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Peter Rabbit and the other woodland animals discover that they have misjudged Old Mr. Toad, who ...
Peter Rabbit and the other woodland animals discover that they have misjudged Old Mr. Toad, who also learns some important lessons.
Jimmy Skunk Is Puzzled
OLD MOTHER West Wind had just come down from the Purple Hills and turned loose her children, the Merry Little Breezes, from the big bag in which she had been carrying them. They were very lively and very merry as they danced and raced across the Green Meadows in all directions, for it was good to be back there once more. Old Mother West Wind almost sighed as she watched them for a few minutes. She felt that she would like to join them. Always the springtime made her feel this way,—young, mad, carefree, and happy. But she had work to do. She had to turn the windmill to pump water for Farmer Brown's cows, and this was only one of many mills standing idle as they waited for her. So she puffed her cheeks out and started about her business.
Jimmy Skunk sat at the top of the hill that overlooks the Green Meadows and watched her out of sight. Then he started to amble down the Lone Little Path to look for some beetles. He was ambling along in his lazy way, for you know he never hurries, when he heard some one puffing and blowing behind him. Of course he turned to see who it was, and he was greatly surprised when he discovered Old Mr. Toad. Yes, Sir, it was Old Mr. Toad, and he seemed in a great hurry. He was quite short of breath, but he was hopping along in the most determined way as if he were in a great hurry to get somewhere.
Now it is a very unusual thing for Mr. Toad to hurry, very unusual indeed. As a rule he hops a few steps and then sits down to think it over. Jimmy had never before seen him hop more than a few steps unless he was trying to get away from danger, from Mr. Blacksnake for instance. Of course the first thing Jimmy thought of was Mr. Blacksnake, and he looked for him. But there was no sign of Mr. Blacksnake nor of any other danger. Then he looked very hard at Old Mr. Toad, and he saw right away that Old Mr. Toad didn't seem to be frightened at all, only very determined, and as if he had something important on his mind.
"Well, well," exclaimed Jimmy Skunk, "whatever has got into those long hind legs of yours to make them work so fast?"
Old Mr. Toad didn't say a word, but simply tried to get past Jimmy and keep on his way. Jimmy put out one hand and turned Old Mr. Toad right over on his back, where he kicked and struggled in an effort to get on his feet again, and looked very ridiculous.
"Don't you know that it isn't polite not to speak when you are spoken to?" demanded Jimmy severely, though his eyes twinkled.
"I—I beg your pardon. I didn't have any breath to spare," panted Old Mr. Toad. "You see I'm in a great hurry."
"Yes, I see," replied Jimmy. "But don't you know that it isn't good for the health to hurry so? Now, pray, what are you in such a hurry for? I don't see anything to run away from."
"I'm not running away," retorted Old Mr. Toad indignantly. "I've business to attend to at the Smiling Pool, and I'm late as it is."
"Business!" exclaimed Jimmy as if he could hardly believe his ears. "What business have you at the Smiling Pool?"
"That is my own affair," retorted Old Mr. Toad, "but if you really want to know, I'll tell you. I have a very important part in the spring chorus, and I'm going down there to sing. I have a very beautiful voice."
That was too much for Jimmy Skunk. He just lay down and rolled over and over with laughter. The idea of any one so homely, almost ugly-looking, as Mr. Toad thinking that he had a beautiful voice! "Ha, ha, ha! Ho, ho, ho!" roared Jimmy.
When at last he stopped because he couldn't laugh any more, he discovered that Old Mr. Toad was on his way again. Hop, hop, hipperty-hop, hop, hop, hipperty-hop went Mr. Toad. Jimmy watched him, and he confessed that he was puzzled.CHAPTER 2
Jimmy Skunk Consults His Friends
JIMMY SKUNK scratched his head thoughtfully as he watched Old Mr. Toad go down the Lone Little Path, hop, hop, hipperty-hop, towards the Smiling Pool. He certainly was puzzled, was Jimmy Skunk. If Old Mr. Toad had told him that he could fly, Jimmy would not have been more surprised, or found it harder to believe than that Old Mr. Toad had a beautiful voice. The truth is, Jimmy didn't believe it. He thought that Old Mr. Toad was trying to fool him.
Presently Peter Rabbit came along. He found Jimmy Skunk sitting in a brown study. He had quite forgotten to look for fat beetles, and when he forgets to do that you may make up your mind that Jimmy is doing some hard thinking.
"Hello, old Striped-coat, what have you got on your mind this fine morning?" cried Peter Rabbit.
"Him," said Jimmy simply, pointing down the Lone Little Path.
Peter looked. "Do you mean Old Mr. Toad?" he asked.
Jimmy nodded. "Do you see anything queer about him?" he asked in his turn.
Peter stared down the Lone Little Path. "No," he replied, "except that he seems in a great hurry."
"That's just it," Jimmy returned promptly. "Did you ever see him hurry unless he was frightened?"
Peter confessed that he never had.
"Well, he isn't frightened now, yet just look at him go," retorted Jimmy. "Says he has got a beautiful voice, and that he has to take part in the spring chorus at the Smiling Pool and that he is late."
Peter looked very hard at Jimmy to see if he was fooling or telling the truth. Then he began to laugh. "Old Mr. Toad sing! The very idea!" he cried. "He can sing about as much as I can, and that is not at all."
Jimmy grinned. "I think he's crazy, if you ask me," said he. "And yet he was just as earnest about it as if it were really so. I think he must have eaten something that has gone to his head. There's Unc' Billy Possum over there. Let's ask him what he thinks."
So Jimmy and Peter joined Unc' Billy, and Jimmy told the story about Old Mr. Toad all over again. Unc' Billy chuckled and laughed just as they had at the idea of Old Mr. Toad's saying he had a beautiful voice. But Unc' Billy has a shrewd little head on his shoulders. After a few minutes he stopped laughing.
"Ah done learn a right smart long time ago that Ah don' know all there is to know about mah neighbors," said he. "We-uns done think of Brer Toad as ugly-lookin' fo' so long that we-uns may have overlooked something. Ah don' reckon Brer Toad can sing, but Ah 'lows that perhaps he thinks he can. What do you-alls say to we-uns going down to the Smiling Pool and finding out what he really is up to?"
"The very thing!" cried Peter, kicking up his heels. You know Peter is always ready to go anywhere or do anything that will satisfy his curiosity.
Jimmy Skunk thought it over for a few minutes, and then he decided that as he hadn't anything in particular to do, and as he might find some fat beetles on the way, he would go too. So off they started after Old Mr. Toad, Peter Rabbit in the lead as usual, Unc' Billy Possum next, grinning as only he can grin, and in the rear Jimmy Skunk, taking his time and keeping a sharp eye out for fat beetles.CHAPTER 3
The Hunt for Old Mr. Toad
NOW, though Old Mr. Toad was hurrying as fast as ever he could and was quite out of breath, he wasn't getting along very fast compared with the way Peter Rabbit or Jimmy Skunk or Unc' Billy Possum could cover the ground. You see he cannot make long jumps like his cousin, Grandfather Frog, but only little short hops.
So Peter and Jimmy and Unc' Billy took their time about following him. They stopped to hunt for fat beetles for Jimmy Skunk, and at every little patch of sweet clover for Peter Rabbit to help himself. Once they wasted a lot of time while Unc' Billy Possum hunted for a nest of Carol the Meadow Lark, on the chance that he would find some fresh eggs there. He didn't find the nest for the very good reason that Carol hadn't built one yet. Peter was secretly glad. You know he doesn't eat eggs, and he is always sorry for his feathered friends when their eggs are stolen.
Half way across the Green Meadows they stopped to play with the Merry Little Breezes, and because it was very pleasant there, they played longer than they realized. When at last they started on again, Old Mr. Toad was out of sight. You see all the time he had kept right on going, hop, hop, hipperty-hop.
"Never mind," said Peter, "we can catch up with him easy enough, he's such a slow-poke."
But even a slow-poke who keeps right on doing a thing without wasting any time always gets somewhere sooner or later, very often sooner than those who are naturally quicker, but who waste their time. So it was with Old Mr. Toad. He kept right on, hop, hop, hipperty-hop, while the others were playing, and so it happened that when at last Peter and Jimmy and Unc' Billy reached the Smiling Pool, they hadn't caught another glimpse of Old Mr. Toad.
"Do you suppose he hid somewhere, and we passed him?" asked Peter.
Unc' Billy shook his head. "Ah don' reckon so," said he. "We-uns done been foolin' away our time, an' Brer Toad done stole a march on us. Ah reckons we-uns will find him sittin' on the bank here somewhere."
So right away the three separated to look for Old Mr. Toad. All along the bank of the Smiling Pool they looked. They peeped under old leaves and sticks. They looked in every place where Old Mr. Toad might have hidden, but not a trace of him did they find.
"Tra-la-la-lee! Oka-chee! Oka-chee!
Happy am I as I can be!"
sang Mr. Redwing, as he swayed to and fro among the bulrushes.
"Say, Mr. Redwing, have you seen Old Mr. Toad?" called Peter Rabbit.
"No," replied Mr. Redwing. "Is that whom you fellows are looking for? I wondered if you had lost something. What do you want with Old Mr. Toad?"
Peter explained how they had followed Old Mr. Toad just to see what he really was up to. "Of course we know that he hasn't any more voice than I have," declared Peter, "but we are curious to know if he really thinks he has, and why he should be in such a hurry to reach the Smiling Pool. It looks to us as if the spring has made Old Mr. Toad crazy."
"Oh, that's it, is it?" replied Mr. Redwing, his bright eyes twinkling. "Some people don't know as much as they might. I've been wondering where Old Mr. Toad was, and I'm ever so glad to learn that he hasn't forgotten that he has a very important part in our beautiful spring chorus." Then once more Mr. Redwing began to sing.CHAPTER 4
Peter Rabbit Finds Old Mr. Toad
IT isn't often that Peter Rabbit is truly envious, but sometimes in the joyousness of spring he is. He envies the birds because they can pour out in beautiful song the joy that is in them. The only way he can express his feelings is by kicking his long heels, jumping about, and such foolish things. While that gives Peter a great deal of satisfaction, it doesn't add to the joy of other people as do the songs of the birds, and you know to give joy to others is to add to your own joy. So there are times when Peter wishes he could sing.
He was wishing this very thing now, as he sat on the bank of the Smiling Pool, listening to the great spring chorus.
"Tra-la-la-lee! Oka-chee! Oka-chee!
There's joy in the spring for you and for me."
sang Redwing the Blackbird from the bulrushes.
From over in the Green Meadows rose the clear lilt of Carol the Meadow Lark, and among the alders just where the Laughing Brook ran into the Smiling Pool a flood of happiness was pouring from the throat of Little Friend the Song Sparrow. Winsome Bluebird's sweet, almost plaintive, whistle seemed to fairly float in the air, so that it was hard to say just where it did come from, and in the top of the Big Hickory-tree, Welcome Robin was singing as if his heart were bursting with joy. Even Sammy Jay was adding a beautiful, bell-like note instead of his usual harsh scream. As for the Smiling Pool, it seemed as if the very water itself sang, for a mighty chorus of clear piping voices from unseen singers rose from all around its banks. Peter knew who those singers were, although look as he would he could see none of them. They were hylas, the tiny cousins of Stickytoes the Tree Toad.
Listening to all these joyous voices, Peter forgot for a time what had brought him to the Smiling Pool. But Jimmy Skunk and Unc' Billy Possum didn't forget. They were still hunting for Old Mr. Toad.
"Well, old Mr. Dreamer, have you found him yet?" asked Jimmy Skunk, stealing up behind Peter and poking him in the back.
Peter came to himself with a start. "No," said he. "I was just listening and wishing that I could sing, too. Don't you ever wish you could sing, Jimmy?"
"No," replied Jimmy. "I never waste time wishing I could do things it was never meant I should do. It's funny where Old Mr. Toad is. He said that he was coming down here to sing, and Redwing the Blackbird seemed to be expecting him. I've looked everywhere I can think of without finding him, but I don't believe in giving up without another try. Stop your dreaming and come help us hunt."
So Peter stopped his dreaming and joined in the search. Now there was one place where neither Peter nor Jimmy nor Unc' Billy had thought of looking. That was in the Smiling Pool itself. They just took it for granted that Old Mr. Toad was somewhere on the bank. Presently Peter came to a place where the bank was very low and the water was shallow for quite a little distance out in the Smiling Pool. From out of that shallow water came the piping voice of a hyla, and Peter stopped to stare, trying to see the tiny singer.
Suddenly he jumped right up in the air with surprise. There was a familiar-looking head sticking out of the water. Peter had found Old Mr. Toad!CHAPTER 5
Old Mr. Toad's Music Bag
Never think that you have learned
All there is to know.
That's the surest way of all
Ignorance to show.
I'VE found Old Mr. Toad!" cried Peter Rabbit, hurrying after Jimmy Skunk.
"Where?" demanded Jimmy.
"In the water," declared Peter. "He's sitting right over there where the water is shallow, and he didn't notice me at all. Let's get Unc' Billy, and then creep over to the edge of the Smiling Pool and watch to see if Old Mr. Toad really does try to sing."
So they hunted up Unc' Billy Possum, and the three stole very softly over to the edge of the Smiling Pool, where the bank was low and the water shallow. Sure enough, there sat Old Mr. Toad with just his head out of water. And while they were watching him, something very strange happened.
"What—what's the matter with him?" whispered Peter, his big eyes looking as if they might pop out of his head.
"If he don't watch out, he'll blow up and bust!" exclaimed Jimmy.
"Listen!" whispered Unc' Billy Possum. "Do mah ol' ears hear right? 'Pears to me that that song is coming right from where Brer Toad is sitting."
It certainly did appear so, and of all the songs that glad spring day there was none sweeter. Indeed there were few as sweet. The only trouble was the song was so very short. It lasted only for two or three seconds. And when it ended, Old Mr. Toad looked quite his natural self again; just as commonplace, almost ugly, as ever. Peter looked at Jimmy Skunk, Jimmy looked at Unc' Billy Possum, and Unc' Billy looked at Peter. And no one had a word to say. Then all three looked back at Old Mr. Toad.
And even as they looked, his throat began to swell and swell and swell, until it was no wonder that Jimmy Skunk had thought that he was in danger of blowing up. And then, when it stopped swelling, there came again those beautiful little notes, so sweet and tremulous that Peter actually held his breath to listen. There was no doubt that Old Mr. Toad was singing just as he had said he was going to, and it was just as true that his song was one of the sweetest if not the sweetest of all the chorus from and around the Smiling Pool. It was very hard to believe, but Peter and Jimmy and Unc' Billy both saw and heard, and that was enough. Their respect for Old Mr. Toad grew tremendously as they listened. "How does he do it?" whispered Peter.
"With that bag under his chin, of course," replied Jimmy Skunk. "Don't you see it's only when that is swelled out that he sings? It's a regular music bag. And I didn't know he had any such bag there at all."
"I wish," said Peter Rabbit, feeling of his throat, "that I had a music bag like that in my throat."
And then he joined in the laugh of Jimmy and Unc' Billy, but still with something of a look of wistfulness in his eyes.CHAPTER 6
Peter Discovers Something More
There are stranger things in the world to-day
Than ever you dreamed could be.
There's beauty in some of the commonest things
If only you've eyes to see.
EVER since Peter Rabbit was a little chap and had first run away from home, he had known Old Mr. Toad, and never once had Peter suspected that he could sing. Also he had thought Old Mr. Toad almost ugly-looking, and he knew that most of his neighbors thought the same way. They were fond of Old Mr. Toad, for he was always good-natured and attended strictly to his own affairs; but they liked to poke fun at him, and as for there being anything beautiful about him, such a thing never entered their heads.
Excerpted from The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad by THORNTON W. BURGESS, Harrison Cady. Copyright © 1998 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted July 3, 2011
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