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 LISTENS TO MRS. PETER
Safety first is a wise rule for those who would live long. 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 PLAYS A JOKE ON MRS. PETER
This little point remember, please— There's little gained by those who tease. Peter Rabbit.
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 south-land 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 any one here, and I don't think there has been any one 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.
NEWS FROM THE OLD BRIAR-PATCH
To use your eyes is very wise And much to be commended; But never see what cannot be For such as you intended. Peter Rabbit.
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.
JIMMY SKUNK VISITS PETER RABBIT
It's hard to keep a secret which you fairly ache to tell; So not to know such secrets is often quite as well. Peter Rabbit.
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."
REDDY FOX LEARNS THE SECRET
Nothing that you ever do, Nothing good or nothing bad, But has effect on other folks— Gives them pain or makes them glad. Peter Rabbit.
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 every one 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."
BLACKY THE CROW HAS SHARP EYES
Mischief always waits to greet Idle hands and idle feet. Peter Rabbit.
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 sweet-briar 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.
PETER RABBIT'S NURSERY
With home, the home you call your own, It really doesn't matter where, There is no place, in all the world, That ever will or can compare. Peter Rabbit.
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 near-by 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 sweet-briar 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.