell nuts and corn and other good things. My, how good they did smell! His eyes shone greedily.
Happy Jack took one more hasty look around to see that no one was watching, then with his long sharp teeth he began to make the doorway larger. The wood was tough, but Happy Jack worked with might and main, for he wanted to get those nuts and get away before Striped Chipmunk should return, or anyone else should happen along and see him. Soon the hole was big enough for him to get his head inside. It was a storehouse, sure enough. Happy Jack worked harder than ever, and soon the hole was large enough for him to get wholly inside.
What a sight! There was corn! and there were chestnuts and acorns! and there were a few hickory nuts, though these did not look so big and fat as the ones Happy Jack was looking for! Happy Jack chuckled to himself, a wicked, greedy chuckle, as he looked. And then something happened.
“Oh! Oh! Stop it! Leave me alone!” yelled Happy Jack.
“Let me go! Let me go!” yelled Happy Jack, as he backed out of the hollow stump faster than he had gone in, a great deal faster. Can you guess why? I’ll tell you. It was because he was being pulled out. Yes, sir, Happy Jack Squirrel was being pulled out by his big, bushy tail.
Happy Jack was more frightened than hurt. To be sure, it is not at all comfortable to have one’s tail pulled, but Happy Jack wouldn’t have minded this so much had it not been so unexpected, or if he could have seen who was pulling it. And then, right inside Happy Jack didn’t feel a bit good. Why? Well, because he was doing a dreadful thing, and he knew that it was a dreadful thing. He had broken into somebody’s storehouse to steal. He was sure that it was Striped Chipmunk’s storehouse, and he wouldn’t admit to himself that he was going to steal, actually steal. But all the time, right down deep in his heart, he knew that if he took any of those hickory nuts it would be stealing.
But Happy Jack had been careless. When he had made the doorway big enough for him to crawl inside, he had left his tail hanging outside. Someone had very, very softly stolen up and grabbed it and begun to pull. It was so sudden and unexpected that Happy Jack yelled with fright. When he could get his wits together, he thought of course Striped Chipmunk had come back and was pulling his tail. When he thought that, he got over his fright right away, for Striped Chipmunk is such a little fellow that Happy Jack knew that he had nothing; to fear from him.
So as fast as he could, Happy Jack backed out of the hole and whirled around. Of course he expected to face a very angry little Chipmunk. But he didn’t. No, sir, he didn’t. Instead, he looked right into the angry face of his other cousin, Chatterer the Red Squirrel. And Chatterer was angry! Oh my, my, how angry Chatterer was! For a minute he couldn’t find his voice, because his anger fairly choked him. And when he did, how his tongue did fly!
“You thief! You robber! What are you doing in my storehouse?” he shrieked.
Happy Jack backed away hurriedly, for though he is much bigger than Chatterer, he has a very wholesome respect for Chatterer’s sharp teeth, and when he is very angry, Chatterer is a great fighter.
“I—I didn’t know it was your storehouse,” said Happy Jack, backing away still further.
“It doesn’t make any difference if you didn’t; you’re a thief just the same!” screamed Chatterer and rushed at Happy Jack. And what do you think Happy Jack did? Why, he just turned tail and ran, Chatterer after him, crying “Thief! Robber! Coward!” at the top of his lungs, so that everyone in the Green Forest could hear.
Striped Chipmunk sat on a mossy old log, laughing until his sides ached. “Ha, ha, ha! Ho, ho, ho! Oh, dear! Oh, dear! Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho!” laughed Striped Chipmunk, holding his sides. Over in the Green Forest he could still hear Chatterer the Red Squirrel crying “Thief! Robber!” as he chased his big cousin, Happy Jack, and every time he heard it, Striped Chipmunk laughed harder.
You see, Striped Chipmunk had known all the time that Happy Jack was spying on him, and he had had no end of fun fooling Happy Jack by suddenly disappearing and then bobbing into view. He had known that Happy Jack was following him so as to find out where his storehouse was. Then Striped Chipmunk had remembered the storehouse of Chatterer the Red Squirrel. He had filled the pockets in his cheeks with acorns and gone straight over to Chatterer’s storehouse and put them inside, knowing that Happy Jack would follow him and would think that that was his storehouse. And that is just what happened.
Then Striped Chipmunk had hidden himself where he could see all that happened. He had seen Happy Jack look all around, to make sure that no one was near, and then tear open the little round doorway of Chatterer’s storehouse until it was big enough for him to squeeze through. He had seen Chatterer come up, fly into a rage, and pull Happy Jack out by the tail. Indeed, he had had to clap both hands over his mouth to keep from laughing out loud. Then Happy Jack had turned tail and run away with Chatterer after him, shouting “Thief” and “Robber” at the top of his voice, and this had tickled Striped Chipmunk still more, for he knew that Chatterer himself is one of the greatest thieves in the Green Forest. So he sat on the mossy old log and laughed and laughed and laughed.
Finally Striped Chipmunk wiped the tears from his eyes and jumped up. “My, my, this will never do!” said he.
“Idle hands and idle feet
Never filled a storehouse yet;
But instead, so I’ve heard say,
Into mischief surely get.”
“Here it is almost Thanksgiving and—” Striped Chipmunk stopped and scratched his head, while a funny little pleased look crept into his face. “I wonder if Happy Jack and Chatterer would come to a Thanksgiving dinner,” he muttered. “I believe I’ll ask them just for fun.”
Then Striped Chipmunk hurried home full of his new idea and chuckled as he planned his Thanksgiving dinner. Of course he couldn’t have it at his own house. That wouldn’t do at all. In the first place, the doorway would be altogether too small for Happy Jack. Anyway, his home was a secret, his very own secret, and he didn’t propose to let Happy Jack and Chatterer know where it was, even for a Thanksgiving dinner. Then he thought of the big, smooth, mossy log he had been sitting on that very morning.
“The very place!” cried Striped Chipmunk, and scurried away to find Happy Jack Squirrel and Chatterer the Red Squirrel to invite them to his Thanksgiving dinner.
Striped Chipmunk jumped out of bed very early Thanksgiving morning. It was going to be a very busy day. He had invited Happy Jack the Gray Squirrel, and Chatterer the Red Squirrel, to eat Thanksgiving dinner with him, and each had promised to be there. Striped Chipmunk chuckled as he thought how neither of his guests knew that the other was to be there. He washed his face and hands, brushed his hair, and ate his breakfast. Then he scurried over to his splendid new storehouse, which no one knew of but himself, and stuffed the pockets in his cheeks with good things to eat. When he couldn’t stuff another thing in, he scurried over to the nice, mossy log on the edge of the Green Forest, and there he emptied his pockets, for that was to be his dining table.
Back and forth, back and forth between his secret storehouse and the smooth, mossy log hurried Striped Chipmunk. He knew that Happy Jack and the Chatterer have great appetites, and he wanted to be sure that there was plenty of good things to eat. And as he scurried along, he sang a little song.
“Thanksgiving comes but once a year,
But when it comes it brings good cheer.
For in my storehouse on this day
Are piles of good things hid away.
Each day I’ve worked from early morn
To gather acorns, nuts, and corn,
Till now I’ve plenty and to spare
Without a worry or a care.
So light of heart the whole day long,
I’ll sing a glad Thanksgiving song.”
Promptly at the dinner hour Happy Jack appeared coming from one direction, and Chatterer the Red Squirrel coming from another direction. They didn’t see each other until just as they reached Striped Chipmunk’s smooth, mossy log. Then they stopped and scowled. Striped Chipmunk pretended not to notice anything wrong and bustled about, talking all the time as if his guests were the best of friends.
On the smooth, mossy log was a great pile of shining yellow corn. There was another pile of plump ripe acorns, and three little piles of dainty looking brown seeds. But the thing that Happy Jack couldn’t keep his eyes off was right in the middle. It was a huge pile of big, fat hickory nuts. Now who could remain ill-tempered and cross with such a lot of goodies spread before him? Certainly not Happy Jack or his cousin, Chatterer the Red Squirrel. They just had to smile in spite of themselves, and when Striped Chipmunk urged them to sit down and help themselves, they did. In three minutes they were so busy eating that they had forgotten all about their quarrel and were laughing and chatting like the best of friends.
“It’s quite a family party, isn’t it?” said Striped Chipmunk, for you know they are all cousins.
Whitefoot the Wood Mouse happened along, and Striped Chipmunk insisted that he should join the party. Later Sammy Jay came along, and nothing would excuse him from sharing in the feast, too. When everybody had eaten and eaten until they couldn’t hold another thing, and it was time to think of going home, Striped Chipmunk insisted that Happy Jack and Chatterer should divide between them the big, fat hickory nuts that were left, and they did without once quarreling about it.
“Thanksgiving comes but once a year,
And when it comes it brings good cheer,”
said Striped Chipmunk to himself as he watched his guests depart.
Happy Jack sat up in a chestnut tree, and his face was very sober. The fact is, Happy Jack was doing some very hard thinking. This is so very unusual for him that Sammy Jay stopped to ask if he was sick. You see he is naturally a happy-go-lucky little scamp, and that is one reason that he is called Happy Jack. But this morning he was thinking and thinking hard, so hard, in fact, that he almost lost his temper when Sammy Jay interrupted his thoughts with such a foolish question.
What was he thinking about? Can you not guess? Why, he was thinking about those big, fat hickory nuts that Striped Chipmunk had had for his Thanksgiving dinner, and how Striped Chipmunk had given him some of them to bring home. He was very sure that they were the very same nuts that he had watched grow big and fat in the top of the tall hickory tree and then had knocked down while chasing his cousin, Chatterer. When they had reached the ground and found the nuts gone, Happy Jack had at once suspected that Striped Chipmunk had taken them, and now he felt sure about it.
But all at once things looked very different to Happy Jack, and the more he thought about how he had acted, the more ashamed of himself he grew.
“There certainly must have been enough of those nuts for all of us, and if I hadn’t been so greedy we might all have had a share. As it is, I’ve got only those that Striped Chipmunk gave me, and Chatterer has only those that Striped Chipmunk gave him. It must be that that sharp little cousin of mine with the striped coat has got the rest, and I guess he deserves them.”
Then all of a sudden Happy Jack realized how Striped Chipmunk had fooled him into thinking that the storehouse of Chatterer was his storehouse, and Happy Jack began to laugh. The more he thought of it, the harder he laughed.
“The joke certainly is on me!” he exclaimed. “The joke certainly is on me, and it served me right. Hereafter I’ll mind my own business. If I had spent half as much time looking for hickory nuts as I did looking for Striped Chipmunk’s storehouse, I would be ready for winter now, and Chatterer couldn’t call me a thief.”
Then he laughed again as he thought how Striped Chipmunk must have enjoyed seeing him pulled out of Chatterer’s storehouse by the tail.
“What’s the joke?” asked Bobby Coon, who happened along just then.
“I’ve just learned a lesson,” replied Happy Jack.
“What is it?” asked Bobby.
Happy Jack grinned as he answered:
“I’ve found that greed will never, never pay.
It makes one cross and ugly, and it drives one’s friends away.
And being always selfish and always wanting more,
One’s very apt to lose the things that one has had before.”
“Pooh!” said Bobby Coon. “Have you just found that out? I learned that a long time ago.”
A fat Gray Squirrel is very tempting to a number of people in the Green Forest, particularly in winter, when getting a living is hard work. Almost every day Reddy and Granny Fox stole softly through that part of the Green Forest where Happy Jack Squirrel lived, hoping to surprise and catch him on the ground. But they never did. Roughleg the Hawk and Hooty the Owl wasted a great deal of time, sitting around near Happy Jack’s home, hoping to catch him when he was not watching, but they never did.
Happy Jack knew all about these big hungry neighbors, and he was always on the watch for them. He knew their ways and just where they would be likely to hide. He took the greatest care to look into every such hiding place near at hand before he ventured down out of the trees, and because these hungry neighbors are so big, he never had any trouble in seeing them if they happened to be around. So Happy Jack didn’t do much worrying about them. The fact is, Happy Jack wasn’t afraid of them at all, for the simple reason that he knew they couldn’t follow him into his hollow tree.
Having nuts stored away, he would have been perfectly happy but for one thing. Yes, sir, there was only one thing to spoil Happy Jack’s complete happiness, and that was the fear that Shadow the Weasel might take it into his head to pay him a visit. Shadow can go through a smaller hole than Happy Jack can, and so Happy Jack knew that while he was wholly safe from his other enemies, he wasn’t safe at all from Shadow the Weasel. And this worried him. Yes, sir, it worried Happy Jack. He hadn’t seen or heard of Shadow for a long time, but he had a feeling that he was likely to turn up almost any time, especially now that everything was covered with snow and ice, and food was scarce and hard to get. He sometimes actually wished that he wasn’t as fat as he was. Then he would be less tempting to his hungry neighbors.
But no good comes of worrying. No, sir, not a bit of good comes of worrying, and Happy Jack knows it.
“All I can do is to watch out and not be careless,” said he, and dropped the shell of a nut on the head of Reddy Fox, who happened to be passing under the tree in which Happy Jack was sitting. Reddy looked up and showed his teeth angrily. Happy Jack laughed and scampered away through the treetops to another part of the Green Forest where he had some very secret stores of nuts.
He was gone most of the day, and when he started back home he was in the best of spirits, for his stores had not been found by anyone else. He was in such good spirits that for once he quite forgot Shadow the Weasel. He was just going to pop into his doorway without first looking inside, a very foolish thing to do, when he heard someone calling him. He turned to see Tommy Tit the Chickadee hurrying towards him, and it was very clear that Tommy was greatly excited.
“Hello, Tommy Tit! What ails you?” exclaimed Happy Jack.
“Don’t go in there, Happy Jack!” cried Tommy Tit. “Shadow the Weasel is in there waiting for you!”
Happy Jack turned quite pale. “Are you sure?” he gasped.
Tommy Tit nodded as if he would nod his head off. “I saw him go in, and he hasn’t come out, for I’ve kept watch,” said he. “You better get away from here before he knows you are about.”
That was good advice, but it was too late. Even as Tommy Tit spoke, a sharp face with red, angry eyes was thrust out of Happy Jack’s doorway. It was the face of Shadow the Weasel.
It isn’t cowardly to run away when it is quite useless to stay and fight. So it wasn’t so cowardly of Happy Jack Squirrel to turn tail and run the instant he caught sight of Shadow the Weasel. No, sir, it wasn’t cowardly at all, although it might have looked so to you had you been there to see, for Happy Jack is bigger than Shadow. But when it comes to a fight, Happy Jack is no match at all for Shadow the Weasel, and he knows it. Shadow is too quick for him, and though Happy Jack were ever so brave, he would have no chance at all in a fight with Shadow.
And so the very instant he saw the cruel face of Shadow with its fierce red eyes glaring at him from his own doorway, Happy Jack turned tail and ran. Yes, sir, that is just what he did, and it was the wisest thing he could have done. He hoped with a mighty hope that Shadow would not follow him, but he hoped in vain. Shadow had made up his mind to dine on Squirrel, and he didn’t propose to see his dinner run away without trying to catch it. So the instant Happy Jack started, Shadow started after him, stopping only long enough to snarl an ugly threat at Tommy Tit the Chickadee, because Tommy had warned Happy Jack that Shadow was waiting for him.
But Tommy didn’t mind that threat. Oh, my, no! Tommy didn’t mind it at all. He can fly, and so he had no fear of Shadow the Weasel. But he was terribly afraid for Happy Jack. He knew, just as Happy Jack knew, that there wasn’t a single place where Happy Jack could hide into which Shadow could not follow him. So Tommy flitted from tree to tree behind Happy Jack, hoping that in some way he might be able to help him.
From tree to tree raced Happy Jack, making desperately long leaps. Shadow the Weasel followed, and though he ran swiftly, he didn’t appear to be hurrying, and he took no chances on those long leaps. If the leap was too long to take safely, Shadow simply ran back down the tree, across to the next one and up that. It didn’t worry him at all that Happy Jack was so far ahead that he was out of sight. He knew that he could trust his nose to follow the scent of Happy Jack. In fact, it rather pleased him to have Happy Jack race away in such fright, for in that way he would soon tire himself out.
And this is just what Happy Jack did do. He ran and jumped and jumped and ran as fast as he could until he was so out of breath that he just had to stop for a rest. But he couldn’t rest much. He was too terribly frightened. He shivered and shook while he got his breath, and never for a second did he take his eyes from his back trail. Presently he saw a slim white form darting along the snow straight towards the tree in which he was resting. Once more Happy Jack ran, and somehow he felt terribly helpless and hopeless.
He had to rest oftener now, and each rest was shorter than the one before, because, you know, Shadow was a less and less distance behind. Poor Happy Jack! He had tried every trick he knew, and not one of them had fooled Shadow the Weasel. Now he was too tired to run much farther. The last little bit of hope left Happy Jack’s heart. He blinked his eyes very fast to keep back the tears, as he thought that this was probably the last time he would ever look at the beautiful Green Forest he loved so. Then he gritted his teeth and made up his mind that anyway he would fight his best, even if it was hopeless. It was just at that very minute that he heard the voice of Tommy Tit the Chickadee calling to him in great excitement, and somehow, he didn’t know why, a wee bit of hope sprang up in his heart.
It never has been fully decided among the little people of the Green Forest and the Green Meadows just who really did save Happy Jack Squirrel. Some say that Tommy Tit the Chickadee deserves all the credit, and some say that—but wait. Let me tell you just what happened, and then perhaps you can decide for yourself who saved Happy Jack.
You see, it was this way: Happy Jack had run and run and run and tried every trick he knew to get away from Shadow the Weasel, but all in vain. At last he was so out of breath and so tired that he felt that he couldn’t run any more. He had just made up his mind that he would wait right where he was for Shadow and then put up the best fight he could, even if it was hopeless, when he heard Tommy Tit calling to him in great excitement.
“Dee, dee, chickadee! Come here quick, Happy Jack! Come here quick!” called Tommy Tit.
A wee bit of hope sprang up in Happy Jack’s heart. He couldn’t imagine what possible help Tommy Tit could be, but he would go see. So taking a long breath he started on as fast as he could in the direction of Tommy’s voice. He couldn’t run very fast, because, you know, he was so tired, but he did the best he could. Presently he saw Tommy just ahead of him flying about in great excitement.
“Dee, dee, dee, there he is! Go to him! Go to him, Happy Jack! Hurry! Hurry! Dee, dee, dee, oh, do hurry!” cried Tommy Tit.
For just a second Happy Jack didn’t know what he meant. Then he saw Farmer Brown’s boy watching Tommy Tit as if he didn’t know what to make of the little fellow’s excitement.
“Go to him! Go to him!” called Tommy. “He won’t hurt you, and he won’t let Shadow the Weasel hurt you! See me! See me! Dee, dee, see me!” And with that Tommy Tit flew right down on Farmer Brown’s boy’s hand, for you know he and Farmer Brown’s boy are great friends.
Happy Jack hesitated. He knew that Farmer Brown’s boy had tried to make friends with him, and every day since the ice and snow had come had put out nuts and corn for him, but he couldn’t quite forget the old fear of him. He couldn’t quite trust him. So now he hesitated. Then he looked back. Shadow the Weasel was only a few jumps behind him, and his little eyes glowed red and savage. Farmer Brown’s boy might not hurt him, but Shadow certainly would. Shadow would kill him. Happy Jack made up his mind, and with a little gasp raced madly across the snow straight to Farmer Brown’s boy and ran right up to his shoulder.
Shadow the Weasel had been so intent on catching Happy Jack that he hadn’t noticed Farmer Brown’s boy at all. Now he saw him for the first time and stopped short, snarling and spitting. Whatever else you may say of Shadow the Weasel, he is no coward. For a minute it looked as if he really meant to follow Happy Jack and get him in spite of Farmer Brown’s boy, and Happy Jack trembled as he looked down into those angry little red eyes. But Shadow knows when he is well off, and now he knew better than to come a step nearer. So he snarled and spit, and then, as Farmer Brown’s boy took a step forward, leaped to one side and disappeared in the old stone wall.
Very gently and softly Farmer Brown’s boy talked to Happy Jack as he took him to the nearest tree. Then, when Happy Jack was safely up in the tree, he went over to the stone wall and tried to drive Shadow the Weasel out. He pulled over the stones until at last Shadow jumped out, and then Farmer Brown’s boy chased him clear into the Green Forest.
“Dee, dee, dee, what did I tell you?” cried Tommy Tit happily, as he flew over to where Happy Jack was sitting.
Now who really saved Happy Jack—Tommy Tit or Farmer Brown’s boy?
Go ask Happy Jack Squirrel. He knows. He knows because he has proved it. It began when Farmer Brown’s boy saved him from Shadow the Weasel. Perhaps I should say when Farmer Brown’s boy and Tommy Tit saved him, for if it hadn’t been for Tommy, it never would have entered Happy Jack’s head to run to Farmer Brown’s boy. After that, of course, Happy Jack and Farmer Brown’s boy became great friends. Farmer Brown’s boy came over to the Green Forest every day to see Happy Jack, and always he had the most delicious nuts in his pockets. At first Happy Jack had been a wee bit shy. He couldn’t quite get over that old fear he had had so long. Then he would remember how Farmer Brown’s boy had saved him, and that would make him ashamed, and he would walk right up and take the nuts.
Farmer Brown’s boy would talk to him in the nicest way and tell him that he loved him, and that there wasn’t the least thing in the world to be afraid of. Pretty soon Happy Jack began to love Farmer Brown’s boy a little. He couldn’t help it. He just had to love anyone who was so kind and gentle to him. Now as soon as he began to love a little, and felt sure in his own heart that Farmer Brown’s boy loved him a little, he found that love and love make more love, and it wasn’t any time at all before he had become very fond of Farmer Brown’s boy, so fond of him that he was almost jealous of Tommy Tit, who had been a friend of Farmer Brown’s boy for a long time. It got so that Happy Jack looked forward each day to the visit of Farmer Brown’s boy, and as soon as he heard his whistle, he would hasten to meet him. Some folks were unkind enough to say that it was just because of the nuts and corn he was sure to find in Farmer Brown’s boy’s pockets, but that wasn’t so at all.
At last there came a day when he missed that cheery whistle. He waited and waited. At last he went clear to the edge of the Green Forest, but there was no whistle and no sign of Farmer Brown’s boy. It was the same way the next day and the next. Happy Jack forgot to frisk about the way he usually does. He lost his appetite. He just sat around and moped.
When Tommy Tit the Chickadee came to call, as he did every day, Happy Jack found that Tommy was anxious too. Tommy had been up to Farmer Brown’s dooryard several times, and he hadn’t seen anything of Farmer Brown’s boy.
“I think he must have gone away,” said Tommy.
“He would have come down here first and said goodbye,” replied Happy Jack.
“You—you don’t suppose something has happened to him, do you?” asked Tommy.
“I don’t know. I don’t know what to think,” replied Happy Jack, soberly. “Do you know, Tommy, I’ve grown very fond of Farmer Brown’s boy.”
“Of course. Dee, dee, dee, of course. Everybody who really knows him is fond of him. I’ve said all along that he is the best friend we’ve got, but no one seemed to believe me. I’m glad you’ve found it out for yourself. I tell you what, I’ll go up to his house and have another look around.” And without waiting for a reply, Tommy was off as fast as his little wings could take him.
“I hope, I do hope, that nothing has happened to him,” mumbled Happy Jack, as he pretended to hunt for buried nuts while he waited for Tommy Tit to come back, and by “him” he meant Farmer Brown’s boy.
Happy Jack very plainly was not happy. His name was the only happy thing about him. He fussed about on the edge of the Green Forest. He just couldn’t keep still. When he thought anybody was looking, he pretended to hunt for some of the nuts he had buried in the fall, and dug holes down through the snow. But as soon as he thought that no one was watching, he would scamper up a tree where he could look over to Farmer Brown’s house and look and look. It was very clear that Happy Jack was watching for someone and that he was anxious, very anxious, indeed.
It was getting late in the afternoon, and soon the Black Shadows would begin to creep out from the Purple Hills, behind which jolly, round, red Mr. Sun would go to bed. It would be bedtime for Happy Jack then, for you know he goes to bed very early, just as soon as it begins to get dark. The later it got, the more anxious and uneasy Happy Jack grew. He had just made up his mind that in a few minutes he would have to give up and go to bed when there was a flit of tiny wings, and Tommy Tit the Chickadee dropped into the tree beside him.
“Did you find out anything?” asked Happy Jack eagerly, before Tommy had a chance to say a word.
Tommy nodded. “He’s there!” he panted, for he was quite out of breath from hurrying so.
“Where?” Happy Jack fairly shouted the question.
“Over there in the house,” replied Tommy Tit.
“Then he hasn’t gone away! It’s just as I said, he hasn’t gone away!” cried Happy Jack, and he was so relieved that he jumped up and down and as a result nearly tumbled out of the tree.
“No,” replied Tommy, “he hasn’t gone away, but I think there is something the matter with him.”
Happy Jack grew very sober. “What makes you think so?” he demanded.
“If you’ll give me time to get my breath, I’ll tell you all about it,” retorted Tommy Tit.
“All right, only please hurry,” replied Happy Jack, and tried to look patient even if he wasn’t.
Tommy Tit smoothed out some rumpled feathers and was most provokingly slow about it. “When I left here,” he began at last, “I flew straight up to Farmer Brown’s house, as I said I would. I flew all around it, but all I saw was that horrid Black Pussy on the back doorsteps, and she looked at me so hungrily that she made me dreadfully uncomfortable. I don’t see what Farmer Brown keeps her about for, anyway.”
“Never mind her; go on!” interrupted Happy Jack.
“Then I flew all around the barn, but I didn’t see anyone there but that ugly little upstart, Bully the English Sparrow, and he wanted to pick a fight with me right away.” Tommy looked very indignant.
“Never mind him, go on!” cried Happy Jack impatiently.
“After that I flew back to the big maple tree close by the house,” continued Tommy. “You know Farmer Brown’s boy has kept a piece of suet tied in that tree all winter for me. I was hungry, and I thought I would get a bite to eat, but there wasn’t any suet there. That pig of a Sammy Jay had managed to get it untied and had carried it all away. Of course that made me angry, and twice as hungry as before. I was trying to make up my mind what to do next when I happened to look over on the window sill, and what do you think I saw there?”
“What?” demanded Happy Jack eagerly.
“A lot of cracked hickory nuts!” declared Tommy. “I just knew that they were meant for me, and when I was sure that the way was clear, I flew over there. They tasted so good that I almost forgot about Farmer Brown’s boy, when I just happened to look in the window. You know those windows are made of some queer stuff that looks like ice and isn’t, and that you can see right through.”
Happy Jack didn’t know, for he never had been near enough to see, but he nodded, and Tommy Tit went on.
“There were many queer things inside, and I was wondering what they could be when all of a sudden I saw him. He was lying down, and there was something the matter with him. I tapped on the window to him and then I hurried back here.”
Happy Jack Squirrel hadn’t slept very well. He had had bad dreams. Ever so many times in the night he had waked up, a very unusual thing for Happy Jack. The fact is, he had something on his mind. Yes, sir, Happy Jack had something on his mind, and that something was Farmer Brown’s boy. He often had had Farmer Brown’s boy on his mind before, but in a very different way. Then it had been in the days when Farmer Brown’s boy hunted through the Green Forest and over the Green Meadows with his terrible gun. Then everybody had Farmer Brown’s boy on their minds most of the time. Happy Jack had hated him then, hated him because he had feared him. You know fear almost always leads to hate. But now it was different. Farmer Brown’s boy had put away his terrible gun. Happy Jack no longer feared him. Love had taken the place of hate in his heart, for had not Farmer Brown’s boy saved him from Shadow the Weasel, and brought him nuts and corn when food was scarce? And now Tommy Tit had brought word that some thing was the matter with Farmer Brown’s boy. It was this that was on Happy Jack’s mind and had given him such a bad night.
As soon as it was daylight, Happy Jack scrambled out of bed to look for Tommy Tit. He didn’t have long to wait, for Tommy is quite as early a riser as Happy Jack.
“Dee, dee, chickadee!
I hope you feel as well as me!”
sang Tommy merrily, as he flitted over to where Happy Jack was looking for his breakfast. The very sound of Tommy’s voice made Happy Jack feel better. One must feel very badly indeed not to be a little more cheerful when Tommy Tit is about. The fact is, Tommy Tit packs about so much good cheer in that small person of his, that no one can be downhearted when he is about.
“Hello, Tommy,” said Happy Jack. “If I could make other people feel as good as you do, do you know what I would do?”
“What?” asked Tommy.
“I’d go straight up to Farmer Brown’s house and try to cheer up Farmer Brown’s boy,” replied Happy Jack.
“That’s the very thing I have in mind,” chuckled Tommy. “I’ve come over here to see if you won’t come along with me. I’ve been up to his house so often that he won’t think half so much of a visit from me as he will from you. Will you do it?”
Happy Jack looked a little startled. You see, he never had been over to Farmer Brown’s house, and somehow he couldn’t get over the idea that it would be a very dangerous thing to do. “I—I—do you really suppose I could?” he asked.
“I’m sure of it,” replied Tommy Tit. “There’s no one to be afraid of but Black Pussy and Bowser the Hound, and it’s easy enough to keep out of their way. You can hide in the old stone wall until the way is clear and then run across to the big maple tree close to the house. Then you can look right in and see Farmer Brown’s boy, and he can look out and see you. Will you do it?”
Happy Jack thought very hard for a few minutes. Then he made up his mind. “I’ll do it!” said he in a very decided tone of voice. “Let’s start right away.”
“Good for you! Dee, dee, good for you!” cried Tommy Tit, and started to lead the way.
Great things were happening to Happy Jack Squirrel. He was actually on his way to Farmer Brown’s house, and he had a feeling that other things were likely to happen when he got there. Now you may not think that it was anything very great that Happy Jack should be on his way to Farmer Brown’s house. Very likely you are saying, “Pooh! that’s nothing!” This may be true, and then again it may not. Suppose you do a little supposing. Suppose you had all your life been terribly afraid of a great giant fifty times bigger than you. Suppose that great giant had stopped hunting you and by little deeds of kindness had at last won your love. Suppose you learned that something was the matter with him, and you made up your mind to visit him at his great castle where there were other great giants whom you did not know. Wouldn’t you think that great things were happening to you?
Well, that is exactly the way it was with Happy Jack Squirrel, as he and Tommy Tit the Chickadee started to go over to Farmer Brown’s house to look for Farmer Brown’s boy. Tommy Tit had been there often, so he didn’t think anything about it, but Happy Jack never had been there, and if the truth were known, his heart was going pit-a-pat, pit-a-pat, with excitement and perhaps just a little fear. Through the Old Orchard they went, Tommy Tit flitting ahead and keeping a sharp watch for danger. When they reached the old stone wall on the edge of Farmer Brown’s dooryard, Tommy told Happy Jack to hide there while he went to see if the way was clear. He was back in a few minutes.
“Dee, dee, everything is all right,” said he. “Bowser the Hound is eating his breakfast out back where he can’t see you at all, and Black Pussy is nowhere about. All you have to do is to follow me over to that big tree close to the house, and I will show you where Farmer Brown’s boy is.”
“I—I’m afraid,” confessed Happy Jack.
“Pooh! There’s nothing to be afraid of,” asserted Tommy Tit in the most positive way. “Don’t be a coward. Remember how Farmer Brown’s boy saved you from Shadow the Weasel. Come on! Dee, dee, dee, come on!” With that Tommy flew across to the tree close by the house.
Happy Jack scrambled up on the old stone wall and looked this way and looked that way. He couldn’t see a thing to be afraid of. He jumped down and ran a few steps. Then his heart failed, and he scampered back to the old stone wall in a panic. After a few minutes he tried again, and once more a foolish fear sent him back. The third time he gritted his teeth, said to himself over and over, “I will! I will! I will!” and ran with all his might. In no time at all he was across the dooryard and up in the big tree, his heart pounding with excitement.
“Dee, dee, dee,” called Tommy Tit.
Happy Jack looked over to the house, and there sat Tommy on a windowsill, helping himself to the most delicious-looking cracked nuts. The sight of them made Happy Jack’s mouth water. A long branch hung down over the window and almost touched the sill. Happy Jack ventured half way and stopped. Somehow it seemed very dangerous to go so close to that window.
“Come on! Come on! What are you afraid of?” called Tommy.
Something like shame that such a little fellow as Tommy Tit should dare to go where he did not, crept into Happy Jack’s heart. With a quick little run and jump he was on the sill, and a second later he was staring in at all the strange things inside. At first he didn’t see anything of Farmer Brown’s boy, but in a few minutes he made him out. He was lying down all covered over except his head. There was something the matter with him. Happy Jack didn’t need to be told that, and a great pity filled his heart. He wanted to do something for Farmer Brown’s boy.
All the way home from his visit to Farmer Brown’s house Happy Jack Squirrel puzzled and wondered over what he had seen. He had peeped in at a window and seen Farmer Brown’s boy lying all covered up, with only his head showing. Happy Jack couldn’t see very well, but somehow that head didn’t look just right. One thing was sure, and that was there was something wrong with Farmer Brown’s boy. He never would have been lying still like that if there hadn’t been.
Happy Jack had been so troubled by what he saw that he had hardly tasted the nuts he had found on the windowsill. “I am going to make him another call tomorrow,” said he when he and Tommy Tit were once more back in the Green Forest.
“Of course,” replied Tommy. “I expected you would. I will be around for you at the same time. You’re not afraid any more to go up there, are you?”
“No-o,” replied Happy Jack, slowly. The truth is, he was still a little afraid. It seemed to him a terribly venturesome thing to cross that open dooryard, but having done it once in safety, he knew that it would be easier the next time. It was. The next morning he and Tommy Tit went just as before, and this time Happy Jack scampered across the dooryard the very first time he tried. They found things just as they had been the day before. They saw Farmer Brown’s boy, but he didn’t see them. Tommy Tit was just going to tap on the window to let him know they were there, when a door inside opened, and in walked Mrs. Brown. It frightened them so that Tommy Tit flew away without tasting a single nut, and Happy Jack nearly fell as he scrambled back into the tree close by the window. You see, they never had made her acquaintance, and having her walk in so suddenly frightened them terribly. They didn’t stop to think that there was nothing to fear because there was the window between. Somehow they couldn’t understand that queer stuff that they could see through but which shut them out. If they had seen Mrs. Brown go to the window and put more cracked nuts on the sill, perhaps they would have been less afraid. But they had been too badly frightened to look back, and so they didn’t know anything about that.
The next morning Tommy Tit was on hand as usual, but he found Happy Jack a little doubtful about paying another visit. He wasn’t wholly over his scare of the day before. It took him some time to make up his mind to go, but finally he did. This time when they reached the tree close by the house, they found a great surprise awaiting them. Farmer Brown’s boy was sitting just inside the window, looking out. At least, they thought it was Farmer Brown’s boy, but when they got a little nearer, they grew doubtful. It looked like Farmer Brown’s boy, and yet it didn’t. His cheeks stuck way out just as Striped Chipmunk’s do when he has them stuffed full of corn or nuts.
Happy Jack stared at him very hard. “My goodness, I didn’t know he carried his food that way!” he exclaimed. “I should think it would be dreadfully uncomfortable.”
If Farmer Brown’s boy could have heard that, he certainly would have tried to laugh, and if he had—well, it was bad enough when he tried to smile at the sight of Tommy Tit and Happy Jack. He didn’t smile at all but made up an awful face instead and clapped both hands to his cheeks. Happy Jack and Tommy Tit didn’t know what to make of it, and it was some time before they made up their minds that it really was Farmer Brown’s boy, and that they had nothing to fear. But when they finally ventured on to the sill and, as they helped themselves to nuts, saw the smile in his eyes, though he did not smile with his mouth at all, they knew that it was he, and that he was glad that they had called. Then they were glad too.
But what was the matter with Farmer Brown’s boy? Happy Jack puzzled over it all the rest of the day, and then gave it up.
Every day Happy Jack visited the window sill of Farmer Brown’s house to call on Farmer Brown’s boy, who was always waiting for him just inside the window. In fact Happy Jack had got into the habit of getting his breakfast there, for always there were fat, delicious nuts on the windowsill, and it was much easier and more comfortable to breakfast there than to hunt up his own hidden supplies and perhaps have to dig down through the snow to get them. Most people are just like Happy Jack—they do the easiest thing.
Each day Farmer Brown’s boy looked more and more like himself. His cheeks stuck out less and less, and finally did not stick out at all. And now he smiled at Happy Jack with his mouth as well as with his eyes. You know when his cheeks had stuck out so, he couldn’t smile at all except with his eyes. Happy Jack didn’t know what had been the matter with Farmer Brown’s boy, but whatever it was, he was better now, and that made Happy Jack feel better.
One morning he got a surprise. When he ran out along the branch of the tree that led to the windowsill he suddenly discovered something wrong. There were no nuts on the sill! More than this there was something very suspicious looking about the window. It didn’t look just right. The truth is it was partly open, but Happy Jack didn’t understand this, not then, anyway. He stopped short and scolded, a way he has when things don’t suit him. Farmer Brown’s boy came to the window and called to him. Then he thrust a hand out, and in it were some of the fattest nuts Happy Jack ever had seen. His mouth watered right away. There might be something wrong with the window, but certainly the sill was all right. It would do no harm to go that far.
So Happy Jack nimbly jumped across to the windowsill. Farmer Brown’s boy’s hand with the fat nuts was still there, and Happy Jack lost no time in getting one. Then he sat up on the sill to eat it. My, but it was good! It was just as good as it had looked. Happy Jack’s eyes twinkled as he ate. When he had finished that nut, he wanted another. But now Farmer Brown’s boy had drawn his hand inside the window. He was still holding it out with the nuts in it, but to get them Happy Jack must go inside, and he couldn’t get it out of his head that that was a very dangerous thing to do. What if that window should be closed while he was in there? Then he would be a prisoner.
So he sat up and begged. He knew that Farmer Brown’s boy knew what he wanted. But Farmer Brown’s boy kept his hand just where it was.
“Come on, you little rascal,” said he. “You ought to know me well enough by this time to know that I won’t hurt you or let any harm come to you. Hurry up, because I can’t stand here all day. You see, I’ve just got over the mumps, and if I should catch cold I might be sick again. Come along now, and show how brave you are.”
Of course Happy Jack couldn’t understand what he said. If he could have, he might have guessed that it was the mumps that had made Farmer Brown’s boy look so like Striped Chipmunk when he has his cheeks stuffed with nuts. But if he couldn’t understand what Farmer Brown’s boy said, he had no difficulty in understanding that if he wanted those nuts he would have to go after them. So at last he screwed up his courage and put his head inside. Nothing happened, so he went wholly in and sat on the inside sill. Then by reaching out as far as he could without tumbling off, he managed to get one of those nuts, and as soon as he had it, he dodged outside to eat it.
Farmer Brown’s boy laughed, and putting the rest of the nuts outside, he closed the window. Happy Jack ate his fill and then scampered back to the Green Forest. He felt all puffed up with pride. He felt that he had been very, very bold, and he was anxious to tell Tommy Tit the Chickadee, who had not been with him that morning, how bold he had been.
“Pooh, that’s nothing!” replied Tommy, when he had heard about it. “I’ve done that often.”
Somehow Happy Jack’s day had been spoiled. He knew that he had no business to allow it to be spoiled, but it was, just the same. You see, he had been all puffed up with pride because he thought himself a very bold fellow because he had really been inside Farmer Brown’s house. He couldn’t help feeling quite puffed up about it. But when he told Tommy Tit the Chickadee about it, Tommy had said, “Pooh! I’ve done that often.”
That was what had spoiled the day for Happy Jack. He knew that if Tommy Tit said that he had done a thing, he had, for Tommy always tells the truth and nothing but the truth. So Happy Jack hadn’t been so dreadfully bold, after all, and had nothing to brag about. It made him feel quite put out. He actually tried to make himself feel that it was all the fault of Tommy Tit, and that he wanted to get even with him. He thought about it all the rest of the day, and just before he fell asleep that night an idea came to him.
“I know what I’ll do! I’ll dare Tommy to go as far inside Farmer Brown’s house as I do!” he exclaimed, and went to sleep to dream that he was the boldest, bravest squirrel that ever lived.
The next morning when he reached the tree close by Farmer Brown’s house, he found Tommy Tit already there, flitting about impatiently and calling his loudest, which wasn’t very loud, for you know Tommy is a very little fellow, and his voice is not very loud. But he was doing his best to call Farmer Brown’s boy. You see, there wasn’t a single nut on the windowsill, and the window was closed. Pretty soon Farmer Brown’s boy came to the window and opened it. But he didn’t put out any nuts. Tommy Tit at once flew over to the sill, and to show that he was just as bold, Happy Jack followed. Looking inside, they saw Farmer Brown’s boy standing in the middle of the room, holding out a dish of nuts and smiling at them. This was the chance Happy Jack wanted to try the plan he had thought of the night before.
“I dare you to go way in there and get a nut,” said he to Tommy Tit. He hoped that Tommy would be afraid.
But Tommy wasn’t anything of the kind. “Dee, dee, dee! Come on!” he cried, and flitted over and helped himself to a cracked nut and was back with it before Happy Jack could make up his mind to jump down inside. Of course now that he had dared Tommy Tit, and Tommy had taken the dare, he just had to do it too. It looked a long way in to where Farmer Brown’s boy was standing. Twice he started and turned back. Then he heard Tommy Tit chuckle. That was too much. He wouldn’t be laughed at. He just wouldn’t. He scampered across, grabbed a nut, and rushed back to the windowsill, where he ate the nut. It was easier to go after the second nut, and when he went for the third, he had made up his mind that it was perfectly safe in there, and so he sat up on a chair and ate it. Presently he felt quite at home, and when he had eaten all the nuts he wanted, he ran all around the room, examining all the strange things there.
This was a little more than Tommy Tit could make up his mind to do. He wasn’t afraid to fly in for a nut and then fly out again, but he couldn’t feel easy inside a house like that. Of course, this made Happy Jack feel good all over. You see, he felt that now he really did have something to boast about. No one else in all the Green Forest or on the Green Meadows could say that they had been all over Farmer Brown’s boy’s room as he had. Happy Jack swelled himself out at the thought. Now everybody would say, “What a bold fellow!”
Very few people can be all puffed up with pride without showing it. Happy Jack Squirrel couldn’t. Just to have looked at him you would have known that he was feeling very, very good about something. When he thought no one was looking, he would actually strut. And it was all because he considered himself a very bold fellow. That was a new feeling for Happy Jack. He knew that all his neighbors considered him rather timid, and many a time he had envied, actually envied Jimmy Skunk and Reddy Fox and Unc’ Billy Possum and even Sammy Jay because they did such bold things and had dared to visit Farmer Brown’s dooryard and henhouse in spite of Bowser the Hound.
But now he felt that he dared do a thing that not one of them dared do. He dared go right into Farmer Brown’s house and make himself quite at home in the room of Farmer Brown’s boy. He felt that he was a tremendously brave fellow. You see, he quite forgot one thing. He forgot that he had found out that love destroys fear, and that though it might look to others like a very bold thing to walk right into Farmer Brown’s house, it really wasn’t bold at all, because all the time he knew that no harm would come to him. It is never brave to do a thing that you are not afraid to do. It had been brave of him to go in at that open window the first time, because then he had been afraid, but now he wasn’t afraid, and so it was no longer either brave or bold of him.
Tommy Tit the Chickadee knew all this, and he used to chuckle to himself as he saw how proud of himself Happy Jack was, but he said nothing to anyone about it. Of course, it wasn’t long before others began to notice Happy Jack’s pride. One of the first was Sammy Jay. There is very little that escapes Sammy Jay’s sharp eyes. Silently stealing through the Green Forest early one morning, he surprised Happy Jack strutting.
“Huh,” said he, “what are you feeling so big about?”
Like a flash the thought came to Happy Jack that here was a chance to show what a bold fellow he had become. “Hello, Sammy!” he exclaimed. “Are you feeling very brave this morning?”
“Me feeling brave? What are you talking about? If I was as timid as you are, I wouldn’t ever talk about bravery to other people. If there is anything you dare to do that I don’t, I’ve never heard of it,” retorted Sammy Jay.
“Come on!” cried Happy Jack. “I’m going to get my breakfast, and I dare you to follow me!”
Sammy Jay actually laughed right out. “Go ahead. Wherever you go, I’ll go,” he declared.
Happy Jack started right away for Farmer Brown’s house, and Sammy followed. Through the Old Orchard, across the dooryard and into the big maple tree Happy Jack led the way, and Sammy followed, all the time wondering what was up. He had been there many times. In fact, he had had many a good meal of suet there during the cold weather, for Farmer Brown’s boy had kept a big piece tied to a branch of the maple tree for those who were hungry.
Sammy was a little surprised when he saw Happy Jack jump over on to the windowsill. Still, he had been on that windowsill more than once himself, when he had made sure that no one was near, and had helped himself to the cracked nuts he had found there.
“Come on!” called Happy Jack, his eyes twinkling.
Sammy Jay chuckled. “He thinks I don’t dare go over there,” he thought. “Well, I’ll fool him.”
With a hasty look to see that no danger was near, he spread his wings to follow Happy Jack on to the windowsill. Happy Jack waited to make sure that he really was coming and then slipped in at the open window and scampered over to a table on the farther side of the room and helped himself from a dish of nuts there.
When Sammy saw Happy Jack disappear inside he gave a little gasp. When he looked inside and saw Happy Jack making himself quite at home, he gasped again. And when he saw a door open and Farmer Brown’s boy enter, and still Happy Jack did not run, he was too upset for words. He didn’t dare stay to see more, and for once in his life was quite speechless as he flew back to the Green Forest.
Which is worse, to have a very beautiful dream never come true, or to have a bad dream really come true? Happy Jack Squirrel says the latter is worse, much worse. Dreams do come true once in a great while, you know. One of Happy Jack’s did. It came true, and it made a great difference in Happy Jack’s life. You see, it was like this:
Happy Jack had had so many things to think of that he had almost forgotten about Shadow the Weasel. Happy Jack hadn’t seen or heard anything of him since Farmer Brown’s boy had chased him into the Green Forest and so saved Happy Jack’s life. Since then life had been too full of pleasant things to think of anything so unpleasant as Shadow the Weasel. But one night Happy Jack had a bad dream. Yes, sir, it was a very bad dream. He dreamed that once more Shadow the Weasel was after him, and this time there was no Farmer Brown’s boy to run to for help. Shadow was right at his heels and in one more jump would have him. Happy Jack opened his mouth to scream, and—awoke.
He was all ashake with fright. It was a great relief to find that it was only a dream, but even then he couldn’t get over it right away. He was glad that it was almost morning, and just as soon as it was light enough to see, he crept out. It was too early to go over to Farmer Brown’s house; Farmer Brown’s boy wouldn’t be up yet. So Happy Jack ran over to one of his favorite lookouts, a tall chestnut tree, and there, with his back against the trunk, high above the ground, he watched the Green Forest wake as the first Sunbeams stole through it. But all the time he kept thinking of that dreadful dream.
A little spot of black moving against the white snow caught his sharp eyes. What was it? He leaned forward and held his breath, as he tried to make sure. Ah, now he could see! Just ahead of that black thing was a long, slim fellow all in white, and that black spot was his tail. If it hadn’t been for that, Happy Jack very likely wouldn’t have seen him at all. It was Shadow the Weasel! He was running swiftly, first to one side and then to the other, with his nose to the snow. He was hunting. There was no doubt about that. He was hunting for his breakfast.
Happy Jack’s eyes grew wide with fear. Would Shadow find his tracks? It looked very much as if Shadow was heading for Happy Jack’s house, and Happy Jack was glad, very glad, that that bad dream had waked him and made him so uneasy that he had come out. Otherwise he might have been caught right in his own bed. Shadow was almost at Happy Jack’s house when he stopped abruptly with his nose to the snow and sniffed eagerly. Then he turned, and with his nose to the snow, started straight toward the tree where Happy Jack was. Happy Jack waited to see no more. He knew now that Shadow had found his trail and that it was to be a case of run for his life.
“My dream has come true!” he sobbed as he ran. “My dream has come true, and I don’t know what to do!” But all the time he kept on running as fast as ever he could, which really was the only thing to do.
Frightened and breathless, running with all his might from Shadow the Weasel, Happy Jack Squirrel was in despair. He didn’t know what to do or where to go. The last time he had run from Shadow he had run to Farmer Brown’s boy, who had just happened to be near, and Farmer Brown’s boy had chased Shadow the Weasel away. But now it was too early in the morning for him to expect to meet Farmer Brown’s boy. In fact, jolly, round, red Mr. Sun had hardly kicked his bedclothes off yet, and Happy Jack was very sure that Farmer Brown’s boy was still asleep.
Now most of us are creatures of habit. We do the thing that we have been in the habit of doing, and do it without thinking anything about it. That is why good habits are such a blessing. Happy Jack Squirrel is just like the rest of us. He has habits, both good and bad. Of late, he had been in the habit of getting his breakfast at Farmer Brown’s house every morning, so now when he began to run from Shadow the Weasel he just naturally ran in the direction of Farmer Brown’s house from force of habit. In fact, he was halfway there before he realized in which direction he was running.
Right then a thought came to him. It gave him a wee bit of hope, and seemed to help him run just a little faster. If the window of Farmer Brown’s boy’s room was open, he would run in there, and perhaps Shadow the Weasel wouldn’t dare follow! How he did hope that that window would be open! He knew that it was his only chance. He wasn’t quite sure that it really was a chance, for Shadow was such a bold fellow that he might not be afraid to follow him right in, but it was worth trying.
Along the stone wall beside the Old Orchard raced Happy Jack to the dooryard of Farmer Brown, and after him ran Shadow the Weasel, and Shadow looked as if he was enjoying himself. No doubt he was. He knew just as well as Happy Jack did that there was small chance of meeting Farmer Brown’s boy so early in the morning, so he felt very sure how that chase was going to end, and that when it did end he would breakfast on Squirrel.
By the time Happy Jack reached the dooryard, Shadow was only a few jumps behind him, and Happy Jack was pretty well out of breath. He didn’t stop to look to see if the way was clear. There wasn’t time for that. Besides, there could be no greater danger in front than was almost at his heels, and so, without looking one way or another, he scampered across the dooryard and up the big maple tree close to the house. Shadow the Weasel was surprised. He had not dreamed that Happy Jack would come over here. But Shadow is a bold fellow, and it made little difference to him where Happy Jack went. At least, that is what he thought.
So he followed Happy Jack across the dooryard and up the maple tree. He took his time about it, for he knew by the way Happy Jack had run that he was pretty nearly at the end of his strength. “He never’ll get out of this tree,” thought Shadow, as he started to climb it. He fully expected to find Happy Jack huddled in a miserable little heap somewhere near the top. Just imagine how surprised he was when he discovered that Happy Jack wasn’t to be seen. He rubbed his angry little red eyes, and they grew angrier and redder than before.
“Must be a hollow up here somewhere,” he muttered. “I’ll just follow the scent of his feet, and that will lead me to him.”
But when that scent led him out on a branch the tip of which brushed against Farmer Brown’s house Shadow got another surprise. There was no sign of Happy Jack. He couldn’t have reached the roof. There was no place he could have gone unless—. Shadow stared across at a window open about two inches.
“He couldn’t have!” muttered Shadow. “He wouldn’t dare. He couldn’t have!”
But Happy Jack had. He had gone inside that window.
Isn’t it queer how hard it seems to be for some boys to go to bed at the proper time and how much harder it is for them to get up in the morning? It was just so with Farmer Brown’s boy. I suppose he wouldn’t have been a real boy if it hadn’t been so. Of course, while he was sick with the mumps, he didn’t have to get up, and while he was getting over the mumps his mother let him sleep as long as he wanted to in the morning. That was very nice, but it made it all the harder to get up when he should after he was well again. In summer it wasn’t so bad getting up early, but in winter—well, that was the one thing about winter that Farmer Brown’s boy didn’t like.
On this particular morning Farmer Brown had called him, and he had replied with a sleepy “All right.” and then had rolled over and promptly gone to sleep again. In two minutes he was dreaming just as if there were no such things as duties to be done. For a while they were very pleasant dreams, very pleasant indeed. But suddenly they changed. A terrible monster was chasing him. It had great red eyes as big as saucers, and sparks of fire flew from its mouth. It had great claws as big as ice tongs, and it roared like a lion. In his dream Farmer Brown’s boy was running with all his might. Then he tripped and fell, and somehow he couldn’t get up again. The terrible monster came nearer and nearer. Farmer Brown’s boy tried to scream and couldn’t. He was so frightened that he had lost his voice. The terrible monster was right over him now and reached out one of his huge paws with the great claws. One of them touched him on the cheek, and it burned like fire.
With a yell, a real, genuine yell, Farmer Brown’s boy awoke and sprang out of bed. For a minute he couldn’t think where he was. Then with a sigh of relief he realized that he was safe in his own snug little room with the first Jolly Little Sunbeam creeping in at the window to wish him good morning and chide him for being such a lazy fellow. A thump and a scurry of little feet caught his attention, and he turned to see a Gray Squirrel running for the open window. It jumped up on the sill, looked out, then jumped down inside again, and ran over to a corner of the room, where he crouched as if in great fear. It was clear that he had been badly frightened by the yell of Farmer Brown’s boy, and that he was still more frightened by something he had seen when he looked out of the window.
A great light broke over Farmer Brown’s boy. “Happy Jack, you little rascal, I believe you are the terrible monster that scared me so!” he exclaimed. “I believe you were on my bed, and that it was your claws that I felt on my face. But what ails you? You look frightened almost to death.”
He went over to the window and looked out. A movement in the big maple tree just outside caught his attention. He saw a long, slim white form dart down the tree and disappear. He knew who it was. It was Shadow the Weasel.
“So that pesky Weasel has been after you again, and you came to me for help,” said he gently, as he coaxed Happy Jack to come to him. “This is the place to come to every time. Poor little chap, you’re all of a tremble. I guess I know how you feel when a Weasel is after you. I guess you feel just as I felt when I dreamed that that monster was after me. My, but you certainly did give me a scare when you touched my face!” He gently stroked Happy Jack as he talked, and Happy Jack let him.
“Breakfast!” called a voice from downstairs.
“Coming!” replied Farmer Brown’s boy as he put Happy Jack on the table by a dish of nuts and began to scramble into his clothes.
Happy Jack didn’t dare go home. Can you think of anything more dreadful than to be afraid to go to your own home? Why, home is the dearest place in the world, and it should be the safest. Just think how you would feel if you should be away from home, and then you should learn that it wouldn’t be safe for you to go back there again, and you had no other place to go. It often happens that way with the little people of the Green Meadows and the Green Forest. It was that way with Happy Jack Squirrel now.
You see, Happy Jack knew that Shadow the Weasel is not one to give up easily. Shadow has one very good trait, and that is persistence. He is not easily discouraged. When he sets out to do a thing, usually he does it. If he starts to get a thing, usually he gets it. No, he isn’t easily discouraged. Happy Jack knows this. No one knows it better. So Happy Jack didn’t dare to go home. He knew that any minute of night or day Shadow might surprise him there, and that would be the end of him. He more than half suspected that Shadow was at that very time hiding somewhere along the way ready to spring out on him if he should try to go back home.
He had stayed in the room of Farmer Brown’s boy until Mrs. Brown had come to make the bed. Then he had jumped out the window into the big maple tree. He wasn’t quite sure of Mrs. Brown yet. She had kindly eyes. They were just like the eyes of Farmer Brown’s boy. But he didn’t feel really acquainted yet, and he felt safer outside than inside the room while she was there.
“Oh dear, oh dear! What shall I do?
I have no home, and so
To keep me warm and snug and safe
I have no place to go!”
Happy Jack said this over and over as he sat in the maple tree, trying to decide what was to be done.
“I wonder what ails that Squirrel. He seems to be doing a lot of scolding,” said Mrs. Brown, as she looked out of the window. And that shows how easy it is to misunderstand people when we don’t know all about their affairs. Mrs. Brown thought that Happy Jack was scolding, when all the time he was just frightened and worried and wondering where he could go and what he could do to feel safe from Shadow the Weasel.
Because he didn’t dare to go back to the Green Forest, he spent most of the day in the big maple tree close to Farmer Brown’s house. The window had been closed, so he couldn’t go inside. He looked at it longingly a great many times during the day, hoping that he would find it open. But he didn’t. You see, it was opened only at night when Farmer Brown’s boy went to bed, so that he would have plenty of fresh air all night. Of course Happy Jack didn’t know that. All his life he had had plenty of fresh air all the time, and be couldn’t understand how people could live in houses all shut up.
Late that afternoon Farmer Brown’s boy, who had been at school all day, came whistling into the yard. He noticed Happy Jack right away. “Hello! You back again! Isn’t one good meal a day enough?” he exclaimed.
“He’s been there all day,” said his mother, who had come to the door just in time to overhear him. “I don’t know what ails him.”
Then Farmer Brown’s boy noticed how forlorn Happy Jack looked. He remembered Happy Jack’s fright that morning.
“I know what’s the matter!” he cried. “It’s that Weasel. The poor little chap is afraid to go home. We must see what we can do for him. I wonder if he will stay if I make a new house for him. I believe I’ll try it and see.”
Certainly things couldn’t look much darker than they did to Happy Jack Squirrel as he sat in the big maple tree at the side of Farmer Brown’s house, and saw jolly, round, red Mr. Sun getting ready to go to bed behind the Purple Hills. He was afraid to go to his home in the Green Forest because Shadow the Weasel might be waiting for him there. He was afraid of the night which would soon come. He was cold, and he was hungry. Altogether he was as miserable a little Squirrel as ever was seen.
He had just made up his mind that he would have to go look for a hollow in one of the trees in the Old Orchard in which to spend the night, when around the corner of the house came Farmer Brown’s boy with something under one arm and dragging a ladder. He whistled cheerily to Happy Jack as he put the ladder against the tree and climbed up. By this time Happy Jack had grown so timid that he was just a little afraid of Farmer Brown’s boy, so he climbed as high up in the tree as he could get and watched what was going on below. Even if he was afraid, there was comfort in having Farmer Brown’s boy near.
For some time Farmer Brown’s boy worked busily at the place where the branch that Happy Jack knew so well started out from the trunk of the tree towards the window of Farmer Brown’s boy’s room. When he had fixed things to suit him, he went down the ladder and carried it away with him. In the crotch of the tree he had left the queer thing that he had brought under his arm. In spite of his fears, Happy Jack was curious. Little by little he crept nearer. What he saw was a box with a round hole, just about big enough for him to go through, in one end, and in front of it a little shelf. On the shelf were some of the nuts that he liked best.
For a long time Happy Jack looked and looked. Was it a trap? Somehow he couldn’t believe that it was. What would Farmer Brown’s boy try to trap him for when they were such good friends? At last the sight of the nuts was too much for him. It certainly was safe enough to help himself to those. How good they tasted! Almost before he knew it, they were gone. Then he got up courage enough to peep inside. The box was filled with soft hay. It certainly did look inviting in there to a fellow who had no home and no place to go. He put his head inside. Finally he went wholly in. It was just as nice as it looked.
“I believe,” thought Happy Jack, “that he made this little house just for me, and that he put all this hay in here for my bed. He doesn’t know much about making a bed, but I guess he means well.”
With that he went to work happily to make up a bed to suit him, and by the time the first Black Shadow had crept as far as the big maple tree, Happy Jack was curled up fast asleep in his new house.
Happy Jack Squirrel was happy once more. He liked his new house, the house that Farmer Brown’s boy had made for him and fastened in the big maple tree close by the house in which he himself lived. Happy Jack and Farmer Brown’s boy were getting to be greater friends than ever. Every morning Happy Jack jumped over to the windowsill and then in at the open window of the room of Farmer Brown’s boy. There he was sure to find a good breakfast of fat hickory nuts. When Farmer Brown’s boy overslept, as he did sometimes, Happy Jack would jump up on the bed and waken him. He thought this great fun. So did Farmer Brown’s boy, though sometimes when he was very sleepy he pretended to scold, especially on Sunday mornings when he did not have to get up as early as on other days.
Of course, Black Pussy had soon discovered that Happy Jack was living in the big maple tree, and she spent a great deal of time sitting at the foot of it and glaring up at him with a hungry look in her eyes, although she wasn’t hungry at all, for she had plenty to eat. Several times she climbed up in the tree and tried to catch him. At first he had been afraid, but he soon found out that Black Pussy was not at all at home in a tree as he was. After that, he rather enjoyed having her try to catch him. It was almost like a game. It was great fun to scold at her and let her get very near him and then, just as she was sure that she was going to catch him, to jump out of her reach. After a while she was content to sit at the foot of the tree and just glare at him.
Happy Jack had only one worry now, and this didn’t trouble him a great deal. It was possible that Shadow the Weasel might take it into his head to try to surprise him some night. Happy Jack knew that by this time Shadow must know where he was living, for of course Sammy Jay had found out, and Sammy is one of those who tells all he knows. Still, being so close to Farmer Brown’s boy gave Happy Jack a very comfortable feeling.
Now all this time Farmer Brown’s boy had not forgotten Shadow the Weasel and how he had driven Happy Jack out of the Green Forest, and he had wondered a great many times if it wouldn’t be a kindness to the other little people if he should trap Shadow and put him out of the way. But you know he had given up trapping, and somehow he didn’t like to think of setting a trap, even for such a mischief-maker as Shadow. Then something happened that made Farmer Brown’s boy very, very angry. One morning, when he went to feed the biddies, he found that Shadow had visited the henhouse in the night and killed three of his best pullets. That decided him. He felt sure that Shadow would come again, and he meant to give Shadow a surprise. He hunted until he found the little hole through which Shadow had got into the henhouse, and there he set a trap.
“I don’t like to do it, but I’ve got to,” said he. “If he had been content with one, it would have been bad enough, but he killed three just from the love of killing, and it is high time that something be done to get rid of him.”
The very next morning Happy Jack saw Farmer Brown’s boy coming from the henhouse with something under his arm. He came straight over to the foot of the big maple tree and put the thing he was carrying down on the ground. He whistled to Happy Jack, and as Happy Jack came down to see what it was all about, Farmer Brown’s boy grinned. “Here’s a friend of yours you probably will be glad to see,” said he.
At first, all Happy Jack could make out was a kind of wire box. Then he saw something white inside, and it moved. Very suspiciously Happy Jack came nearer. Then his heart gave a great leap. That wire box was a cage, and glaring between the wires with red, angry eyes was Shadow the Weasel! He was a prisoner! Right away Happy Jack was so excited that he acted as if he were crazy. He no longer had a single thing to be afraid of. Do you wonder that he was excited?
Shadow the Weasel was a prisoner. He who always had been free to go and come as he pleased and to do as he pleased was now in a little narrow cage and quite helpless. For once he had been careless, and this was the result. Farmer Brown’s boy had caught him in a trap. Of course, he should have known better than to have visited the henhouse a second time after killing three of the best pullets there. He should have known that Farmer Brown’s boy would be sure to do something about it. The truth is, he had yielded to temptation when common sense had warned him not to. So he had no one to blame for his present difficulty but himself, and he knew it.
At first he had been in a terrible rage and had bitten at the wires until he had made his mouth sore. When he had made sure that the wires were stouter than his teeth, he wisely stopped trying to get out in that way, and made up his mind that the only thing to do was to watch for a chance to slip out, if the door of the cage should happen to be left unfastened.
Of course it hurt his pride terribly to be made fun of by those who always had feared him. Happy Jack Squirrel was the first one of these to see him. Farmer Brown’s boy had put the cage down near the foot of the big maple tree in which Happy Jack was living, because Shadow had driven him out of the Green Forest. As soon as Happy Jack had made sure that Shadow really and truly was a prisoner and so quite harmless, he had acted as if he were crazy. Perhaps he was—crazy with joy. You see, he no longer had anything to be really afraid of, for there was no one but Shadow from whom he could not get away by running into his house. Billy Mink was the only other one who could follow him there, and Billy was not likely to come climbing up a tree so close to Farmer Brown’s house.
So Happy Jack raced up and down the tree in the very greatest excitement, and his tongue went quite as fast as his legs. He wanted everybody to know that Shadow was a prisoner at last. At first he did not dare go very close to the cage. You see, he had so long feared Shadow that he was still afraid of him even though he was so helpless. But little by little Happy Jack grew bolder and came very close. And then he began doing something not at all nice. He began calling Shadow names and making fun of him, and telling him how he wasn’t afraid of him. It was all very foolish and worse—it was like hitting a foe who was helpless.
Of course Happy Jack hastened to tell everybody he met all about Shadow, so it wasn’t long before Shadow began to receive many visitors. Whenever Farmer Brown’s boy was not around there was sure to be one or more of the little people who had feared Shadow to taunt him and make fun of him. Somehow it seems as if always it is that way when people get into trouble. You know it is very easy to appear to be bold and brave when there is nothing to be afraid of. Of course that isn’t bravery at all, though many seem to think it is.
Now what do you think that right down in their hearts all these little people who came to jeer at Shadow the Weasel hoped they would see? Why, they hoped they would see Shadow afraid. Yes, sir, that is just what they hoped. But they didn’t. That is where they were disappointed. Not once did Shadow show the least sign of fear. He didn’t know what Farmer Brown’s boy would do with him, and he had every reason to fear that if he was not to be kept a prisoner for the rest of his natural life, something dreadful would be the end. But he was too proud and too brave to let anyone know that any such fear ever entered his mind. Whatever his faults, Shadow is no coward. He boldly took bits of meat which Farmer Brown’s boy brought to him, and not once appeared in the least afraid, so that, much as he disliked him, Farmer Brown’s boy actually had to admire him. He was a prisoner, but he kept just as stout a heart as ever.
It is a fact, one of the biggest facts in all the world, that tongues make the greatest part of all the trouble that brings uncomfortable feelings, and bitterness and sadness and suffering and sorrow. If it wasn’t for unruly, careless, mean tongues, the Great World would be a million times better to live in, a million times happier. It is because of his unruly tongue that Sammy Jay is forever getting into trouble. It is the same way with Chatterer the Red Squirrel. And it is just the same way with a great many little boys and girls, and with grownups as well.
When the little people of the Green Forest and Green Meadows who fear Shadow the Weasel found that he was a prisoner, many of them took particular pains to visit him when the way was clear, just to make fun of him and tease him and tell him that they were not afraid of him and that they were glad that he was a prisoner, and that they were sure something dreadful would happen to him and they hoped it would. Shadow said never a word in reply. He was too wise to do that. He just turned his back on them. But all the time he was storing up in his mind all these hateful things, and he meant, if ever he got free again, to make life very uncomfortable for those whose foolish tongues were trying to make him more miserable than he already felt.
But these little people with the foolish tongues didn’t stop to think of what might happen. They just took it for granted that Shadow never again would run wild and free in the Green Forest, and so they just let their tongues run and enjoyed doing it. Perhaps they wouldn’t have, if they could have known just what was going on in the mind of Farmer Brown’s boy. Ever since he had found Shadow in the trap which he had set for him in the henhouse, Farmer Brown’s boy had been puzzling over what he should do with his prisoner. At first he had thought he would keep him in a cage the rest of his life. But somehow, whenever he looked into Shadow’s fierce little eyes and saw how unafraid they looked, he got to thinking of how terrible it must be to be shut up in a little narrow cage when one has had all the Green Forest in which to go and come. Then he thought that he would kill Shadow and put him out of his misery at once.
“He killed my pullets, and he is always hunting the harmless little people of the Green Forest and the Green Meadows, so he deserves to be killed,” thought Farmer Brown’s boy. “He’s a pest.”
Then he remembered that after all Shadow was one of Old Mother Nature’s little people, and that he must serve some purpose in Mother Nature’s great plan. Bad as he seemed, she must have some use for him. Perhaps it was to teach others through fear of him how to be smarter and take better care of themselves and so be better fitted to do their parts. The more he thought of this, the harder it was for Farmer Brown’s boy to make up his mind to kill him. But if he couldn’t keep him a prisoner and he couldn’t kill him, what could he do?
He was scowling down at Shadow one morning and puzzling over this when a happy idea came to him. “I know what I’ll do!” he exclaimed. Without another word he picked up the cage with Shadow in it and started off across the Green Meadows, which now, you know, were not green at all but covered with snow. Happy Jack watched him out of sight. He had gone in the direction of the Old Pasture. He was gone a long time, and when he did return, the cage was empty.
Happy Jack blinked at the empty cage. Then he began to ask in a scolding tone, “What did you do with him? What did you do with him?”
Farmer Brown’s boy just smiled and tossed a nut to Happy Jack. And far up in the Old Pasture, Shadow the Weasel was once more free. It was well for Happy Jack’s peace of mind that he didn’t know that.
Taking things for granted doesn’t do at all in this world. To take a thing for granted is to think that it is so without taking the trouble to find out whether it is or not. It is apt not only to get you yourself into trouble, but to make trouble for other people as well. Happy Jack saw Farmer Brown’s boy carry Shadow the Weasel away in a cage, and he saw him bring back the cage empty. What could he have done with Shadow? For a while he teased Farmer Brown’s boy to tell him, but of course Farmer Brown’s boy didn’t understand Happy Jack’s language.
Now Happy Jack knew just what he would like to believe. He would like to believe that Farmer Brown’s boy had taken Shadow away and made an end of him. And because he wanted to believe that, it wasn’t very hard to believe it. There was the empty cage. Of course Farmer Brown’s boy wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of trapping Shadow unless he intended to get rid of him for good.
“He’s made an end of him, that’s what he’s done!” said Happy Jack to himself, because that is what he would have done if he had been in Farmer Brown’s boy’s place. So having made up his mind that this is what had been done with Shadow, he at once told all his friends that it was so, and was himself supremely happy. You see, he felt that he no longer had anything to worry about. Yes, sir, Happy Jack was happy. He liked the house Farmer Brown’s boy had made for him in the big maple tree close by his own house. He was sure of plenty to eat, because Farmer Brown’s boy always looked out for that, and as a result Happy Jack was growing fat. None of his enemies of the Green Forest dared come so near to Farmer Brown’s house, and the only one he had to watch out for at all was Black Pussy. By this time he wasn’t afraid of her; not a bit. In fact, he rather enjoyed teasing her and getting her to chase him. When she was dozing on the doorstep he liked to steal very close, wake her with a sharp bark, and then race for the nearest tree, and there scold her to his heart’s content. He had made friends with Mrs. Brown and with Farmer Brown, and he even felt almost friends with Bowser the Hound. Sometimes he would climb up on the roof of Bowser’s little house and drop nutshells on Bowser’s head when he was asleep. The funny thing was Bowser never seemed to mind. He would lazily open his eyes and wink one of them at Happy Jack and thump with his tail. He seemed to feel that now Happy Jack was one of the family, just as he was.
So Happy Jack was just as happy as a fat Gray Squirrel with nothing to worry him could be. He was so happy that Sammy Jay actually became jealous. You know Sammy is a born trouble maker. He visited Happy Jack every morning, and while he helped himself to the good things that he always found spread for him, for Farmer Brown’s boy always had something for the little feathered folk to eat, he would hint darkly that such goodness and kindness was not to be trusted, and that something was sure to happen. That is just the way with some folks; they always are suspicious.
But nothing that Sammy Jay could say troubled Happy Jack; and Sammy would fly away quite put out because he couldn’t spoil Happy Jack’s happiness the least little bit.
Sammy Jay chuckled as he flew across the snow-covered Green Meadows on his way to his home in the Green Forest. He chuckled and he chuckled. To have heard him you would have thought that either he had thought of something very pleasant, or something very pleasant had happened to him. Once he turned in the direction of Farmer Brown’s house, but changed his mind as he saw the Black Shadows creeping out from the Purple Hills, and once more headed for the Green Forest.
“Too late today. Time I was home now. It’ll keep until tomorrow,” he muttered. Then he chuckled, and he was still chuckling when he reached the big hemlock tree, among the thick branches of which he spent each night.
“Don’t know what started me off to the Old Pasture this afternoon, but I’m glad I went. My, my, my, but I’m glad I went,” said he, as he fluffed out his feathers and prepared to tuck his head under his wing. “It pays to snoop around in this world and see what is going on. I learned a long time ago not to believe everything I hear, and that the surest way to make sure of things is to find out for myself. Nothing like using my own eyes and my own ears. Well, I must get to sleep.” He began to chuckle again, and he was still chuckling as he fell asleep.
The next morning Sammy Jay was astir at the very first sign of light. He waited just long enough to see that every feather was in place, for Sammy is a bit vain, and very particular about his dress. Then he headed straight for Farmer Brown’s house. Just as he expected he found Happy Jack Squirrel was awake, for Happy Jack is an early riser.
“Good morning,” said Sammy Jay, and tried very hard to make his voice sound smooth and pleasant, a very hard thing for Sammy to do, for his voice, you know, is naturally harsh and unpleasant. “You seem to be looking as happy as ever.”
“Of course I am,” replied Happy Jack. “Why shouldn’t I be? I haven’t a thing to worry about. Of course I’m happy, and I hope you’re just as happy as I am. I’m going to get my breakfast now, and then I’ll be happier still.”
“That’s so. There’s nothing like a good breakfast to make one happy,” said Sammy Jay, helping himself to some suet tied to a branch of the maple tree. “By the way, I saw an old friend of yours yesterday. He inquired after you particularly. He didn’t exactly send his love, but he said that he hoped you are as well and fat as ever, and that he will see you again some time. He said that he didn’t know of anyone he likes to look at better than you.”
Happy Jack looked flattered. “That was very nice of him,” said he. “Who was it?”
“Guess,” replied Sammy.
Happy Jack scratched his head thoughtfully. There were not many friends in winter. Most of them were asleep or had gone to the far away southland.
“Peter Rabbit,” he ventured.
Sammy shook his head.
Again Sammy shook his head.
“Jumper the Hare!”
“Guess again,” said Sammy, chuckling.
“Little Joe Otter!”
“Wrong,” replied Sammy.
“I give up. Who was it? Do tell me,” begged Happy Jack.
“It was Shadow the Weasel!” cried Sammy, triumphantly.
Happy Jack dropped the nut he was just going to eat, and in place of happiness something very like fear grew and grew in his eyes. “I—I don’t believe you,” he stammered. “Farmer Brown’s boy took him away and put an end to him. I saw him take him.”
“But you didn’t see him put an end to Shadow,” declared Sammy, “because he didn’t. He took him ’way up in the Old Pasture and let him go, and I saw him up there yesterday. That’s what comes of guessing at things. Shadow is no more dead than you are. Well, I must be going along. I hope you’ll enjoy your breakfast.”
With this, off flew Sammy Jay, chuckling as if he thought he had done a very smart thing in upsetting Happy Jack, which goes to show what queer ideas some people have.
As for Happy Jack, he worried for a while, but as Shadow didn’t come, and there was nothing else to worry about, little by little Happy Jack’s high spirits returned, until he was as happy as ever. And now, though he has had many adventures since then, I must leave him, for there is no more room in this book. Perhaps if you ask him, he will tell you of these other adventures himself. Meanwhile, bashful little Mrs. Peter Rabbit is anxious that you should know something about her. So I have promised to call the next book, “Mrs. Peter Rabbit.”
Peter Rabbit had lost his appetite. Now when Peter Rabbit loses his appetite, something is very wrong indeed with him. Peter has boasted that he can eat any time and all the time. In fact, the two things that Peter thinks most about are his stomach and satisfying his curiosity, and nearly all of the scrapes that Peter has gotten into have been because of those two things. So when Peter loses his appetite or his curiosity, there is surely something the matter with him.
Ever since Old Man Coyote had come to live on the Green Meadows, Peter had been afraid to go very far from the dear Old Briar-patch where he makes his home, and where he always feels safe. Now there wasn’t any reason why he should go far from the dear Old Briar-patch. There was plenty to eat in it and all around it, for sweet clover grew almost up to the very edge of it, and you know Peter is very fond of sweet clover. So there was plenty for Peter to eat without running any risk of danger. With nothing to do but eat and sleep, Peter should have grown fat and contented. But he didn’t.
Now that is just the way with a lot of people. The more they have and the less they have to worry about, the more discontented they become, and at last they are positively unhappy. There was little Danny Meadow Mouse, living out on the Green Meadows; he was happy all the livelong day, and yet he had no safe castle like the dear Old Briar-patch where he could always be safe. Every minute of every day Danny had to keep his eyes wide open and his wits working their very quickest, for any minute he was likely to be in danger. Old Man Coyote or Reddy Fox or Granny Fox or Digger the Badger or Mr. Blacksnake was likely to come creeping through the grass any time, and they are always hungry for a fat Meadow Mouse. And as if that weren’t worry enough, Danny had to watch the sky, too, for Old Whitetail the Marsh Hawk, or his cousin Redtail, or Blacky the Crow, each of whom would be glad of a Meadow Mouse dinner. Yet in spite of all this, Danny was happy and never once lost his appetite.
But Peter Rabbit, with nothing to worry him so long as he stayed in the Old Briar-patch, couldn’t eat and grew more and more unhappy.
“I don’t know what’s the matter with me. I really don’t know what’s the matter with me,” said Peter, as he turned up his nose at a patch of sweet, tender young clover. “I think I’ll go and cut some new paths through the Old Briar-patch.”
Now, though he didn’t know it, that was the very best thing he could do. It gave him something to think about. For two or three days he was very busy cutting new paths, and his appetite came back. But when he had made all the paths he wanted, and there was nothing else to do, he lost his appetite again. He just sat still all day long and moped and thought and thought and thought. The trouble with Peter Rabbit’s thinking was that it was all about himself and how unhappy he was. Of course, the more he thought about this, the more unhappy he grew.
“If I only had someone to talk to, I’d feel better,” said he to himself. That reminded him of Johnny Chuck and what good times they used to have together when Johnny lived on the Green Meadows. Then he thought of how happy Johnny seemed with his little family in his new home in the Old Orchard, in spite of all the worries his family made him. And right then Peter found out what was the matter with him.
“I believe I’m just lonesome,” said Peter. “Yes, sir, that’s what’s the matter with me.
“It isn’t good to be alone,
I’ve often heard my mother say.
It makes one selfish, grouchy, cross,
And quite unhappy all the day.
One needs to think of other folks,
And not of just one’s self alone,
To find the truest happiness,
And joy and real content to own.
“Now that I’ve found out what is the trouble with me, the question is, what am I going to do about it?”
“The trouble with me is that I’m lonesome,” repeated Peter Rabbit as he sat in the dear Old Briar-patch. “Yes, sir, that’s the only thing that’s wrong with me. I’m just tired of myself, and that’s why I’ve lost my appetite. And now I know what’s the matter, what am I going to do about it? If I were sure, absolutely sure, that Old Man Coyote meant what he said about our being friends, I’d start out this very minute to call on all my old friends. My, my, my, it seems an age since I visited the Smiling Pool and saw Grandfather Frog and Jerry Muskrat and Billy Mink and Little Joe Otter! Mr. Coyote sounded as if he really meant to leave me alone, but, but—well, perhaps he did mean it when he saw me sitting here safe among the brambles, but if I should meet him out in the open, he might change his mind and—oh, dear, his teeth are terrible long and sharp!”
Peter sat a little longer, thinking and thinking. Then a bright idea popped into his head. He kicked up his heels.
“I’ll do it,” said he. “I’ll make a journey! That’s what I’ll do! I’ll make a journey and see the Great World.
“By staying here and sitting still
I’m sure I’ll simply grow quite ill.
A change of scene is what I need
To be from all my trouble freed.”
Of course if Peter had really stopped to think the matter over thoroughly he would have known that running away from one kind of trouble is almost sure to lead to other troubles. But Peter is one of those who does his thinking afterward. Peter is what is called impulsive. That is, he does things and then thinks about them later, and often wishes he hadn’t done them. So now the minute the idea of making a journey popped into his head, he made up his mind that he would do it, and that was all there was to it. You see, Peter never looks ahead. If he could get rid of the trouble that bothered him now, which, you know, was nothing but lonesomeness, he wouldn’t worry about the troubles he might get into later.
Now the minute Peter made up his mind to make a journey, he began to feel better. His lost appetite returned, and the first thing he did was to eat a good meal of sweet clover.
“Let me see,” said he, as he filled his big stomach, “I believe I’ll visit the Old Pasture. It’s a long way off and I’ve never been there, but I’ve heard Sammy Jay say that it’s a very wonderful place, and I don’t believe it is any more dangerous than the Green Meadows and the Green Forest, now that Old Man Coyote and Reddy and Granny Fox are all living here. I’ll start tonight when I am sure that Old Man Coyote is nowhere around, and I won’t tell a soul where I am going.”
So Peter settled himself and tried to sleep the long day away, but his mind was so full of the long journey he was going to make that he couldn’t sleep much, and when he did have a nap, he dreamed of wonderful sights and adventures out in the Great World.
At last he saw jolly, round, red Mr. Sun drop down to his bed behind the Purple Hills. Old Mother West Wind came hurrying back from her day’s work and gathered her children, the Merry Little Breezes, into her big bag, and then she, too, started for her home behind the Purple Hills. A little star came out and winked at Peter, and then way over on the edge of the Green Forest he heard Old Man Coyote laugh. Peter grinned. That was what he had been waiting for, since it meant that Old Man Coyote was so far away that there was nothing to fear from him.
Peter hopped out from the dear, safe Old Briar-patch, looked this way and that way, and then, with his heart in his mouth, started towards the Old Pasture as fast as he could go, lipperty—lipperty—lip.
Hooty the Owl sat on the tip-top of a tall dead tree in the Green Forest while the Black Shadows crept swiftly among the trees. He was talking to himself. It wouldn’t have done for him to have spoken aloud what he was saying to himself, for then the little people in feathers and fur on whom he likes to make his dinner would have heard him and known just where he was. So he said it to himself, and sat so still that he looked for all the world like a part of the tree on which he was sitting. What he was saying was this:
“Towhit, towhoo! Towhit, towhoo!
Will someone tell me what to do?
My children have an appetite
That keeps me hunting all the night,
And though their stomachs I may stuff
They never seem to have enough.
Towhit, towhoo! Towhit, towhoo!
Will someone tell me what to do?”
When it was dark enough he gave his fierce hunting call—“Whooo-hoo-hoo, whoo-hoo!”
Now that is a terrible sound in the dark woods, very terrible indeed to the little forest people, because it sounds so fierce and hungry. It makes them jump and shiver, and that is just what Hooty wants them to do, for in doing it one of them is likely to make just the least scratching with his claws, or to rustle a leaf. If he does, Hooty, whose ears are very, very wonderful, is almost sure to hear, and with his great yellow eyes see him, and then—Hooty has his dinner.
The very night when Peter Rabbit started on his journey to the Old Pasture, Hooty the Owl had made up his mind that something had got to be done to get more food for those hungry babies of his up in the big hemlock-tree in the darkest corner of the Green Forest. Hunting was very poor, very poor indeed, and Hooty was at his wits’ end to know what he should do. He had hooted and hooted in vain in the Green Forest, and he had sailed back and forth over the Green Meadows like a great black shadow without seeing so much as a single Mouse.
“It’s all because of Old Man Coyote and Granny and Reddy Fox,” said Hooty angrily. “They’ve spoiled the hunting. Yes, sir, that’s just what they have done! If I expect to feed those hungry babies of mine, I must find new hunting grounds. I believe I’ll go up to the Old Pasture. Perhaps I’ll have better luck up there.”
So Hooty the Owl spread his broad wings and started for the Old Pasture just a little while after Peter Rabbit had started for the same place. Of course he didn’t know that Peter was on his way there, and of course Peter didn’t know that Hooty even thought of the Old Pasture. If he had, perhaps he would have thought twice before starting. Anyway, he would have kept a sharper watch on the sky. But as it was his thoughts were all of Old Man Coyote and Granny Fox, and that is where Peter made a very grave mistake, a very grave mistake indeed, as he was soon to find out.
Forgetting leads to more trouble than almost anything under the sun. Peter Rabbit knew this. Of course he knew it. Peter had had many a narrow escape just from forgetting something. He knew just as well as you know that he might just as well not learn a thing as to learn it and then forget it. But Peter is such a happy-go-lucky little fellow that he is very apt to forget, and forgetting leads him into all kinds of difficulties, just as it does most folks.
Now Peter had learned when he was a very little fellow that when he went out at night, he must watch out quite as sharply for Hooty the Owl as for either Granny or Reddy Fox, and usually he did. But the night he started to make a journey to the Old Pasture, his mind was so full of Old Man Coyote and Granny and Reddy Fox that he wholly forgot Hooty the Owl. So, as he scampered across the Green Meadows, lipperty—lipperty—lip, as fast as he could go, with his long ears and his big eyes and his wobbly nose all watching out for danger on the ground, not once did he think that there might be danger from the sky above him.
It was a moonlight night, and Peter was sharp enough to keep in the shadows whenever he could. He would scamper as fast as he knew how from one shadow to another and then sit down in the blackest part of each shadow to get his breath, and to look and listen and so make sure that no one was following him. The nearer he got to the Old Pasture, the safer he felt from Old Man Coyote and Granny and Reddy Fox. When he scampered across the patches of moonshine his heart didn’t come up in his mouth the way it had at first. He grew bolder and bolder. Once or twice he stopped for a mouthful of sweet clover. He was tired, for he had come a long way, but he was almost to the Old Pasture now, and it looked very dark and safe, for it was covered with bushes and brambles.
“Plenty of hiding places there,” thought Peter. “It really looks as safe as the dear Old Briar-patch. No one will ever think to look for me way off here.”
Just then he spied a patch of sweet clover out in the moonlight. His mouth began to water. “I’ll just fill my stomach before I go into the Old Pasture, for there may not be any clover there,” said Peter.
“You’d better be careful, Peter Rabbit,” said a wee warning voice inside him.
“Pooh!” said Peter. “There’s nothing to be afraid of way up here!”
A shadow drifted across the sweet clover patch. Peter saw it. “That must be made by a cloud crossing the moon,” said Peter, and he was so sure of it that he didn’t even look up to see, but boldly hopped out to fill his stomach. Just as he reached the patch of clover, the shadow drifted over it again. Then all in a flash a terrible thought entered Peter’s head. He didn’t stop to look up. He suddenly sprang sideways, and even as he did so, sharp claws tore his coat and hurt him dreadfully. He twisted and dodged and jumped and turned this way and that way, and all the time the shadow followed him. Once again sharp claws tore his coat and made him squeal with pain.
At last, when his breath was almost gone, he reached the edge of the Old Pasture and dived under a friendly old bramble-bush.
“Oh,” sobbed Peter, “I forgot all about Hooty the Owl! Besides, I didn’t suppose he ever came way up here.”
Peter Rabbit sat under a friendly bramble-bush on the edge of the Old Pasture and panted for breath, while his heart went pit-a-pat, pit-a-pat, as if it would thump its way right through his sides. Peter had had a terrible fright. There were long tears in his coat, and he smarted and ached dreadfully where the cruel claws of Hooty the Owl had torn him. And there he was in a strange place, not knowing which way to turn, for you know he never had visited the Old Pasture before.
But Peter had had so many narrow escapes in his life that he had learned not to worry over dangers that are past. Peter is what wise men call a phi-los-o-pher. That is a big word, but its meaning is very simple. A philosopher is one who believes that it is foolish to think about things that have happened, except to learn some lesson from them, and that the best thing to do is to make the most of the present. Peter had learned his lesson. He was sure of that.
“I never, never will forget again to watch out for Hooty the Owl,” said he to himself, as he nursed his wounds, “and so perhaps it is a good thing that he so nearly caught me this time. If he hadn’t, I might have forgotten all about him some time when he could catch me. I certainly wouldn’t have watched out for him way up here, for I didn’t think he ever came up to the Old Pasture. But now I know he does, Mr. Hooty’ll have to be smarter than he’s ever been before to catch me napping again. My, how I do smart and ache! I know now just how Danny Meadow Mouse felt that time Hooty caught him and dropped him into the Old Briar-patch. Ouch! Well, as my mother used to say:
‘Yesterday has gone away;
Make the most of just today.’
Here I am up in the Old Pasture, and the question is, what shall I do next?”
Peter felt a queer little thrill as he peeped out from under the friendly bramble-bush. Very strange and wonderful it seemed. Of course he couldn’t see very far, because the Old Pasture was all overgrown with bushes and briars, and they made the very blackest of black shadows in the moonlight. Peter wondered what dangers might be awaiting him there, but somehow he didn’t feel much afraid. No, sir, he didn’t feel much afraid. You see those briars looked good to him, for briars are always friendly to Peter and unfriendly to those who would do harm to Peter. So when he saw them, he felt almost at home.
Peter drew a long breath. Then he cried “Ouch!” You see, he had forgotten for a minute how sore he was. He was eager to explore this new wonderland, for Sammy Jay had told him wonderful tales about it, and he knew that here old Granny Fox and Reddy Fox had found safety when Farmer Brown’s boy had hunted for them so hard on the Green Meadows and in the Green Forest. He felt sure that there must be the most splendid hiding-places, and it seemed as if he certainly must start right out to see them, for you know Peter is very, very curious. But the first move he made brought another “Ouch” from him, and he made up a wry face.
“I guess the best thing for me to do is to stay right where I am,” said he, “for here I am safe under this friendly old bramble.”
So with a sigh Peter settled down to make himself as comfortable as he could, and once, as far, far away on the Green Meadows he heard the voice of Old Man Coyote, Peter even smiled.
“I haven’t anything to fear from him, anyway, for he’ll never think of coming way up here,” said he.
All the rest of that night Peter sat under a friendly old bramble-bush on the edge of the Old Pasture and nursed the sore places made by the claws of Hooty the Owl. At last jolly, round, red Mr. Sun began to climb up in the blue, blue sky, just as he does every day. Peter looked up at him, and he felt sure that Mr. Sun winked at him. Somehow it made him feel better. The fact is, Peter was beginning to feel just a wee, wee bit homesick. It is bad enough to be in a strange place alone, but to be sore and to smart and ache as Peter did makes that lonesome feeling a whole lot harder to bear. It is dreadful not to have anyone to speak to, but to look around and not see a single thing you have ever seen before—my, my, my, it certainly does give you a strange, sinking feeling way down inside!
Before that long night was over Peter felt as if his heart had gone way down to his very toes. Yes, sir, that’s the way he felt. Every time he moved at all he cried “Ouch!” He just knew that he was growing more stiff and sore every minute. Then he began to wonder what he should do for something to eat, for he was in a strange place, you remember. And that made him think of all his private little paths through the dear Old Briar-patch, the little paths he had made all himself, and which no one used but himself, excepting Danny Meadow Mouse when he came for a visit.
“Perhaps I shall never, never see them again,” moaned Peter, and two big tears filled his eyes and were just ready to drop.
At that moment he looked up and saw jolly, round, red Mr. Sun wink. Peter tried to wink back, and that made the two tears fall. But there were no more tears to follow. You see that wink had made all the difference in the world. Peter’s heart had jumped right back where it belonged. Mr. Sun was one of his oldest friends and you know
When trouble comes, a friendly face
Makes bright the very darkest place.
And so, just as he made bright all the Old Pasture, Mr. Sun also made bright the dark little corners in Peter’s heart just because he was an old friend. To be sure Peter was still lonesome, but it was a different kind of lonesomeness. He hadn’t anybody to talk to, which is always a dreadful thing to Peter, but he had only to look up to catch a friendly wink, and somehow that not only made him feel better inside but it seemed to make his aches and smarts better too.
Peter Rabbit had sat still just as long as he could. He was stiff and lame and sore from the wounds made by Hooty the Owl, but his curiosity wouldn’t let him sit still a minute longer. He just had to explore the Old Pasture. So with many a wry face and many an “Ouch” he limped out from the shelter of the friendly old bramble-bush and started out to see what the Old Pasture was like.
Now Hooty the Owl had taught Peter wisdom. With his torn clothes and his aches and smarts he couldn’t very well forget to be careful. First he made sure that there was no danger near, and this time he took pains to look all around in the sky as well as on the ground. Then he limped out to the very patch of sweet clover where Hooty had so nearly caught him the night before.
“A good breakfast,” said Peter, “will make a new Rabbit of me.” You know Peter thinks a great deal of his stomach. So he began to eat as fast as he could, stopping every other mouthful to look and listen. “I know it’s a bad habit to eat fast,” said he, “but it’s a whole lot worse to have an empty stomach.” So he ate and ate and ate as fast as he could make his little jaws go, which is very fast indeed.
When Peter’s stomach was stuffed full he gave a great sigh of relief and limped back to the friendly old bramble-bush to rest. But he couldn’t sit still long, for he just had to find out all about the Old Pasture. So pretty soon he started out to explore. Such a wonderful place as it seemed to Peter! There were clumps of bushes with little open spaces between, just the nicest kind of playgrounds. Then there were funny spreading, prickly juniper-trees, which made the very safest places to crawl out of harm’s way and to hide. Everywhere were paths made by cows. Very wonderful they seemed to Peter, who had never seen any like them before. He liked to follow them because they led to all kinds of queer places.
Sometimes he would come to places where tall trees made him think of the Green Forest, only there were never more than a few trees together. Once he found an old tumble-down stone wall all covered with vines, and he shouted right out with delight.
“It’s a regular castle!” cried Peter, and he knew that there he would be safe from everyone but Shadow the Weasel. But he never was wholly safe from Shadow the Weasel anywhere, so he didn’t let that thought worry him. By and by he came to a wet place called a swamp. The ground was soft, and there were little pools of water. Great ferns grew here just as they did along the bank of the Laughing Brook, only more of them. There were pretty birch-trees and wild cherry-trees. It was still and dark and oh, so peaceful! Peter liked that place and sat down under a big fern to rest. He didn’t hear a sound excepting the beautiful silvery voice of Veery the Thrush. Listening to it, Peter fell asleep, for he was very tired.
By and by Peter awoke. For a minute he couldn’t think where he was. Then he remembered. But for a long time he sat perfectly still, thinking of his adventures and wondering if he would be missed down on the Green Meadows. Then all of a sudden Peter saw something that made him sit up so suddenly that he cried “Ouch!” for he had forgotten all about how stiff and sore he was.
What do you think Peter saw? Tracks! Yes, sir, he saw tracks, Rabbit tracks in the soft mud, and Peter knew that he hadn’t made them!
Peter Rabbit stared and stared at the tracks in the soft mud of the swamp in the Old Pasture. He would look first at the tracks, then at his own feet, and finally back at the tracks again. He scratched his long right ear with his long right hind foot. Then he scratched his long left ear with his long left hind foot, all the time staring his hardest at those strange tracks. They certainly were the tracks of a Rabbit, and it was equally certain that they were not his own.
“They are too big for mine, and they are too small for Jumper the Hare’s. Besides, Jumper is in the Green Forest and not way off up here,” said Peter to himself. “I wonder—well, I wonder if he will try to drive me away.”
You see Peter knew that if he had found a strange Rabbit in his dear Old Briar-patch he certainly would have tried his best to drive him out, for he felt that the Old Briar-patch belonged to him. Now he wondered if the maker of these tracks would feel the same way about the Old Pasture. Peter looked troubled as he thought it over. Then his face cleared.
“Perhaps,” said he hopefully, “he is a newcomer here, too, and if he is, I’ll have just as much right here as he has. Perhaps he simply has big feet and isn’t any bigger or stronger than I am, and if that’s the case I’d like to see him drive me out!”
Peter swelled himself out and tried to look as big as he could when he said this, but swelling himself out this way reminded him of how stiff and sore he was from the wounds given him by Hooty the Owl, and he made a wry face. You see he realized all of a sudden that he didn’t feel much like fighting.
“My,” said Peter, “I guess I’d better find out all about this other fellow before I have any trouble with him. The Old Pasture looks big enough for a lot of Rabbits, and perhaps if I don’t bother him, he won’t bother me. I wonder what he looks like. I believe I’ll follow these tracks and see what I can find.”
So Peter began to follow the tracks of the strange Rabbit, and he was so interested that he almost forgot to limp. They led him this way and they led him that way through the swamp and then out of it. At the foot of a certain birch-tree Peter stopped.
“Ha!” said he, “now I shall know just how big this fellow is.”
How was he to know? Why, that tree was a kind of Rabbit measuring-stick. Yes, sir, that is just what it was. You see, Rabbits like to keep a record of how they grow, just as some little boys and girls do, but as they have no doors or walls to stand against, they use trees. And this was the measuring-tree of the Rabbit whose tracks Peter had been following. Peter stopped at the foot of it and sat down to think it over. He knew what that tree meant perfectly well. He had one or two measuring-trees of his own on the edge of the Green Forest. He knew, too, that it was more than a mere measuring-tree. It was a kind of “no trespassing” sign. It meant that some other Rabbit had lived here for some time and felt that he owned this part of the Old Pasture. Peter’s nose told him that, for the tree smelled very, very strong of Rabbit—of the Rabbit with the big feet. This was because whoever used it for a measuring-tree used to rub himself against it as far up as he could reach.
Peter hopped up close to it. Then he sat up very straight and stretched himself as tall as he could, but he wisely took care not to rub against the tree. You see, he didn’t want to leave his own mark there. So he stretched and stretched, but stretch as he would, he couldn’t make his wobbly little nose reach the mark made by the other Rabbit.
“My sakes, he is a big fellow!” exclaimed Peter. “I guess I don’t want to meet him until I feel better and stronger than I do now.”
Peter Rabbit sat in a snug hiding-place in the Old Pasture and thought over what he had found out about the strange Rabbit whose tracks he had followed. They had led him to a rubbing or measuring-tree, where the strange Rabbit had placed his mark, and that mark was so high up on the tree that Peter knew the strange Rabbit must be a great deal bigger than himself.
“If he’s bigger, of course he is stronger,” thought Peter, “and if he is both bigger and stronger, of course it won’t be the least bit of use for me to fight him. Then, anyway, I’m too stiff and sore to fight. And then, he has no business to think he owns the Old Pasture, because he doesn’t. I have just as much right here as he has. Yes, sir, I have just as much right in this Old Pasture as he has, and if he thinks he can drive me out he is going to find that he was never more mistaken in his life! I’ll show him! Yes, sir-ee, I’ll show him! I guess my wits are as sharp as his, and I wouldn’t wonder if they are a little bit sharper.”
Foolish Peter Rabbit! There he was boasting and bragging to himself of what he would do to someone whom he hadn’t even seen, all because he had found a sign that told him the Old Pasture, in which he had made up his mind to make his new home, was already the home of someone else. Peter was like a lot of other people; he wasn’t fair. No, sir, he wasn’t fair. He let his own desires destroy his sense of fair play. It was all right for him to put up signs in the dear Old Briar-patch and the Green Forest, warning other Rabbits that they must keep away, but it was all wrong for another Rabbit to do the same thing in the Old Pasture. Oh, my, yes! That was quite a different matter! The very thought of it made Peter very, very angry. When he thought of this other Rabbit, it was always as the stranger. That shows just how unfair Peter was, because, you see, Peter himself was really the stranger. It was his first visit to the Old Pasture, while it was very plain that the other had lived there for some time.
But Peter couldn’t or wouldn’t see that. He had counted so much on having the Old Pasture to himself and doing as he pleased, that he was too upset and disappointed to be fair. If the other Rabbit had been smaller than he—well, that might have made a difference. The truth is, Peter was just a wee bit afraid. And perhaps it was that wee bit of fear that made him unfair and unjust. Anyway, the longer he sat and thought about it, the angrier he grew, and the more he bragged and boasted to himself about what he would do.
“I’ll just keep out of sight until my wounds are healed, and then we’ll see who owns the Old Pasture!” thought Peter.
No sooner had this thought popped into his head than he received a surprise, such an unpleasant surprise! It was three heavy thumps right behind him. Peter knew what that meant. Of course he knew. It meant that he must run or fight. It meant that he had been so busy thinking about how smart he was going to be that he had forgotten to cover his own tracks, and so the maker of the big tracks he had followed had found him out.
Thump! Thump! Thump! There it was again. Peter knew by the sound that it was of no use to stay and fight, especially when he was so sore and stiff. There was nothing to do but run away. He simply had to. And that is just what he did do, while his eyes were filled with tears of rage and bitterness.
In all his life Peter Rabbit had never been so disappointed. Here he was in the Old Pasture, about which he had dreamed and thought so long, and in reaching which he had had such a narrow escape from Hooty the Owl, and yet he was unhappy. The fact is, Peter was more unhappy than he could remember ever to have been before. Not only was he unhappy, but he was in great fear, and the worst of it was he was in fear of an enemy who could go wherever he could go himself.
You see, it was this way: Peter had expected to find some enemies in the Old Pasture. He had felt quite sure that fierce old Mr. Goshawk was to be watched for, and perhaps Mr. Redtail and one or two others of the Hawk family. He knew that Granny and Reddy Fox had lived there once upon a time and might come back if things got too unpleasant for them on the Green Meadows, now that Old Man Coyote had made his home there. But Peter didn’t worry about any of these dangers. He was used to them, was Peter. He had been dodging them ever since he could remember, A friendly bramble-bush, a little patch of briars, or an old stone wall near was all that Peter needed to feel perfectly safe from these enemies, But now he was in danger wherever he went, for he had an enemy who could go everywhere he could, and it seemed to Peter that this enemy was following him all the time. Who was it? Why, it was a great big old Rabbit with a very short temper, who, because he had lived there for a long time, felt that he owned the Old Pasture and that Peter had no right there.
Now, in spite of all his trouble, Peter had seen enough of the Old Pasture to think it a very wonderful place, a very wonderful place indeed. He had seen just enough to want to see more. You know how very curious Peter is. It seemed to him that he just couldn’t go back to the dear Old Briar-patch on the Green Meadows until he had seen everything to be seen in the Old Pasture. So he couldn’t make up his mind to go back home, but stayed and stayed, hoping each day that the old gray Rabbit would get tired of hunting for him, and would let him alone.
But the old gray Rabbit didn’t do anything of the kind. He seemed to take the greatest delight in waiting until Peter thought that he had found a corner of the Old Pasture where he would be safe, and then in stealing there when Peter was trying to take a nap, and driving him out. Twice Peter had tried to fight, but the old gray Rabbit was too big for him. He knocked all the wind out of poor Peter with a kick from his big hind legs, and then with his sharp teeth he tore Peter’s coat.
Poor Peter! His coat had already been badly torn by the cruel claws of Hooty the Owl, and Old Mother Nature hadn’t had time to mend it when he fought with the old gray Rabbit. After the second time Peter didn’t try to fight again. He just tried to keep out of the way. And he did, too. But in doing it he lost so much sleep and he had so little to eat that he grew thin and thin and thinner, until, with his torn clothes, he looked like a scarecrow.
And still he hated to give in
When there was still so much to see.
“Persistence, I was taught, will win,
And so I will persist,” said he.
And he did persist day after day, until at last he felt that he really must give it up. He had stretched out wearily on a tiny sunning-bank in the farthest corner of the Old Pasture, and had just about made up his mind that he would go back that very night to the dear Old Briar-patch on the Green Meadows, when a tiny rustle behind him made him jump to his feet with his heart in his mouth. But instead of the angry face of the old gray Rabbit he saw—what do you think? Why, two of the softest, gentlest eyes peeping at him from behind a big fern.
Peter Rabbit stared at the two soft, gentle eyes peeping at him from behind the big fern just back of the sunning-bank in the far corner of the Old Pasture. He had so fully expected to see the angry face of the big, gray, old Rabbit who had made life so miserable for him that for a minute he couldn’t believe that he really saw what he did see. And so he just stared and stared. It was very rude. Of course it was. It was very rude indeed. It is always rude to stare at anyone. So it was no wonder that after a minute the two soft, gentle eyes disappeared behind one of the great green leaves of the fern. Peter gave a great sigh. Then he remembered how rude he had been to stare so.
“I—I beg your pardon,” said Peter in his politest manner, which is very polite indeed, for Peter can be very polite when he wants to be. “I beg your pardon. I didn’t mean to frighten you. Please forgive me.”
With the greatest eagerness Peter waited for a reply. You know it was because he had been so lonesome that he had left his home in the dear Old Briar-patch on the Green Meadows. And since he had been in the Old Pasture he had been almost as lonesome, for he had had no one to talk to. So now he waited eagerly for a reply. You see, he felt sure that the owner of such soft, gentle eyes must have a soft, gentle voice and a soft, gentle heart, and there was nothing in the world that Peter needed just then so much as sympathy. But though he waited and waited, there wasn’t a sound from the big fern.
“Perhaps you don’t know who I am. I’m Peter Rabbit, and I’ve come up here from the Green Meadows, and I’d like very much to be your friend,” continued Peter after a while. Still there was no sound. Peter peeped from the corner of one eye at the place where he had seen the two soft, gentle eyes, but there was nothing to be seen but the gently waving leaf of the big fern. Peter didn’t know just what to do. He wanted to hop over to the big fern and peep behind it, but he didn’t dare to. He was afraid that whoever was hiding there would run away.
“I’m very lonesome; won’t you speak to me?” said Peter, in his gentlest voice, and he sighed a deep, doleful sort of sigh. Still there was no reply. Peter had just about made up his mind that he would go over to the big fern when he saw those two soft, gentle eyes peeping from under a different leaf. It seemed to Peter that never in all his life had he seen such beautiful eyes. They looked so shy and bashful that Peter held his breath for fear that he would frighten them away.
After a time the eyes disappeared. Then Peter saw a little movement among the ferns, and he knew that whoever was there was stealing away. He wanted to follow, but something down inside him warned him that It was best to sit still. So Peter sat just where he was and kept perfectly still for the longest time. But the eyes didn’t appear again, and at last he felt sure that whoever they belonged to had really gone away. Then he sighed another great sigh, for suddenly he felt more lonesome than ever. He hopped over to the big fern and looked behind it. There in the soft earth was a footprint, the footprint of a Rabbit, and it was smaller than his own. It seemed to Peter that it was the most wonderful little footprint he ever had seen.
“I believe,” said Peter right out loud, “that I’ll change my mind. I won’t go back to the dear Old Briar-patch just yet, after all.”
“Hello, Peter Rabbit! What are you doing way up here, and what are you looking so mournful about?”
Peter gave a great start of pleased surprise. That was the first friendly voice he had heard for days and days.
“Hello yourself, Tommy Tit!” shouted Peter joyously. “My, my, my, but I am glad to see you! But what are you doing up here in the Old Pasture yourself?”
Tommy Tit the Chickadee hung head down from the tip of a slender branch of a maple-tree and winked a saucy bright eye at Peter. “I’ve got a secret up here,” he said.
Now there is nothing in the world Peter Rabbit loves more than a secret. But he cannot keep one to save him. No, sir, Peter Rabbit can no more keep a secret than he can fly. He means to. His intentions are the very best in the world, but—
Alas! alack! poor Peter’s tongue
Is very, very loosely hung.
And so, because he must talk and will talk every chance he gets, he cannot keep a secret. People who talk too much never can.
“What is your secret?” asked Peter eagerly.
Tommy Tit looked down at Peter, and his sharp little eyes twinkled. “It’s a nest with six of the dearest little babies in the world in it,” he replied.
“Oh, how lovely!” cried Peter. “Where is it, Tommy Tit?”
“In a hollow birch-stub,” replied Tommy, his eyes twinkling more than ever.
“But where is the hollow birch-stub?” persisted Peter.
Tommy laughed. “That’s my real secret,” said he, “and if I should tell you it wouldn’t be a secret at all. Now tell me what you are doing up here in the Old Pasture, Peter Rabbit.”
Peter saw that it was of no use to tease Tommy Tit for his secret, so instead he poured out all his own troubles. He told how lonesome he had been in the dear Old Briar-patch on the Green Meadows because he didn’t dare to go about for fear of Old Man Coyote, and how at last he had decided to visit the Old Pasture. He told how Hooty the Owl had nearly caught him on his way, and then how, ever since his arrival, he had been hunted by the big, gray, old Rabbit so that he could neither eat nor sleep and had become so miserable that at last he had made up his mind to go back to the dear Old Briar-patch.
“Ho!” interrupted Tommy Tit, “I know him. He’s Old Jed Thumper, the oldest, biggest, crossest Rabbit anywhere around. He’s lived in the Old Pasture so long that he thinks he owns it. It’s a wonder that he hasn’t killed you.”
“I guess perhaps he would have only I can run faster than he can,” replied Peter, looking a little shamefaced because he had to own up that he ran away instead of fighting.
Tommy Tit laughed. “That’s the very wisest thing you could have done,” said he. “But why don’t you go back to the dear Old Briar-patch in the Green Meadows?”
Peter hesitated and looked a wee bit foolish. Finally he told Tommy Tit all about the two soft, gentle eyes he had seen peeping at him from behind a big fern, and how he wanted to know who the eyes belonged to.
“If that’s all you want to know, I can tell you,” said Tommy Tit, jumping out into the air to catch a foolish little bug who tried to fly past. “Those eyes belong to little Miss Fuzzy-tail, and she’s the favorite daughter of Old Jed Thumper. You take my advice, Peter Rabbit, and trot along home to the Old Briar-patch before you get into any more trouble. There’s my wife calling. Yes, my dear, I’m coming! Chickadee-dee-dee!”
And with a wink and a nod to Peter Rabbit, off flew Tommy Tit.
“Little Miss Fuzzytail!” Peter said it over and over again, as he sat on the sunning-bank in the far corner of the Old Pasture, where Tommy Tit the Chickadee had left him.
“It’s a pretty name,” said Peter. “Yes, sir, it’s a pretty name. It’s the prettiest name I’ve ever heard. I wonder if she is just as pretty. I—I—think she must be. Yes, I am quite sure she must be.” Peter was thinking of the soft, gentle eyes he had seen peeping at him from behind the big fern, and of the dainty little footprint he had found there afterward. So he sat on the sunning-bank, dreaming pleasant dreams and wondering if he could find little Miss Fuzzytail if he should go look for her.
Now all the time, although Peter didn’t know it, little Miss Fuzzytail was very close by. She was right back in her old hiding-place behind the big fern, shyly peeping out at him from under a great leaf, where she was sure he wouldn’t see her. She saw the long tears in Peter’s coat, made by the cruel claws of Hooty the Owl, and she saw the places where her father, Old Jed Thumper, had pulled the hair out with his teeth. She saw how thin and miserable Peter looked, and tears of pity filled the soft, gentle eyes of little Miss Fuzzytail, for, you see, she had a very tender heart.
“He’s got a very nice face,” thought Miss Fuzzytail, “and he certainly was very polite, and I do love good manners. And Peter is such a nice sounding name! It sounds so honest and good and true. Poor fellow! Poor Peter Rabbit!” Here little Miss Fuzzytail wiped her eyes. “He looks so miserable I do wish I could do something for him. I—I—oh, dear, I do believe he is coming right over here! I guess I better be going. How he limps!”
Once more the tears filled her soft, gentle eyes as she stole away, making not the least little sound. When she was sure she was far enough away to hurry without attracting Peter’s attention, she began to run.
“I saw him talking to my old friend Tommy Tit the Chickadee, and I just know that Tommy will tell me all about him,” she thought, as she scampered along certain private little paths of her own.
Just as she expected, she found Tommy Tit and his anxious little wife, Phoebe, very busy hunting for food for six hungry little babies snugly hidden in a hollow near the top of the old birch-stub. Tommy was too busy to talk then, so little Miss Fuzzytail sat down under a friendly bramble-bush to rest and wait, and while she waited, she carefully washed her face and brushed her coat until it fairly shone. You see, not in all the Old Pasture, or the Green Forest, was there so slim and trim and neat and dainty a Rabbit as little Miss Fuzzytail, and she was very, very particular about her appearance.
By and by, Tommy Tit stopped to rest. He looked down at Miss Fuzzytail and winked a saucy black eye. Miss Fuzzytail winked back. Then both laughed, for they were very good friends, indeed.
“Tell me, Tommy Tit, all about Peter Rabbit,” commanded little Miss Fuzzytail. And Tommy did.
Old Jed Thumper sat in his bull-briar castle in the middle of the Old Pasture, scowling fiercely and muttering to himself. He was very angry, was Old Jed Thumper. He was so angry that presently he stopped muttering and began to chew rapidly on nothing at all but his temper, which is a way angry Rabbits have.
The more he chewed his temper, the angrier he grew. He was big and stout and strong and gray. He had lived so long in the Old Pasture that he felt that it belonged to him and that no other Rabbit had any right there unless he said so. Yet here was a strange Rabbit who had had the impudence to come up from the Green Meadows and refused to be driven away. Such impudence!
Of course it was Peter Rabbit of whom Old Jed Thumper was thinking. It was two days since he had caught a glimpse of Peter, but he knew that Peter was still in the Old Pasture, for he had found fresh tracks each day. That very morning he had visited his favorite feeding ground, only to find Peter’s tracks there. It had made him so angry that he had lost his appetite, and he had gone straight back to his bull-briar castle to think it over. At last Old Jed Thumper stopped chewing on his temper. He scowled more fiercely than ever and stamped the ground impatiently.
“I’ll hunt that fellow till I kill him, or drive him so far from the Old Pasture that he’ll never think of coming back. I certainly will!” he said aloud, and started forth to hunt.
Now it would have been better for the plans of Old Jed Thumper if he had kept them to himself instead of speaking aloud. Two dainty little ears heard what he said, and two soft, gentle eyes watched him leave the bull-briar castle. He started straight for the far corner of the Old Pasture where, although he didn’t know it, Peter Rabbit had found a warm little sunning-bank. But he hadn’t gone far when, from way off in the opposite direction, he heard a sound that made him stop short and prick up his long ears to listen. There it was again—thump, thump! He was just going to thump back an angry reply, when he thought better of it.
“If do that,” thought he, “I’ll only warn him, and he’ll run away, just as he has before.”
So instead, he turned and hurried in the direction from which the thumps had come, taking the greatest care to make no noise. Every few jumps he would stop to listen. Twice more he heard those thumps, and each time new rage filled his heart, and for a minute or two he chewed his temper.
“He’s down at my blueberry-patch,” he muttered.
At last he reached the blueberry-patch. Very softly he crept to a place where he could see and not be seen. No one was there. No, sir, no one was there! He waited and watched, and there wasn’t a hair of Peter Rabbit to be seen. He was just getting ready to go look for Peter’s tracks when he heard that thump, thump again. This time it came from his favorite clover-patch where he never allowed even his favorite daughter, little Miss Fuzzytail, to go. Anger nearly choked him as he hurried in that direction. But when he got there, just as before no one was to be seen.
So, all the morning long, Old Jed Thumper hurried from one place to another and never once caught sight of Peter Rabbit. Can you guess why? Well, the reason was that all the time Peter was stretched out on his warm sunning-bank getting the rest he so much needed. It was someone else who was fooling Old Jed Thumper.
All morning, while someone was fooling Old Jed Thumper, the cross old Rabbit who thought he owned the Old Pasture, Peter Rabbit lay stretched out on the warm little sunning-bank, dreaming of soft, gentle eyes and beautiful little footprints. It was a dangerous place to go to sleep, because at any time fierce Mr. Goshawk might have come that way, and if he had, and had found Peter Rabbit asleep, why, that would have been the end of Peter and all the stories about him.
Peter did go to sleep. You see, the sunning-bank was so warm and comfortable, and he was so tired and had had so little sleep for such a long time that, in spite of all he could do, he nodded and nodded and finally slipped off into dreamland.
Peter slept a long time, for no one came to disturb him. It was past noon when he opened his eyes and blinked up at jolly, round, red Mr. Sun. For a minute he couldn’t remember where he was. When he did, he sprang to his feet and hastily looked this way and that way.
“My gracious!” exclaimed Peter. “My gracious, what a careless fellow I am! It’s a wonder that Old Jed Thumper didn’t find me asleep. My, but I’m hungry! Seems as if I hadn’t had a good square meal for a year.”
Peter stopped suddenly and began to wrinkle his nose. “Um-m!” said he, “if I didn’t know better, I should say that there is a patch of sweet clover close by. Um-m, my, my! Am I really awake, or am I still dreaming? I certainly do smell sweet clover!”
Slowly Peter turned his head In the direction from which the delicious smell seemed to come. Then he whirled around and stared as hard as ever he could, his mouth gaping wide open in surprise. He blinked, rubbed his eyes, then blinked again. There could be no doubt of it; there on the edge of the sunning-bank was a neat little pile of tender, sweet clover. Yes, sir, there it was!
Peter walked all around it, looking for all the world as if he couldn’t believe that it was real. Finally he reached out and nibbled a leaf of it. It was real!
There was no doubt in Peter’s mind then. Someone had put it there while Peter was asleep, and Peter knew that it was meant for him. Who could it have been?
Suddenly a thought popped into Peter’s head. He stopped eating and hopped over to the big fern from behind which he had first seen the two soft, gentle eyes peeping at him the day before. There in the soft earth was a fresh footprint, and it looked very, very much like the footprint of dainty little Miss Fuzzytail!
Peter’s heart gave a happy little jump. He felt sure now who had put the clover there. He looked wistfully about among the ferns, but she was nowhere to be seen. Finally he hopped back to the pile of clover and ate it, every bit, and it seemed to him that it was the sweetest, tenderest clover he had ever tasted in all his life.
For the first time in his life Peter Rabbit had begun to think about his clothes. Always he had been such a happy-go-lucky fellow that it never had entered his head to care how he looked. He laughed at Sammy Jay for thinking so much of that beautiful blue-and-white coat he wears, and he poked fun at Reddy Fox for bragging so much about his handsome suit. As for himself, Peter didn’t care how he looked. If his coat was whole, or in rags and tags, it was all the same to Peter. But now Peter, sitting on the edge of his sunning-bank in the far corner of the Old Pasture, suddenly realized that he wanted to be good-looking. Yes, sir, he wanted to be good-looking. He wished that he were bigger. He wished that he were the biggest and strongest Rabbit in the world. He wished that he had a handsome coat. And it was all because of the soft, gentle eyes of little Miss Fuzzytail that he had seen peeping out at him so often. He felt sure that it was little Miss Fuzzytail herself who had left the pile of sweet clover close by his sunning-bank the other day while he was asleep.
The fact is, Peter Rabbit was falling in love. Yes, sir, Peter Rabbit was falling in love. All he had seen of little Miss Fuzzytail were her soft, gentle eyes, for she was very shy and had kept out of sight. But ever since he had first seen them, he had thought and dreamed of nothing else, until it seemed as if there were nothing in the world he wanted so much as to meet her. Perhaps he would have wanted this still more if he had known that it was she who had fooled her father, Old Jed Thumper, the big, gray, old Rabbit, so that Peter might have the long nap on the sunning-bank he so needed.
“I’ve just got to meet her. I’ve just got to!” said Peter to himself, and right then he began to wish that he were big and fine-looking.
“My, I must be a sight!” he thought, “I wonder how I do look, anyway. I must hunt up a looking-glass and find out.”
Now when Peter Rabbit thinks of doing a thing, he wastes very little time. It was that way now. He started at once for the bit of swamp where he had first seen the tracks of Old Jed Thumper. He still limped from the wounds made by Hooty the Owl. But in spite of this he could travel pretty fast, and it didn’t take him long to reach the swamp.
There, just as he expected, he found a looking-glass. What was it like? Why, it was just a tiny pool of water. Yes, sir, it was a quiet pool of water that reflected the ferns growing around it and the branches of the trees hanging over it, and Peter Rabbit himself sitting on the edge of it. That was Peter’s looking-glass.
For a long time he stared into it. At last he gave a great sigh. “My, but I am a sight!” he exclaimed.
He was. His coat was ragged and torn from the claws of Hooty the Owl and the teeth of Old Jed Thumper. The white patch on the seat of his trousers was stained and dirty from sitting down in the mud. There were burrs tangled in his waistcoat. He was thin and altogether a miserable looking Rabbit.
“It must be that Miss Fuzzytail just pities me. She certainly can’t admire me,” muttered Peter, as he pulled out the burrs.
For the next hour Peter was very busy. He washed and he brushed and he combed. When, at last, he had done all that he could, he took another look in his looking-glass, and what he saw was a very different looking Rabbit.
“Though I am homely, lank and lean,
I can at least be neat and clean,”
said he, as he started back for the sunning-bank.
Peter Rabbit was feeling better. Certainly he was looking better. You see, just as soon as Old Mother Nature saw that Peter was trying to look as well as he could, and was keeping himself as neat and tidy as he knew how, she was ready to help, as she always is. She did her best with the rents in his coat, made by the claws of Hooty the Owl and the teeth of Old Jed Thumper, and so it wasn’t long before Peter’s coat looked nearly as good as new. Then, too, Peter was getting enough to eat these days. Days and days had passed since he had seen Old Jed Thumper, and this had given him time to eat and sleep.
Peter wondered what had become of Old Jed Thumper. “Perhaps something has happened to him,” thought Peter. “I—I almost hope something has.” Then, being ashamed of such a wish, he added, “Something not very dreadful, but which will keep him from hunting me for a while and trying to drive me out of the Old Pasture.”
Now all this time Peter had been trying to find little Miss Fuzzytail. He was already in love with her, although all he had seen of her were her two soft, gentle eyes, shyly peeping at him from behind a big fern. He had wandered here and sauntered there, looking for her, but although he found her footprints very often, she always managed to keep out of his sight, You see, she knew the Old Pasture so much better than he did, and all the little paths in it, that she had very little trouble in keeping out of his way. Then, too, she was very busy, for it was she who was keeping her cross father, Old Jed Thumper, away from Peter, because she was so sorry for Peter. But Peter didn’t know this. If he had, I am afraid that he would have been more in love than ever.
The harder she was to find, the more Peter wanted to find her. He spent a great deal of time each day brushing his coat and making himself look as fine as he could, and while he was doing it, he kept wishing over and over again that something would happen so that he could show little Miss Fuzzytail what a smart, brave fellow he really was.
But one day followed another, and Peter seemed no nearer than ever to meeting little Miss Fuzzytail. He was thinking of this one morning and was really growing very downhearted, as he sat under a friendly bramble-bush, when suddenly there was a sharp little scream of fright from behind a little juniper-tree.
Somehow Peter knew whose voice that was, although he never had heard it before. He sprang around the little juniper-tree, and what he saw filled him with such rage that he didn’t once stop to think of himself. There was little Miss Fuzzytail in the clutches of Black Pussy, Farmer Brown’s cat, who often stole away from home to hunt in the Old Pasture. Like a flash Peter sprang over Black Pussy, and as he did so he kicked with all his might. The cat hadn’t seen him coming, and the kick knocked her right into the prickly juniper-tree. Of course she lost her grip on little Miss Fuzzytail, who hadn’t been hurt so much as frightened.
By the time the cat got out of the juniper-tree, Peter and Miss Fuzzytail were sitting side by side safe in the middle of a bull-briar patch.
“Oh? how brave you are!” sobbed little Miss Fuzzytail.
And this is the way that Peter Rabbit at last got his heart’s desire.
After Peter Rabbit had saved little Miss Fuzzytail from Black Pussy, the cat who belonged way down at Farmer Brown’s house and had no business hunting in the Old Pasture, he went with her as near to her home as she would let him. She said that it wasn’t necessary that he should go a single step, but Peter insisted that she needed him to see that no more harm came to her. Miss Fuzzytail laughed at that, for she felt quite able to take care of herself. It had been just stupid carelessness on her part that had given Black Pussy the chance to catch her, she said, and she was very sure that she never would be so careless again. What she didn’t tell Peter was that she had been so busy peeping at him and admiring him that she had quite forgotten to watch out for danger for herself.
Finally she said that he could go part way with her. But when they were almost within sight of the bull-briar castle of her father, Old Jed Thumper, the big, gray Rabbit who thought he owned the Old Pasture, she made Peter turn back. You see, she was afraid of what Old Jed Thumper might do to Peter, and—well, the truth is she was afraid of what he might do to her if he should find out that she had made friends with Peter.
So Peter was forced to go back, but he took with him a half promise that she would meet him the next night up near his sunning-bank in the far corner of the Old Pasture.
After that there were many pleasant days for Peter Rabbit. Sometimes little Miss Fuzzytail would meet him, and sometimes she would shyly hide from, him, but somehow, somewhere, he managed to see her every day, and so all the time in Peter’s heart was a little song:
“The sky is blue; the leaves are green;
The golden sunbeams peep between;
My heart is joyful as can be,
And all the world looks bright to me.”
And then one day Old Jed Thumper found out all about how his daughter, little Miss Fuzzytail, and Peter Rabbit had become such good friends. Old Jed Thumper went into a terrible rage. He chewed and chewed with nothing in his mouth, that is, nothing but his temper, the way an angry Rabbit will. He vowed and declared that if he never ate another mouthful he would drive Peter Rabbit from the Old Pasture.
My, my, my, those were bad days for Peter Rabbit! Yes, sir, those certainly were bad days! Old Jed Thumper had found out how little Miss Fuzzytail had been fooling him by making him think Peter was in parts of the Old Pasture in quite the opposite direction from where he really was. Worse still, he found Peter’s favorite sunning-bank in the far corner of the Old Pasture and would hide near it and try to catch Peter every time Peter tried to get a few minutes’ rest there. He did something worse than that.
One day he saw fierce Mr. Goshawk hunting. He let Mr. Goshawk almost catch him, and then ducked under a bramble-bush. Then he showed himself again and once more escaped in the same way. So he led fierce Mr. Goshawk to a point where Mr. Goshawk could look down and see Peter Rabbit stretched out on his sunning-bank, trying to get a little rest. Right; away Mr. Goshawk forgot all about Old Jed Thumper and sailed up in the sky from where he could swoop down on Peter, while Old Jed Thumper, chuckling to himself wickedly, hid where he could watch what would happen.
That certainly would have been the last of Peter Rabbit if it hadn’t been for Tommy Tit the Chickadee. Tommy saw Mr. Goshawk and just in time warned Peter, and so Mr. Goshawk got only his claws full of soft earth for his pains, while Old Jed Thumper once more chewed on nothing in rage and disappointment. Dear me, dear me, those certainly were dreadful days for Peter Rabbit and little Miss Fuzzytail. You see, all the time little Miss Fuzzytail was terribly worried for fear Peter would be caught.
Matters went from bad to worse with Peter Rabbit and little Miss Fuzzytail. Peter would have made up his mind to go back to his old home in the dear Old Briar-patch on the Green Meadows, but he felt that he just couldn’t leave little Miss Fuzzytail, and little Miss Fuzzytail couldn’t make up her mind to go with Peter, because she felt that she just couldn’t leave the Old Pasture, which always had been her home. So Peter spent his days and nights ready to jump and run from Jed Thumper, the gray old Rabbit who thought he owned the Old Pasture, and who had declared that he would drive Peter out.
Now Peter, as you know, had an old friend in the Old Pasture, Tommy Tit the Chickadee. One day Tommy took it into his head to fly down to the Green Meadows. There he found everybody wondering what had become of Peter Rabbit, for you remember Peter had stolen away from the dear Old Briar-patch in the night and had told no one where he was going.
Now one of the first to ask Tommy Tit if he had seen Peter Rabbit was Old Man Coyote. Tommy told him where Peter was and of the dreadful time Peter was having, Old Man Coyote asked a lot of questions about the Old Pasture and thanked Tommy very politely as Tommy flew over to the Smiling Pool to call on Grandfather Frog and Jerry Muskrat.
That night, after jolly, round, red Mr. Sun had gone to bed behind the Purple Hills, and the Black Shadows had crept over the Green Meadows, Old Man Coyote started for the Old Pasture, Now, he had never been there before, but he had asked so many questions of Tommy Tit, and he is so smart anyway, that it didn’t take him long to go all through the Old Pasture and to find the bull-briar castle of Old Jed Thumper, who was making life so miserable for Peter Rabbit, He wasn’t at home, but Old Man Coyote’s wonderful nose soon found his tracks, and he followed them swiftly, without making a sound. Pretty soon he came to a bramble-bush, and under it he could see Old Jed Thumper. For just a minute he chuckled, a noiseless chuckle, to himself. Then he opened his mouth and out came that terrible sound which had so frightened all the little people on the Green Meadows when Old Man Coyote had first come there to live.
“Ha, ha, ha! Ho, ho, ho! Hee, hee, hee! Ha, ho, hee, ho!”
Old Jed Thumper never had heard anything like that before. It frightened him so that before he thought what he was doing he had jumped out from under the bramble-bush. Of course this was just what Old Man Coyote wanted. In a flash he was after him, and then began such a race as the Old Pasture never had seen before. Round and round, this way and that way, along the cow paths raced Old Jed Thumper with Old Man Coyote at his heels, until at last, out of breath, so tired that it seemed to him he couldn’t run another step, frightened almost out of his senses, Old Jed Thumper reached his bull-briar castle and was safe.
Then Old Man Coyote laughed his terrible laugh once more and trotted over to the tumble-down stonewall in which his keen nose told him Peter Rabbit was hiding.
“One good turn deserves another, and I always pay my debts, Peter Rabbit,” said he. “You did me a good turn some time ago down on the Green Meadows, when you told me how Granny and Reddy Fox were planning to make trouble for me by leading Bowser the Hound to the place where I took my daily nap, and now we are even. I don’t think that old gray Rabbit will dare to poke so much as his nose out of his bull-briar castle for a week. Now I am going back to the Green Meadows, Good night, Peter Rabbit, and don’t forget that I always pay my debts.”
“Good night, and thank you, Mr. Coyote,” said Peter, and then, when Old Man Coyote had gone, he added to himself in a shamefaced way: “I didn’t believe him when he said that he guessed we would be friends.”
Peter Rabbit was finding this out. Always he had been happy, for happiness had been born in him. But the happiness he had known before was nothing to the happiness that was his when he found that he loved little Miss Fuzzytail and that little Miss Fuzzytail loved him, Peter was sure that she did love him, although she wouldn’t say so. But love doesn’t need words, and Peter had seen it shining in the two soft, gentle eyes of little Miss Fuzzytail. So Peter was happy in spite of the trouble that Old Jed Thumper, the big, gray Rabbit who was the father of little Miss Fuzzytail, had made for him in the Old Pasture.
He had tried very hard, very hard indeed, to get little Miss Fuzzytail to go back with him to the dear Old Briar-patch on the Green Meadows, but in spite of all he could say she couldn’t make up her mind to leave the Old Pasture, which, you know, had been her home ever since she was born. And Peter couldn’t make up his mind to go back there and leave her, because—why, because he loved her so much that he felt that he could never, never be happy without her. Then, when Old Jed Thumper was hunting Peter so hard that he hardly had a chance to eat or sleep, had come Old Man Coyote the Wolf and given Old Jed Thumper such a fright that for a week he didn’t dare poke so much as his nose out of his bull-briar castle.
Now, although Old Man Coyote didn’t know it, his terrible voice had frightened little Miss Fuzzytail almost as much as it had Old Jed Thumper. You see, she never had heard it before, She didn’t even know what it was, and all that night she had crouched in her most secret hiding-place, shivering and shaking with fright. The next morning Peter had found her there. She hadn’t slept a wink, and she was still too frightened to even go look for her breakfast.
“Oh, Peter Rabbit, did you hear that terrible noise last night?” she cried.
“What noise?” asked Peter, just as if he didn’t know anything about it.
“Why, that terrible voice!” cried little Miss Fuzzytail, and shivered at the thought of it.
“What was it like?” asked Peter.
“Oh, I can’t tell you,” said little Miss Fuzzy tall, “It wasn’t like anything I ever had heard before. It was something like the voice of Hooty the Owl and the voice of Dippy the Loon and the voice of a little yelping dog all in one, and it was just terrible!”
“Oh?” replied Peter, “you must mean the voice of my friend. Old Man Coyote. He came up here last night just to do me a good turn because I once did him a good turn.”
Then he told all about how Old Man Coyote had come to the Green Meadows to live, and how he was smarter than even old Granny Fox, but he didn’t tell her how he himself had once been frightened almost out of a year’s growth by that terrible voice, or that it was because he hadn’t really believed that Old Man Coyote was his friend that had led him to leave the Old Briar-patch and come up to the Old Pasture.
“Is—is he fond of Rabbits?” asked little Miss Fuzzytail.
Peter was quite sure that he was.
“And do you think he’ll come up here hunting again?” she asked.
Peter didn’t know, but he suspected that he would.
“Oh, dear,” wailed little Miss Fuzzytail. “Now, I never, never will feel safe again!”
Then Peter had a happy thought. “I tell you what,” said he, “the safest place in the world for you and me is my dear Old Briar-patch, Won’t you go there now?”
Little Miss Fuzzytail sighed and dropped a tear or two. Then she nestled up close to Peter. “Yes,” she whispered.
As soon as little Miss Fuzzytail had agreed to go with him to make her home in the dear Old Briar-patch down on the Green Meadows, Peter Rabbit fairly boiled over with impatience to start, He had had so much trouble in the Old Pasture that he was afraid if they waited too long little Miss Fuzzytail might change her mind, and if she should do that—well, Peter didn’t know what he would do.
But Peter, who always had been so happy-go-lucky, with no one to think about but himself, now felt for the first time re-sponsi-bil-ity. That’s a big word, but it is a word that everybody has to learn the meaning of sometime. Johnny Chuck learned it when he made a home for Polly Chuck in Farmer Brown’s orchard, and tried to keep it a secret, so that no harm would come to Polly. It means taking care of other people or other people’s things, and feeling that you must take even greater care than you would of yourself or your own things, So, while Peter himself would have been willing to take chances, and might even have made the journey down to the dear Old Briar-patch in broad daylight, he felt that that wouldn’t do at all for little Miss Fuzzytail; that he must avoid every possible chance of danger for her.
So Peter waited for a dark night, not too dark, you know, but a night when there was no moon to make great patches of light, but only the kindly little Stars looking down and twinkling in the friendly way they have. At last there was just such a night. All the afternoon little Miss Fuzzytail went about in the Old Pasture saying goodbye to her friends and visiting each one of her favorite little paths and hiding-places, and I suspect that in each one she dropped a tear or two, for you see she felt sure that she never would see them again, although Peter had promised that he would bring her back to the Old Pasture for a visit whenever she wanted to come.
At last it was time to start. Peter led the way. Very big and brave and strong and important he felt, and very timid and frightened felt little Miss Fuzzytail, hopping after him close at his heels. You see, she felt that she was going out into the Great World, of which she knew nothing at all.
“Oh, Peter,” she whispered, “supposing we should meet Reddy Fox! I wouldn’t know where to run or hide.”
“We are not going to meet Reddy Fox,” replied Peter, “but if we should, all you have to do is to just keep your eyes on the white patch on the seat of my trousers and follow me. I have fooled Reddy so many times that I’m not afraid of him.”
Never in all his life had Peter been so watchful and careful. That was because he felt his re-sponsi-bil-ity. Every few jumps he would stop to sit up and look and listen. Then little Miss Fuzzytail would nestle up close to him, and Peter’s heart would swell with happiness, and he would feel, oh, so proud and important. Once they heard the sharp bark of Reddy Fox, but it was a long way off, and Peter smiled, for he knew that Reddy was hunting on the edge of the Green Forest.
Once a dim shadow swept across the meadow grass ahead of them. Peter dropped flat in the grass and kept perfectly still, and little Miss Fuzzytail did just as he did, as she had promised she would.
“Wha—what was it?” she whispered.
“I think it was Hooty the Owl,” Peter whispered back, “but he didn’t see us.” After what seemed like a long, long time they heard Hooty’s fierce hunting call, but it came from way back of them on the edge of the Old Pasture. Peter hopped to his feet.
“Come on,” said he. “There’s nothing to fear from him now.”
So slowly and watchfully Peter led the way down across the Green Meadows while the little Stars looked down and twinkled in the most friendly way, and just as jolly, round, red Mr. Sun started to kick off his bedclothes behind the Purple Hills they reached the dear Old Briar-patch.
“Here we are!” cried Peter.
“Oh, I’m so glad!” cried little Miss Fuzzytail, hopping along one of Peter’s private little paths.
Of course it was Sammy Jay who first found out that Peter Rabbit was back in the dear Old Briar-patch. Sammy took it into his head to fly over there the very morning of Peter’s homecoming. Indeed, little Miss Fuzzytail hadn’t had time to half see the dear Old Briar-patch which, you know, was to be her new home, when Peter saw Sammy Jay coming. Now Peter was not quite ready to have all the world know that there was a Mrs. Peter, for of course that was what little Miss Fuzzytail was now that she had come to make her home with Peter. They wanted to keep by themselves for a little while and just be happy with each other. So as soon as Peter saw Sammy Jay headed towards the Old Briar-patch, he hid little Miss Fuzzytail under the thickest sweetbriar bush, and then hurried out to the nearest sweet-clover patch.
Of course Sammy Jay saw him right away, and of course Sammy was very much surprised.
“Hello, Peter Rabbit! Where’d you come from?” he shouted, as he settled himself comfortably in a little poplar-tree growing on the edge of the Old Briar-patch.
“Oh,” said Peter with a very grand air, “I’ve been on a long journey to see the Great World.”
“Which means,” said Sammy Jay with a chuckle, “that you’ve been in the Old Pasture all this time, and let me tell you, Peter Rabbit, the Old Pasture is a very small part of the Great World. By the way, Tommy Tit the Chickadee was down here the other day and told us all about you. He said that you had fallen in love with little Miss Fuzzytail, and he guessed that you were going to make your home up there. What’s the matter? Did her father, Old Jed Thumper, drive you out?”
“No, he didn’t!” snapped Peter angrily, “It’s none of your business what I came home for, Sammy Jay, but I’ll tell you just the same. I came home because I wanted to.”
Sammy chuckled, for he dearly loves to tease Peter and make him angry. Then the imp of mischief, who seems always to live just under that smart cap of Sammy’s, prompted him to ask: “Did you come home alone?”
Now Peter couldn’t say “yes” for that would be an untruth, and whatever faults Peter may have, he is at least truthful. So he just pretended not to have heard Sammy’s question.
Now when Sammy had asked the question he had thought nothing about it. It had just popped into his head by way of something to say. But Sammy Jay is sharp, and he noticed right away that Peter didn’t answer but began to talk about other things.
“Ha, ha!” thought Sammy to himself, “I believe he didn’t come alone, I wonder now if he brought Miss Fuzzytail with him.”
Right away Sammy began to peer down into the Old Briar-patch, twisting and turning so that he could see in every direction, and all the time talking as fast as his tongue could go. Two or three times he flew out over the Old Briar-patch, pretending to try to catch moths, but really so that he could look down into certain hiding-places. The last time that he did this he spied little Mrs. Peter, who was, you know, Miss Fuzzytail. At once Sammy Jay started for the Green Forest, screaming at the top of his voice:
“Peter Rabbit’s married! Peter Rabbit’s married!”
Peter Rabbit made a wry face as he listened to Sammy Jay shrieking at the top of his voice as he flew through the Green Forest and over the Green Meadows, “Peter Rabbit’s married!” “Peter Rabbit’s married!” He saw the Merry Little Breezes who, you know, are the children of Old Mother West Wind, start for the dear Old Briar-patch as soon as they heard Sammy Jay, and he knew that they would be only the first of a lot of visitors. He hurried to where Mrs. Peter was hiding under a sweetbriar bush.
“Do you hear what that mischief-maker, Sammy Jay, is screaming?” asked Peter.
Mrs. Peter nodded. “Don’t—don’t you think it sounds kind of—well, kind of nice, Peter?” she asked in a bashful sort of way.
Peter chuckled. “It sounds more than kind of nice to me,” said he. “Do you know, I used to think that Sammy Jay never did and never could say anything nice, but I’ve just changed my mind. Though he isn’t saying it to be nice, it really is the nicest thing I’ve ever heard him say. We haven’t been able to keep our secret, so I think the very best thing we can do is to invite everybody to call. Then we can get it over with and have a little time to ourselves. Here come the Merry Little Breezes, and I know that they will be glad to take the invitations for us.”
Mrs. Peter agreed, for she thought that anything Peter did or suggested was just about right. So the Merry Little Breezes were soon skipping and dancing over the Green Meadows and through the Green Forest with this message:
“Mr. and Mrs. Peter Rabbit will be at home in the Old Briar-patch to their friends tomorrow afternoon at shadow-time.”
“Why did you make it at shadow-time?” asked Mrs. Peter.
“Because that will give all our friends a chance to come,” replied Peter. “Those who sleep through the day will have waked up, and those who sleep through the night will not have gone to bed. Besides, it will be safer for some of the smallest of them if the Black Shadows are about for them to hide in on their way here.”
“How thoughtful you are,” said little Mrs. Peter with a little sigh of happiness.
Of course, everyone who could walk, creep, or fly headed for the Old Briar-patch the next day at shadow-time, for almost everyone knows and loves Peter Rabbit, and of course everyone was very anxious to meet Mrs. Peter. From the Smiling Pool came Billy Mink, Little Joe Otter, Jerry Muskrat, Spotty the Turtle, and old Grandfather Frog. From the Green Forest came Bobby Coon, Unc’ Billy Possum and Mrs. Possum, Prickly Porky the Porcupine, Whitefoot the Woodmouse, Happy Jack the Gray Squirrel, Chatterer the Red Squirrel, Blacky the Crow, Sammy Jay, Ol’ Mistah Buzzard, Mistah Mockingbird, and Sticky-toes the Treetoad. From the Green Meadows came Danny Meadow Mouse, Old Mr. Toad, Digger the Badger, Jimmy Skunk, and Striped Chipmunk, who lives near the old stonewall between the edge of the Green Meadows and the Green Forest. Johnny and Polly Chuck came down from the Old Orchard and Drummer the Woodpecker came from the same place.
Of course Old Man Coyote paid his respects, and when he came everybody but Prickly Porky and Digger the Badger and Jimmy Skunk made way for him with great respect. Granny and Reddy Fox and Hooty the Owl didn’t call, but they sat where they could look on and make fun. You see, Peter had fooled all three so many times that they felt none too friendly.
Very proud looked Peter as he stood under a bramble-bush with Mrs. Peter by his side and introduced her to his many friends, and very sweet and modest and retiring looked little Mrs. Peter as she sat beside him. Everybody said that she was “too sweet for anything,” and when Reddy Fox overheard that remark he grinned and said:
“Not for me! She can’t be too sweet for me, and I hope I’ll have a chance to find out just how sweet she is.”
What do you suppose he meant?
Danny Meadow Mouse waited until all the rest of Peter Rabbit’s friends had left the Old Briar-patch after paying their respects to Peter and Mrs. Peter, He waited for two reasons, did Danny Meadow Mouse. In the first place, he had seen old Granny Fox and Reddy Fox hanging about a little way off, and though they had disappeared after a while, Danny had an idea that they were not far away, but were hiding so that they might catch him on his way home. Of course, he hadn’t the slightest intention of giving them the chance. He had made up his mind to ask Peter if he might spend the night in a corner of the Old Briar-patch, and he was very sure that Peter would say he might, for he and Peter are very good friends, very good friends indeed.
The second good reason Danny had for waiting was this very friendship. You see, Peter had been away from the Green Meadows so long that Danny felt sure he couldn’t know all about how things were there now, and so he wanted to warn Peter that the Green Meadows were not nearly as safe as before Old Man Coyote had come there to live. So Danny waited, and when all the rest of the callers had left he called Peter to one side where little Mrs. Peter couldn’t hear. Danny stood up on his hind legs so as to whisper in one of Peter’s ears.
“Do you know that Old Man Coyote is the most dangerous enemy we have, Peter Rabbit? Do you know that?” he asked.
Peter Rabbit shook his head. “I don’t believe that, Danny,” said he. “His terrible voice has frightened you so that you just think him as bad as he sounds. Why, Old Man Coyote is a friend of mine.”
Then he told Danny how Old Man Coyote had done him a good turn in the Old Pasture in return for a good turn Peter had once done him, and how he said that he always paid his debts.
Danny Meadow Mouse looked doubtful. “What else did he say?” he demanded. “Nothing, excepting that we were even now,” replied Peter.
“Ha!” said Danny Meadow Mouse.
The way he said it made Peter turn to look at him sharply.
“Ha!” said Danny again. “If you are even, why you don’t owe him anything, and he doesn’t owe you anything. Watch out, Peter Rabbit! Watch out! I would stick pretty close to the Old Briar-patch with Mrs. Peter if I were you. I would indeed. You used to think old Granny Fox pretty smart, but Old Man Coyote is smarter. Yes, sir, he is smarter! And every one of the rest of us has got to be smarter than ever before to keep out of his clutches. Watch out, Peter Rabbit, if you and Old Man Coyote are even. Now, if you don’t mind, I’ll curl up in my old hiding-place for the night. I really don’t dare go back home tonight.”
Of course Peter told Danny Meadow Mouse that he was welcome to spend the night in the Old Briar-patch, and thanked Danny for his warning as he bade him good night. But Peter never carries his troubles with him for long, and by the time he had rejoined little Mrs. Peter he was very much inclined to laugh at Danny’s fear.
“What did that funny little Meadow Mouse have to say?” asked Mrs. Peter.
Peter told her and then added, “But I don’t believe we have anything to fear from Old Man Coyote. You know he is my friend.”
“But I don’t know that he is mine!” replied little Mrs. Peter, and the way she said it made Peter look at her anxiously. “I believe Danny Meadow Mouse is right,” she continued, “Oh, Peter, you will watch out, won’t you?”
And Peter promised her that he would.
Peter Rabbit didn’t mean to be heedless. No, indeed! Oh, my, no! Peter thought so much of Mrs. Peter, he meant to be so thoughtful that she never would have a thing to worry about. But Peter was heedless. He always was heedless. This is the worst of a bad habit—you can try to let go of it, but it won’t let go of you. So it was with Peter. He had been heedless so long that now he actually didn’t know when he was heedless.
When there was nobody but himself to think about, and no one to worry about him, his heedlessness didn’t so much matter. If anything had happened to him then, there would have been no one to suffer. But now all this was changed. You see, there was little Mrs. Peter. At first Peter had been perfectly content to stay with her in the dear Old Briar-patch. He had led her through all his private little paths, and they had planned where they would make two or three more. He had showed her all his secret hiding-places and the shortest way to the sweet-clover patch. He had pointed out where the Lone Little Path came down to the edge of the Green Forest and so out on to the Green Meadows. He had shown her where the Crooked Little Path came down the hill. Little Mrs. Peter had been delighted with everything, and not once had she complained of being homesick for the Old Pasture.
But after a little while Peter began to get uneasy. You see in the days before Old Man Coyote had come to live on the Green Meadows, Peter had come and gone about as he pleased. Of course he had had to watch out for Granny and Reddy Fox, but he had had to watch out for them ever since he was a baby, so he didn’t fear them very much in spite of their smartness. He felt quite as smart as they and perhaps a little bit smarter. Anyway, they never had caught him, and he didn’t believe they ever would. So he had come and gone as he pleased, and poked his nose into everybody’s business, and gossiped with everybody.
Of course it was quite natural that Peter should want to call on all his old friends and visit the Green Forest, the Old Orchard, the Laughing Brook, and the Smiling Pool. Probably Mrs. Peter wouldn’t have worried very much if it hadn’t been for the warning left by Danny Meadow Mouse.
Danny had said that Old Man Coyote was more to be feared than all the Hawk family and all the Fox family together, because he was smarter and slyer than any of them. At first Peter had looked very serious, but after Danny had gone back to his own home Peter had laughed at Danny for being so afraid, and he began to go farther and farther away from the safe Old Briar-patch.
One day he had ventured as far as halfway up the Crooked Little Path. He was thinking so hard of a surprise he was planning for little Mrs. Peter that he forgot to watch out and almost ran into Old Man Coyote before he saw him. There was a hungry look, such a hungry look in Old Man Coyote’s eyes as he grinned and said “Good morning” that Peter didn’t even stop to be polite. He remembered that Jimmy Skunk’s old house was near, and he reached it just one jump ahead of Old Man Coyote.
“I thought you said that we were friends,” panted Peter, as he heard Mr. Coyote sniffing at the doorway.
“So we were until I had paid my debt to you. Now that I’ve paid that, we are even, and it is everybody watch out for himself,” replied Old Man Coyote. “But don’t forget that I always pay my debts, Peter Rabbit.”
Peter Rabbit was glad enough to get back to the dear Old Briar-patch after his narrow escape from Old Man Coyote by dodging into Jimmy Skunk’s old house halfway up the hill. And little Mrs. Peter was glad enough to have him, you may be sure. She had been watching Peter when he so heedlessly almost ran into Old Man Coyote, and it had seemed to her as if her heart stopped beating until Peter reached the safety of that old house of Jimmy Skunk just one jump ahead. Then she saw Old Man Coyote hide in the grass near by and she was terribly, terribly afraid that Peter would be heedless again and come out, thinking that Mr. Coyote had gone.
Poor little Mrs. Peter! She was so anxious that she couldn’t sit still. She felt that she just had to do something to warn Peter. She stole out from the dear Old Briar-patch and halfway to where Old Man Coyote was hiding. He was so busy watching the doorway of the old house where Peter was hiding that he didn’t notice her at all. Little Mrs. Peter found a bunch of tall grass behind which she could sit up and still not be seen. So there she sat without moving for a long, long time, never once taking her eyes from Old Man Coyote and the doorway of the old house. By and by she saw Peter poke his nose out to see if the way was clear. Old Man Coyote saw him too, and began to grin. It was a hungry, wicked-looking grin, and it made little Mrs. Peter very, very angry indeed.
She waited just a minute longer to make sure that Peter was where he could see her, and then she thumped the ground very hard, which, you know, is the way Rabbits signal to each other. Peter heard it right away and thumped back that he would stay right where he was, though right down in his heart Peter thought that little Mrs. Peter was just nervous and foolish, for he was sure that Old Man Coyote had given up and gone away long ago.
Now of course Old Man Coyote heard those thumps, and he knew just what they meant. He knew that he never, never could catch Peter so long as Mrs. Peter was watching him and ready to warn Peter, So he came out of his hiding-place with an ugly snarl and sprang toward little Mrs. Peter just to frighten her. He laughed as he watched her run and, all breathless, dive into the dear, Old Briar-patch, and then he trotted away to his favorite napping-place.
As soon as Peter was sure that he was safe he started for home, and there little Mrs. Peter scolded him soundly for being so heedless and thoughtless.
Peter didn’t have a word to say. For a long time he sat thinking and thinking, every once in a while scratching his head as if puzzled. Little Mrs. Peter noticed it.
“What’s the matter with you, Peter?” she asked finally.
“I’m just studying what Old Man Coyote means by telling me one day that he is my friend, and proving it by doing me a good turn, and then trying to catch me the very next time he sees me. I don’t understand it,” said Peter, shaking his head.
“Oh, you dear old stupid!” replied little Mrs. Peter. “Now, you listen to me. You did Old Man Coyote a good turn and he paid you back by doing you a good turn. That made you even, didn’t it?”
“Well, then you are right back where you started from, and Old Man Coyote doesn’t see any reason why he should treat you any differently than at first, and I don’t see why he should either, when I come to think it over. I tell you what, Peter, the thing for you to do is to keep doing good turns to Old Man Coyote so that he will always be in debt to you. Then he will always be your friend.”
As little Mrs. Peter stopped speaking, Peter sprang to his feet. “The very thing!” he cried. “It’s sort of a Golden Rule, and I do believe it will work.”
“Of course it will,” replied little Mrs. Peter.
Mistah Mocker the Mockingbird had been very late in coming up to the Green Meadows from way down South. The truth is, he had almost decided not to come. You see, he loves the sunny southland so much, and all who live there love him so much, that if it hadn’t been for Unc’ Billy Possum and Ol’ Mistah Buzzard he never, never would have thought of leaving, even for a little while. Unc’ Billy and Ol’ Mistah Buzzard are particular friends of his, very particular friends, and he felt that he just had to come up for a little visit.
Now Mistah Mocker reached the Green Meadows just after Peter Rabbit had brought little Mrs. Peter down from the Old Pasture to live with him in the dear Old Briar-patch. He knew that little Mrs. Peter didn’t know anything about him, for he never had visited the Old Pasture where she had spent her life. But he knew all the bird people who do live there, for he had met them in the sunny southland, where they spent the winter.
“I believe I’ll go pay my respects to Mrs. Peter,” said Mistah Mocker one day, winking at Ol’ Mistah Buzzard. Ol’ Mistah Buzzard chuckled and winked back.
“Ah cert’nly hopes yo’all will behave yo’self right proper and not forget that yo’ is a member of one of the oldest families in the Souf,” said he.
Mistah Mocker looked quite solemn as he promised to behave himself, but there was a twinkle in his eyes as he flew toward the Old Briar-patch. There he hid in a thick tangle of vines. Now it happened that Peter Rabbit had gone over to the sweet-clover patch, and little Mrs. Peter was quite alone. Somehow she got to thinking of her old home, and for the first time she began to feel just a wee, wee bit homesick. It was just then that she heard a familiar voice. Little Mrs. Peter pricked up her ears and smiled happily.
“That’s the voice of Tommy Tit the Chickadee, and it must be that his wife is with him, for I hear him calling ‘Phoebe! Phoebe!’ How lovely of them to come down to see me so soon.”
Just then she heard another voice, a deep, beautiful, ringing voice, a voice that she loved. It was the voice of Veery the Thrush. “Oh!” cried little Mrs. Peter, and then held her breath so as not to miss one note of the beautiful song. Hardly had the song ended when she heard the familiar voice of Redeye the Vireo. Little Mrs. Peter clapped her hands happily. “It must be a surprise party by my old friends and neighbors of the Old Pasture!” she cried. “How good of them to come way down here, and how glad I shall be to see them!”
With that little Mrs. Peter hurried over to the tangle of vines from which all the voices seemed to come and eagerly peered this way and that way for a sight of her friends. But all she saw was a stranger wearing a very sober-colored suit. He was very polite and told her that he was an old friend of Peter Rabbit.
“If you are a friend of Peter, then you are a friend of mine.” said little Mrs. Peter very prettily. “Have you seen anybody in this tangle of vines since you arrived? I am sure some friends of mine are here, but I haven’t been able to find them.”
“No,” said the stranger, who was, of course, Mistah Mocker the Mockingbird. “I haven’t seen anyone here, and I don’t think there has been anyone here but myself.”
“Oh, yes, indeed there has!” cried little Mrs. Peter. “I heard their voices, and I couldn’t possibly be mistaken in those, especially the beautiful voice of Veery the Thrush, I—I would like very much to find them.”
Mistah Mocker had the grace to look ashamed of himself when saw how disappointed little Mrs. Peter was. Very softly he began to sing the song of Veery the Thrush.
Little Mrs. Peter looked up quickly. “There it is!” she cried. “There”—she stopped with her mouth gaping wide open. She suddenly realized that it was Mistah Mocker who was singing.
“I—I’m very sorry,” he stammered. “I did it just for a joke and not to make you feel bad. Will you forgive me?”
“Yes,” replied little Mrs. Peter, “if you will come here often at shadow-time and sing to me.” And Mistah Mocker promised that he would.
Jenny Wren is a busybody. Yes, sir, she certainly is a busybody. If there is anything going on in her neighborhood that she doesn’t know about, it isn’t because she doesn’t try to find out. She is so small and spry that it is hard work to keep track of her, and she pops out at the most unexpected times and places. Then, before you can say a word, she is gone.
And in all the Old Orchard or on the Green Meadows there is not to be found another tongue so busy as that of Jenny Wren. It is sharp sometimes, but when she wants it to be so there is none smoother. You see she is a great gossip, is Jenny Wren, a great gossip. But if you get on the right side of Jenny Wren and ask her to keep a secret, she’ll do it. No one knows how to keep a secret better than she does.
How it happened nobody knows, but it did happen that when Peter Rabbit came home to the clear Old Briar-patch, bringing Mrs. Peter with him, Jenny Wren didn’t hear about it. Probably it was because the new home which she had just completed was so carefully hidden that the messengers sent by Peter to invite all his friends to call didn’t find it, and afterward she was so busy with household affairs that she didn’t have time to gossip. Anyway, Peter had been back some time before Jenny Wren knew it. She was quite upset to think that she was the last to hear the news, but she consoled herself with the thought that she had been attending strictly to her duties, and now that her children were able to look out for themselves she could make up for lost time.
Just as soon as she could get away, she started for the Old Briar-patch. She wanted to hear all about Peter’s adventures in the Old Pasture and to meet Mrs. Peter. But like a great many other busybodies, she wanted to find out all she could about Peter’s affairs, and she thought that the surest way to do it was not to let Peter know that she was about until she had had a chance to use her sharp little eyes all she wanted to. So when she reached the Old Briar-patch, she didn’t make a sound. It didn’t take her long to find Peter. He was sitting under one of his favorite bramble-bushes smiling to himself. He smiled and smiled until Jenny Wren had to bite her tongue to keep from asking what was pleasing him so.
“He looks tickled almost to death over something, but very likely if I should ask him what it is he wouldn’t tell me,” thought Jenny Wren. “I guess I’ll look around a bit first. I wonder where Mrs. Peter is.”
So leaving Peter to smile to his heart’s content, she went peeking and peering through the Old Briar-patch. Of course it wasn’t a nice thing to do, not a bit nice. But Jenny Wren didn’t stop to think of that. By and by she saw something that made her flutter all over with excitement. She looked and looked until she could sit still no longer. Then she hurried back to where Peter was sitting. He was still smiling.
“Oh, Peter Rabbit, it’s perfectly lovely!” she cried.
Peter looked up quickly, and a worried look chased the smile away. “Hello, Jenny Wren! Where did you come from? I haven’t seen you since I got back,” said he.
“I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had time to call before,” replied Jenny. “I know what you’ve been smiling about, Peter, and it’s perfectly splendid. Has everybody heard the news?”
“No,” said Peter, “nobody knows it but you, and I don’t want anybody else to know it just yet. Will you keep it a secret, Jenny Wren?”
Now Jenny was just bursting with desire to spread the news, but Peter looked so anxious that finally she promised that she would keep it to herself, and she really meant to. But though Peter looked greatly relieved as he watched her start for home, he didn’t smile as he had before. “I wish her tongue didn’t wag so much,” said he.
On her way home from the Old Briar-patch, Jenny Wren stopped to rest in a bush beside the Crooked Little Path that comes down the hill, when who should come along but Jimmy Skunk. Now just as usual Jenny Wren was fidgeting and fussing about, and Jimmy Skunk grinned as he watched her.
“Hello, Jenny Wren!” said he. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m resting on my way home from the Old Briar-patch, if you must know, Jimmy Skunk!” replied Jenny Wren, changing her position half a dozen times while she was speaking.
“Ho, ho, ho!” laughed Jimmy Skunk. “Do you call that resting! That’s a joke, Jenny Wren. Resting! Why, you couldn’t sit still and rest if you tried!”
“I could so! I’m resting right now, so there, Jimmy Skunk!” protested Jenny Wren in a very indignant tone of voice, and hopped all over the little bush while she was speaking. “I guess if you knew what I know, you’d be excited too.”
“Well, I guess the quickest way for me to know is for you to tell me,” replied Jimmy. “I’m just aching to be excited.”
Jimmy grinned, for you know Jimmy Skunk never does get excited and never hurries, no matter what happens.
“You’ll have to keep right on aching then,” replied Jenny Wren, with a saucy flirt of her funny little tail. “There’s great news in the Old Briar-patch, and I’m the only one that knows it, but I’ve promised not to tell.”
Jimmy pricked up his ears. “News in the Old Briar-patch must have something to do with Peter Rabbit,” said he. “What has Peter done now?”
“I’ll never tell! I’ll never tell!” cried Jenny Wren, growing so excited that it seemed to Jimmy as if there was danger that she would turn herself inside out. “I promised not to and I never will!” Then, for fear that she would in spite of herself, she flew on her way home.
Jimmy watched her out of sight with a puzzled frown. “If I didn’t know that she gets so terribly excited over nothing, I’d think that there really is some news in the Old Briar-patch,” he muttered to himself. “Anyway, I haven’t anything better to do, so I believe I’ll drop around that way and make Peter Rabbit a call.”
He found Peter in some sweet clover just outside the Old Briar-patch, and it struck Jimmy that Peter looked uncommonly happy. He said as much.
“I am,” replied Peter, before he thought. Then he added hastily, “You see, I’ve been uncommonly happy ever since I returned with Mrs. Peter from the Old Pasture.”
“But I hear there’s great news over here in the Old Briar-patch,” persisted Jimmy Skunk. “What is it, Peter?”
Peter pretended to be very much surprised. “Great news!” he repeated. “Great news! Why, what news can there be over here? Who told you that?”
“A little bird told me,” replied Jimmy slyly.
“It must have been Jenny Wren!” said Peter, once more speaking before he thought.
“Then there is news over here!” cried Jimmy triumphantly. “What is it, Peter?”
But Peter shook his head as if he hadn’t the slightest idea and couldn’t imagine. Jimmy coaxed and teased, but all in vain. Finally he started for home no wiser than before.
“Just the same, I believe that Jenny Wren told the truth and that there is news over in the Old Briar-patch,” he muttered to himself. “Something has happened over there, and Peter won’t tell. I wonder what it can be.”
Of course Jenny Wren didn’t mean to tell the secret of the Old Briar-patch, because she had promised Peter Rabbit that she wouldn’t. But she didn’t see any harm in telling everyone she met that there was a secret there, at least that there was great news there, and so, because Jenny Wren is a great gossip, it wasn’t long before all the little people on the Green Meadows and in the Green Forest and around the Smiling Pool had heard it and were wondering what the news could be.
After Jimmy Skunk’s visit came a whole string of visitors to the Old Briar-patch. One would hardly have left before another would appear. Each one tried to act as if he had just happened around that way and didn’t want to pass Peter’s home without making a call, but each one asked so many questions that Peter knew what had really brought him there was the desire to find out what the news in the Old Briar-patch could be. But Peter was too smart for them, and they all went away no wiser than they came, that is, all but one, and that one was Reddy Fox.
There isn’t much going on in the Green Forest or on the Green Meadows that Reddy doesn’t know about. He is sly, is Reddy Fox, and his eyes are sharp and his ears are keen, so little happens that he doesn’t see or hear about. Of course he heard the foolish gossip of Jenny Wren and he pricked up his ears.
“So there’s news down in the Old Briar-patch, is there? A secret that Jenny Wren won’t tell? I think I’ll trot down there and make Peter a call. Of course he’ll be glad to see me.”
Reddy grinned wickedly as he said this to himself, for he knew that there was no one for whom Peter Rabbit had less love, unless it was old Granny Fox.
So Reddy trotted down to the Old Briar-patch. Peter saw him coming and scowled, for he guessed right away what Reddy was coming for, and he made ready to answer all Reddy’s questions and still tell him nothing, as he had with all the others who had called.
But Reddy asked no questions. He didn’t once mention the fact that he had heard there was news in the Old Briar-patch. He didn’t once speak of Jenny Wren. He just talked about the weather and the Old Pasture, where Peter had made such a long visit, and all the time was as pleasant and polite as if he and Peter were the dearest of friends.
But while he was talking, Reddy was using those sharp eyes and those keen ears of his the best he knew how. But the Old Briar-patch was very thick, and he could see only a little way into it, and out of it came no sound to hint of a secret there. Then Reddy began to walk around the Old Briar-patch in quite the most matter-of-fact way, but as he walked that wonderful nose of his was testing every little breath of air that came out of the Old Briar-patch. At last he reached a certain place where a little stronger breath of air tickled his nose. He stopped for a few minutes, and slowly a smile grew and grew. Then, without saying a word, he turned and trotted back towards the Green Forest.
Peter Rabbit watched him go. Then he joined Mrs. Peter in the heart of the Old Briar-patch. “My dear,” he said, with a sigh that was almost a sob, “Reddy Fox has found out our secret.”
“Never mind,” said little Mrs. Peter brightly. “It would have to be found out soon, anyway.”
Trotting back up the Lone Little Path, Reddy Fox was grinning broadly. “It is news!” said he. “Jenny Wren was right, it is news! But I don’t believe anybody else knows it yet, and I hope they won’t find it out right away, least of all Old Man Coyote. What a wonderful thing a good nose is! It tells me what my eyes cannot see nor my ears hear.”
That is what a lot of people say about Blacky the Crow. Of course it is true that Blacky does get into a lot of mischief, but if people really knew him they would find that he isn’t as black as he looks. In fact, Blacky the Crow does a whole lot of good in his own peculiar way, but people are always looking for him to do bad things, and you know you most always see what you expect to see. Thus the good Blacky does isn’t seen, while the bad is, and so he has grown to have a reputation blacker than the coat he wears.
But this doesn’t worry Blacky the Crow. No, sir, it doesn’t worry him a bit. You see he has grown used to it. And then he is so smart that he is never afraid of being caught when he does do wrong things. No one has sharper eyes than Blacky, and no one knows better how to use them. There is very little going on in the Green Forest or on the Green Meadows that he misses when he is about.
The day after Reddy Fox visited the Old Briar-patch and with his wonderful nose found out Peter Rabbit’s secret, Blacky just happened to fly over the Old Briar-patch on his way to Farmer Brown’s cornfield. Now, being over the Old Briar-patch, he could look right down into it and see all through it. Just as he reached it, he remembered having heard Sammy Jay say something about gossipy little Jenny Wren’s having said that there was great news there. He hadn’t thought much about it at the time, but now that he was right there, he might as well have a look for himself and see if there was any truth in it.
So Blacky the Crow flew a little lower, and his sharp eyes looked this way and that way through all the bramble-bushes of the Old Briar-patch. He saw Peter Rabbit right away and winked at him. He thought Peter looked worried and anxious.
“Peter must have something on his mind,” thought Blacky. “I wonder where Mrs. Peter is.”
Just then he caught sight of her under the thickest growing sweetbriar bush. He had opened his mouth to shout, “Hello, Mrs. Peter,” when he saw something that surprised him so that he didn’t speak at all. He almost forgot to flap his wings to keep himself in the air. He hovered right where he was for a few minutes, looking down through the brambles. Then with a hoarse chuckle, he started for the Smiling Pool, forgetting all about Farmer Brown’s cornfield. “Caw, caw, caw!” he shrieked, “Peter Rabbit’s got a family! Peter Rabbit’s got a family!”
Reddy Fox heard him and ground his teeth. “Now Old Man Coyote will know and will try to catch those young Rabbits, when they ought to be mine because I found out about them first,” he grumbled.
Jimmy Skunk heard Blacky and grinned broadly. “So that’s the great news Jenny Wren found out!” said he. “I hope Peter will take better care of his babies than he ever has of himself. I must call at once.”
Redtail the Hawk heard, and he smiled too, but it wasn’t a kindly smile like Jimmy Skunk’s. “I think young Rabbit will taste very good for a change,” said he.
The news was out at last, thanks to Blacky the Crow. Peter Rabbit had a family! Yes, sir, Peter Rabbit had a family! Right away the Old Briar-patch became the most interesting place on the Green Meadows to all the little people who live there and in the nearby Green Forest. Of course all of Peter’s friends called as soon as ever they could. They found Peter looking very proud, and very important, and very happy. Mrs. Peter looked just as proud, and just as happy, but she also looked very anxious. You see, while she was very glad to have so many friends call, there were also other visitors. That is, they were not exactly callers, but they hung around the outside of the Old Briar-patch, and they seemed quite as much interested as the friends who really called. Indeed, they seemed more interested.
Who were they? Why, Reddy Fox was one. Then there was Old Man Coyote, also Redtail the Hawk and Digger the Badger, and just at dusk Hooty the Owl. They all seemed very much interested indeed, but every time little Mrs. Peter saw them, she shivered. You see, she couldn’t help thinking that there was a dreadful, hungry look in their eyes, and if the truth is to be told, there probably was.
But happy-go-lucky Peter Rabbit didn’t let this worry him. Hadn’t he grown up from a teeny-weeny baby and been smart enough to escape all these dangers which worried Mrs. Peter so? And if he could do it, of course his own babies could do it, with him to teach them and show them how. Besides, they were too little to go outside of the Old Briar-patch now. Indeed, they were too little to go outside their nursery, which was in a clump of sweetbriar bushes in the very middle of the Old Briar-patch, and Peter felt that there they were perfectly safe.
“It isn’t time to worry yet,” said Peter to little Mrs. Peter, as he saw the fright in her eyes as the shadow of Redtail passed over them. “I don’t believe in borrowing trouble. Time enough to worry when there is something to worry about, and that won’t be until these little scallawags of ours are big enough to run around and get into mischief. Did you ever see such beautiful babies in all your life?”
For a minute the worried look left little Mrs. Peter, and she gazed at the four little helpless babies fondly. “No,” she replied softly, “I never did. Oh, Peter, they are perfectly lovely! This one is the perfect image of you, and I’m going to call him Little Pete. And don’t you think his brother looks like his grandfather? I think we’ll call him Little Jed.”
Peter coughed behind his hand as if something had stuck in his throat. He had no love for Little Jed’s grandfather, Old Jed Thumper, the big, gray, old Rabbit who had tried so hard to drive him from the Old Pasture, but he didn’t say anything. If Mrs. Peter wanted to name this one Little Jed, he wouldn’t say a word. Aloud he said:
“I think, my dear, that this one looks just as you must have looked when you were little, and so we’ll call her Fuzzy. And her sister we’ll call Wuzzy,” continued Peter. “Was ever there such a splendid nursery for baby Rabbits?”
“I don’t believe there ever was, Peter. It’s better than my old nursery in the Old Pasture,” replied little Mrs. Peter, as with a sigh of perfect happiness she stretched out beside their four babies.
And Peter softly tiptoed away to the nearest sweet-clover patch with his heart almost bursting with pride.
Of the doings of Peter and Mrs. Peter Rabbit and their four children there are many more stories, so many that one book will not hold all of them. Besides, Bowser the Hound insists that I must write a book about him, and I have promised to do it right away. So the next book will be Bowser the Hound.
Old Man Coyote is full of tricks. People with such clever wits as his usually are full of tricks. On the other hand Bowser the Hound isn’t tricky at all. He just goes straight ahead with the thing he has to do and does it in the most earnest way. Not being tricky himself, he sometimes forgets to watch out for tricks in others.
One day he found the fresh trail of Old Man Coyote and made up his mind that he would run down Old Man Coyote if he had to run his legs off to do it. He always makes up his mind like that whenever he starts out to hunt. You know there is nothing in the world Bowser enjoys quite so much as to hunt someone who will give him a long, hard run. Any time he will go without eating for the pleasure of chasing Reddy or Granny Fox, or Old Man Coyote.
Now Old Man Coyote was annoyed. He was and he wasn’t afraid of Bowser the Hound. That is to say he was afraid to fight Bowser, but he wasn’t afraid to be hunted by Bowser, because he was so sure that he was smart enough to get away from Bowser. If Bowser had appeared at almost any other time Old Man Coyote wouldn’t have been so annoyed. But to have Bowser appear just then made him angry clear through. You see he had just started out to get his dinner.
“What business has that good-for-nothing dog over here anyway, I’d like to know,” he muttered, as he ran swiftly through the Green Forest. “What right has he to meddle in other folks’ business? I’ll just teach that fellow a lesson; that’s what I’ll do! I’ll teach him that he can’t interfere with me not be sorry for it.”
So Old Man Coyote ran and ran and ran, and never once did he try to break his trail. In fact, he took pains to leave a trail that Bowser could follow easily. After him Bowser ran and ran and ran, and all the time his great voice rang out joyously. This was the kind of a hunt he loved. Out of the Green Forest into the Old Pasture, Old Man Coyote led Bowser the Hound. Across the Old Pasture and out on the other side they raced. Farther and farther away from home Old Man Coyote led Bowser the Hound. Instead of circling back as usual, he kept on. Bowser kept on after him. By and by he was in strange country, country he had never visited before. He didn’t notice this. He didn’t notice anything but the splendid trail Old Man Coyote was making. He didn’t even realize that he was getting tired. Always in his nose was the tantalizing scent of Old Man Coyote. Bowser was sure that this time he would catch this fellow who had fooled him so often before.
There is such a thing as being too much interested in the thing you are doing. That is the way accidents very often happen. A person will get so interested in something that he will be blind and deaf to everything else, and so will walk straight into danger or trouble of some kind.
Now just take the case of Bowser the Hound. Bowser was so interested in the chase of Old Man Coyote that he paid no attention whatever to anything but the warm scent of Old Man Coyote which the latter was taking pains to leave. Bowser ran with his nose in Old Man Coyote’s tracks and never looked either to left or right. He would lift his head only to look straight ahead in the hope of seeing Old Man Coyote. Then down would go his nose again to follow that scent.
So Bowser didn’t notice that Old Man Coyote was leading him far, far away from home into country with which he was quite unacquainted. Bowser has a great, deep, wonderful voice which can be heard a very long distance when he bays on the tracks of someone he is hunting. It can be heard a very long distance indeed. But far as it can be heard, Bowser was far, far beyond hearing distance from Farmer Brown’s house before Old Man Coyote began to even think of playing one of his clever tricks in order to make Bowser lose his scent. You see, Old Man Coyote intended to lead Bowser into strange country and there lose him, hoping that he would not be able to find the way home.
Old Man Coyote is himself a tireless runner. He is not so heavy as is Bowser, so does not tire as easily. Then, too, he had not wasted his breath as had Bowser with his steady baying. Old Man Coyote could tell by the sound of Bowser’s voice when the latter was beginning to grow tired, and he could tell by the fact that he often had a moment or two to sit down and rest before Bowser got dangerously near.
So at last Old Man Coyote decided that the time had come to play a trick. By and by he came to a river. At that point there was a high, overhanging bank. On the very edge of this bank Old Man Coyote made a long leap to one side. Then he made another long leap to the big trunk of a fallen tree. He ran along this and from the end of it made still another long leap, as long a leap as he could. Then he hid in a little thicket to see what would happen.
Bowser was very, very tired. He wouldn’t admit it even to himself, for when he is hunting he will keep on until he drops if his wonderful nose can still catch the scent of the one he is following. Bowser is wonderfully persistent. So, though he was very, very tired, he kept his nose to the ground and tried to run even faster, for the scent of Old Man Coyote was so strong that Bowser felt sure he would soon catch him.
Bowser didn’t look to see where he was going. He didn’t care. It was enough for him to know that Old Man Coyote had gone that way, and where Old Man Coyote could go Bowser felt sure he could follow. So, still baying with all his might and making the hills ring with the sound of his great voice, Bowser kept on.
Hidden in a little thicket, stretched out so that he might rest better, Old Man Coyote listened to that great voice drawing nearer and nearer. There was a wicked grin on Old Man Coyote’s face, and in his yellow eyes a look of great eagerness. In a few minutes Bowser came in sight, his nose in the trail Old Man Coyote had left. Into Bowser’s voice crept a new note of eagerness as his nose picked up the scent stronger than ever. Straight on he raced and it seemed as if he had gained new strength. His whole thought was on just one thing—catching Old Man Coyote, and Old Man Coyote knew it.
Bowser didn’t see that he was coming to a steep bank. He didn’t see it at all until he reached the edge of it, and then he was going so fast that he couldn’t stop. Over he went with a frightened yelp! Down, down he fell, and landed with a thump on the ice below. He landed so hard that he broke the ice, and went through into the cold, black water.
Old Man Coyote crept to the edge of the bank and peeped over. Poor Bowser was having a terrible time. You see, the cold water had taken what little breath his fall had not knocked out of him. He doesn’t like to go in water anyway. You know the hair of his coat is short and doesn’t protect him as it would if it were long. Old Man Coyote grinned wickedly as he watched Bowser struggling feebly to climb out on the ice. Each time he tried he slipped back, and all the time he was whimpering.
Old Man Coyote grinned more wickedly than ever. I suspect that he hoped that Bowser would not be able to get out. But after a little Bowser did manage to crawl out, and stood on the ice, shivering and shaking. Once more Old Man Coyote grinned, then, turning, he trotted back towards Farmer Brown’s.
Poor Bowser! He stood shivering and shaking on the ice of the strange river to which Old Man Coyote had led him, and he knew not which way to turn. Not only was he shivering and shaking from his cold bath, but he was bruised by his fall from the top of the steep bank, and he was so tired by his long run after Old Man Coyote that he could hardly stand.
Old Man Coyote had stayed only long enough to see that Bowser had managed to get out of the water, then had turned back towards the Old Pasture, the Green Meadows and the Green Forest near Farmer Brown’s. You see, Old Man Coyote knew the way back. He would take his time about getting there, for it really made no particular difference to him when he reached home. He felt sure he would be able to find something to eat on the way.
But with Bowser it was very different. Poor Bowser didn’t know where he was. It would have been bad enough under any circumstances to have been lost, but to be lost and at the same time tired almost to death, bruised and lame, wet and chilled through, was almost too much to bear. He hadn’t the least idea which way to turn. He couldn’t climb up the bank to find his own trail and follow it back home if he wanted to. You see, that bank was very steep for some distance in each direction, and so it was impossible for Bowser to climb it.
For a few minutes he stood shivering, shaking and whimpering, not knowing which way to turn. Then he started down the river on the ice, for he knew he would freeze if he continued to stand still. He limped badly because one leg had been hurt in his fall. After a while he came to a place where he could get up on the bank. It was in the midst of deep woods and a very, very lonely place. Hard crusted snow covered the ground, but it was better than walking on the ice and for this Bowser was thankful.
Which way should he turn? Where should he go? Night was coming on; he was wet, cold and hungry, and as utterly lost as ever a dog was. Poor Bowser! For a minute or two he sat down and howled from sheer lonesomeness and discouragement. How he did wish he had left Old Man Coyote alone! How he did long for his snug, warm, little house in Farmer Brown’s dooryard, and for the good meal he knew was awaiting him there. Now that the excitement of the hunt was over, he realized how very, very hungry he was, and he began to wonder where he would be able to get anything to eat. Do you wonder that he howled?
Old Man Coyote, trotting along on his way home, heard that howl and understood it. Again he grinned that wicked grin of his, and stopped to listen. “I don’t think he’ll hunt me again in a hurry,” he muttered, then trotted on. Poor Bowser! Hunting for anything but his home was farthest from his thoughts.
Bowser was lost, utterly lost. He hadn’t the least idea in which direction Farmer Brown’s house was. In fact he hadn’t the least idea which way to turn to find any house. It was the most lonely kind of a lonely place to which Old Man Coyote had led him and there played the trick on him which had caused him to tumble into the strange river.
But Bowser couldn’t stand still for long. Already jolly, round, red Mr. Sun was going to bed behind the Purple Hills, and Bowser knew that cold as had been the day, the night would be still colder. He must keep moving until he found a shelter. If he didn’t he would freeze. So whimpering and whining, Bowser limped along.
Bowser was not afraid to be out at night as some folks are. Goodness, no! In fact, on many a moonlight night Bowser had hunted Reddy Fox or Granny Fox all night long. Never once had he felt lonesome then. But now it was very, very different. You see, on those nights when he had hunted he always had known where he was. He had known that at any time he could go straight home if he wanted to. That made all the difference in the world.
It would have been bad enough, being lost this way, had he been feeling at his best. Being lost always makes one feel terribly lonesome. Lonesomeness is one of the worst parts of the feeling of being lost. But added to this was the fact that Bowser was really not in fit condition to be out at all. He was wet, tired, lame and hungry. Do you wonder that he whimpered and whined as he limped along over the hard snow, and hadn’t the least idea whether he was headed towards home or deeper into the great woods?
For a long time he kept on until it seemed to him he couldn’t drag one foot after another. Then quite suddenly something big and dark loomed up in front of him. It really wasn’t as big as it seemed. It was a little house, a sugar camp, just such a one as Farmer Brown has near his home. Bowser crept to the door. It was closed. Bowser sniffed and sniffed and his heart sank, for there was no scent of human beings. Then he knew that that little house was deserted and empty. Still he whined and scratched at the door. By and by the door opened ever so little, for it had not been locked.
Bowser crept in. In one corner he found some hay, and in this he curled up. It was cold, very cold, but not nearly as cold as outside that little house. So Bowser curled up in the hay and shivered and shook and slept a little and wished with all his might that he never had found the tracks of Old Man Coyote.
At all seasons of the year Blacky the Crow is something of a traveler. But in winter he is much more of a traveler than in summer. You see, in winter it is not nearly so easy to pick up a living. Food is quite as scarce for Blacky the Crow in winter as for any of the other little people who neither sleep the winter away nor go south. All of the feathered folks have to work and work hard to find food enough to keep them warm. You know it is food that makes heat in the body.
So in the winter Blacky is in the habit of flying long distances in search of food. He often goes some miles from the thick hemlock-tree in the Green Forest where he spends his nights. You may see him starting out early in the morning and returning late in the afternoon.
Now Blacky knew all about that river into which Bowser the Hound had fallen. There was a certain place on that river where Jack Frost never did succeed in making ice. Sometimes things good to eat would be washed up along the edge of this open place. Blacky visited it regularly. He was on the way there now, flying low over the treetops.
Presently he came to a little opening among the trees. In the middle of it was a little house, a rough little house. Blacky knew all about it. It was a sugar camp. He knew that only in the spring of the year was he likely to find anybody about there. All the rest of the year it was shut up. Every time he passed that way Blacky flew over it. Blacky’s eyes are very sharp indeed, as everybody knows. Now, as he drew near, he noticed right away that the door was partly open. It hadn’t been that way the last time he passed.
“Ho!” exclaimed Blacky. “I wonder if the wind blew that open, or if there is someone inside. I think I’ll watch a while.”
So Blacky flew to the top of a tall tree from which he could look all over the little clearing and could watch the door of the little house.
For a long time he sat there as silent as the trees themselves. Nothing happened. He began to grow tired. Rather, he began to grow so hungry that he became impatient. “If there is anybody in there he must be asleep,” muttered Blacky to himself. “I’ll see if I can wake him up. Caw, caw, ca-a-w, caw, caw!”
Blacky waited a few minutes, then repeated his cry. He did this three times and had just made up his mind that there was nobody inside that little house when a head appeared in the doorway. Blacky was so surprised that he nearly fell from his perch.
“As I live,” he muttered, “that is Bowser the Hound! It certainly is. Now what is he doing way over here? I’ve never known him to go so far from home before.”
“Caw, ca-a-w!” exclaimed Blacky the Crow. Bowser looked up to the top of the tall tree where Blacky sat, and in his great, soft eyes was such a look of friendliness that it gave Blacky a funny feeling. You know Blacky is not used to friendly looks. He is used to quite the other kind. Bowser came out of the old sugar house where he had spent the night and whined softly as he looked up at Blacky, and as he whined he wagged his tail ever so slightly. Blacky didn’t know what to make of it. He had never been more surprised in his life. He didn’t know which surprised him most, finding Bowser ’way over here where he had no business to be, or Bowser’s friendliness.
As for Bowser, he had spent such a forlorn, miserable night, and he was so terribly lonesome, that the very sound of Blacky’s voice had given him a queer thrill. Never had he thought of Blacky the Crow as a friend. In fact, he never thought much about Blacky at all. Sometimes he had chased Blacky out of Farmer Brown’s cornfield early in the spring but that is all he ever had had to do with him. Now, however, lonesome and lost as he was, the sound of a familiar voice made him tingle all over with a friendly feeling. So he whined softly and wagged his tail feebly as he looked up at Blacky sitting in the top of a tall tree. Presently Bowser limped out to the middle of the little clearing and turned first this way and then that way. Then he sat down and howled dismally. In an instant Blacky the Crow understood; Bowser was lost.
“So that’s the trouble,” muttered Blacky to himself. “That silly dog has got himself lost. I never will be able to understand how anybody can get lost. I never in my life was lost, and never expect to be. But it is easy enough to see that Bowser is lost and badly lost. My goodness, how lame he is! I wonder what’s happened to him. Serves him right for hunting other people, but I’m sorry for him just the same. What a helpless creature a lost dog is, anyway. I suppose if he doesn’t find a house pretty soon he will starve to death. Old Man Coyote wouldn’t. Reddy Fox wouldn’t. They would catch something to eat, no matter where they were. I suppose they wouldn’t thank me for doing it, but just the same I think I’ll take pity on Bowser and help him out of his trouble.”
When Blacky the Crow said to himself that he guessed he would take pity on Bowser and help him out of his trouble, he knew that he could do it without very much trouble to himself. Perhaps if there had been very much trouble in it, Blacky would not have been quite so ready and willing. Then again, perhaps it isn’t fair to Blacky to think that he might not have been willing. Even the most selfish people are sometimes kindly and unselfish.
Blacky knew just where the nearest house was. You can always trust Blacky to know not only where every house is within sight of the places he frequents, but all about the people who live in each house. Blacky makes it his business to know these things. He could, if he would, tell you which houses have terrible guns in them and which have not. It is by knowing such things that Blacky manages to avoid danger.
“If that dog knows enough to follow me, I’ll take him where he can at least get something to eat,” muttered Blacky. “It won’t be far out of my way, anyway, because if he has any sense at all, I won’t have to go all the way over there.”
So Blacky spread his black wings and disappeared over the treetops in the direction of the nearest farmhouse.
Bowser watched him disappear and whined sadly, for somehow it made him feel more lonesome than before. But for one thing he would have gone back to his bed of hay in the corner of that sugar camp. That one thing was hunger. It seemed to Bowser that his stomach was so empty that the very sides of it had fallen in. He just must get something to eat.
So, after waiting a moment or two, Bowser turned and limped away through the trees, and he limped in the direction which Blacky the Crow had taken. You see, he could still hear Blacky’s voice calling “Caw, caw, caw,” and somehow it made him feel better, less lonesome, you know, to be within hearing of a voice he knew.
Bowser had to go on three legs, for one leg had been so hurt in the fall over the bank that he could not put his foot to the ground. Then, too, he was very, very stiff from the cold and the wetting he had received the night before. So poor Bowser made slow work of it, and Blacky the Crow almost lost patience waiting for him to appear.
As soon as Bowser came in sight, Blacky gave what was intended for a cheery caw and then headed straight for the place he had started for that morning, giving no more thought to Bowser the Hound. You see, he knew that Bowser would shortly come to a road. “If he doesn’t know enough to follow that road, he deserves to starve,” thought Blacky.
Bowser did know enough to follow that road. The instant he saw that road, he knew that if he kept on following it, it would lead him somewhere. So with new hope in his heart, Bowser limped along.
After leading Bowser the Hound far, far away and getting him lost in strange country, Old Man Coyote trotted back to the Old Pasture, the Green Forest, and the Green Meadows near Farmer Brown’s. He didn’t have any trouble at all in finding his way back. You see, all the time he was leading Bowser away, he himself was using his eyes and taking note of where he was going. You can’t lose Old Man Coyote. No, sir, you can’t lose Old Man Coyote, and it is of no use to try.
So, stopping two or three times to hunt a little by the way, Old Man Coyote trotted back. He managed to pick up a good meal on the way, and when at last he reached his home in the Old Pasture he was feeling very well satisfied with the Great World in general and himself in particular.
He grinned as only Old Man Coyote can grin. “I don’t think any of us will be bothered by that meddlesome Bowser very soon again,” said he, as he crept into his house for a nap. “If he had drowned in that river, I shouldn’t have cried over it. But even as it is, I don’t think he will get back here in a hurry. I must pass the word along.”
So a day or so later, when Sammy Jay happened along, Old Man Coyote asked him, in quite a matter-of-fact way, if he had seen anything of Bowser the Hound for a day or two.
“Why do you ask?” said Sammy sharply.
Old Man Coyote grinned slyly. “For no reason at all, Sammy. For no reason at all,” he replied. “It just popped into my head that I hadn’t heard Bowser’s voice for two or three days. It set me to wondering if he is sick, or if anything has happened to him.”
That was enough to start Sammy Jay straight for Farmer Brown’s dooryard. Of course Bowser wasn’t to be seen. Sammy hung around and watched. Twice he saw Farmer Brown’s boy come to the door with a worried look on his face and heard him whistle and call for Bowser. Then there wasn’t the slightest doubt in Sammy’s mind that something had happened to Bowser.
“Old Man Coyote knows something about it, too,” muttered Sammy, as he turned his head on one side and scratched his pointed cap thoughtfully. “He can’t fool me. That old rascal knows where Bowser is, or what has happened to him, and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if he had something to do with it. I almost know he did from the way he grinned.”
The day was not half over before all through the Green Forest and over the Green Meadows had spread the report that Bowser the Hound was no more.
To invest-i-gate something means to try to find out about it. Reddy Fox had heard from so many different ones about the disappearance of Bowser that he finally made up his mind that he would invest-i-gate and find out for himself if it were true that Bowser was no longer at home in Farmer Brown’s dooryard. If it were true—well, Reddy had certain plans of his own in regard to Farmer Brown’s henhouse.
Reddy had begun by doubting that story because it seemed to have come first from Old Man Coyote. Reddy would doubt anything with which Old Man Coyote was concerned. But Reddy had finally come to believe that something certainly had happened because half a dozen times during the day he had heard Farmer Brown’s boy whistle and whistle and call and call.
Just as soon as the Black Shadows came creeping out from the Purple Hills, Reddy started up towards Farmer Brown’s. He didn’t go directly there, because he never goes directly anywhere if there is the least chance in the world that anyone may be watching him. But as he slipped along in the blackest of the Black Shadows, he was all the time working nearer and nearer to Farmer Brown’s dooryard. Although he was inclined to think it was true that Bowser was not there, he was far too wise to take any unnecessary risk. He approached Farmer Brown’s dooryard just as carefully as if he knew Bowser to be in his little house as usual. He kept in the Black Shadows. He crouched so low that he seemed hardly more than a Black Shadow himself. Every two or three steps he stopped to look, listen, and test the air with his keen nose.
As he drew near Bowser’s own little house, Reddy circled out around it until he could see the doorway. Then he sat down where he could peek around from behind a tree and watch. He had been there only a few moments when the back door of Farmer Brown’s house opened and Farmer Brown’s boy stepped out. Reddy didn’t run. He knew that Farmer Brown’s boy would never dream that he would dare come so near. Besides, it was very clear that Farmer Brown’s boy was thinking of no one but Bowser. He whistled and called just as he had done several times during the day. But no Bowser came, so after a while Farmer Brown’s boy went back into the house. There was a worried look on his face.
As soon as he heard the door close, Reddy trotted right out in the open and sat down only a few feet from the black doorway of Bowser’s little house. Reddy barked softly. Then he barked a little louder. He knew that if Bowser were at home, that bark would bring him out if nothing else did. Bowser didn’t appear. Reddy grinned. He was sure now that Bowser was nowhere about. Chuckling to himself, he turned and trotted towards Farmer Brown’s henhouse.
Never in his life had Reddy Fox visited Farmer Brown’s henhouse with quite such a comfortable feeling as he now had. He knew for a certainty that Bowser the Hound was not at home. He knew because he had finally crept up and peeped in the door of Bowser’s little house. What had become of Bowser he didn’t know, and he didn’t care. It was enough to know that he wasn’t about.
“I hope Farmer Brown’s boy has forgotten to close that little doorway where the hens run in and out,” muttered Reddy, as he trotted across Farmer Brown’s dooryard. Once he stopped, and looking up at the lighted windows of the house, grinned. You see, with Bowser gone, Reddy wasn’t the least bit afraid.
“If I can get into that henhouse,” thought Reddy, “I certainly will have one good feast tonight. That is, I will if those stupid hens are not roosting so high that I can’t get them. I’ll eat one right there.” Reddy’s mouth watered at the very thought. “Then I’ll take one home to Mrs. Reddy. If there is time we both will come back for a couple more.”
So Reddy made pleasant plans as he approached Farmer Brown’s henhouse. When he reached it he paused to listen to certain sounds within, certain fretful little cluckings. Reddy sat down for a minute with his tongue hanging out and the water actually dripping from it. He could shut his eyes and see those roosts with the hens crowded together so that every once in a while one would be wakened and fretfully protest against being crowded so.
But Reddy sat there only for a minute. He was too eager to find out if it would prove to be possible to get inside that henhouse. Running swiftly but cautiously past the henhouse and along one side of the henyard, he peeped around the corner to see if by any chance the yard gate had been left open. His heart gave a leap of joy as he saw that the gate was not quite closed. All he would have to do would be to push it and enter.
Reddy turned the corner quickly. Just as he put up one paw to push the gate open, a low but decidedly ugly growl made him jump back with every hair of his coat standing on end. His first thought was of Bowser. It must be that Bowser had returned! Believing in safety first, Reddy did not stop to see who had growled, but ran swiftly a short distance. Then he looked behind him. Over at the gate of Farmer Brown’s henyard he could see a dark form. At once Reddy knew that it wasn’t Bowser the Hound, for it had a bushy tail, while Bowser’s was smooth. Reddy knew who it was. It was Old Man Coyote.
The meeting of Reddy Fox and Old Man Coyote just outside the gate to Farmer Brown’s henyard had been wholly unexpected to both. Reddy had been so eager to get inside that gate that when he turned the corner at the henyard he hadn’t looked beyond the gate. If he had looked beyond, he would have seen Old Man Coyote just coming around the other corner. As for Old Man Coyote, he had been so surprised at sight of Reddy Fox that he had growled before he had had time to think. He was sorry the very instant he did it.
“That certainly was a stupid thing to do,” muttered Old Man Coyote to himself, as he watched Reddy Fox run away in a panic. “I should have kept out of sight and let him open that gate and go inside first. There may be traps in there, for all I know. When there’s likely to be danger, always let someone else find it out for you if you can.” Old Man Coyote grinned as he said this.
Reddy Fox sat down at a safe distance to watch what Old Man Coyote would do. Inside, Reddy was fairly boiling with disappointment and anger. He felt that he hated Old Man Coyote more than he hated anybody else he knew of. He hated him, yet there wasn’t a thing he could do about it. He didn’t dare fight Old Man Coyote. All he could do was to sit there at a safe distance and watch.
The gate of the henyard was open two or three inches. For a long time Old Man Coyote stood looking through that little opening. Once or twice he thrust his nose out and sniffed cautiously around the gate, but he took the greatest care not to touch it. Finally he turned and trotted away towards the Green Forest.
Reddy sat right where he was, so surprised that he couldn’t even think. He waited a long time to see if Old Man Coyote would return, but Old Man Coyote didn’t return, and at last Reddy cautiously crept towards that unlocked gate. “I do believe that fellow didn’t know enough to push that gate open,” muttered Reddy to himself. “I always supposed Old Man Coyote was smart, but if this is an example of his smartness I’ll match my wits against his any day.”
All this time Old Man Coyote was not so far away as Reddy thought. He had gone only fat enough to make sure that Reddy couldn’t see him. Then, creeping along in the blackest of the Black Shadows, he had returned to a place where he could watch Reddy.
“It’s queer that gate should have been left unlocked,” thought Old Man Coyote. “It may have been an accident, and again it may have been done purposely. There may not be any danger inside; then again there may. I’m not going to push that gate open or step inside when there is someone to do it for me. I’ll just leave it for Reddy Fox to do.”
Reddy Fox was very pleased with himself as he thought how much smarter he was than Old Man Coyote. He didn’t waste any time in pushing open the henyard gate. It didn’t enter his head that there might be a trap inside. He was so eager to find out if the little door where in daytime the hens ran in and out of the henhouse was open, that he jumped inside the henyard just as soon as the gate was pushed open wide enough for him to enter.
Old Man Coyote, watching from his hiding place, saw Reddy push the gate open and enter the henyard. “So far, so good,” muttered Old Man Coyote to himself. “There isn’t any trap just inside that gate, so it will be safe enough for me to follow Reddy in there. I think I’ll wait a bit, however, and see what luck he has in getting into the henhouse. If he catches a chicken he won’t stop to eat it there. He won’t dare to. All I need do is to wait right here around the corner, and if he brings a chicken out, I’ll simply tell him to drop it. Then I will have the chicken and will have run no risk.” You see Old Man Coyote is a very, very clever old sinner.
So Old Man Coyote peeked through the wires and watched Reddy Fox, who thought himself so much smarter, steal swiftly across to the henhouse and try that little door. It was closed, but it wasn’t fastened, as Reddy could tell by poking at it.
“It is just a matter of time and patience,” muttered Reddy to himself. “If I keep at it long enough, I can work it open.” You see Reddy had done that very thing once before a great while ago.
So he set himself to work with such patience as he could, and all the time Old Man Coyote watched and wondered what Reddy was doing. He guessed that Reddy was having some trouble, but also he knew from Reddy’s actions that Reddy hoped to get inside that henhouse.
Now Reddy had left the henyard gate ajar. If he had pushed it wide open things might have been different. But he didn’t push it wide open. He left it only halfway open. By and by there happened along a mischievous little Night Breeze. There is nothing that a mischievous little Night Breeze enjoys more than making things move. This mischievous little Night Breeze found that that gate would swing, so it blew against that gate and blew and blew until suddenly, with a sharp little click, the gate closed and the spring latch snapped into place. Reddy Fox was a prisoner!
It certainly is queer what a difference there is between being inside and outside. Sometimes happiness is inside and sometimes it is outside. Sometimes the one who is inside wishes with all his might that he were outside, and sometimes the one who is outside would give anything in the world to be inside.
Just take the case of Reddy Fox. He had stolen inside of Farmer Brown’s henyard, leaving the gate halfway open. He had set himself to work to open the little sliding door through which in the daytime the hens passed in and out of the henhouse. As he worked he had been filled with great contentment and joy. He knew that Bowser the Hound had disappeared. He felt sure that there was nothing to fear, and he fully expected to dine that night on chicken. Then along came a mischievous little Night Breeze and swung that gate shut.
At the click of the latch Reddy turned his head, and in a flash he saw what had happened. All in an instant everything had changed for Reddy Fox. Fear and despair took the place of contentment and happy anticipations. He was a prisoner inside that henyard.
Frantically Reddy rushed over to the gate. There wasn’t even a crack through which he could thrust his sharp little nose. Then, beside himself with fear, he raced around that henyard, seeking a hole through which he might escape. There wasn’t any hole. That fence had been built to keep out such people as Reddy Fox, and of course a fence that would keep Reddy out would also keep him in, if he happened to be caught inside as he now was. He couldn’t dig down under it, because, you know, the ground was frozen hard and covered with snow and an icy crust. He was caught, and that was all there was to it.
Suddenly Reddy became aware of someone just outside the wire fence, looking in and grinning wickedly. It was Old Man Coyote. Between them was nothing but that wire, but, oh, what a difference! Reddy was inside and a prisoner. Old Man Coyote was outside and free.
“Good evening, Reddy,” said Old Man Coyote. “I hope you’ll enjoy your chicken dinner. When you are eating it, just think over this bit of advice: Never take a risk when you can get someone else to take it for you. I would like a chicken dinner myself, but as it is, I think I will enjoy a Mouse or two better. Pay my respects to Farmer Brown’s boy when he comes in the morning.”
With this, Old Man Coyote once more grinned that wicked grin of his and trotted away towards the Green Forest. Reddy watched him disappear and would have given anything in the world to have been outside the fence in his place instead of inside, where he then was.
If anyone had said this to Reddy Fox during the first half hour after he discovered that he was a prisoner in Farmer Brown’s henyard, he wouldn’t have believed it. He wouldn’t have believed a word of it. He would have said that he couldn’t possibly have been worse off than he was.
He was a prisoner, and he couldn’t possibly get out. He knew that in the morning Farmer Brown’s boy would certainly discover him. It couldn’t be otherwise. That is, it couldn’t be otherwise as long as he remained in that henyard. There wasn’t a thing, not one solitary thing, under or behind which he could hide. So, to Reddy’s way of thinking, things couldn’t possibly have been worse.
But after a while, having nothing else to do, Reddy began to think. Now it is surprising how thinking will change matters. One of the first thoughts that came to Reddy was that he might have been caught in a trap—one of those cruel traps that close like a pair of jaws and sometimes break the bones of the foot or leg, and from which there is no escape. Right away Reddy realized that to have been so caught would have been much worse than being a prisoner in Farmer Brown’s henyard. This made him feel just a wee, wee bit better, and he began to do some more thinking.
For a long time his thinking didn’t help him in the least. At last, however, he remembered the chicken dinner he had felt so sure he was going to enjoy. The thought of the chicken dinner reminded him that inside the henhouse it was dark. He had been inside that henhouse before, and he knew that there were boxes in there. If he were inside the henhouse, it might be, it just might possibly be, that he could hide when Farmer Brown’s boy came in the morning.
So once more Reddy went to work at that little sliding door where the hens ran in and out during the day. He already had found out that it wasn’t fastened, and he felt sure that with patience he could open it. So he worked away and worked away, until at last there was a little crack. He got his claws in the little crack and pulled and pulled. The little crack became a little wider. By and by it was wide enough for him to get his whole paw in. Then it became wide enough for him to get his head half in. After this, all he had to do was to force himself through, for as he pushed and shoved, the little door opened. He was inside at last! There was a chance, just a forlorn chance, that he might be able to escape the notice of Farmer Brown’s boy in the morning.
Can you imagine Reddy Fox with a chicken dinner right before him and not touching it? Well, that is just what happened in Farmer Brown’s henhouse. It wasn’t because Reddy had no appetite. He was hungry, very hungry. He always is in winter. Then it doesn’t often happen that he gets enough to eat at one meal to really fill his stomach. Yet here he was with a chicken dinner right before him, and he didn’t touch it.
You see it was this way: Reddy’s wits were working very fast there in Farmer Brown’s henhouse. He knew that he had only a forlorn chance of escaping when Farmer Brown’s boy should come to open the henhouse in the morning. He knew that he must make the most of that forlorn chance. He knew that freedom is a thousand times better than a full stomach.
On one of the lower roosts sat a fat hen. She was within easy jumping distance. Reddy knew that with one quick spring she would be his. If the henyard gate had been open, he would have wasted no time in making that one quick spring. But the henyard gate, as you know, was closed fast.
“I’m awfully hungry,” muttered Reddy to himself, “but if I should catch and eat that fat hen, Farmer Brown’s boy would be sure to notice the feathers on the floor the very minute he opened the door. It won’t do, Reddy; it won’t do. You can’t afford to have the least little thing seem wrong in this henhouse. What you have got to do is to swallow your appetite and keep quiet in the darkest corner you can find.”
So Reddy Fox spent the rest of the night curled up in the darkest corner, partly behind a box. All the time his nose was filled with the smell of fat hens. Every little while a hen who was being crowded too much on the roost would stir uneasily and protest in a sleepy voice. Just think of what Reddy suffered. Just think how you would feel to be very, very hungry and have right within reach the one thing you like best in all the world to eat and then not dare touch it. Some foolish folks in Reddy’s place would have eaten that dinner and trusted to luck to get out of trouble later. But Reddy was far too wise to do anything of that kind.
Doing as Reddy did that night is called exercising self-restraint. Everybody should be able to do it. But it sometimes seems as if very many people cannot do it. Anyway, they don’t do it, and because they don’t do it they are forever getting into trouble.
Reddy knew when morning came, although the henhouse was still dark. Somehow or other hens always know just when jolly, round, red Mr. Sun kicks his blankets off and begins his daily climb up in the blue, blue sky. The big rooster on the topmost perch stretched his long neck, flapped his wings, and crowed at the top of his voice. Reddy shivered. “It won’t be long now before Farmer Brown’s boy comes,” thought he.
In his lifetime Reddy Fox has spent many anxious moments, but none more anxious than those in which he waited for Farmer Brown’s boy to open the henhouse and feed the biddies on this particular morning.
From the moment when the big rooster on the topmost perch stretched forth his neck, flapped his wings, and crowed as only he can crow, Reddy was on pins and needles, as the saying is. Hiding behind a box in the darkest corner of the henhouse, he hardly dared to breathe. You see, he didn’t want those hens to discover him. He knew that if they did they would make such a racket that they would bring Farmer Brown’s boy hurrying out to find out what the trouble was.
Reddy had had experience with hens before. He knew that if Farmer Brown’s boy heard them making a great racket, he would know that something was wrong, and he would come all prepared. This was the one thing that Reddy did not want. His one chance to escape would be to take Farmer Brown’s boy entirely by surprise.
Never had time dragged more slowly. The hens were awake, and several of them flew down to the floor of the henhouse. They passed so close to where Reddy was hiding that merely by reaching out a black paw he could have touched them. Because he took particular pains not to move, not even to twitch a black ear, they did not see him. Anyway, if they did see him, they took no notice of him. How the moments did drag! All the time he lay there listening, wishing that Farmer Brown’s boy would come, yet dreading to have him come. It seemed ages before he heard sounds which told him that people were awake in Farmer Brown’s house.
Finally he heard a distant door slam. Then he heard a whistle, a merry whistle. It drew nearer and nearer; Farmer Brown’s boy was coming to feed the hens. Reddy tried to hold his breath. He heard the click of the henyard gate as Farmer Brown’s boy opened it, then he heard the crunch, crunch, crunch of Farmer Brown’s boy’s feet on the snow.
Suddenly the henhouse door was thrown open and Farmer Brown’s boy stepped inside. In his hand he held a pan filled with the breakfast he had brought for the hens. Suddenly a box in the darkest corner of the henhouse moved. Farmer Brown’s boy turned to look, and as he did so a slim form dashed fairly between his legs. It startled him so that he dropped the pan and spilled the corn all over the henhouse floor. “Great Scott!” he exclaimed. “What under the sun was that?” and rushed to the door to see. He was just in time to get a glimpse of a red coat and a bushy tail disappearing around a corner of the barn.
When Reddy Fox dashed between the legs of Farmer Brown’s boy and out of the open door of the henhouse, it was with his heart in his mouth. At least, it seemed that way. Would he find the henyard gate open? Supposing Farmer Brown’s boy had closed it after he entered! Reddy would then be a prisoner just as he had been all night, and all hope would end.
Just imagine with what terrible anxiety and eagerness Reddy looked towards that gate as he dashed out of the open door. Just imagine the relief that was his when he saw that the gate was open. In that very instant the snowy outside world became more beautiful and wonderful than ever it had been in all his life before. He was free! free! free!
If ever there was a surprised boy, that boy was Farmer Brown’s as he watched Reddy twist around a corner of the barn and disappear.
“Reddy Fox!” he exclaimed. “Now how under the sun did that rascal get in here?” Then, as he realized that Reddy had actually been inside the henhouse, anxiety for the biddies swept over him. Hastily he turned, fully expecting to see either the bodies of two or three hens on the floor, or scattered feathers to show that Reddy had enjoyed a midnight feast. There were no feathers, and so far as he could see, all the hens were standing or walking about.
At once Farmer Brown’s boy began to count them. Of course, he knew exactly how many there should be. When he got through counting, not one was missing. Farmer Brown’s boy was puzzled. He counted them again. Then he counted them a third time. He began to think there must be something wrong with his counting. After the fourth count, however, he was forced to believe that not a single one was missing.
If Reddy Fox had been relieved when he discovered that henyard gate open, Farmer Brown’s boy was equally relieved when he found that not a single biddie had been taken. When two people are relieved at the same time, it is called mutual relief. But there was this difference between Reddy Fox and Farmer Brown’s boy: Reddy knew all about what had happened, and Farmer Brown’s boy couldn’t even guess. He went all around that henhouse, trying to find a way by which Reddy Fox had managed to get in. Of course, he discovered that the little sliding door where the biddies go in and out of the henhouse was open. He guessed that this was the way by which Reddy had entered.
But this didn’t explain matters at all. He knew that the gate had been latched when he entered the henyard that morning. How had Reddy managed to get into that henyard with that gate closed? To this day, Farmer Brown’s boy is still wondering.
Where was Bowser the Hound? That was the question which was puzzling all the little people who knew him. Also it was puzzling Farmer Brown’s boy and Farmer Brown and Mrs. Brown. I have said that it was puzzling all the little people who knew him. This is not quite true, because there were two who could at least guess what had become of Bowser. One was Old Man Coyote, who had, as you remember, led Bowser far away and got him lost. The other was Blacky the Crow, who had discovered Bowser in his trouble and had helped him.
Old Man Coyote didn’t know exactly where Bowser was, and he wasn’t interested enough to think much about it. He hoped that Bowser had been so badly lost that he never would return. Blacky the Crow knew exactly where Bowser was, but he kept it to himself. It pleases Blacky to have a secret which other people would give much to know. Blacky is one of those people who can keep a secret. He isn’t at all like Peter Rabbit.
Reddy Fox was one who was very much interested in the fate of Bowser the Hound. As day after day went by and Bowser did not appear, Reddy had a growing hope that he never would appear.
“I can’t imagine what Old Man Coyote could have done to Bowser,” said Reddy to himself. “He certainly couldn’t have killed Bowser in a fight, for that old rascal would never in the world dare face Bowser the Hound in a fight. But he certainly has caused something to happen to Bowser. If that bothersome dog never returns, it certainly will make things a lot easier for Granny Fox and myself.”
As for Farmer Brown’s boy, he was as much puzzled as any of the little people and a whole lot more worried. He drove all about the neighborhood, asking at every house if anything had been seen of Bowser, Nowhere did he get any trace of him. No one had seen him. It was very mysterious. Farmer Brown’s boy had begun to suspect that Bowser had met with an accident somewhere off in the woods and had been unable to get help. It made Farmer Brown’s boy very sad indeed. His cheery whistle was no longer heard, for he did not feel like whistling. At last he quite gave up hope of ever again seeing Bowser.
You remember that Blacky the Crow led poor Bowser to an old road and there left him. Blacky reasoned that if Bowser had any sense at all, he would know that that road must lead somewhere and would follow it. If he didn’t have sense enough to do this, he deserved to starve or freeze, was the way Blacky reasoned it out. Of course Blacky knew exactly where the road would lead.
Now Bowser did have sense. Of course he did. The minute he found that road, a great load was taken from his mind. He no longer felt wholly lost. He was certain that all he had to do was to keep in that road, and sooner or later he would come to a house. The thing that worried him most was whether or not he would have strength enough to keep going until he reached that house. You remember that he was weak from lack of food, lame, and half frozen.
Poor old Bowser! He certainly was the picture of misery as he limped along that road. His tail hung down as if he hadn’t strength enough to hold it up. His head also hung low. He walked on three legs and limped with one of these. In his eyes was such a look of pain and suffering as would have touched the hardest heart. He whined and whimpered as he limped along.
It seemed to him that he had gone a terribly long distance, though really it was not far at all, when something tickled his nose, that wonderful nose which can smell the tracks of others long after they have passed. But this time it wasn’t the smell of a track that tickled his nose; it was something in the air. Bowser lifted his head and sniffed long and hard. What he smelled was smoke. He knew what that meant. Somewhere not very far ahead of him was a house.
With new hope and courage Bowser tried to hurry on. Presently around a turn of the road he saw a farmyard. The smell of the smoke from the chimney of the farmhouse was stronger now, and with it was mingled an appetizing smell of things cooking. Into Bowser’s whimper there now crept a little note of eagerness as he dragged himself across the farmyard and up to the back door. There his strength quite left him. He didn’t have enough left to even bark. All he could do was whine. After what seemed a long, long time the door opened, and a motherly woman stood looking down at him. Two minutes later Bowser lay on a mat close by the kitchen stove.
Bowser the Hound was a prisoner. Yes, sir, Bowser was a sure-enough prisoner. But there is a great difference in prisons. Bowser was a prisoner of kindness. It seems funny that kindness should ever make anyone a prisoner, but it is so sometimes.
You see, it was this way: When Bowser had been taken in to that strange farmhouse, he had been so used up that he had had only strength enough to very feebly wag his tail. Right away the people in that farmhouse knew what had happened to Bowser. That is, they knew part of what had happened to him. They knew that he had been lost and had somehow hurt one leg. They were very, very good to him. They fed him, and made a comfortable bed for him, and rubbed something on the leg which he had hurt and which had swollen. Almost right away after eating Bowser went to sleep and slept and slept and slept. It was the very best thing he could have done.
The next day he felt a whole lot better, but he was so stiff and lame that he could hardly move. He didn’t try very much. He was petted and cared for quite as tenderly as he would have been at his own home. So several days passed, and Bowser was beginning to feel more like himself. The more he felt like himself, the more he wanted to go home. It wasn’t that there he would receive any greater kindness than he was now receiving, but home is home and there is no place like it. So Bowser began to be uneasy.
“This dog doesn’t belong anywhere around here,” said the man of the house. “I know every Hound for miles around, and I never have seen this one before. He has come a long distance. It will not do to let him go, for he will try to find his way home and the chances are that he will again get lost. We must keep him in the house or chained up. Perhaps some day we may be able to find his owner. If not, we will keep him. I am sure he will soon become contented here.”
Now that man knew dogs. Had Bowser had the chance, he would have done exactly what that man had said. He would have tried to find his way home, and he hadn’t the least idea in the world in which direction home lay. But he didn’t get the chance to try. When he was allowed to run out of doors it was always with someone to watch him. He was petted and babied and made a great deal of, but he knew all the time that he was a prisoner. He knew that if he was to get away at all he would have to sneak away, and somehow there never seemed a chance to do this. He was grateful to these kindly people, but down in his heart was a great longing for Farmer Brown’s boy and home. He always felt this longing just a wee bit stronger when Blacky the Crow passed over and cawed.
As I have told you, Farmer Brown’s boy had been all about the neighborhood asking at each farmhouse if anything had been seen of Bowser. Of course nothing had been seen of him, and so at last Farmer Brown’s boy felt sure that something dreadful had happened to Bowser in the woods.
For several days he tramped through the Green Forest and up through the Old Pasture, looking for signs of Bowser. His heart was heavy, for you know Bowser was quite one of the family. He visited every place he could think of where he and Bowser had hunted together. He knew that by this time Bowser couldn’t possibly be alive if he had been caught by a foot in a trap or had met with an accident in the woods. He had quite given up all hope of ever seeing Bowser alive again. But he did want to know just what had happened to him, and so he kept searching and searching.
One day Farmer Brown’s boy heard that a strange dog had been found over in the next township. That afternoon he drove over there, his heart filled with great hope. But he had his long ride for nothing, for when he got there he found that the strange dog was not Bowser at all.
Meanwhile Old Man Coyote and Reddy Fox and Old Granny Fox had become very bold. They even came up around the henyard in broad daylight.
“I believe you know something about what has become of Bowser,” Farmer Brown’s boy said, as he chased Old Man Coyote away one day. “You certainly know that he isn’t home, and I more than suspect that you know why he isn’t home. I certainly shall have to get another dog to teach you not to be so bold.”
But somehow Farmer Brown’s boy couldn’t bring himself quite to taking such a step as getting a new dog. He felt that no other dog ever could take Bowser’s place, and in spite of the fact that he thought he had given up all hope of ever seeing Bowser again, ’way down deep inside was something which, if it were not hope, was something enough like it to keep him from getting another dog in Bowser’s place.
Whenever he went about away from home, he kept an eye out for dogs in the farmyards he passed. He did it without really thinking anything about it. He had given up hope of finding Bowser, yet he was always looking for him.
There is as much difference in the voices of dogs as in the voices of human beings. For that matter, this is true of many of the little people who wear fur. Bowser the Hound had a wonderful, deep, clear voice, a voice that could be heard a great distance. No one who knew it would ever mistake it for the voice of any other Hound.
As a rule, Bowser seldom used that great voice of his save when he was hunting someone. Then, when the scent was strong, he gave tongue so fast that you wondered how he had breath enough left to run. But now that he was a prisoner of kindness, in the home of the people who had taken him in when he had crept to their doorstep, Bowser sometimes bayed from sheer homesickness. When he was tied out in the yard, he would sometimes get to thinking of his home and long to see Farmer Brown and Mrs. Brown and especially his master, Farmer Brown’s boy. Then, when he could stand it no longer, he would open his mouth and send his great voice rolling across to the woods with a tone of mournfulness which never had been there before.
But great as was Bowser’s voice, and far as it would carry, there was none who knew him to hear it, save Blacky the Crow. You remember that Blacky knew just where Bowser was and often flew over that farmyard to make sure that Bowser was still there. So more than once Blacky heard Bowser’s great voice with its mournful note, and understood it.
It troubled Blacky. Yes, sir, it actually troubled Blacky. He knew just what was the matter with Bowser, but for the life of him he couldn’t think of any way of helping Bowser. “That dog is homesick,” croaked Blacky, as he sat in the top of a tall tree, scratching his head as if he thought he might scratch an idea out of it. “Of course he doesn’t know how to get home, and if he tried he probably would get as badly lost as he was before. Anyway, they don’t give him a chance to try. I can’t lead Farmer Brown’s boy over here because he doesn’t understand my talk, and I don’t understand his. There isn’t a thing I can do but keep watch. I wish Bowser would stop barking. It makes me feel uncomfortable. Yes, sir, it makes me feel uncomfortable. Old Man Coyote got Bowser into this trouble, and he ought to get him out again, but I don’t suppose it is the least bit of use to ask him. It won’t do any harm to try, anyway.”
So Blacky started back for the Green Forest and the Old Pasture near Farmer Brown’s to look for Old Man Coyote, and for a long time as he flew he could hear Bowser’s voice with its note of homesickness and longing.
On his way back to the Green Forest near Farmer Brown’s home, Blacky the Crow kept a sharp watch for Old Man Coyote. But Old Man Coyote was nowhere to be seen, and it was too late to go look for him, because jolly, round, red Mr. Sun had already gone to bed behind the Purple Hills and the Black Shadows were hurrying towards the Green Forest.
Blacky never is out after dark. You might think that one with so black a coat would be fond of the Black Shadows, but it isn’t so at all. The fact is, bold and impudent as Blacky the Crow is in daylight, he is afraid of the dark. He is quite as timid as anybody I know of in the dark. So Blacky always contrives to go to bed early and is securely hidden away in his secret roosting-place by the time the Black Shadows reach the edge of the Green Forest.
Perhaps it isn’t quite fair to say that Blacky is afraid of the dark. It isn’t the dark itself that Blacky fears, but it is one who is abroad in the dark. It is Hooty the Owl. Hooty would just as soon dine on Blacky the Crow as he would on anyone else, and Blacky knows it.
The next morning, bright and early, Blacky flew over to the Old Pasture to the home of Old Man Coyote. Just as he got there he saw Old Man Coyote coming home from an all-night hunt. “I hope you have had good hunting,” said Blacky politely.
Old Man Coyote looked up at Blacky sharply. Blacky is polite only when he wants to get something. “There was plenty of hunting, but little enough reward for it,” replied Old Man Coyote. “What brings you over here so early? I should suppose you would be looking for a breakfast.”
Now Blacky the Crow is a very wise fellow. He knows when it is to be sly and crafty and when it is best to be frank and outspoken. This was a time for the latter. “I know where Bowser the Hound is,” said Blacky. “I saw him yesterday.”
Old Man Coyote pricked up his ears and grinned. “I thought he was dead,” said he. “It’s a long time since we’ve heard from Bowser. Is he well?”
“Quite well,” replied Blacky, “but unhappy. He is homesick. I suspect that the trouble with Bowser is that he hasn’t the least idea in which direction home lies. You enjoy running, so why not go with me to pay Bowser a visit and then lead him back home?”
Old Man Coyote threw back his head and laughed in that crazy fashion of his till the very hills rang with the sound of his voice.
Blacky the Crow wasted no time with Old Man Coyote after he heard Old Man Coyote laugh. There was a note in that crazy laugh of Old Man Coyote’s that told Blacky he might just as well talk to the rocks or the trees about helping Bowser the Hound. Old Man Coyote had led Bowser into his trouble, and it was quite clear that not only did he have no regrets, but he was actually glad that Bowser was not likely to return.
“You’re a hardhearted old sinner,” declared Blacky, as he prepared to fly in search of Reddy Fox.
Old Man Coyote grinned. “It is everyone for himself, you know,” said he. “Bowser would do his best to catch me if he had the chance. So if he is in trouble, he can stay there for all of me.”
It didn’t take Blacky long to find Reddy Fox. You see, it was so early in the morning that Reddy had not retired for his daily nap. Like Old Man Coyote, he was just returning from a night’s hunt when Blacky arrived.
“Hello, Reddy!” exclaimed Blacky. “You certainly are looking in mighty fine condition. That red coat of yours is the handsomest coat I’ve ever seen. If I had a coat like that I know I should be so swelled up with pride that I just wouldn’t be able to see common folks. I’m glad you’re not that way, Reddy. One of the things I like about you is the fact that you never allow your fine coat to make you proud. That is more than I can say for some folks I know.”
Reddy Fox sat down with his big bushy tail curled around to keep his toes warm, cocked his head on one side, and looked up at Blacky the Crow as if he were trying to see right inside that black head to find out what was going on there.
“Now what has that black scamp got in his mind,” thought Reddy. “He never pays compliments unless he wants something in return. That old black rascal has the smoothest tongue in the Green Forest. He hasn’t come ’way over here just to tell me that I have a handsome coat. He wouldn’t fly over a fence to tell anybody that unless it was for a purpose.”
Aloud he said, “Good morning, Blacky. I suppose I must admit I have a fine coat. Perhaps I do look very fine, but if you could see under this red coat of mine, you would find mighty little meat on my ribs. To be quite honest, I am not feeling half as fine as I look. You lucky fellows who can fly and don’t have to think about distances may be able to live well these days, but as for me, I’ve forgotten when last I had a good meal.”
There is no greater flatterer in the Green Forest or on the Green Meadows than Blacky the Crow when he hopes to gain something thereby. His tongue is so smooth that it is a wonder it does not drip oil. He is crafty, is Blacky. But these same things are true of Reddy Fox. No one ever yet had a chance to accuse Reddy Fox of lacking in sharp wits. Mistakes he makes, as everybody does, but Reddy’s wits are always keen and active.
Now Reddy knew perfectly well that Blacky wanted something of him, and this was why he was saying such pleasant things. Blacky the Crow knew that Reddy knew this thing, and that if he would make use of Reddy as he hoped to, he must contrive to keep Reddy wholly in the dark as to what he wanted done.
So as they sat there, Reddy Fox on the snow with his tail curled around his feet to keep them warm, and Blacky the Crow in the top of a little tree above Reddy’s head, they were playing a sort of game. It was red wits against black wits. Reddy was trying to outguess Blacky, and Blacky was trying to outguess Reddy, and both were enjoying it. People with sharp wits always enjoy matching their wits against other sharp wits.
When Reddy Fox said that in spite of his fine appearance he had forgotten when last he had had a good meal, Blacky pretended to think he was joking. “You surprise me,” said he. “Whatever is the matter with my good friend Reddy, that he goes hungry when he no longer has anything to fear from Bowser the Hound. By the way, I saw Bowser the other day.”
At this, just for an instant, Reddy’s eyes flew wide open. Then they half closed again until they were just two yellow slits. But quickly as he closed them, Blacky had seen that startled surprise. “Yes,” said Blacky, “I saw Bowser the other day, or at least someone who looked just like him. Wouldn’t you like to have him back here, Reddy?”
“Most decidedly no,” replied Reddy with great promptness. “A dog is a nuisance. He isn’t of any use in the wide, wide world.”
“Not even to drive off Old Man Coyote?” asked Blacky slyly, for he knew that more than once Bowser the Hound had helped Reddy out of trouble with Old Man Coyote.
Reddy pretended not to hear this. “I don’t believe you saw Bowser,” said he. “I don’t believe anybody will ever see Bowser again. I hope not, anyway.” And Blacky knew by the way Reddy said this that it would be quite useless to ask Reddy to help get Bowser home.
To be artful is to be very clever. It is to do things in a way so clever that people will not see what you are really doing. No one can be more artful than Blacky the Crow when he sets out to be.
Blacky was smart enough not to let Reddy know that he was seeking Reddy’s help for Bowser. He soon found out that Reddy would not knowingly help the least little bit, so he decided at once that the only thing for him to do was to get Reddy to help unsuspectingly. He changed the subject very abruptly.
“How are the chickens at Farmer Brown’s?” inquired he.
Reddy looked up and grinned. “They seem to be in just as good health as ever,” said he, “so far as I can judge. Farmer Brown’s boy seems to be terribly suspicious. He locks them up at night so tight that not even Shadow the Weasel could get his nose inside that henhouse.”
Blacky’s eyes twinkled, but he took care that Reddy should not see them. “Farmer Brown’s boy is different from some folks I know,” said he.
“How’s that?” demanded Reddy Fox.
“Why,” replied Blacky, “there is a certain farmyard I know of where the hens are not kept shut up at all in the daytime, but run around where they please. I see them every day when I am flying over. They certainly are fine-looking hens. I don’t think I’ve ever seen fatter ones. Some of them are so fat they can hardly run.”
As Reddy Fox listened, a look of eagerness crept into his eyes, and his mouth began to water. He just couldn’t help it. “Where did you say those hens are?” he asked, trying to speak carelessly.
“I didn’t say,” replied Blacky, turning his head aside to hide a grin. “It is a long way from here, Reddy, so I don’t believe you would really be interested.”
“That all depends,” replied Reddy. “I would go a long way if it were worth while. I don’t suppose you noticed if there were any dogs about where those hens are?”
Blacky pretended not to hear this. “I’ve often thought,” said he, “of you and Mrs. Reddy as I have looked down at those fat hens. It is too bad that they are so far away.”
Reddy Fox watched Blacky the Crow grow smaller and smaller until he was just a black speck in the distance. Finally he disappeared. Reddy looked very thoughtful. He looked that way because he was thoughtful. In fact, Reddy was doing a lot of hard thinking. He was thinking about those chickens Blacky had told him of. The more he thought of them, the hungrier he grew. You see, Reddy had been having rather a hard time to get enough to eat.
“Yes, sir,” said Reddy to himself, “I would go a long, long distance to get a good plump hen. I wish I knew just where that farm is that that black rascal talked about. I wonder if he has gone that way now. If I were sure that he has, I would make a little journey in that direction myself. But I’m not sure. That black rascal flies all over the country. That farm may lie in the direction he has gone now, and it may be in quite the opposite direction. Somehow I’ve got to find out in just which direction it is.”
Reddy yawned, for he had been out all night, and he was sleepy. He decided that the best thing he could do would be to get a good rest. One must always be fit if one is to get on in this life. The harder one must work, the more fit one should keep, and a proper amount of sleep is one of the most necessary things in keeping fit. So Reddy curled up to sleep.
Hardly had his eyes closed when he began to dream. You see, he had been thinking so hard about those fat hens, and he was so hungry for one of them, that right away he began to dream of fat hens. It was a beautiful dream. At least, it was a beautiful dream to Reddy. Fat hens were all about him. They were so fat that they could hardly walk. Not only were they fat, but they seemed to think that their one object in life was to fill the stomachs of hungry foxes, for they just stood about waiting to be caught.
Never in all his life had Reddy Fox known anything so wonderful as was that dream. There were no dogs to worry him. There were no hunters with dreadful guns. All he had to do was to reach out and help himself to as many fat hens as he wanted. He ate and ate and ate, all in his dream, you know, and when he could eat no more he started for home. When he started for home the fat hens that were left started along with him. He led a procession of fat hens straight over to his home in the Old Pasture.
Just imagine how Reddy felt when at last he awoke and there was not so much as a feather from a fat hen anywhere about, while his stomach fairly ached with emptiness.
All the next night, as Reddy Fox hunted and hunted for something to eat, he kept thinking of that dream of fat hens, and he kept wondering how he could get Blacky the Crow to tell him just where that farm with fat hens was. Blacky on his part had spent a whole day wondering how he could induce Reddy Fox to make that long journey over to where Bowser the Hound was a prisoner of kindness. Blacky was smart enough to know that if he seemed too anxious for Reddy to make that long journey, Reddy would at once suspect something. He knew well enough that if Reddy had any idea that Bowser the Hound was over there, nothing would tempt him to make the trip.
Early the next morning, just as on the morning before, Blacky stopped over by Reddy’s house. This time Reddy was already home. Actually he was waiting for Blacky, though he wouldn’t have had Blacky know it for the world. As soon as he saw Blacky coming, he lay down on his doorstep and pretended not to see Blacky at all.
“Good morning, Reddy,” said Blacky, as he alighted in the top of a little tree close by.
Reddy raised his head as if it were all he could do to lift it. “Good morning, Blacky,” said he in a feeble voice.
Blacky looked at him sharply. “What’s the matter, Reddy?” he demanded. “You seem to be feeling badly.”
Reddy sighed. It was a long, doleful sigh. “I am feeling badly, Blacky,” said he. “I never felt worse in my life. The truth is I—I—I—” Reddy paused.
“You what?” demanded Blacky, looking at Reddy more sharply than ever.
“I am starving,” said Reddy very feebly. “I certainly shall starve to death unless I can find some way of getting at least one good meal soon. You have no idea, Blacky, how dreadful it is to be hungry all the time.” Again Reddy sighed, and followed this with a second sigh and then a third sigh.
Blacky looked behind him so that Reddy might not see the twinkle in his eyes. For Blacky understood perfectly what Reddy was trying to do. Reddy wasn’t fooling him a bit. When he looked back at Reddy he was very grave. He was doing his best to look very sympathetic.
“I’m right sorry to hear this, Reddy,” said he. “I certainly am. I’ve been hungry myself more than once. It seems a pity that you should be starving here when over on that farm I told you about yesterday are fat hens to be had for the taking. If you were not so weak, I would be tempted to show you where they are.”
To have seen and heard Blacky the Crow as he talked to Reddy Fox, you would have thought that there was nothing under the sun in his heart or mind but pity. “Yes, sir,” said he, “I certainly would be tempted to show you where those fat hens are if you were not too weak. I just can’t bear to see an old friend starve. It is too bad that those fat hens are so far away. I feel sure that one of them would make you quite yourself again.”
“Don’t—don’t talk about them,” said Reddy feebly. “If I could have just one fat hen that is all I would ask. Are they so very far from here?”
Blacky nodded his head vigorously. “Yes,” said he, “they are a long way from here. They are such a long way that I’m afraid you are too weak to make the journey. If you were quite yourself you could do it nicely, but for one in your condition it is, I fear, altogether too long a journey.”
“It wouldn’t do any harm to try it, perhaps,” suggested Reddy, in a hesitating way. “It is no worse to starve to death in one place than another, and I never was one to give up without trying. If you don’t mind showing me the way, Brother Blacky, I would at least like to try to reach that place where the fat hens are. Of course I cannot keep up with you. In fact, I couldn’t if I were feeling well and strong. Perhaps you can tell me just how to find that place, and then I needn’t bother you at all.”
Blacky pretended to be lost in thought while Reddy watched him anxiously. Finally Blacky spoke. “It certainly makes my heart ache to see you in such a condition, Brother Reddy,” said he. “I tell you what I’ll do. You know Crows are famous for flying in a straight line when we want to get to any place in particular. I will fly straight towards that farm where the fat hens are. You follow along as best you can. In your feeble condition it will take you a long time to get anywhere near there. This will give me time to go hunt for my own dinner, and then I will come back until I meet you. After that, I will show you the way. Now I will start along and you follow.”
Reddy got to his feet as if it were hard work. Then Blacky spread his wings and started off, cawing encouragement. All the time inside he was laughing to think that Reddy Fox should think he had fooled him. “He forgot to ask again if there is a dog there,” chuckled Blacky to himself.
As for Reddy, no sooner was Blacky well on his way than he started off at his swiftest pace. There was nothing weak or feeble in the way Reddy ran then. He was in a hurry to get to those fat hens.
Straight away towards the farm where Bowser the Hound was flew Blacky the Crow. Every few minutes he would caw encouragement to Reddy Fox, who, as you know, was following, but who of course could not travel as fast as did Blacky. In between times Blacky would chuckle to himself. He was mightily pleased with himself, was Blacky.
In the first place his plan was working beautifully. You know what he was after was to get Reddy Fox over to that farm where Bowser was. He hoped that if Reddy should catch one of those fat hens, the farmer would put Bowser on Reddy’s trail. He knew that Reddy would probably return straight home, and Bowser, following Reddy’s trail, would thus find his way back home to Farmer Brown’s. Of course, it all depended on whether Reddy would catch one of those fat hens and whether Bowser would be allowed to hunt him. Blacky had a plan for making sure that if Reddy did get one of those hens the folks in the farmhouse would know it.
But what tickled Blacky most the knowledge that Reddy Fox thought he was fooling Blacky. You remember that Reddy had pretended to be very weak. Blacky knew that Reddy was nothing of the kind. At the very first opportunity Blacky stopped in the top of a tall tree as if to rest. His real reason for stopping was to have a chance to look back. You see, while he was flying he couldn’t look behind him.
Presently, just as he expected, he saw in the distance a little red speck, and that little red speck was moving very fast indeed. There was nothing weak or feeble in the way that red speck was coming across the snow-covered fields. Blacky chuckled hoarsely.
Nearer and nearer came the red speck, and of course the nearer it came the larger it grew. Presently it stopped moving fast. It began to move slowly and stop every once in a while, as if to rest. Blacky laughed right out. He knew then that Reddy Fox had discovered him sitting in the top of that tall tree and was once more pretending. It was a sort of a game, a game that Blacky thoroughly enjoyed.
As soon as he knew that Reddy had discovered him, he once more spread his black wings and started on. The same thing happened over again. In fact, Blacky did not fly far this time before once more waiting. It was great fun to see Reddy suddenly pretend that he was too weak to run. It was such fun that Blacky quite forgot that he had had no breakfast.
Yes, Blacky the Crow was very much pleased with himself. It looked very much as if he would succeed in helping Bowser the Hound. This pleased him. But it pleased him still more to know that he was fooling clever Reddy Fox while Reddy thought he was the one who was doing the fooling.
Just before reaching the farm where the fat hens and Bowser the Hound were, Blacky waited for Reddy Fox to catch up. It was some time before Reddy appeared, for he wasn’t traveling as fast now as when he had started out. You see, that farm really was a very long way from the Old Pasture where Reddy lives and Reddy had run very hard, because, you know, he was so anxious to get one of those fat hens.
As soon as Blacky saw him he hid in the thick branches of a tall pine-tree. Reddy didn’t see him. In fact, Blacky had been so far ahead that Reddy had lost sight of him some time before. Out of the bushes trotted Reddy. His tongue was hanging out just a little, and he was panting. Blacky was just about to speak when Reddy stopped. He stood as still as if he had suddenly been frozen stiff. His sharp black ears were cocked forward, and his head was turned just a little to one side. Reddy was listening. He was listening for the voice of Blacky. You see, he thought Blacky was still far ahead of him.
For several minutes Reddy stood listening with all his might, and Blacky’s sharp eyes twinkled as he looked down, watching Reddy. Suddenly Reddy sat down. There was an expression on his sharp face which Blacky understood perfectly. It was quite plain that Reddy was becoming suspicious. He had begun to suspect that he had been tricked by Blacky and led so far away from home for nothing.
Down inside Blacky chuckled. It was a noiseless chuckle, for Blacky did not intend to give himself away until he had to. But when at last he saw that Reddy was beginning to get uneasy, Blacky spoke. “You seem to be feeling better, Brother Reddy,” said he. “You must excuse me for keeping you waiting, but I did not suppose that anyone so weak and feeble as you appeared to be early this morning could possibly get here so soon.”
At the sound of Blacky’s voice, Reddy was so startled that he jumped quite as if he had sat down on a prickly briar. He was sharp enough to know that it was no longer of any use to pretend. “I’m feeling better,” said he. “The thought of those fat hens has quite restored my strength. Did you say that they are near here?”
“I didn’t say, but—” Blacky didn’t finish. He didn’t need to. From the other side of a little swamp in front of them a rooster crowed. That was answer enough! Reddy’s yellow eyes gleamed. In an instant he was on his feet, the picture of alertness.
“Are you satisfied that I told the truth?” asked Blacky. Reddy nodded.
At the sound of that rooster’s voice on the other side of the little swamp, Reddy became a changed Fox. Could you have been sitting where you could have seen him, as did Blacky the Crow, you never, never would have guessed that Reddy had run a very long distance and was tired. He did not even glance up at Blacky. He did not even say thank you to Blacky for having shown him the way. He looked neither to the right nor to the left, but with eyes fixed eagerly ahead, began to steal forward swiftly.
Making no sound, for Reddy can step very lightly when he chooses to, he trotted quickly through the little swamp until he drew near the other side. Then he crouched close to the snow-covered ground and began to steal from bush to bush until he reached the trunk of a fallen tree on the very edge of the swamp. To this he crawled on his stomach and peeped around the end of it.
Everything was as Blacky the Crow had said. Not far away was a farmyard, and walking about in it was a big rooster, lording it over a large flock of fat hens. They were not shut in by a wire fence as were Farmer Brown’s hens. Some were taking a sun bath just in front of the barn door. Others were scattered about, picking up bits of food which had been thrown out for them. A few were scratching in some straw in the cowyard. In the barn a horse stamped. From the farmhouse sounded the voice of a woman singing. Once the door of the farmhouse opened, and an appetizing odor floated out to tickle the nose of Reddy.
Reddy looked sharply for signs of a dog. Not one could he see. If there was a dog, he must be either in the barn or in the house. It was quite clear to Reddy that no Fox had bothered this flock of fat hens. He was sorely tempted to rush out and grab one of them at once, but he didn’t. He was far too clever to do anything like that until he was absolutely sure that it would be safe.
So Reddy lay flat behind the old tree trunk, with just his nose and his eyes showing around the end of it, and studied what would be best to do. He was sure that he could get one of those fat hens, but he wanted more. Early that morning Reddy would have been quite contented with one, but now that he was sure that he could get one, he wanted more. If he were too bold and frightened those hens while catching one, they would make such a racket that they would be sure to bring someone from the farmhouse. The thing to do was to be patient until he could catch one without alarming the others. Then perhaps he would be able to catch another. Reddy decided to be patient and wait.
One of the first things that the little people of the Green Forest and the Green Meadows who hunt other little people learn is patience. Sometimes it takes a long time to learn this, but it is a necessary lesson. Reddy Fox had learned it. Reddy knew that often even his cleverness would not succeed without patience. When he was young he had lost many a good meal through impatience.
Reddy could not remember when he had been more hungry than he was now. Lying there behind the fallen tree, watching the fat hens walking about unsuspectingly just a little way from him, it seemed to him that he simply must rush out and catch one of them. But Reddy was smart enough to know that if he did this there would at once be such a screaming and squawking that someone would be sure to rush out from the farmhouse to find out what was going on. If he were discovered, there would be small chance for him to get another fat hen. Reddy is keen enough to make the most of an opportunity. He knew that if he could get one of these hens without frightening the others, he would have a chance to get another. He might have a chance to get several in this way.
So, though he was so eager and so hungry, he made himself keep perfectly still, while he studied out a plan. By and by he stole ever so carefully around back of the barn to the cowyard. Some of those fat hens were scratching in the straw of the cowyard. Just outside the cowyard was a pile of old boards. Reddy crawled behind this pile of old boards and then crouched and settled himself to be patient. He knew that sooner or later one of those fat hens would be likely to come out of the cowyard. In this way he might be able to catch one without the others knowing a thing about it.
Blacky the Crow sat in the top of a tall tree where he could see all that was going on. Blacky was as impatient as Reddy was patient. “Why doesn’t the red rascal rush in and get one of those fat hens?” muttered Blacky. “What is the matter with him, anyway? I wonder if he is afraid. He could catch one of them without half trying, and there he lies as if he expected them to run right into his mouth. I don’t want to sit here all day. Yet I can’t do a thing until he catches one of those hens.”
So Reddy waited patiently and Blacky waited impatiently, and the fat hens wandered about unsuspectingly, and for a long, long time nothing happened.
Jolly, round, bright Mr. Sun, high in the blue, blue sky, looked down on as peaceful a scene as ever was. In the cowyard back of the barn of this particular farm stood several cows contentedly chewing their cuds as they took their daily airing. Half a dozen fat hens were walking about among them and scratching in the straw. Out in the farmyard in front of the barn were many more fat hens. Behind a pile of old boards just outside the cowyard was a spot of red. In the top of a tall tree not far distant was a spot of black. The smoke from the chimney of the farmhouse floated skyward in a lazy way. Looking down on the Great World, jolly, round, bright Mr. Sun saw no more peaceful scene anywhere.
By and by a fat hen walked over to the bars of the cowyard and hopped up on the lower bar. There she sat for some time. Then, making up her mind that she would see what was outside, she hopped down and walked over to the pile of old boards. Right then things happened all at once. That red spot behind the pile of old boards suddenly came to life. There was a quick spring, and that fat hen was seized by the neck so suddenly that she didn’t have time to make a sound. At the same instant the black spot in the top of the tall tree came to life, and Blacky the Crow flew over to the roof of the barn, screaming at the top of his lungs. Now those who know Blacky well, know when he is screaming “Fox! Fox! Fox!” although it sounds as if he were saying “Caw! Caw! Caw!”
In a moment the door of the farmhouse flew open, and a man stepped out with a dog at his heels. The man looked up at Blacky, and he knew by Blacky’s actions that something was going on back of the barn. Right away he guessed that there must be a Fox there, and calling the dog to follow, he ran around to see what was happening. Of course Reddy heard him coming, and with a little snarl of anger at Blacky the Crow, he seized the fat hen by the neck, threw her body over his shoulder, and started for the nearby swamp as fast as his legs could take him.
Just as Reddy reached the edge of the swamp, he heard the roar of a great voice behind him. He knew that voice. It was the voice of Bowser the Hound. It could be no one else but Bowser who was behind him, for there was no other voice quite like his. Dismay awoke in Reddy’s heart. He knew that Bowser was wise to the tricks of Foxes, and that he would have to use all his cunning to get rid of Bowser. To do it he would have to drop that fat hen he had come so far to get. Do you wonder that Reddy was dismayed?
Reddy Fox was in a fix! He certainly was in a fix! Here he was with the fat hen which he had come such a long, long way to get, and no chance to eat it, for Bowser the Hound was on his trail. Ordinarily Reddy Fox can run faster than can Bowser, but it is one thing to run with nothing to carry, and another thing altogether to run with a burden as heavy as a fat hen. Reddy’s wits were working quite as fast as his legs.
“I can’t carry this fat hen far,” thought Reddy, “for Bowser will surely catch me. I don’t want to drop it, because I have come such a long way to get it, and goodness knows when I will be able to catch another. The thing for me to do is to hide it where I can come back and get it after I get rid of that pesky dog. Goodness, what a noise he makes!”
As he ran, Reddy watched sharply this way and that way for a place to hide the fat hen. He knew he must find a place soon, because already that fat hen was growing very heavy. Presently he spied the hollow stump of a tree. He didn’t know it was hollow when he first saw it, but from its looks he thought it might be. The top of it was only about two feet above the ground. Reddy stopped and stood up on his hind legs so as to see if the top of that stump was hollow. It was. With a quick look this way and that way to make sure he wasn’t seen, he tossed the fat hen over into the hollow and then, with a sigh of relief, darted away.
With the weight of that fat hen off his shoulders, and the worry about it off his mind, Reddy could give all his attention to getting rid of Bowser the Hound. He had no intention of running any farther than he must. In the first place he had traveled so far that he did not feel like running. In the second place he wanted to get back to that hollow stump and the fat hen just as soon as possible.
It wasn’t long before Reddy realized that it was not going to be so easy to fool Bowser the Hound. Bowser was too wise to be fooled by common tricks such as breaking the trail by jumping far to one side after running back on his own tracks a little way; or by running along a fallen tree and jumping from the end of it as far as he could. Of course he tried these tricks, but each time Bowser simply made a big circle with his nose to the ground and picked up Reddy’s new trail.
Reddy didn’t know that country about there at all, and little by little he began to realize how much this meant. At home he knew every foot of the ground for a long distance in every direction. This made all the difference in the world, because he knew just how to play all kinds of tricks. But here it was different. It seemed to him that all he could do was to run and run.
Farmer Brown’s boy had an errand which took him far from home. He harnessed the horse to a sleigh and started off right after dinner. Now it happened that his errand took him in the direction of the farm where Bowser the Hound had been taken such good care of, and where Reddy Fox had that very day caught the fat hen. Farmer Brown’s boy was not thinking of Bowser. You see, he had already visited most of the farms in that direction in his search for Bowser and had found no trace of him.
It was a beautiful day to be sleighing, and Farmer Brown’s boy was whistling merrily, for there is nothing he enjoys more than a sleigh ride. He had almost reached the place he had started for when ’way off across the fields to his right he heard a dog. Now Farmer Brown’s boy enjoys listening to the sound of a Hound chasing a Fox. There is something about it which stirs the blood. He stopped whistling and stopped the horse in order that he might listen better.
At first that sound was very, very faint, but as Farmer Brown’s boy listened, it grew louder and clearer. Suddenly Farmer Brown’s boy leaped up excitedly. “That’s Bowser!” he cried. “As sure as I live that’s good old Bowser! I would know that voice among a million!”
He leaped from the sleigh and tied the horse. Then he climbed over the fence and began to run across the snow-covered fields. He could tell from the sound in what direction Bowser was running. He could tell from the appearance of the country about where Reddy Fox would be likely to lead Bowser, and he ran for a place which he felt sure Reddy would be likely to pass.
Louder and louder sounded the great voice of Bowser, and faster and faster ran Farmer Brown’s boy to reach that place before Bowser should pass. The louder that great voice sounded, the more absolutely certain Farmer Brown’s boy became that it was the voice of Bowser, and a great joy filled his heart. At last he reached an old road. He felt certain that Reddy would follow that road. So he hid behind an old stone wall on the edge of it.
He did not have long to wait. A red form appeared around a turn in the old road, running swiftly. Then it stopped and stood perfectly still. Of course it was Reddy Fox. He was listening to make sure just how far behind him Bowser was. He listened for only a moment and then started on as swiftly as before. Right down the road past Farmer Brown’s boy Reddy ran, and never once suspected he was being watched.
A few minutes later another form appeared around the turn in the road. It was Bowser! Yes, sir, it was Bowser! With a glad cry Farmer Brown’s boy jumped over the stone wall and waited.
When Bowser the Hound is following the trail of Reddy Fox, it takes a great deal to make him leave that trail. His love of the hunt is so great that, as a rule, nothing short of losing the trail will make him stop. He will follow it until he cannot follow it any longer.
But for once Bowser actually forgot that he was following Reddy Fox. Yes, sir, he did. As he came down that old road with his nose in Reddy’s tracks, he was so intent on what he was doing that he didn’t see Farmer Brown’s boy waiting for him. He didn’t see him until he almost ran into him.
For just a second Bowser stared in utter surprise. Then with a little yelp of pure joy he leaped up and did his best to lick his master’s face. Could you have seen Bowser, you might have thought that he was just a foolish young puppy, he cut up such wild antics to express his joy. He yelped and whined and barked. He nearly knocked Farmer Brown’s boy down by leaping up on him. He raced around in circles. When at last he was still long enough, Farmer Brown’s boy just threw his arms around him and hugged him. He hugged him so hard he made Bowser squeal. Then two of the happiest folks in all the Great World started back across the snow-covered fields to the sleigh.
Bowser and Farmer Brown’s boy were not the only ones who rejoiced. Reddy Fox had been badly worried. Although he had tried every trick he could think of, he had not been able to get rid of Bowser, and he had just about made up his mind that there was nothing for it but to start back to the Old Pasture which was so far away. That would mean giving up the fat hen which he had hidden in the hollow stump.
Of course, Reddy knew the instant that Bowser began to yelp and bark that something had happened. What it was he couldn’t imagine. He sat down to wait and listen. Then he heard the voice of Farmer Brown’s boy. Reddy knew that voice and he grinned, for he felt sure that Bowser would give up the hunt. He grinned because now he would have a chance to go back for that fat hen. At the same time that grin was not wholly a happy grin, because Reddy knew that now Bowser would return to his home.
Presently Reddy very carefully crept back to a place where he could see what was going on. He watched Farmer Brown’s boy start back for the road and the sleigh, with Bowser jumping up on him and racing around him like a foolish young puppy. He waited only long enough to make sure that Bowser would not come back; then he turned and trotted swiftly along his own back trail towards that hollow stump into which he had tossed that fat hen. Reddy’s thoughts were very pleasant thoughts, for they were all of the fine dinner of which he now felt sure.
Very pleasant were the thoughts of Reddy Fox as he trotted back to the swamp where was the hollow stump in which he had hidden the fat hen he had stolen. Yes, sir, very pleasant were the thoughts of Reddy Fox. He felt sure that no dinner he had ever eaten had tasted anywhere near as good as would the dinner he was about to enjoy.
In the first place his stomach had not been really filled for a long time. Food had been scarce, and while Reddy had always obtained enough to keep from starving, it was a long time since he had had a really good meal. He had, you remember, traveled a very long distance to catch that fat hen, and it had been many hours since he had had a bite of anything. There is nothing like a good appetite to make things taste good. Reddy certainly had the appetite to make that fat hen the finest dinner a Fox ever ate.
So, with pleasant thoughts of the feast to come, Reddy trotted along swiftly. Presently he reached the little swamp in which was the hollow stump. As he drew near it, he moved very carefully. You see, he was not quite sure that all was safe. He knew that the farmer from whom he had stolen that fat hen had seen him run away with it, and he feared that that farmer might be hiding somewhere about with a terrible gun. So Reddy used his eyes and his ears and his nose as only he can use them. All seemed safe. It was as still in that little swamp as if no living creature had ever visited it. Stopping every few steps to look, listen, and sniff, Reddy approached that hollow stump.
Quite certain in his own mind that there was no danger, Reddy lightly leaped up on the old stump and peeped into the hollow in the top. Then he blinked his eyes very fast indeed. If ever there has been a surprised Fox in all the Great World that one was Reddy. There was no fat hen in that hollow! Reddy couldn’t believe it. He wouldn’t believe it. That fat hen just had to be there. He blinked his eyes some more and looked again. All he saw in that hollow stump was a feather. The fat hen had vanished. All Reddy’s dreams of a good dinner vanished too. A great rage took their place. Somebody had stolen his fat hen!
Reddy looked about him hurriedly and anxiously. There wasn’t a sign of anybody about, or that anybody had been there. Reddy’s anger began to give place to wonder and then to something very like fear. How could anybody have taken that fat hen and left no trace? And how could a fat hen with a broken neck disappear of its own accord? It gave Reddy a creepy feeling.
Reddy Fox is used to all sorts of queer happenings. Yes, sir, he is used to all sorts of queer happenings, and as a rule Reddy is seldom puzzled for long. You see he is such a clever fellow himself that anyone clever enough to fool him for long must be very clever indeed. This time, however, all the cleverness of his sharp wits did him no good. The fat hen he had hidden in a hollow stump had disappeared without leaving trace.
Reddy’s first thought was that probably the farmer from whom he had stolen the fat hen had found it and taken it away. At once he began to use that wonderful nose of his searching for the scent of that farmer. Very carefully he sniffed all about the top of that old stump and inside the hollow. There wasn’t the faintest scent of anybody there. Then he jumped down, and with his nose to the ground, ran all around the stump, sniffing, sniffing, sniffing. The only thing he discovered was the scent of Bowser the Hound, and he knew that Bowser had not taken that fat hen, because, as you remember, Bowser had kept right on chasing him.
Reddy began to feel afraid of that old stump. People usually are afraid of mysterious things, and it certainly was very mysterious that a fat hen with a broken neck should disappear without leaving any trace at all. Reddy sat down at a little distance and did a lot of hard thinking. He looked every which way even up in the tree tops, but all his looking was in vain. It was so mysterious that if he hadn’t known positively that he was awake he would have thought it was all a dream.
But Reddy is something of a philosopher. That fat hen was gone, and there was no use in wasting time puzzling over it. There were other fat hens where that one came from, and he would just have to catch another.
So Reddy trotted through the swamp till he came to the edge of it. There his keen nose found the scent of the farmer. It didn’t take him two minutes to discover that the farmer had followed Bowser the Hound to the edge of the swamp and then gone back. Eagerly Reddy looked over to the farmyard for those fat hens. They, too, had disappeared. Not one was to be seen. But there was no mystery about the disappearance of these other fat hens. He heard the muffled crow of the big rooster. It came from the henhouse. All those fat hens had been shut up. It was perfectly plain to Reddy that the farmer suspected Reddy might return, and he didn’t intend to lose another fat hen. With a little yelp of disappointment, Reddy turned his back on the farm and trotted off into the woods.
There were just two people to whom the disappearance of that fat hen Reddy Fox had hidden in the hollow stump was not a mystery. One of them was Blacky the Crow. When the farmer and Bowser the Hound had rushed out at the sound of Blacky’s excited cawing, Blacky had flown to the top of a tall tree from which he could see all that went on. Everything had happened just as Blacky had hoped it would. Bowser had taken the trail of Reddy Fox, and Blacky felt sure that sooner or later Reddy would lead him back home to Farmer Brown’s.
Blacky was doubly pleased with himself. He was pleased to think that he had found a way of getting Bowser back home, and he was quite as much pleased because he had been smart enough to outwit Reddy Fox. He didn’t wish Reddy any harm, and he felt sure that no harm would come to him. He didn’t even wish him to lose that dinner Reddy had come so far to get, but he didn’t care if Reddy did lose it, if only his plan worked out as he hoped it would.
“I wonder what he’ll do with that fat hen,” muttered Blacky, as he watched Reddy race away with it thrown over his shoulders. “He can’t carry that hen far and keep out of the way of Bowser. I think I’ll follow and see what he does with it.”
So Blacky followed, and his eyes twinkled when he saw Reddy hide the fat hen in the hollow stump. He knew that no matter how far Bowser might chase Reddy, Reddy would come back for that fat hen, and he was rather glad to think that Reddy would have that good dinner after all.
“No one will ever think to look in that hollow stump,” thought Blacky, “and I certainly will not tell anyone. Reddy has earned that dinner. Now I think I’ll go get something to eat myself.”
At that very instant Blacky’s sharp eyes caught a glimpse of a gray form with broad wings, and in a perfect panic of fear Blacky began to fly as fast as he knew how for a thick spruce-tree not far away. He plunged in among the branches and hid in the thickest part he could find. With little shivers of fear running all over him, he peeked out and watched that big gray form. On broad wings it sailed over to that hollow stump. Two long legs with great curving claws reached down in, and a moment later that fat hen was disappearing over the tree tops. Blacky sighed with relief.
“It’s a lucky thing for me that robber, Mr. Goshawk, saw Reddy hide that fat hen,” muttered Blacky. “If he hadn’t, he might have caught me, for I didn’t see him at all.”
Reddy Fox, trotting homeward, had nothing but bitterness in his heart, and nothing at all in his stomach. He was tired and hungry and bitterly disappointed. He was in a country with which he was not familiar, and so he did not know where to hunt, and he felt that he just must get something to eat. Do what he would, he couldn’t help thinking about that fat hen he had hidden and which had so mysteriously disappeared. The more he thought of it, the worse he felt. It was bad enough to be hungry and have no idea where the next meal was coming from, but it was many times worse to have had that meal and then lose it. To Reddy, everything was all wrong.
Now on his way home Ready had to pass several farms. Hunger made him bold, and at each farm he stole softly as near as possible to the farmyard, hoping that he might find more fat hens unguarded. Now it happened that that afternoon a farmer at one of these farms was preparing some chickens to be taken to market early the next morning. He was picking these chickens in a shed attached to the barn. He had several all picked when he was called to the house on an errand.
It happened that just after he had disappeared Reddy Fox came stealing around from behind the barn, and at once he smelled those chickens. Just imagine how Reddy felt when he peeped in that shed and saw those fine chickens just waiting for him. Two minutes later Reddy was racing back to the woods with one of them. This time there was no dog behind him. And in a little hollow Reddy ate the finest dinner he ever had had. You see there were no feathers to bother him on that chicken, for it had been picked. When the last bit had disappeared, Reddy once more started for home, and this time he was happy, for his stomach was full.
Long before Reddy got back to the Old Pasture Farmer Brown’s boy and Bowser the Hound had reached home. Such a fuss as everybody did make over Bowser. It seemed as if each one at Farmer Brown’s was trying to spoil Bowser. As for Bowser himself, he was the happiest dog in all the Great World.
Blacky the Crow got back to the Green Forest near Farmer Brown’s just before jolly, round Mr. Sun went to bed. Blacky had found plenty to eat and he had seen no more of fierce Mr. Goshawk. As Blacky settled himself on his roost he heard from the direction of Farmer Brown’s house a great voice. It was the voice of Bowser the Hound trying to express his joy in being home. Blacky chuckled contentedly. He, too, was happy, for it always makes one happy to have one’s plans succeed.
“All’s well that end’s well,” he chuckled, and closed his eyes sleepily.
Blacky never could have fooled old Granny Fox as he did Reddy. She is far too smart to be fooled even by so clever a scamp as Blacky. She is so smart that she deserves a book all her own, and so the next volume in this series will be Old Granny Fox.
Snow covered the Green Meadows and the Green Forest, and ice bound the Smiling Pool and the Laughing Brook. Reddy and Granny Fox were hungry most of the time. It was not easy to find enough to eat these days, and so they spent nearly every minute they were awake in hunting. Sometimes they hunted together, but usually one went one way, and the other went another way so as to have a greater chance of finding something. If either found enough for two, the one finding it took the food back to their home if it could be carried. If not, the other was told where to find it.
For several days they had had very little indeed to eat, and they were so hungry that they were willing to take almost any chance to get a good meal. For two nights they had visited Farmer Brown’s henhouse, hoping that they would be able to find a way inside. But the biddies had been securely locked up, and try as they would, they couldn’t find a way in.
“It’s of no use,” said Granny, as they started back home after the second try, “to hope to get one of those hens at night. If we are going to get any at all, we will have to do it in broad daylight. It can be done, for I have done it before, but I don’t like the idea. We are likely to be seen, and that means that Bowser the Hound will be set to hunting us.”
“Pooh!” exclaimed Reddy. “What of it? It’s easy enough to fool him.”
“You think so, do you?” snapped Granny. “I never yet saw a young Fox who didn’t think he knew all there is to know, and you’re just like the rest. When you’ve lived as long as I have, you will have learned not to be quite so sure of your own opinions. I grant you that when there is no snow on the ground, any Fox with a reasonable amount of Fox sense in his head can fool Bowser, but with snow everywhere it is a very different matter. If Bowser once takes it into his head to follow your trail these days, you will have to be smarter than I think you are to fool him. The only way you will be able to get away from him will be by going into a hole in the ground, and when you do that you will have given away a secret that will mean we will never have any peace at all. We will never know when Farmer Brown’s boy will take it into his head to smoke us out. I’ve seen it done. No, sir, we are not going to try for one of those hens in the daytime unless we are starving.”
“I’m starving now,” whined Reddy.
“No such thing!” Granny snapped. “I’ve been without food longer than this many a time. Have you been over to the Big River lately?”
“No,” replied Reddy. “What’s the use? It’s frozen over. There isn’t anything there.”
“Perhaps not,” replied Granny, “but I learned a long time ago that it is a poor plan to overlook any chance. There is a place in the Big River which never freezes because the water runs too swiftly to freeze, and I’ve found more than one meal washed ashore there. You go over there now while I see what I can find in the Green Forest. If neither of us finds anything, it will be time enough to think about Farmer Brown’s hens tomorrow.”
Much against his will Reddy obeyed. “It isn’t the least bit of use,” he grumbled, as he trotted towards the Big River. “There won’t be anything there. It is just a waste of time.”
Late that afternoon he came hurrying back, and Granny knew by the way that he cocked his ears and carried his tail that he had news of some kind. “Well, what is it?” she demanded.
“I found a dead fish that had been washed ashore,” replied Reddy. “It wasn’t big enough for two, so I ate it.”
“Anything else?” asked Granny.
“No-o,” replied Reddy slowly; “that is, nothing that will do us any good. Quacker the Wild Duck was swimming about out in the open water, but though I watched and watched he never once came ashore.”
“Ha!” exclaimed Granny. “That is good news. I think we’ll go Duck hunting.”
Jolly, round, bright Mr. Sun had just got well started on his daily climb up in the blue, blue sky that morning when he spied two figures trotting across the snow-covered Green Meadows, one behind the other. They were trotting along quite as if they had made up their minds just where they were going. They had. You see they were Granny and Reddy Fox, and they were bound for the Big River at the place where the water ran too swiftly to freeze. The day before Reddy had discovered Quacker the Wild Duck swimming about there, and now they were on their way to try to catch him.
Granny led the way and Reddy meekly followed her. To tell the truth, Reddy hadn’t the least idea that they would have a chance to catch Quacker, because Quacker kept out in the water where he was as safe from them as if they were a thousand miles away. The only reason that Reddy had willingly started with Granny was the hope that he might find a dead fish washed up on the shore as he had the day before.
“Granny certainly is growing foolish in her old age,” thought Reddy, as he trotted along behind her. “I told her that Quacker never once came ashore all the time I watched yesterday. I don’t believe he ever comes ashore, and if she knows anything at all she ought to know that she can’t catch him out there in the water. Granny used to be smart enough when she was young, I guess, but she certainly is losing her mind now. It’s a pity, a great pity. I can just imagine how Quacker will laugh at her. I have to laugh myself.”
He did laugh, but you may be sure he took great pains that Granny should not see him laughing. Whenever she looked around he was as sober as could be. In fact, he appeared to be quite as eager as if he felt sure they would catch Quacker. Now old Granny Fox is very wise in the ways of the Great World, and if Reddy could have known what was going on in her mind as she led the way to the Big River, he might not have felt quite so sure of his own smartness. Granny was doing some quiet laughing herself.
“He thinks I’m old and foolish and don’t know what I’m about, the young scamp!” thought she. “He thinks he has learned all there is to learn. It isn’t the least use in the world to try to tell him anything. When young folks feel the way he does, it is a waste of time to talk to them. He has got to be shown. There is nothing like experience to take the conceit out of these youngsters.”
Now conceit is the feeling that you know more than anyone else. Perhaps you do. Then again, perhaps you don’t. So sometimes it is best not to be too sure of your own opinion. Reddy was sure. He trotted along behind old Granny Fox and planned smart things to say to her when she found that there wasn’t a chance to catch Quacker the Duck. I am afraid, very much afraid, that Reddy was planning to be saucy. People who think themselves smart are quite apt to be saucy.
Presently they came to the bank of the Big River. Old Granny Fox told Reddy to sit still while she crept up behind some bushes where she could peek out over the Big River. He grinned as he watched her. He was still grinning when she tiptoed back. He expected to see her face long with disappointment. Instead she looked very much pleased.
“Quacker is there,” said she, “and I think he will make us a very good dinner. Creep up behind those bushes and see for yourself, then come back here and tell me what you think we’d better do to get him.”
So Reddy stole up behind the bushes, and this time it was Granny who grinned as she watched. As he crept along, Reddy wondered if it could be that for once Quacker had come ashore. Granny seemed so sure they could catch him that this must be the case. But when he peeped through the hushes, there was Quacker way out in the middle of the open water just where he had been the day before.
“Just as I thought,” muttered Reddy Fox as he peeped through the bushes on the bank of the Big River and saw Quacker swimming about in the water where it ran too swiftly to freeze. “We’ve got just as much chance of catching him as I have of jumping over the moon. That’s what I’ll tell Granny.”
He crept back carefully so as not to be seen by Quacker, and when he had reached the place where Granny was waiting for him, his face wore a very impudent look.
“Well,” said Granny Fox, “what shall we do to catch him?”
“Learn to swim like a fish and fly like a bird,” replied Reddy in such a saucy tone that Granny had hard work to keep from boxing his ears.
“You mean that you think he can’t be caught?” said she quietly.
“I don’t think anything about it; I know he can’t!” snapped Reddy. “Not by us, anyway,” he added.
“I suppose you wouldn’t even try?” retorted Granny.
“I’m old enough to know when I’m wasting my time,” replied Reddy with a toss of his head.
“In other words you think I’m a silly old Fox who has lost her senses,” said Granny sharply.
“No-o. I didn’t say that,” protested Reddy, looking very uncomfortable.
“But you think it,” declared Granny. “Now look here, Mr. Smarty, you do just as I tell you. You creep back there where you can watch Quacker and all that happens, and mind that you keep out of his sight. Now go.”
Reddy went. There was nothing else to do. He didn’t dare disobey. Granny watched until Reddy had readied his hiding-place. Then what do you think she did? Why, she walked right out on the little beach just below Reddy and in plain sight of Quacker! Yes, sir, that is what she did!
Then began such a queer performance that it is no wonder that Reddy was sure Granny had lost her senses. She rolled over and over. She chased her tail round and round until it made Reddy dizzy to watch her. She jumped up in the air. She raced back and forth. She played with a bit of stick. And all the time she didn’t pay the least attention to Quacker the Duck.
Reddy stared and stared. Whatever had come over Granny? She was crazy. Yes, sir, that must be the matter. It must be that she had gone without food so long that she had gone crazy. Poor Granny! She was in her second childhood. Reddy could remember how he had done such things when he was very young, just by way of showing how fine he felt. But for a grown-up Fox to do such things was undignified, to say the least. You know Reddy thinks a great deal of dignity. It was worse than undignified; it was positively disgraceful. He did hope that none of his neighbors would happen along and see Granny cutting up so. He never would hear the end of it if they did.
Over and over rolled Granny, and around and around she chased her tail. The snow flew up in a cloud. And all the time she made no sound. Reddy was just trying to decide whether to go off and leave her until she had regained her common sense, or to go out and try to stop her, when he happened to look out in the open water where Quacker was. Quacker was sitting up as straight as he could. In fact, he had his wings raised to help him sit up on his tail, the better to see what old Granny Fox was doing.
“As I live,” muttered Reddy, “I believe that fellow is nearer than he was!”
Reddy crouched lower than ever, and instead of watching Granny he watched Quacker the Duck.
Old Granny Fox never said a truer thing than that. It is curious, very curious, how sometimes curiosity will get the best of even the wisest and most sensible of people. Even Old Granny Fox herself has been known to be led into trouble by it. We expect it of Peter Rabbit, but Peter isn’t a bit more curious than some others of whom we do not expect it.
Now Quacker the Wild Duck is the last one in the world you would expect to be led into trouble by curiosity. Quacker had spent the summer in the Far North with Honker the Goose. In fact, he had been born there. He had started for the far away Southland at the same time Honker had, but when he reached the Big River he had found plenty to eat and had decided to stay until he had to move on. The Big River had frozen over everywhere except in this one place where the water was too swift to freeze, and there Quacker had remained. You see, he was a good diver and on the bottom of the river he found plenty to eat. No one could get at him out there, unless it were Roughleg the Hawk, and if Roughleg did happen along, all he had to do was to dive and come up far away to laugh and make fun of Roughleg. The water couldn’t get through his oily feathers, and so he didn’t mind how cold it was.
Now in his home in the Far North there were so many dangers that Quacker had early learned to be always on the watch and to take the best of care of himself. On his way down to the Big River he had been hunted by men with terrible guns, and he had learned all about them. In fact, he felt quite able to keep out of harm’s way. He rather prided himself that there was no one smart enough to catch him. I suspect he thought he knew all there was to know. In this respect he was a good deal like Reddy Fox himself. That was because he was young. It is the way with young Ducks and Foxes and with some other youngsters I know.
When Quacker first saw Granny Fox on the little beach, he flirted his absurd little tail and smiled as he thought how she must wish she could catch him. But so far as he could see, Granny didn’t once look at him.
“She doesn’t know I’m out here at all,” thought Quacker. Then suddenly he sat up very straight and looked with all his might. What under the sun was the matter with that Fox? She was acting as if she had suddenly lost her senses.
Over and over she rolled. Around and around she spun. She turned somersaults. She lay on her back and kicked her heels in the air. Never in his life had he known anyone to act like that. There must be something the matter with her.
Quacker began to get excited. He couldn’t keep his eyes off Old Granny Fox. He began to swim nearer. He wanted to see better. He quite forgot she was a Fox. She moved so fast that she was just a queer red spot on the beach. Whatever she was doing was very curious and very exciting. He swam nearer and nearer. The excitement was catching. He began to swim in circles himself. All the time he drew nearer and nearer to the shore. He didn’t have the least bit of fear. He was just curious. He wanted to see better.
All the time Granny was cutting up her antics, she was watching Quacker, though he didn’t suspect it. As he swam nearer and nearer to the shore, Granny rolled and tumbled farther and farther back. At last Quacker was close to the shore. If he kept on, he would be right on the land in a few minutes. And all the time he stared and stared. No thought of danger entered his head. You see, there was no room because it was so filled with curiosity.
“In a minute more I’ll have him,” thought Granny, and whirled faster than ever. And just then something happened.
Reddy Fox thought of that saying many times as he hunted through the Green Forest that night, afraid to go home. You see, he had almost dined on Quacker the Duck over at the Big River that day and then hadn’t, and it was all his own fault. That was why he was afraid to go home. From his hiding-place on the bank he had watched Quacker swim in and in until he was almost on the shore where old Granny Fox was whirling and rolling and tumbling about as if she had entirely lost her senses. Indeed, Reddy had been quite sure that she had when she began. It wasn’t until he saw that curiosity was drawing Quacker right in so that in a minute or two Granny would be able to catch him, that he understood that Granny was anything but crazy, and really was teaching him a new trick as well as trying to catch a dinner.
When he realized this, he should have been ashamed of himself for doubting the smartness of Granny and for thinking that he knew all there was to know. But he was too much excited for any such thoughts. Nearer and nearer to the shore came Quacker, his eyes fixed on the red, whirling form of Granny. Reddy’s own eyes gleamed with excitement. Would Quacker keep on right up to the shore? Nearer and nearer and nearer he came. Reddy squirmed uneasily. He couldn’t see as well as he wanted to. The bushes behind which he was lying were in his way. He wanted to see Granny make that jump which would mean a dinner for both.
Forgetting what Granny had charged him, Reddy eagerly raised his head to look over the edge of the bank. Now it just happened that at that very minute Quacker chanced to look that way. His quick eyes caught the movement of Reddy’s head and in an instant all his curiosity vanished. That sharp face peering at him over the edge of the bank could mean but one thing—danger! It was all a trick! He saw through it now. Like a flash he turned. There was the whistle of stiff wings beating the air and the patter of feet striking the water as he got under way. Then he flew out to the safety of the open water. Granny sprang, but she was just too late and succeeded in doing no more than wet her feet.
Of course, Granny didn’t know what had frightened Quacker, not at first, anyway. But she had her suspicions. She turned and looked up at the place where Reddy had been hiding. She couldn’t see him. Then she bounded up the bank. There was no Reddy there, but far away across the snow-covered Green Meadows was a red spot growing smaller and smaller. Reddy was running away. Then she knew. At first Granny was very angry. You know it is a dreadful thing to be hungry and have a good dinner disappear just as it is almost within reach.
“I’ll teach that young scamp a lesson he won’t soon forget when I get home,” she muttered, as she watched him. Then she went back to the edge of the Big River and there she found a dead fish which had been washed ashore. It was a very good fish, and when she had eaten it Granny felt better.
“Anyway,” thought she, “I have taught him a new trick and one he isn’t likely to forget. He knows now that Granny still knows a few tricks that he doesn’t, and next time he won’t feel so sure he knows it all. I guess it was worth while even if I didn’t catch Quacker. My, but he would have tasted good!” Granny smacked her lips and started for home.
But Reddy, with a guilty conscience, was afraid to go home. And so, miserable and hungry, he hunted through the Green Forest all the long night and wished and wished that he had heeded what old Granny Fox had told him.
There is a saying among the little people of the Green Forest and the Green Meadows which runs something like this:
“You must your eyes wide open keep
To catch Old Granny Fox asleep.”
Of course this means that Old Granny Fox is so smart, so clever, so keenly on the watch at all times, that he must be very smart indeed who fools her or gets ahead of her. Reddy Fox is smart, very smart. But Reddy isn’t nearly as smart as Old Granny Fox. You see, he hasn’t lived nearly as long, so of course there is much knowledge of many things stored away in Granny’s head of which Reddy knows little.
But once in a while even the smartest people are caught napping. Yes, sir, that does happen. They will be careless sometimes. It was just so with Old Granny Fox. With all her smartness and cleverness and wisdom she grew careless, and all the smartness and cleverness and wisdom in the world is useless if the possessor becomes careless.
You see, Old Granny Fox had become so used to thinking that she was smarter than anyone else, unless it was Old Man Coyote, that she actually believed that no one was smart enough ever to surprise her. Yes, sir, she actually believed that. Now, you know when a person reaches the point of thinking that no one else in all the Great World is quite so smart, that person is like Peter Rabbit when he made ready one winter day to jump out on the smooth ice of the Smiling Pool—getting ready for a fall. It was this way with Old Granny Fox.
Because she had lived near Farmer Brown’s so long and had been hunted so often by Farmer Brown’s boy and by Bowser the Hound, she had got the idea in her head that no matter what she did they would not be able to catch her. So at last she grew careless. Yes, sir, she grew careless. And that is something no Fox or anybody else can afford to do.
Now on the edge of the Green Forest was a warm, sunny knoll, which, as you know, is a sort of little hill. It overlooked the Green Meadows and was quite the most pleasant and comfortable place for a sun-nap that ever was. At least, that is what Old Granny Fox thought. She took sun-naps there very often. It was her favorite resting place. When Bowser the Hound had found her trail and had chased her until she was tired of running and had had quite all the exercise she needed or wanted, she would play one of her clever tricks by which to make Bowser lose her trail. Then she would hurry straight to that knoll to rest and grin at her own smartness.
It happened that she did this one day when there was fresh snow on the ground. Of course, every time she put a foot down she left a print in the snow. And where she curled up in the sun she left the print of her body. They were very plain to see, were these prints, and Farmer Brown’s boy saw them.
He had been tramping through the Green Forest late in the afternoon and just by chance happened across Granny’s footprints. Just for fun he followed them and so came to the sunny knoll. Granny had left some time before, but of course she couldn’t take the print of her body with her. That remained in the snow, and Farmer Brown’s boy saw it and knew instantly what it meant. He grinned, and could Granny Fox have seen that grin, she would have been uncomfortable. You see, he knew that he had found the place where Granny was in the habit of taking a sun-nap.
“So,” said he, “this is the place where you rest, Old Mrs. Fox, after running Bowser almost off his feet. I think we will give you a surprise one of these days. Yes, indeed, I think we will give you a surprise. You have fooled us many times, and now it is our turn.”
The next day Farmer Brown’s boy shouldered his terrible gun and sent Bowser the Hound to hunt for the trail of Old Granny Fox. It wasn’t long before Bowser’s great voice told all the Great World that he had found Granny’s tracks. Farmer Brown’s boy grinned just as he had the day before. Then with his terrible gun he went over to the Green Forest and hid under some pine boughs right on the edge of that sunny knoll.
He waited patiently a long, long time. He heard Bowser’s great voice growing more and more excited as he followed Old Granny Fox. By and by Bowser stopped baying and began to yelp impatiently. Farmer Brown’s boy knew exactly what that meant. It meant that Granny had played one of her smart tricks and Bowser had lost her trail.
A few minutes later out of the Green Forest came Old Granny Fox, and she was grinning, for once more she had fooled Bowser the Hound and now could take a nap in peace. Still grinning, she turned around two or three times to make herself comfortable and then, with a sigh of contentment, curled up for a sun-nap, and in a few minutes was asleep. And just a little way off behind the pine boughs sat Farmer Brown’s boy holding his terrible gun and grinning. At last he had caught Old Granny Fox napping.
Old Granny Fox was dreaming. Yes, sir, she was dreaming. There she lay, curled up on the sunny little knoll on the edge of the Green Forest, fast asleep and dreaming. It was a very pleasant and very comfortable place indeed. You see, jolly, round, bright Mr. Sun poured his warmest rays right down there from the blue, blue sky. When Old Granny Fox was tired, she often slipped over there for a short nap and sun-bath even in winter. She was quite sure that no one knew anything about it. It was one of her secrets.
This morning Old Granny Fox was very tired, unusually so. In the first place she had been out hunting all night. Then, before she could reach home, Bowser the Hound had found her tracks and started to follow them. Of course, it wouldn’t have done to go home then. It wouldn’t have done at all. Bowser would have followed her straight there and so found out where she lived. So she had led Bowser far away across the Green Meadows and through the Green Forest and finally played one of her smart tricks which had so mixed her tracks that Bowser could no longer follow them. While he had sniffed and snuffed and snuffed and sniffed with that wonderful nose of his, trying to find out where she had gone, Old Granny Fox had trotted straight to the sunny knoll and there curled up to rest. Right away she fell asleep.
Now Old Granny Fox, like most of the other little people of the Green Forest and the Green Meadows, sleeps with her ears wide open. Her eyes may be closed, but not her ears. Those are always on guard, even when she is asleep, and at the least sound open fly her eyes, and she is ready to run. If it were not for the way her sharp ears keep guard, she wouldn’t dare take naps in the open right in broad daylight. If you ever want to catch a Fox asleep, you mustn’t make the teeniest, weeniest noise. Just remember that.
Now Old Granny Fox had no sooner closed her eyes than she began to dream. At first it was a very pleasant dream, the pleasantest dream a Fox can have. It was of a chicken dinner, all the chicken she could eat. Granny certainly enjoyed that dream. It made her smack her lips quite as if it were a real and not a dream dinner she was enjoying.
But presently the dream changed and became a bad dream. Yes, indeed, it became a bad dream. It was as bad as at first it had been good. It seemed to Granny that Bowser the Hound had become very smart, smarter than she had ever known him to be before. Do what she would, she couldn’t fool him. Not one of all the tricks she knew, and she knew a great many, fooled him at all. They didn’t puzzle him long enough for her to get her breath.
Bowser kept getting nearer and nearer and nearer, all in the dream, you know, until it seemed as if his great voice sounded right at her very heels. She was so tired that it seemed to her that she couldn’t run another step. It was a very, very real dream. You know dreams sometimes do seem very real indeed. This was the way it was with the bad dream of Old Granny Fox. It seemed to her that she could feel the breath of Bowser the Hound and that his great jaws were just going to close on her and shake her to death.
“Oh! Oh!” cried Granny and waked herself up. Her eyes flew open. Then she gave a great sigh of relief as she realized that her terrible fright was only a bad dream and that she was curled up right on the dear, familiar, old, sunny knoll and not running for her life at all.
Old Granny Fox smiled to think what a fright she had had and then—well, she didn’t know whether she was really awake or still dreaming! No, sir, she didn’t. For a full minute she couldn’t be sure whether what she saw was real or part of that dreadful dream. You see, she was staring into the face of Farmer Brown’s boy and the muzzle of his dreadful gun!
For just a few seconds she didn’t move. She couldn’t. She was too frightened to move. Then she knew what she saw was real and not a dream at all. There wasn’t the least bit of doubt about it. That was Farmer Brown’s boy, and that was his dreadful gun! All in a flash she knew that Farmer Brown’s boy must have been hiding behind those pine boughs.
Poor Old Granny Fox! For once in her life she had been caught napping. She hadn’t the least hope in the world. Farmer Brown’s boy had only to fire that dreadful gun, and that would be the end of her. She knew it.
Poor Old Granny Fox! She had thought that she had been in tight places before, but never, never had she been in such a tight place as this. There stood Farmer Brown’s boy looking along the barrel of his dreadful gun straight at her, and only such a short distance, such a very short distance away! It wasn’t the least bit of use to run. Granny knew that. That dreadful gun would go “bang!” and that would be the end of her.
For a few seconds she stared at Farmer Brown’s boy, too frightened to move or even think. Then she began to wonder why that dreadful gun didn’t go off. What was Farmer Brown’s boy waiting for? She got to her feet. She was sure that the first step would be her last, yet she couldn’t stay there.
How could Farmer Brown’s boy do such a dreadful thing? Somehow, his freckled face didn’t look cruel. He was even beginning to grin. That must be because he had caught her napping and knew that this time she couldn’t possibly get away from him as she had so many times before. “Oh!” sobbed Old Granny Fox under her breath.
And right at that very instant Farmer Brown’s boy did something. What do you think it was? No, he didn’t shoot her. He didn’t fire his dreadful gun. What do you think he did do? Why, he threw a snowball at Old Granny Fox and shouted “Boo!” That is what he did and all he did, except to laugh as Granny gave a great leap and then made those black legs of hers fly as never before.
Every instant Granny expected to hear that dreadful gun, and it seemed as if her heart would burst with fright as she ran, thinking each jump would be the last one. But the dreadful gun didn’t bang, and after a little, when she felt she was safe, she turned to look back over her shoulder. Farmer Brown’s boy was standing right where she had last seen him, and he was laughing harder than ever. Yes, sir, he was laughing, and though Old Granny Fox didn’t think so at the time, his laugh was good to hear, for it was good-natured and merry and all that an honest laugh should be.
“Go it, Granny! Go it!” shouted Farmer Brown’s boy. “And the next time you are tempted to steal my chickens, just remember that I caught you napping and let you off when I might have shot you. Just remember that and leave my chickens alone.”
Now it happened that Tommy Tit the Chickadee had seen all that had happened, and he fairly bubbled over with joy. “Dee, dee, dee, Chickadee! It is just as I have always said—Farmer Brown’s boy isn’t bad. He’d be friends with everyone if everyone would let him,” he cried.
“Maybe, maybe,” grumbled Sammy Jay, who also had seen all that had happened. “But he’s altogether too smart for me to trust. Oh, my! oh, my! What news this will be to tell! Old Granny Fox will never hear the end of it. If ever again she boasts of how smart she is, all we will have to do will be to remind her of the time Farmer Brown’s boy caught her napping. Ho! ho! ho! I must hurry along and find my cousin, Blacky the Crow. This will tickle him half to death.”
As for Old Granny Fox, she feared Farmer Brown’s boy more than ever, not because of what he had done to her but because of what he had not done. You see, nothing could make her believe that he wanted to be her friend. She thought he had let her get away just to show her that he was smarter than she. Instead of thankfulness, hate and fear filled Granny’s heart. You know—
People who themselves do ill
For others seldom have good will.
Sammy Jay hurried through the Green Forest, chuckling as he flew. Sammy was brimming over with the news he had to tell—how Old Granny Fox had been caught napping by Farmer Brown’s boy. Sammy wouldn’t have believed it if anyone had told him. No, sir, he wouldn’t. But he had seen it with his own eyes, and it tickled him almost to pieces to think that Old Granny Fox, whom everybody thought so sly and clever and smart, had been caught actually asleep by the very one of whom she was most afraid, but at whom she always had turned up her nose.
Presently Sammy spied Reddy Fox trotting along the Lone Little Path. Reddy was forever boasting of how smart Granny Fox was. He had boasted of it so much that everybody was sick of hearing him. When he saw Reddy trotting along the Lone Little Path, Sammy chuckled harder than ever. He hid in a thick hemlock-tree and as Reddy passed he shouted:
“Had I such a stupid old Granny
As some folks who think they are smart,
I never would boast of my Granny,
But live by myself quite apart!”
Reddy looked up angrily. He couldn’t see Sammy Jay, but he knew Sammy’s voice. There is no mistaking that. Everybody knows the voice of Sammy Jay. Of course it was foolish, very foolish of Reddy to be angry, and still more foolish to show that he was angry. Had he stopped a minute to think, he would have known that Sammy was saying such a mean, provoking thing just to make him angry, and that the angrier he became the better pleased Sammy Jay would be. But like a great many people, Reddy allowed his temper to get the better of his common sense.
“Who says Granny Fox is stupid?” he snarled.
“I do,” replied Sammy Jay promptly. “I say she is stupid.”
“She is smarter than anybody else in all the Green Forest and on all the Green Meadows. She is smarter than anybody else in all the Great World,” boasted Reddy, and he really believed it.
“She isn’t smart enough to fool Farmer Brown’s boy,” taunted Sammy.
“What’s that? Who says so? Has anything happened to Granny Fox?” Reddy forgot his anger in a sudden great fear. Could Granny have been shot by Farmer Brown’s boy?
“Nothing much, only Farmer Brown’s boy caught her napping in broad daylight,” replied Sammy, and chuckled so that Reddy heard him.
“I don’t believe it!” snapped Reddy. “I don’t believe a word of it! Nobody ever yet caught Old Granny Fox napping, and nobody ever will.”
“I don’t care whether you believe it or not; it’s so, for I saw him,” retorted Sammy Jay.
“You—you—you—” began Reddy Fox.
“Go ask Tommy Tit the Chickadee if it isn’t true. He saw him too,” interrupted Sammy Jay.
“Dee, dee, dee, Chickadee! It’s so, and Farmer Brown’s boy only threw a snowball at her and let her run away without shooting at her,” declared a new voice. There sat Tommy Tit himself.
Reddy didn’t know what to think or say. He just couldn’t believe it, yet he had never known Tommy Tit to tell an untruth. Sammy Jay alone he wouldn’t have believed. Then Tommy Tit and Sammy Jay told Reddy all about what they had seen, how Farmer Brown’s boy had surprised Old Granny Fox and then allowed her to go unharmed. Reddy had to believe it. If Tommy Tit said it was so, it must be so. Reddy Fox started off to hunt up Old Granny Fox and ask her about it. But a sudden thought popped into his red head, and he changed his mind.
“I won’t say a thing about it until some time when Granny scolds me for being careless,” muttered Reddy, with a sly grin. “Then I’ll see what she has to say. I guess she won’t scold me so much after this.”
Reddy grinned more than ever, which wasn’t a bit nice of him. Instead of being sorry that Old Granny Fox had had such a fright, he was planning how he would get even with her when she should scold him for his own carelessness.
Reddy Fox is headstrong and, like most headstrong people, is given to thinking that his way is the best way just because it is his way. He is smart, is Reddy Fox. Yes, indeed, Reddy Fox is very, very smart. He has to be in order to live. But a great deal of what he knows he learned from Old Granny Fox. The very best tricks he knows she taught him. She began teaching him when he was so little that he tumbled over his own feet. It was she who taught him how to hunt, that it is better never to steal chickens near home but to go a long way off for them, and how to fool Bowser the Hound.
It was Granny who taught Reddy how to use his little black nose to follow the tracks of careless young Rabbits, and how to catch Meadow Mice under the snow. In fact, there is little Reddy knows which he didn’t learn from wise, shrewd Old Granny Fox.
But as he grew bigger and bigger, until he was quite as big as Granny herself, he forgot what he owed to her. He grew to have a very good opinion of himself and to feel that he knew just about all there was to know. So sometimes when he had done foolish or careless things and Granny had scolded him, telling him he was big enough and old enough to know better, he would sulk and go off muttering to himself. But he never quite dared to be openly disrespectful to Granny, and this, of course, was quite as it should have been.
“If only I could catch Granny doing something foolish or careless,” he would say to himself. But he never could, and he had begun to think that he never would. But now at last Granny, clever Old Granny Fox, had been careless! She had allowed Farmer Brown’s boy to catch her napping! Reddy did wish he had been there to see it himself. But anyway, he had been told about it, and he made up his mind that the next time Granny said anything sharp to him about his carelessness he would have something to say back. Yes, sir, Reddy Fox was deliberately planning to answer back, which, as you know, is always disrespectful to one’s elders.
At last the chance came. Reddy did a thing no truly wise Fox ever will do. He went two nights in succession to the same henhouse, and the second time he barely escaped being shot. Old Granny Fox found out about it. How she found out Reddy doesn’t know to this day, but find out she did, and she gave him such a scolding as even her sharp tongue had seldom given him.
“You are the stupidest Fox I ever heard of,” scolded Granny.
“I’m no more stupid than you are!” retorted Reddy in the most impudent way.
“What’s that?” demanded Granny. “What’s that you said?”
“I said I’m no more stupid than you are, and what is more, I hope I’m not so stupid. I know better than to take a nap in broad daylight right under the very nose of Farmer Brown’s boy.” Reddy grinned in the most impudent way as he said this.
Granny’s eyes snapped. Then things happened. Reddy was cuffed this way and cuffed that way and cuffed the other way until it seemed to him that the air was full of black paws, every one of which landed on his head or face with a sting that made him whimper and put his tail between his legs, and finally howl.
“There!” cried Granny, when at last she had to stop because she was quite out of breath. “Perhaps that will teach you to be respectful to your elders. I was careless and stupid, and I am perfectly ready to admit it, because it has taught me a lesson. Wisdom often is gained through mistakes, but never when one is not willing to admit the mistakes. No Fox lives long who makes the same mistake twice. And those who are impudent to their elders come to no good end. I’ve got a fat goose hidden away for dinner, but you will get none of it.”
“I—I wish I’d never heard of Granny’s mistake,” whined Reddy to himself as he crept dinnerless to bed.
“You ought to wish that you hadn’t been impudent,” whispered a small voice down inside him.
The thing to do is to make the most of the sunshine while it lasts, and when it rains to look forward to the corning of the sun again, knowing that come it surely will. A dreadful storm was keeping the little people of the Green Forest, the Green Meadows, and the Old Orchard prisoners in their own homes or in such places of shelter as they had been able to find. But it couldn’t last forever, and they knew it. Knowing this was all that kept some of them alive.
You see, they were starving. Yes, sir, they were starving. You and I would be very hungry, very hungry indeed, if we had to go without food for two whole days, but if we were snug and warm it wouldn’t do us any real harm. With the little wild friends, especially the little feathered folks, it is a very different matter. You see, they are naturally so active that they have to fill their stomachs very often in order to supply their little bodies with heat and energy. So when their food supply is wholly cut off, they starve or else freeze to death in a very short time. A great many little lives are ended this way in every long, hard winter storm.
It was late in the afternoon of the second day when rough Brother North Wind decided that he had shown his strength and fierceness long enough, and rumbling and grumbling retired from the Green Meadows and the Green Forest, blowing the snow clouds away with him. For just a little while before it was time for him to go to bed behind the Purple Hills, jolly, round, red Mr. Sun smiled down on the white land, and never was his smile more welcome. Out from their shelters hurried all the little prisoners, for they must make the most of the short time before the coming of the cold night.
Little Tommy Tit the Chickadee was so weak that he could hardly fly, and he shook with chills. He made straight for the apple-tree where Farmer Brown’s boy always keeps a piece of suet tied to a branch for Tommy and his friends. Drummer the Woodpecker was there before him. Now it is one of the laws of politeness among the feathered folk that when one is eating from a piece of suet a newcomer shall await his turn.
“Dee, dee, dee!” said Tommy Tit faintly but cheerfully, for he couldn’t be other than cheery if he tried. “Dee, dee, dee! That looks good to me.”
“It is good,” mumbled Drummer, pecking away at the suet greedily. “Come on, Tommy Tit. Don’t wait for me, for I won’t be through for a long time. I’m nearly starved, and I guess you must be.”
“I am,” confessed Tommy, as he flew over beside Drummer. “Thank you ever so much for not making me wait.”
“Don’t mention it,” replied Drummer, with his mouth full. “This is no time for politeness. Here comes Yank Yank the Nuthatch. I guess there is room for him too.”
Yank Yank was promptly invited to join them and did so after apologizing for seeming so greedy.
“If I couldn’t get my stomach full before night, I certainly should freeze to death before morning,” said he. “What a blessing it is to have all this good food waiting for us. If I had to hunt for my usual food on the trees, I certainly should have to give up and die. It took all my strength to get over here. My, I feel like a new bird already! Here comes Sammy Jay. I wonder if he will try to drive us away as he usually does.”
Sammy did nothing of the kind. He was very meek and most polite. “Can you make room for a starving fellow to get a bite?” he asked. “I wouldn’t ask it but that I couldn’t last another night without food.”
“Dee, dee, dee! Always room for one more,” replied Tommy Tit, crowding over to give Sammy room. “Wasn’t that a dreadful storm?”
“Worst I ever knew,” mumbled Sammy. “I wonder if I ever will be warm again.”
Until their stomachs were full, not another word was said. Meanwhile Chatterer the Red Squirrel had discovered that the storm was over. As he floundered through the snow to another apple-tree he saw Tommy Tit and his friends, and in his heart he rejoiced that they had found food waiting for them. His own troubles were at an end, for in the tree he was headed for was a store of corn.
Tommy Tit and Drummer the Woodpecker and Yank Yank the Nuthatch and Sammy Jay and Chatterer the Red Squirrel were not the only ones who were out and about as soon as the great storm ended. Oh, my, no! No, indeed! Everybody who was not sleeping the winter away, or who had not a store of food right at hand, was out. But not all were so fortunate as Tommy Tit and his friends in finding a good meal.
Peter Rabbit and Mrs. Peter came out of the hole in the heart of the dear Old Briar-patch, where they had managed to keep comfortably warm, and at once began to fill their stomachs with bark from young trees and tender tips of twigs. It was very coarse food, but it would take away that empty feeling. Mrs. Grouse burst out of the snow and hurried to get a meal before dark. She had no time to be particular, and so she ate spruce buds. They were very bitter and not much to her liking, but she was too hungry, and night was too near for her to be fussy. She was thankful to have that much.
Granny Fox and Reddy were out too. They didn’t need to hurry because, as you know, they could hunt all night, but they were so hungry that they just had to be looking for something to eat. They knew, of course, that everybody else would be out, and they hoped that some of these little people would be so weak that they could easily be caught. That seems like a dreadful hope, doesn’t it? But one of the first laws of Old Mother Nature is self-preservation. That means to save your own life first. So perhaps Granny and Reddy are not to be blamed for hoping that some of their neighbors might be caught easily because of the great storm. They were very hungry indeed, and they could not eat bark like Peter Rabbit, or buds like Mrs. Grouse, or seeds like Whitefoot the Woodmouse. Their teeth and stomachs are not made for such food.
It was hard going for Granny and Reddy Fox. The snow was soft and deep in many places, and they had to keep pretty close to those places where rough Brother North Wind had blown away enough of the snow to make walking fairly easy. They soon found that their hope that they would find some of their neighbors too weak to escape was quite in vain. When jolly, round, red Mr. Sun dropped clown behind the Purple Hills to go to bed, their stomachs were quite as empty as when they had started out.
“We’ll go down to the Old Briar-patch. I don’t believe it will be of much use, but you never can tell until you try. Peter Rabbit may take it into his silly head to come outside,” said Granny, leading the way.
When they reached the dear Old Briar-patch they found that Peter was not outside. In fact, peering between the brambles and bushes, they could see his little brown form bobbing about as he hunted for tender bark. He had already made little paths along which he could hop easily. Peter saw them almost as soon as they saw him.
“Hard times these,” said Peter pleasantly. “I hope your stomachs are not as empty as mine.” He pulled a strip of bark from a young tree and began to chew it. This was more than Reddy could stand. To see Peter eating while his own stomach was just one great big ache from emptiness was too much.
“I’m going in there and catch him, or drive him out where you can catch him, if I tear my coat all to pieces!” snarled Reddy.
Peter stopped chewing and sat up. “Come right along, Reddy. Come right along if you want to, but I would advise you to save your skin and your coat,” said he.
Reddy’s only reply was a snarl as he pushed his way under the brambles. He yelped as they tore his coat and scratched his face, but he kept on. Now Peter’s paths were very cunningly made. He had cut them through the very thickest of the briars just big enough for himself and Mrs. Peter to hop along comfortably. But Reddy is so much bigger that he had to force his way through and in places crawl flat on his stomach, which was very slow work, to say nothing of the painful scratches from the briars. It was no trouble at all for Peter to keep out of his way, and before long Reddy gave up. Without a word Granny Fox led the way to the Green Forest. They would try to find where Mrs. Grouse was sleeping under the snow. But though they hunted all night, they failed to find her, for she wisely had gone to bed in a spruce-tree.
Old Granny Fox is a spry old lady for her age. If you don’t believe it just try to catch her. But spry as she is, she isn’t as spry as she used to be. No, sir, Granny Fox isn’t as spry as she used to be. The truth is, Granny is getting old. She never would admit it, and Reddy never had realized it until the day after the great storm. All that night they had hunted in vain for something to eat and at daylight had crept into their house to rest awhile before starting on another hunt. They had neither the strength nor the courage to search any longer then. Wading through snow is very hard work at best and very tiresome, but when your stomach has been empty for so long that you almost begin to wonder what food tastes like, it becomes harder work still. You see, it is food that makes strength, and lack of food takes away strength.
This was why Granny and Reddy Fox just had to rest. Hungry as they were, they had to give up for awhile. Reddy flung himself down, and if ever there was a discouraged young Fox he was that one. “I wish I were dead,” he moaned.
“Tut, tut, tut!” said Granny Fox sharply. “That’s no way for a young Fox to talk! I’m ashamed of you. I am indeed.” Then she added more kindly: “I know just how you feel. Just try to forget your empty stomach and rest awhile. We have had a tiresome, disappointing, discouraging night, but when you are rested things will not look quite so bad. You know the old saying:
‘Never a road so long is there
But it reaches a turn at last;
Never a cloud that gathers swift
But disappears as fast.’
You think you couldn’t possibly feel any worse than you do right now, but you could. Many a time I have had to go hungry longer than this. After we have rested awhile we will go over to the Old Pasture. Perhaps we will have better luck there.”
So Reddy tried to forget the emptiness of his stomach and actually had a nap, for he was very, very tired. When he awoke he felt better.
“Well, Granny,” said he, “let’s start for the Old Pasture. The snow has crusted over, and we won’t find it such hard going as it was last night.”
Granny arose and followed Reddy out to the doorstep. She walked stiffly. The truth is, she ached in every one of her old bones. At least, that is the way it seemed to her. She looked towards the Old Pasture. It seemed very far away. She sighed wearily. “I don’t believe I’ll go, Reddy,” said she. “You run along and luck go with you.”
Reddy turned and stared at Granny suspiciously. You know his is a very suspicious nature. Could it be that Granny had some secret plan of her own to get a meal and wanted to get rid of him?
“What’s the matter with you?” he demanded roughly. “It was you who proposed going over to the Old Pasture.”
Granny smiled. It was a sad sort of smile. She is wonderfully sharp and smart, is Granny Fox, and she knew what was in Reddy’s mind as well as if he had told her.
“Old bones don’t rest and recover as quickly as young bones, and I just don’t feel equal to going over there now,” said she. “The truth is, Reddy, I am growing old. I am going to stay right here and rest. Perhaps then I’ll feel able to go hunting tonight. You trot along now, and if you get more than a stomachful, just remember old Granny and bring her a bite.”
There was something in the way Granny spoke that told Reddy she was speaking the truth. It was the very first time she ever had admitted that she was growing old and was no longer the equal of any Fox. Never before had he noticed how gray she had grown. Reddy felt a feeling of shame creep over him—shame that he had suspected Granny of playing a sharp trick. And this little feeling of shame was followed instantly by a splendid thought. He would go out and find food of some kind, and he would bring it straight back to Granny. He had been taken care of by Granny when he was little, and now he would repay Granny for all she had done for him by taking care of her in her old age.
“Go back in the house and lie down, Granny,” said he kindly. “I am going to get something, and whatever it may be you shall have your share.” With this he trotted off towards the Old Pasture and somehow he didn’t mind the ache in his stomach as he had before.
We all know that, yet most of us are just foolish enough to make such a wish now and then. I guess you have done it. I know I have. Peter Rabbit has done it often and then laughed at himself afterwards. I suspect that even shrewd, clever old Granny Fox has been guilty of it more than once. So it is not surprising that Reddy Fox, terribly hungry as he was, should do a little foolish wishing.
When he left home to go to the Old Pasture, in the hope that he would be able to find something to eat there, he started off bravely. It was cold, very cold indeed, but his fur coat kept him warm as long as he was moving. The Green Meadows were glistening white with snow. All the world, at least all that part of it with which Reddy was acquainted, was white. It was beautiful, very beautiful, as millions of sparkles flashed in the sun. But Reddy had no thought for beauty; the only thought he had room for was to get something to put in the empty stomachs of himself and Granny Fox.
Jack Frost had hardened the snow so that Reddy no longer had to wade through it. He could run on the crust now without breaking through. This made it much easier, so he trotted along swiftly. He had intended to go straight to the Old Pasture, but there suddenly popped into his head a memory of the shelter down in a far corner of the Old Orchard which Farmer Brown’s boy had built for Bob White. Probably the Bob White family were there now, and he might surprise them. He would go there first.
Reddy stopped and looked carefully to make sure that Farmer Brown’s boy and Bowser the Hound were nowhere in sight. Then he ran swiftly towards the Old Orchard. Just as he entered it he heard a merry voice just over his head: “Dee, dee, dee, dee!” Reddy stopped and looked up. There was Tommy Tit the Chickadee clinging tightly to a big piece of fresh suet tied fast to a branch of a tree, and Tommy was stuffing himself. Reddy sat down right underneath that suet and looked up longingly. The sight of it made his mouth water so that it was almost more than he could stand. He jumped once. He jumped twice. He jumped three times. But all his jumping was in vain. That suet was beyond his reach. There was no possible way of reaching it save by flying or climbing. Reddy’s tongue hung out of his mouth with longing.
“I wish I could climb,” said Reddy.
But he couldn’t climb, and all the wishing in the world wouldn’t enable him to, as he very well knew. So after a little he started on. As he drew near the far corner of the Old Orchard, he saw Bob White and Mrs. Bob and all the young Bobs picking up grain which Farmer Brown’s boy had scattered for them just in front of the shelter he had built for them. Reddy crouched down and very slowly, an inch at a time, he crept forward, his eyes shining with eagerness. Just as he was almost within springing distance, Bob White gave a signal, and away flew the Bob Whites to the safety of a hemlock-tree on the edge of the Green Forest.
Tears of rage and disappointment welled up in Reddy’s eyes. “I wish I could fly,” he muttered, as he watched the brown birds disappear in the big hemlock-tree.
This was quite as foolish a wish as the other, so Reddy trotted on and decided to go down past the Smiling Pool. When he got there he found it, as he expected, frozen over. But just where the Laughing Brook joins it there was a little place where there was open water. Billy Mink was on the ice at its edge, and just as Reddy got there Billy dived in. A minute later he climbed out with a fish in his mouth.
“Give me a bite,” begged Reddy.
“Catch your own fish,” retorted Billy Mink. “I have to work hard enough for what I get as it is.”
Reddy was afraid to go out on the ice where Billy was, and so he sat and watched him eat that fine fish. Then Billy dived into the water again and disappeared. Reddy waited a long time, but Billy did not return. “I wish I could dive,” gulped Reddy, thinking of the fine fish somewhere under the ice.
And this wish was quite as foolish as the other wishes.
After the last of his three foolish wishes, Reddy Fox left the Smiling Pool and headed straight for the Old Pasture for which he had started in the first place. He wished now that he had gone straight there. Then he wouldn’t have seen the suet tied out of reach to the branch of a tree in the Old Orchard; he wouldn’t have seen the Bob Whites fly away to safety just as he felt almost sure of catching one; he wouldn’t have seen Billy Mink bring a fine fish out of the water and eat it right before him. It is bad enough to be starving with no food in sight, but to be as hungry as Reddy Fox was and to see food just out of reach, to smell it, and not be able to get it is—well, it is more than most folks can stand patiently.
So Reddy Fox was grumbling to himself as he hurried to the Old Pasture and his heart was very bitter. It seemed to him that everything was against him. His neighbors had food, but he had none, not so much as a crumb. It was unfair. Old Mother Nature was unjust. If he could climb he could get food. If he could fly he could get food. If he could dive he could get food. But he could neither climb, fly, nor dive. He didn’t stop to think that Old Mother Nature had given him some of the sharpest wits in all the Green Forest or on all the Green Meadows; that she had given him a wonderful nose; that she had given him the keenest of ears; that she had given him speed excelled by few. He forgot these things and was so busy thinking bitterly of the things he didn’t have that he forgot to use his wits and nose and ears when he reached the Old Pasture. The result was that he trotted right past Old Jed Thumper, the big gray Rabbit, who was sitting behind a little bush holding his breath. The minute Old Jed saw that Reddy was safely past, he started for his bull-briar castle as fast as he could.
It was not until then that Reddy discovered him. Of course, Reddy started after him, and this time he made good use of his speed. But he was too late. Old Jed Thumper reached his castle with Reddy two jumps behind him. Reddy knew now that there was no chance to catch Old Jed that day, and for a few minutes he felt more bitter than ever. Then all in a flash Reddy Fox became the shrewd, clever fellow that he really is, he grinned.
“It’s of no use to try to fill an empty stomach on wishes,” said he.
“If I had come straight here and minded my own business, I’d have caught old Jed Thumper. Now I’m going to get some food and I’m not going home until I do.”
Very wisely Reddy put all unpleasant thoughts out of his head and settled down to using his wits and his eyes and his ears and his nose for all they were worth, as Old Mother Nature had intended he should. All through the Old Pasture he hunted, taking care not to miss a single place where there was the least chance of finding food. But it was all in vain. Reddy gulped down his disappointment.
“Now for the Big River,” said he, and started off bravely.
When he reached the edge of the Big River, he hurried along the bank until he reached a place where the water seldom freezes. As he had hoped, he found that it was not frozen now. It looked so black and cold that it made him shiver just to see it. Back and forth with his nose to the ground he ran. Suddenly he stopped and sniffed. Then he sniffed again. Then he followed his nose straight to the very edge of the Big River. There, floating in the black water, was a dead fish! By wading in he could get it.
Reddy shivered at the touch of the cold water, but what were wet feet compared with such an empty stomach as his? In a minute he had that fish and was back on the shore. It wasn’t a very big fish, but it would stop the ache in his stomach until he could get something more. With a sigh of pure happiness he sank his teeth into it and then—well, then he remembered poor Old Granny Fox. Reddy swallowed a mouthful and tried to forget Granny. But he couldn’t. He swallowed another mouthful. Poor old Granny was back there at home as hungry as he was and too stiff and tired to hunt. Reddy choked. Then he began a battle with himself. His stomach demanded that fish. If he ate it, no one would be the wiser. But Granny needed it even more than he did. For a long time Reddy fought with himself. In the end he picked up the fish and started for home.
Reddy Fox ran all the way home from the Big River just as fast as he could go. In his mouth he carried the fish he had found and from which he had taken just two bites. You remember he had had a battle with himself over that fish, and now he was running away from himself. That sounds funny, doesn’t it? But it was true. Yes, sir, Reddy Fox was running away from himself. He was afraid that if he didn’t get home to Old Granny Fox with that fish very soon, he would eat every last bit of it himself. So he was running his very hardest so as to get there before this could happen. So really he was running away from himself, from his selfish self.
Old Granny Fox was on the doorstep watching for him, and he saw just how her hungry old eyes brightened when she saw him and what he had.
“I’ve brought you something to eat, Granny,” he panted, as he laid the fish at her feet. He was quite out of breath with running. “It isn’t much, but it is something. It is all I could find for you.”
Granny looked at the fish and then she looked sharply at Reddy, and into those keen yellow eyes of hers crept a soft, tender look, such a look as you would never have believed they could have held.
“What have you had to eat?” asked Granny softly.
Reddy turned his head that Granny might not see his face. “Oh, I’ve had something,” said he, trying to speak lightly. It was true; he had had two bites from that fish.
Now you know just how shrewd and smart and wise Granny Fox is. Reddy didn’t fool her just the least little bit. She took two small bites from the fish.
“Now,” said she, “we’ll divide it,” and she bit in two parts what remained. In a twinkling she had gulped down the smallest part, for you know she was very, very hungry. “That is your share,” said she, as she pushed what remained over to Reddy.
Reddy tried to refuse it. “I brought it all for you,” said he. “I know you did, Reddy,” replied Granny, and it seemed to Reddy that he never had known her voice to sound so gentle. “You brought it to me when all you had had was the two little bites you had taken from it. You can’t fool me, Reddy Fox. There wasn’t one good meal for either of us in that fish, but there was enough to give us both a little hope and keep us from starving. Now you mind what I say and eat your share.” Granny said this last very sternly.
Reddy looked at Granny, and then he bolted down that little piece of fish without another word.
“That’s better,” said Granny. “We will feel better, both of us. Now that I’ve something in my stomach, I feel two years younger. Before you came, I didn’t feel as if I should ever be able to go on another hunt. If you hadn’t brought something, I—I’m afraid I couldn’t have lasted much longer. By another day you probably wouldn’t have had old Granny to think of. You may not know it, but I know that you saved my life, Reddy. I had reached a point where I just had to have a little food. You know there are times when a very little food is of more good than a lot of food could be later. This was one of those times.”
Never in all his life had Reddy Fox felt so truly happy. He was still hungry—very, very hungry. But he gave it no thought. He had saved Granny Fox, good old Granny who had taught him all he knew. And he knew that Granny knew how he had had to fight with himself to do it. Reddy was happy through and through with the great happiness that comes from having done something for someone else.
“It was nothing,” he muttered.
“It was a very great deal,” replied Granny. And then she changed the subject. “How would you like to eat a dinner of Bowser the Hound’s?” she asked.
Old Granny Fox asked Reddy how he would like to eat a dinner of Bowser the Hound’s, Reddy looked at her sharply to see if she were joking or really meant what she said. Granny looked so sober and so much in earnest that Reddy decided she couldn’t be joking, even though it did sound that way.
“I certainly would like it, Granny. Yes, indeed, I certainly would like it,” said he. “You—you don’t suppose he will give us one, do you?”
Granny chuckled. “No, Reddy,” said she. “Bowser isn’t so generous as all that, especially to Foxes. He isn’t going to give us that dinner; we are going to take it away from him. Yes, sir, we just naturally are going to take it away from, him.”
Reddy didn’t for the life of him see how it could be possible to take a dinner away from Bowser the Hound. That seemed to him almost as impossible as it was for him to climb or fly or dive. But he had great faith in Granny’s cleverness. He remembered how she had so nearly caught Quacker the Duck. He knew that all the time he had been away trying to find something for them to eat, old Granny Fox had been doing more than just rest her tired old bones. He knew that not for one single minute had her sharp wits been idle. He knew that all that time she had been studying and studying to find some way by which they could get something to eat. So great was his faith in Granny just then that if she had told him she would get him a slice of the moon he would have believed her.
“If you say we can take a dinner away from Bowser the Hound, I suppose we can,” said Reddy, “though I don’t see how. But if we can, let’s do it right away. I’m hungry enough to dare almost anything for the sake of something to put in my stomach. It is so empty that little bit of fish we divided is shaking around as if it were lost. Gracious, I could eat a million fish the size of that one! Have you thought of Farmer Brown’s hens, Granny?”
“Of course, Reddy! Of course! What a silly question!” replied Granny. “We may have to come to them yet.”
“I wish I was at them right now,” interrupted Reddy with a sigh.
“But you know what I have told you,” went on Granny. “The surest way of getting into trouble is to steal hens. I’m not feeling quite up to being chased by Bowser the Hound just now, and if we came right home we would give away the secret of where we live and might be smoked out, and that would be the end of us. Besides, those hens will be hard to get this weather, because they will stay in their house, and there is no way for us to get in there unless we walk right in, in broad daylight, and that would never do. It will be a great deal better to take Bowser’s dinner away from him. In the first place, if we are careful, no one but Bowser will know about it, and as long as he is chained up, we will have nothing to worry about from him. Besides, we will enjoy getting even with him for the times he has spoiled our chances of catching a fat chicken and for the way he has hunted us. Most decidedly it will be better and safer to try for Bowser’s dinner than to try for one of those hens.”
“Just as you say, Granny; just as you say,” returned Reddy. “You know best. But how under the sun we can do it beats me.”
“It is very simple,” replied Granny, “very simple indeed. Most things are simple enough when you find out how to do them. Neither of us could do it alone, but together we can do it without the least bit of risk. Listen.”
Granny went close to Reddy and whispered to him, although there wasn’t a soul within hearing. A slow grin spread over Reddy’s face as he listened. When she had finished, he laughed right out.
“Granny, you are a wonder!” he exclaimed admiringly. “I never should have thought of that. Of course we can do it. My, won’t Bowser be surprised! And how mad he’ll be! Come on, let’s be starting!”
“All right,” said Granny, and the two started towards Farmer Brown’s.
Bowser the Hound dearly loves to hunt just for the pleasure of the chase. It isn’t so much the desire to kill as it is the pleasure of using that wonderful nose of his and the excitement of trying to catch someone, especially Granny or Reddy Fox. Farmer Brown’s boy had put away his dreadful gun because he no longer wanted to kill the little people of the Green Forest and the Green Meadows, but rather to make them his friends. Bowser had missed the exciting hunts he used to enjoy so much with Farmer Brown’s boy. So Bowser had formed the habit of slipping away alone for a hunt every once in a while. When Farmer Brown’s boy discovered this, he got a chain and chained Bowser to his little house to keep him from running away and hunting on the sly.
Of course Bowser wasn’t kept chained all the time. Oh, my, no! When his master was about, where he could keep an eye on Bowser, he would let him go free. But whenever he was going away and didn’t want to take Bowser with him, he would chain Bowser up. Now Bowser always had one good big meal a day. To be sure, he had scraps or a bone now and then besides, but once a day he had one good big meal served to him in a large tin pan. If he happened to be chained, it was brought out to him. If not, it was given to him just outside the kitchen door.
Granny Fox knew all about this. Sly old Granny makes it her business to know the affairs of other people around her because there is no telling when such knowledge may be of use to her. So Granny had watched Bowser the Hound when he and his master had no idea at all that she was anywhere about, and she had found out his ways, the usual hour for his dinner and just how far that chain would allow him to go. It was such things which she had stored away in that shrewd old head of hers that made her so sure she and Reddy could take Bowser’s dinner away from him. It was just about Bowser’s dinnertime when Granny and Reddy trotted across the snow-covered fields and crept behind the barn until they could peep around the corner. No one was in sight, not even Bowser, who was inside his warm little house at the end of the long shed back of Farmer Brown’s house. Granny saw that he was chained and a sly grin crept over her face.
“You stay right here and watch until his dinner is brought out to him,” said she to Reddy. “As soon as whoever brings it has gone back to the house you walk right out where Bowser will see you. At the sight of you, he’ll forget all about his dinner. Sit right down where he can see you and stay there until you see that I have got that dinner, or until you hear somebody coming, for you know Bowser will make a great racket. Then slip around back of the barn and join me back of that shed.”
So Reddy sat down to watch, and Granny left him. By and by Mrs. Brown came out of the house with a pan full of good things. She put it down in front of Bowser’s little house and called to him. Then she turned and hurried back, for it was very cold. Bowser came out of his little house, yawned and stretched lazily.
It was time for Reddy to do his part. Out he walked and sat down right in front of Bowser and grinned at him. Bowser stared for a minute as if he doubted his own eyes. Such impudence! Bowser growled. Then with a yelp he sprang towards Reddy.
Now the chain that held him was long, but Reddy had taken care not to get too near, and of course Bowser couldn’t reach him. He tugged with all his might and yelped and barked frantically, but Reddy just sat there and grinned in the most provoking manner. It was great fun to tease Bowser this way.
Meanwhile old Granny Fox had stolen out from around the corner of the shed behind Bowser. Getting hold of the edge of the pan with her teeth she pulled it back with her around the corner and out of sight. If she made any noise, Bowser didn’t hear it. He was making too much noise himself and was too excited. Presently Reddy heard the sound of an opening door. Mrs. Brown was coming to see what all the fuss was about. Like a flash Reddy darted behind the barn, and all Mrs. Brown saw was Bowser tugging at his chain as he whined and yelped excitedly.
“I guess he must have seen a stray cat or something,” said Mrs. Brown and went back in the house. Bowser continued to whine and tug at his chain for a few minutes. Then he gave it up and, growling deep in his throat, turned to eat his dinner. But there wasn’t any dinner! It had disappeared, pan and all! Bowser couldn’t understand it at all.
Back of the shed Granny and Reddy Fox licked that pan clean; licked it until it was polished. Then, with little sighs of satisfaction, and every once in a while a chuckle, they trotted happily home.
Never in all his life had Reddy Fox enjoyed a dinner more than that one he and Granny had stolen from Bowser the Hound. Of course it would have tasted delicious anyway, because they were so dreadfully hungry, but to Reddy it tasted better still because it had been intended for Bowser. Bowser has hunted Reddy so often that Reddy has no love for him at all, and it tickled him almost to death to think that they had taken his dinner from almost under his nose.
With that good dinner in their stomachs, Reddy and Granny Fox felt so much better that the Great World no longer seemed such a cold and cruel place. Funny how differently things look when your stomach is full from the way those same things look when it is empty. Best of all they knew they could play the same sharp trick again and steal another dinner from Bowser if need be. It is a comforting feeling, a very comforting feeling, to know for a certainty where you can get another meal. It is a feeling that Granny and Reddy Fox and many other little people of the Green Meadows and the Green Forest seldom have in winter. As a rule, when they have eaten one meal, they haven’t the least idea where the next one is coming from. How would you like to live that way?
The very next day Granny and Reddy went up to Farmer Brown’s at Bowser’s dinner hour. But this time Farmer Brown’s boy was at work near the barn, and Bowser was not chained. Granny and Reddy stole away as silently as they had come. On the day following they found Bowser chained and stole another dinner from him; then they went away laughing until their sides ached as they heard Bowser’s whines of surprise and disappointment when he discovered that his dinner had vanished. They knew by the sound of his voice that he hadn’t the least idea what had become of that dinner.
Now there was someone else roaming over the snow-covered meadows and through the Green Forest and the Old Pasture these days with a stomach so lean and empty that he couldn’t think of anything else. It was Old Man Coyote. You know he is very clever, is Old Man Coyote, and he managed to find enough food of one kind and another to keep him alive, but never enough to give him that comfortable feeling of a full stomach. While he wasn’t actually starving, he was always hungry. So he spent all the time when he wasn’t sleeping in hunting for something to eat.
Of course he often ran across the tracks of Granny and Reddy Fox, and once in a while he would meet them. It struck Old Man Coyote that they didn’t seem as thin as he was. That set him to thinking. Neither of them was a smarter hunter than he. In fact, he prided himself on being smarter than either of them. Yet when he met them, they seemed to be in the best of spirits and not at all worried because food was so scarce. Why? There must be a reason. They must be getting food of which he knew nothing.
“I’ll just keep an eye on them,” muttered Old Man Coyote.
So very slyly and cleverly Old Man Coyote followed Granny and Reddy Fox, taking the greatest care that they should not suspect that he was doing it. All one night he followed them through the Green Forest and over the Green Meadows, and when at last he saw them go home, appearing not at all worried because they had caught nothing, he trotted off to his own home to do some more thinking.
“They are getting food somewhere, that is sure,” he muttered, as he scratched first one ear and then the other. Somehow he could think better when he was scratching his ears. “If they don’t get it in the night, and they certainly didn’t get anything this night, they must get it in the daytime. I’ve done considerable hunting myself in the daytime, and I haven’t once met them in the Green Forest or seen them on the Green Meadows or up in the Old Pasture. I wonder if they are stealing Farmer Brown’s hens and haven’t been found out yet. I’ve kept away from there myself, but if they can steal hens and not be caught, I certainly can. There never was a Fox yet smart enough to do a thing that a Coyote cannot do if he tries. I think I’ll slip up where I can watch Farmer Brown’s and see what is going on up there. Yes, sir, that’s what I’ll do.”
With this, Old Man Coyote grinned and then curled himself up for a short nap, for he was tired.
Listen and you shall hear all about three rogues. Two were in red and were Granny and Reddy Fox. And one was in gray and was Old Man Coyote. They were the slyest, smartest rogues on all the Green Meadows or in all the Green Forest. All three had started out to steal the same dinner, but the funny part is they didn’t intend to steal it from the same person. And still funnier is it that one of them didn’t even know where that dinner was or what kind of a dinner it would be.
True to his resolve to know what Granny and Reddy Fox were getting to eat, and where they were getting it, Old Man Coyote hid where he could see what was going on about Farmer Brown’s, for it was there he felt sure that Granny and Reddy were getting food. He had waited only a little while when along came Granny and Reddy Fox past the place where Old Man Coyote was hiding. They didn’t see him. Of course not. He took care that they should have no chance. But anyway, they were not thinking of him. Their thoughts were all of that dinner they intended to have, and the smart trick by which they would get it.
So with their thoughts all on that dinner they slipped up behind the barn and prepared to work the trick which had been so successful before. Old Man Coyote crept after them. He saw Reddy Fox lie down where he could peep around the corner of the barn to watch Bowser the Hound and to see that no one else was about. He saw Granny leave Reddy there and hurry away. Old Man Coyote’s wits worked fast.
“I can’t be in two places at once,” thought he, “so I can’t watch both Granny and Reddy. As I can watch but one, which one shall it be? Granny, of course. Granny is the smartest of the two, and whatever they are up to, she is at the bottom of it. Granny is the one to follow.”
So, like a gray shadow, crafty Old Man Coyote stole after Granny Fox and saw her hide behind the corner of the shed at the end of which was the little house of Bowser the Hound. He crept as near as he dared and then lay flat down behind a little bunch of dead grass close to the shed. For some time nothing happened, and Old Man Coyote was puzzled. Every once in a while Granny Fox would look behind and all about to be sure that no danger was near, but she didn’t see Old Man Coyote. After what seemed to him a long time, he heard a door open on the other side of the shed. It was Mrs. Brown carrying Bowser’s dinner out to him. Of course, Old Man Coyote didn’t know this. He knew by the sounds that someone had come out of the house, and it made him nervous. He didn’t like being so close to Farmer Brown’s house in broad daylight. But he kept his eyes on Granny Fox, and he saw her ears prick up in a way that he knew meant that those sounds were just what she had been waiting for.
“If she isn’t afraid, I don’t need to be,” thought he craftily. After a few minutes he heard a door close and knew that whoever had come out had gone back into the house. Almost at once Bowser the Hound began to yelp and whine. Swiftly Granny Fox disappeared around the corner of the shed. Just as swiftly Old Man Coyote ran forward and peeped around the corner. There was Bowser the Hound tugging at his chain, and just beyond his reach was Reddy Fox, grinning in the most provoking manner. And there was Granny Fox, backing and dragging after her Bowser’s dinner. In a flash Old Man Coyote understood the plan, and he almost chuckled aloud at the cleverness of it. Then he hastily backed behind the shed and waited.
In a minute Granny Fox appeared, dragging Bowser’s dinner. She was so intent on getting that dinner that she almost backed into Old Man Coyote without suspecting that he was anywhere about.
“Thank you, Granny. You needn’t bother about it any longer; I’ll take it now,” growled Old Man Coyote in Granny’s ear.
Granny let go of that dinner as if it burned her tongue, and with a frightened little yelp leaped to one side. A minute later Reddy came racing around from behind the barn eager for his share. What he saw was Old Man Coyote bolting down that twice-stolen dinner while Granny Fox fairly danced with rage.
If ever two folks were mad away through, those two were Granny and Reddy Fox as they watched Old Man Coyote gobble up the dinner they had so cleverly stolen from Bowser the Hound. It was bad enough to lose the dinner, but it was worse to see someone else eat it after they had worked so hard to get it. “Robber!” snarled Granny. Old Man Coyote stopped eating long enough to grin.
“Thief! Sneak! Coward!” snarled Reddy. Once more Old Man Coyote grinned. When that dinner had disappeared down his throat to the last and smallest crumb, he licked his chops and turned to Granny and Reddy.
“I’m very much obliged for that dinner,” said he pleasantly, his eyes twinkling with mischief. “It was the best dinner I have had for a long time. Allow me to say that that trick of yours was as smart a trick as ever I have seen. It was quite worthy of a Coyote. You are a very clever old lady, Granny Fox. Now I hear someone coming, and I would suggest that it will be better for all concerned if we are not seen about here.”
He darted off behind the barn like a gray streak, and Granny and Reddy followed, for it was true that someone was coming. You see Bowser the Hound had discovered that something was going on around the corner of the shed, and he made such a racket that Mrs. Brown had come out of the house to see what it was all about. By the time she got around there, all she saw was the empty pan which had held Bowser’s dinner. She was puzzled. How that pan could be where it was she couldn’t understand, and Bowser couldn’t tell her, although he tried his very best. She had been puzzled about that pan two or three times before.
Old Man Coyote lost no time in getting back home, for he never felt easy near the home of man in broad daylight. Granny and Reddy Fox went home too, and there was hate in their hearts—hate for Old Man Coyote. But once they reached home, Old Granny Fox stopped growling, and presently she began to chuckle.
“What are you laughing at?” demanded Reddy.
“At the way Old Man Coyote stole that dinner from us,” replied Granny.
“I hate him! He’s a sneaking robber!” snapped Reddy.
“Tut, tut, Reddy! Tut, tut!” retorted Granny. “Be fair-minded. We stole that dinner from Bowser the Hound, and Old Man Coyote stole it from us. I guess he is no worse than we are, when you come to think it over. Now is he?”
“I—I—well, I don’t suppose he is, when you put it that way,” Reddy admitted grudgingly.
“And he was smart, very smart, to outwit two such clever people as we are,” continued Granny. “You will have to agree to that.”
“Y-e-s,” said Reddy slowly. “He was smart enough, but—”
“There isn’t any but, Reddy,” interrupted Granny. “You know the law of the Green Meadows and the Green Forest. It is everybody for himself, and anything belongs to one who has the wit or the strength to take it. We had the wit to take that dinner from Bowser the Hound, and Old Man Coyote had the wit to take it from us and the strength to keep it. It was all fair enough, and you know there isn’t the least use in crying over spilled milk, as the saying is. We simply have got to be smart enough not to let him fool us again. I guess we won’t get any more of Bowser’s dinners for a while. We’ve got to think of some other way of filling our stomachs when the hunting is poor. I think if I could have just one of those fat hens of Farmer Brown’s, it would put new strength into my old bones. All summer I warned you to keep away from that henyard, but the time has come now when I think we might try for a couple of those hens.”
Reddy pricked up his ears at the mention of fat hens. “I think so too,” said he. “When shall we try for one?”
“Tomorrow morning,” replied Granny. “Now don’t bother me while I think out a plan.”
Granny Fox knows this. No one knows it better. Whatever she does is first carefully planned in her wise old head. So now after she had decided that she and Reddy would try for one of Farmer Brown’s fat hens, she lay down to think out a plan to get that fat hen. No one knew better than she how foolish it would be to go over to that henyard and just trust to luck for a chance to catch one of those biddies. Of course, they might be lucky and get a hen that way, but then again they might be unlucky and get in a peck of trouble.
“You see,” said she to Reddy, “we must not only plan how to get that fat hen, but we must also plan how to get away with it safely. If only there was some way of getting in that henhouse at night, there would be no trouble at all. I don’t suppose there is the least chance of that.”
“Not the least chance in the world,” replied Reddy. “There isn’t a hole anywhere big enough for even Shadow the Weasel to get through, and Farmer Brown’s boy is very careful to lock the door every night.”
“There’s a little hole that the hens go in and out of during the day, which is big enough for one of us to slip through, I believe,” said Granny thoughtfully.
“Sure! But it’s always closed at night,” snapped Reddy. “Besides, to get to that or the door either, you have got to get inside the henyard, and there’s a gate to that which we can’t open.”
“People are sometimes careless—even you, Reddy,” said Granny.
Reddy squirmed uneasily, for he had been in trouble many times through carelessness. “Well, what of it?” he demanded a wee bit crossly.
“Nothing much, only if that henyard gate should happen to be left open, and if Farmer Brown’s boy should happen to forget to close that little hole that the hens go through, and if we happened to be around at just that time—”
“Too many ifs to get a dinner with,” interrupted Reddy.
“Perhaps,” replied Granny mildly, “but I’ve noticed that it is the one who has an eye open for all the little ifs in life that fares the best. Now I’ve kept an eye on that henyard, and I’ve noticed that very often Farmer Brown’s boy doesn’t close the henyard gate at night. I suppose he thinks that if the henhouse door is locked, the gate doesn’t matter. Anyone who is careless about one thing, is likely to be careless about another. Sometime he may forget to close that hole. I told you that we would try for one of those hens tomorrow morning, but the more I think about it, the more I think it will be wiser to visit that henhouse a few nights before we run the risk of trying to catch a hen in broad daylight. In fact, I am pretty sure I can make Farmer Brown’s boy forget to close that gate.”
“How?” demanded Reddy eagerly.
Granny grinned. “I’ll try it first and tell you afterwards,” said she. “I believe Farmer Brown’s boy closes the henhouse up just before jolly, round, red Mr. Sun goes to bed behind the Purple Hills, doesn’t he?”
Reddy nodded. Many times from a safe hiding-place he had hungrily watched Farmer Brown’s boy shut the biddies up. It was always just before the Black Shadows began to creep out from their hiding-places.
“I thought so,” said Granny. The truth is, she knew so. There was nothing about that henhouse and what went on there that Granny didn’t know quite as well as Reddy. “You stay right here this afternoon until I return. I’ll see what I can do.”
“Let me go along,” begged Reddy.
“No,” replied Granny in such a decided tone that Reddy knew it would be of no use to tease. “Sometimes two can do what one cannot do alone, and sometimes one can do what two might spoil. Now we may as well take a nap until it is time for Mr. Sun to go to bed. Just you leave it to your old Granny to take care of the first of those ifs. For the other one we’ll have to trust to luck, but you know we are lucky sometimes.”
With this Granny curled up for a nap, and having nothing better to do, Reddy followed her example.
Farmer Brown’s Boy is not usually the forgetful kind. He is pretty good about not forgetting. But Farmer Brown’s boy isn’t perfect by any means. He does forget sometimes, and he is careless sometimes. He would be a funny kind of boy otherwise. But take it day in and day out, he is pretty thoughtful and careful.
The care of the hens is one of Farmer Brown’s boy’s duties. It is one of those duties which most of the time is a pleasure. He likes the biddies, and he likes to take care of them. Every morning one of the first things he does is to feed them and open the henhouse so that they can run in the henyard if they want to. Every night he goes out just before dark, collects the eggs and locks the henhouse so that no harm can come to the biddies while they are asleep on their roosts. After the big snowstorm he had shovelled a place in the henyard where the hens could come out and exercise and get a sun-bath when they wanted to, and in the very warmest part of the day they would do this. Always in the daytime he took the greatest care to see that the henyard gate was fastened, for no one knew better than he how bold Granny and Reddy Fox can be when they are very hungry, and in winter they are very apt to be very hungry most of the time. So he didn’t intend to give them a chance to slip into that henyard while the biddies were out, or to give the biddies a chance to stray outside where they might be still more easily caught.
But at night he sometimes left that gate open, as Granny Fox had found out. You see, he thought it didn’t matter because the hens were locked in their warm house and so were safe, anyway.
It was just at dusk of the afternoon of the day when Granny and Reddy Fox had talked over a plan to get one of those fat hens that Farmer Brown’s boy collected the eggs and saw to it that the biddies had gone to roost for the night. He had just started to close the little sliding door across the hole through which the hens went in and out in the daytime when Bowser the Hound began to make a great racket, as if terribly excited about something.
Farmer Brown’s boy gave the little sliding door a hasty push, picked up his basket of eggs, locked the henhouse door and hurried out through the gate without stopping to close it. You see, he was in a hurry to find out what Bowser was making such a fuss about. Bowser was yelping and whining and tugging at his chain, and it was plain to see that he was terribly eager to be set free.
“What is it, Bowser, old boy? Did you see something?” asked Farmer Brown’s boy as he patted Bowser on the head. “I can’t let you go, you know, because you probably would go off hunting all night and come home in the morning all tired out and with sore feet. Whatever it was, I guess you’ve scared it out of a year’s growth, old fellow, so we’ll let it go at that.”
Bowser still tugged at his chain and whined, but after a little he quieted down. His master looked around behind the barn to see if he could see what had so stirred up Bowser, but nothing was to be seen, and he returned, patted Bowser once more, and went into the house, never once giving that open henyard gate another thought.
Half an hour later old Granny Fox joined Reddy Fox, who was waiting on the doorstep of their home. “It is all right, Reddy; that gate is open,” said she.
“How did you do it, Granny?” asked Reddy eagerly.
“Easily enough,” replied Granny. “I let Bowser get a glimpse of me just as his master was locking up the henhouse. Bowser made a great fuss, and of course, Farmer Brown’s boy hurried out to see what it was all about. He was in too much of a hurry to close that gate, and afterwards he forgot all about it or else he thought it didn’t matter. Of course, I didn’t let him get so much as a glimpse of me.”
“Of course,” said Reddy.
It seemed to Reddy Fox as if time never had dragged so slowly as it did this particular night while he and Granny Fox waited until Granny thought it safe to visit Farmer Brown’s henhouse and see if by any chance there was a way of getting into it. Reddy tried not to hope too much. Granny had found a way to get the gate to the henyard left open, but this would do them no good unless there was some way of getting into the house, and this he very much doubted. But if there was a way he wanted to know it, and he was impatient to start.
But Granny was in no hurry. Not that she wasn’t just as hungry for a fat hen as was Reddy, but she was too wise and clever and altogether too sly to run any risks.
“There is nothing gained by being in too much of a hurry, Reddy,” said she, “and often a great deal is lost in that way. A fat hen will taste just as good a little later as it would now, and it will be foolish to go up to Farmer Brown’s until we are sure that everybody up there is asleep. But to ease your mind, I’ll tell you what we will do; we’ll go where we can see Farmer Brown’s house and watch until the last light winks out.”
So they trotted to a point where they could see Farmer Brown’s house, and there they sat down to watch. It seemed to Reddy that those lights never would wink out. But at last they did.
“Come on, Granny!” he cried, jumping to his feet.
“Not yet, Reddy. Not yet,” replied Granny. “We’ve got to give folks time to get sound asleep. If we should get into that henhouse, those hens might make a racket, and if anything like that is going to happen, we want to be sure that Farmer Brown and Farmer Brown’s boy are asleep.”
This was sound advice, and Reddy knew it. So with a groan he once more threw himself down on the snow to wait. At last Granny arose, stretched, and looked up at the twinkling stars. “Come on,” said she and led the way.
Up back of the barn and around it they stole like two shadows and quite as noiselessly as shadows. They heard Bowser the Hound sighing in his sleep in his snug little house, and grinned at each other. Silently they stole over to the henyard. The gate was open, just as Granny had told Reddy it would be. Across the henyard they trotted swiftly, straight to where more than once in the daytime they had seen the hens come out of the house through a little hole. It was closed. Reddy had expected it would be. Still, he was dreadfully disappointed. He gave it merely a glance.
“I knew it wouldn’t be any use,” said he with a half whine.
But Granny paid no attention to him. She went close to the hole and pushed gently against the little door that closed it. It didn’t move. Then she noticed that at one edge there was a tiny crack. She tried to push her nose through, but the crack was too narrow. Then she tried a paw. A claw caught on the edge of the door, and it moved ever so little. Then Granny knew that the little door wasn’t fastened. Granny stretched herself flat on the ground and went to work, first with one paw, then with the other. By and by she caught her claws in it just right again, and it moved a wee bit more. No, most certainly that door wasn’t fastened, and that crack was a little wider.
“What are you wasting your time there for?” demanded Reddy crossly. “We’d better be off hunting if we would have anything to eat this night.”
Granny said nothing but kept on working. She had discovered that this was a sliding door. Presently the crack was wide enough for her to get her nose in. Then she pushed and twisted her head this way and that. The little door slowly slid back, and when Reddy turned to speak to her again, for he had had his back to her, she was nowhere to be seen. Reddy just gaped and gaped foolishly. There was no Granny Fox, but there was a black hole where she had been working, and from it came the most delicious smell—the smell of fat hens! It seemed to Reddy that his stomach fairly flopped over with longing. He rubbed his eyes to be sure that he was awake. Then in a twinkling he was inside that hole himself.
“Sh-h-h, be still!” whispered Old Granny Fox.
It all depends on how you look at things. Of course, Granny and Reddy Fox had no business to be in Farmer Brown’s henhouse in the middle of the night, or at any other time, for that matter. That is, they had no business to be there, as Farmer Brown would look at the matter. He would have called them two red thieves. Perhaps that is just what they were. But looking at the matter as they did, I am not so sure about it. To Granny and Reddy Fox those hens were simply big, rather stupid birds, splendid eating if they could be caught, and bound to be eaten by somebody. The fact that they were in Farmer Brown’s henhouse didn’t make them his any more than the fact that Mrs. Grouse was in a part of the Green Forest owned by Farmer Brown made her his.
You see, among the little meadow and forest people there is no such thing as property rights, excepting in the matter of storehouses, and because these hens were alive, it didn’t occur to Granny and Reddy that the henhouse was a sort of storehouse. It would have made no difference if it had. Among the little people it is considered quite right to help yourself from another’s storehouse if you are smart enough to find it and really need the food.
Besides, Reddy and Granny knew that Farmer Brown and his boy would eat some of those hens themselves, and they didn’t begin to need them as Reddy and Granny did. So as they looked at the matter, there was nothing wrong in being in that henhouse in the middle of the night. They were there simply because they needed food very, very much, and food was there.
They stared up at the roosts where the biddies were huddled together, fast asleep. They were too high up to be reached from the floor even when Reddy and Granny stood on their hind legs and stretched as far as they could.
“We’ve got to wake them up and scare them so that some of the silly things will fly down where we can catch them,” said Reddy, licking his lips hungrily.
“That won’t do at all!” snapped Granny. “They would make a great racket and waken Bowser the Hound, and he would waken his master, and that is just what we mustn’t do if we hope to ever get in here again. I thought you had more sense, Reddy.”
Reddy looked a little shamefaced. “Well, if we don’t do that, how are we going to get them? We can’t fly,” he grumbled.
“You stay right here where you are,” snapped Granny, “and take care that you don’t make a sound.”
Then Granny jumped lightly to a little shelf that ran along in front of the nesting boxes. From this she could reach the lower roost on which four fat hens were asleep. Very gently she pushed her head in between two of these and crowded them apart. Sleepily they protested and moved along a little. Granny continued to crowd them. At last one of them stretched out her head to see who was crowding so. Like a flash Granny seized that head, and biddy never knew what had wakened her, nor did she have a chance to waken the others.
Dropping this hen at Reddy’s feet, Granny crowded another until she did the same thing, and just the same thing happened once more. Then Granny jumped lightly down, picked up one of the hens by the neck, slung the body over her shoulder, and told Reddy to do the same with the other and start for home.
“Aren’t you going to get any more while we have the chance?” grumbled Reddy.
“Enough is enough,” retorted Granny. “We’ve got a dinner for two, and so far no one is any the wiser. Perhaps these two won’t be missed, and we’ll have a chance to get some more another night. Now come on.”
This was plain common sense, and Reddy knew it, so without another word he followed old Granny Fox out by the way they had entered, and then home to the best dinner he had had for a long long time.
Granny Fox had hoped that those two hens she and Reddy had stolen from Farmer Brown’s henhouse would not be missed, but they were. They were missed the very first thing the next morning when Farmer Brown’s boy went to feed the biddies. He discovered right away that the little sliding door which should have closed the opening through which the hens went in and out of the house was open, and then he remembered that he had left the henyard gate open the night before. Carefully Farmer Brown’s boy examined the hole with the sliding door.
“Ha!” said he presently, and held up two red hairs which he had found on the edge of the door. “Ha! I thought as much. I was careless last night and didn’t fasten this door, and I left the gate open. Reddy Fox has been here, and now I know what has become of those two hens. I suppose it serves me right for my carelessness, and I suppose if the truth were known, those hens were of more real good to him than they ever could have been to me, because the poor fellow must be having pretty hard work to get a living these hard winter days. Still, I can’t have him stealing any more. That would never do at all. If I shut them up every night and am not careless, he can’t get them. But accidents will happen, and I might do just as I did last night—think I had locked up when I hadn’t. I don’t like to set a trap for Reddy, but I must teach the rascal a lesson. If I don’t, he will get so bold that those chickens won’t be safe even in broad daylight.”
Now at just that very time over in their home, Granny and Reddy Fox were talking over plans for the future, and shrewd old Granny was pointing out to Reddy how necessary it was that they should keep away from that henyard for some time. “We’ve had a good dinner, a splendid dinner, and if we are smart enough we may be able to get more good dinners where this one came from,” said she. “But we certainly won’t if we are too greedy.”
“But I don’t believe Farmer Brown’s boy has missed those two chickens, and I don’t see any reason at all why we shouldn’t go back there tonight and get two more if he is stupid enough to leave that gate and little door open,” whined Reddy.
“Maybe he hasn’t missed those two, but if we should take two more he certainly would miss them, and he would guess what had become of them, and that might get us into no end of trouble,” snapped Granny. “We are not starving now, and the best thing for us to do is to keep away from that henhouse until we can’t get anything to eat anywhere else, Now you mind what I tell you, Reddy, and don’t you dare go near there.”
Reddy promised, and so it came about that Farmer Brown’s boy hunted up a trap all for nothing so far as Reddy and Granny were concerned. Very carefully he bound strips of cloth around the jaws of the trap, for he couldn’t bear to think of those cruel jaws cutting into the leg of Reddy, should he happen to get caught. You see, Farmer Brown’s boy didn’t intend to kill Reddy if he should catch him, but to make him a prisoner for a while and so keep him out of mischief. That night he hid the trap very cunningly just inside the henhouse where anyone creeping through that little hole made for the hens to go in and out would be sure to step in it. Then he purposely left the little sliding door open part way as if it had been forgotten, and he also left the henyard gate open just as he had done the night before.
“There now, Master Reddy,” said he, talking to himself, “I rather think that you are going to get into trouble before morning.”
And doubtless Reddy would have done just that thing but for the wisdom of sly old Granny.
The long hard winter had passed, and Spring had come. Prickly Porky the Porcupine came down from a tall poplar-tree and slowly stretched himself. He was tired of eating. He was tired of swinging in the treetop.
“I believe I’ll have a sun-bath,” said Prickly Porky, and lazily walked toward the edge of the Green Forest in search of a place where the sun lay warm and bright.
Now Prickly Porky’s stomach was very, very full. He was fat and naturally lazy, so when he came to the doorstep of an old house just on the edge of the Green Forest he sat down to rest. It was sunny and warm there, and the longer he sat the less like moving he felt. He looked about him with his dull eyes and grunted to himself.
“It’s a deserted house. Nobody lives here, and I guess nobody’ll care if I take a nap right here on the doorstep,” said Prickly Porky to himself. “And I don’t care if they do,” he added, for Prickly Porky the Porcupine was afraid of nobody and nothing.
So Prickly Porky made himself as comfortable as possible, yawned once or twice, tried to wink at jolly, round, red Mr. Sun, who was winking and smiling down at him, and then fell fast asleep right on the doorstep of the old house.
Now the old house had been deserted. No one had lived in it for a long, long time, a very long time indeed. But it happened that, the night before, old Granny Fox and Reddy Fox had had to move out of their nice home on the edge of the Green Meadows because Farmer Brown’s boy had found it. Reddy was very stiff and sore, for he had been shot by a hunter. He was so sore he could hardly walk, and could not go very far. So old Granny Fox had led him to the old deserted house and put him to bed in that.
“No one will think of looking for us here, for everyone knows that no one lives here,” said old Granny Fox, as she made Reddy as comfortable as possible.
As soon as it was daylight, Granny Fox slipped out to watch for Farmer Brown’s boy, for she felt sure that he would come back to the house they had left, and sure enough he did. He brought a spade and dug the house open, and all the time old Granny Fox was watching him from behind a fence corner and laughing to think that she had been smart enough to move in the night.
But Reddy Fox didn’t know anything about this. He was so tired that he slept and slept and slept. It was the middle of the morning when finally he awoke. He yawned and stretched, and when he stretched he groaned because he was so stiff and sore. Then he hobbled up toward the doorway to see if old Granny Fox had left any breakfast outside for him.
It was dark, very dark. Reddy was puzzled. Could it be that he had gotten up before daylight—that he hadn’t slept as long as he thought? Perhaps he had slept the whole day through, and it was night again. My, how hungry he was!
“I hope Granny has caught a fine, fat chicken for me,” thought Reddy, and his mouth watered.
Just then he ran bump into something. “Wow!” screamed Reddy Fox, and clapped both hands to his nose. Something was sticking into it. It was one of the sharp little spears that Prickly Porky hides in his coat. Reddy Fox knew then why the old house was so dark. Prickly Porky was blocking up the doorway.
Prickly Porky the Porcupine was enjoying himself. There was no doubt about that. He was stretched across the doorway of that old house, the very house in which old Granny Fox had been born. When he had lain down on the doorstep for a nap and sun-bath, he had thought that the old house was still deserted. Then he had fallen asleep, only to be wakened by Reddy Fox, who had been asleep in the old house and who couldn’t get out because Prickly Porky was in the way.
Now Prickly Porky does not love Reddy Fox, and the more Reddy begged and scolded and called him names, the more Prickly Porky chuckled. It was such a good joke to think that he had trapped Reddy Fox, and he made up his mind that he would keep Reddy in there a long time just to tease him and make him uncomfortable. You see Prickly Porky remembered how often Reddy Fox played mean tricks on little meadow and forest folks who are smaller and weaker than himself.
“It will do him good. It certainly will do him good,” said Prickly Porky, and rattled the thousand little spears hidden in his long coat, for he knew that the very sound of them would make Reddy Fox shiver with fright.
Suddenly Prickly Porky pricked up his funny little short ears. He heard the deep voice of Bowser the Hound, and it was coming nearer and nearer. Prickly Porky chuckled again.
“I guess Mr. Bowser is going to have a surprise; I certainly think he is,” said Prickly Porky as he made all the thousand little spears stand out from his long coat till he looked like a funny great chestnut burr.
Bowser the Hound did have a surprise. He was hunting Reddy Fox, and he almost ran into Prickly Porky before he saw him. The very sight of those thousand little spears sent little cold chills chasing each other down Bowser’s backbone clear to the tip of his tail, for he remembered how he had gotten some of them in his lips and mouth once upon a time, and how it had hurt to have them pulled out. Ever since then he had had the greatest respect for Prickly Porky.
“Wow!” yelped Bowser the Hound, stopping short. “I beg your pardon, Prickly Porky, I beg your pardon, I didn’t know you were taking a nap here.”
All the time Bowser the Hound was backing away as fast as he could. Then he turned around, put his tail between his legs and actually ran away.
Slowly Prickly Porky unrolled, and his little eyes twinkled as he watched Bowser the Hound run away.
“Bowser’s very big and strong;
His voice is deep; his legs are long;
His bark scares some almost to death.
But as for me he wastes his breath;
I just roll up and shake my spears
And Bowser is the one who fears.”
So said Prickly Porky, and laughed aloud. Just then he heard a light footstep and turned to see who was coming. It was old Granny Fox. She had seen Bowser run away, and now she was anxious to find out if Reddy Fox were safe.
“Good morning,” said Granny Fox, taking care not to come too near.
“Good morning,” replied Prickly Porky, hiding a smile.
“I’m very tired and would like to go inside my house; had you just as soon move?” asked Granny Fox.
“Oh!” exclaimed Prickly Porky, “is this your house? I thought you lived over on the Green Meadows.”
“I did, but I’ve moved. Please let me in,” replied Granny Fox.
“Certainly, certainly. Don’t mind me, Granny Fox. Step right over me,” said Prickly Porky, and smiled once more, and at the same time rattled his little spears.
Instead of stepping over him, Granny Fox backed away.
Now there is nothing like being shut in alone in the dark to make one think. A voice inside of Reddy began to whisper to him. “If you hadn’t tried to be smart and show off you wouldn’t have brought all this trouble on yourself and Old Granny Fox,” said the voice.
“I know it,” replied Reddy right out loud, forgetting that it was only a small voice inside of him.
“What do you know?” asked Prickly Porky. He was still keeping Reddy in and Granny out and he had overheard what Reddy said.
“It is none of your business!” snapped Reddy.
Reddy could hear Prickly Porky chuckle. Then Prickly Porky repeated as if to himself in a queer cracked voice the following:
“Rudeness never, never pays,
Nor is there gain in saucy ways.
It’s always best to be polite
And ne’er give way to ugly spite.
If that’s the way you feel inside
You’d better all such feelings hide;
For he must smile who hopes to win,
And he who loses best will grin.”
Reddy pretended that he hadn’t heard. Prickly Porky continued to chuckle for a while and finally Reddy fell asleep. When he awoke it was to find that Prickly Porky had left and old Granny Fox had brought him something to eat.
Just as soon as Reddy Fox was able to travel he and Granny had moved to the Old Pasture. The Old Pasture is very different from the Green Meadows or the Green Forest. Yes, indeed, it is very, very different. Reddy Fox thought so. And Reddy didn’t like the change—not a bit. All about were great rocks, and around and over them grew bushes and young trees and bull-briars with long ugly thorns, and blackberry and raspberry canes that seemed to have a million little hooked hands, reaching to catch in and tear his red coat and to scratch his face and hands. There were little open places where wild-eyed young cattle fed on the short grass. They had made many little paths all crisscross among the bushes, and when you tried to follow one of these paths you never could tell where you were coming out.
No, Reddy Fox did not like the Old Pasture at all. There was no long, soft green grass to lie down in. And it was lonesome up there. He missed the little people of the Green Meadows and the Green Forest. There was no one to bully and tease. And it was such a long, long way from Farmer Brown’s henyard that old Granny Fox wouldn’t even try to bring him a fat hen. At least, that’s what she told Reddy.
The truth is, wise old Granny Fox knew that the very best thing she could do was to stay away from Farmer Brown’s for a long time. She knew that Reddy couldn’t go down there, because he was still too lame and sore to travel such a long way, and she hoped that by the time Reddy was well enough to go, he would have learned better than to do such a foolish thing as to try to show off by stealing a chicken in broad daylight, as he had when he brought all this trouble on them.
Down on the Green Meadows, the home of Granny and Reddy Fox had been on a little knoll, which you know is a little low hill, right where they could sit on their doorstep and look all over the Green Meadows. It had been very, very beautiful down there. They had made lovely little paths through the tall green meadow grass, and the buttercups and daisies had grown close up to their very doorstep. But up here in the Old Pasture Granny Fox had chosen the thickest clump of bushes and young trees she could find, and in the middle was a great pile of rocks. Way in among these rocks Granny Fox had dug their new house. It was right down under the rocks. Even in the middle of the day jolly, round, red Mr. Sun could hardly find it with a few of his long, bright beams. All the rest of the time it was dark and gloomy there.
No, Reddy Fox didn’t like his new home at all, but when he said so old Granny Fox boxed his ears.
“It’s your own fault that we’ve got to live here now,” said she. “It’s the only place where we are safe. Farmer Brown’s boy never will find this home, and even if he did he couldn’t dig into it as he did into our old home on the Green Meadows. Here we are, and here we’ve got to stay, all because a foolish little Fox thought himself smarter than anybody else and tried to show off.”
Reddy hung his head. “I don’t care!” he said, which was very, very foolish, because, you know, he did care a very great deal.
And here we will leave wise Old Granny Fox and Reddy, safe, even if they do not like their new home. You see, Lightfoot the Deer is getting jealous. He thinks there should be some books about the people of the Green Forest, and that the first one should be about him. And because we all love Lightfoot the Deer, the very next book is to bear his name.
Green Meadow Stories
was published between 1918–20 by
Thornton W. Burgess.