Read an Excerpt
Five-Minute Bedtime Tales
From Old Mother West Wind's Library
By THORNTON W. BURGESS, Harrison Cady
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Why Jimmy Skunk Never Hurries
The Merry Little Breezes of Old Mother West Wind had just been released from the big bag in which she carries them every night to their home behind the Purple Hills and every morning brings them back to the Green Meadows to romp and play all day. They romped and raced and danced away, some one way, some another, to see whom they could find to play with. Presently some of them spied Jimmy Skunk slowly ambling down the Crooked Little Path, stopping every few steps to pull over a loose stone or stick. They knew what he was doing that for. They knew that he was looking for fat beetles for his breakfast. They danced over to him and formed a ring around him while they sang:
"Who is it never, never hurries?
Who is it never, never worries?
Who is it does just what he pleases,
Just like us Merry Little Breezes?
Jimmy Skunk! Jimmy Skunk!"
Now not so far away but that he could hear them very plainly sat Peter Rabbit, just finishing his breakfast in a sweet-clover patch. He sat up very straight, so as to hear better. Of course some of the Merry Little Breezes saw him right away. They left Jimmy to come over and dance in a circle around Peter, for Peter is a great favorite with them. And as they danced they sang:
"Who is it hops and skips and jumps?
Who is it sometimes loudly thumps?
Who is it dearly loves to play,
But when there's danger runs away?
Peter Rabbit! Peter Rabbit!"
Peter grinned good-naturedly. He is quite used to being laughed at for always running away, and he doesn't mind it in the least.
"When danger's near, who runs away will live to run another day," retorted Peter promptly. Then he began the maddest kind of a frolic with the Merry Little Breezes until they and he were quite tired out and ready for a good rest.
"I wish," said Peter, as he stretched himself out in the middle of the patch of sweet clover, "that you would tell me why it is that Jimmy Skunk never hurries."
"And we wish that you would tell us the same thing," cried one of the Merry Little Breezes.
"But I can't," protested Peter. "Everybody else seems to hurry, at times anyway, but Jimmy never does. He says it is a waste of energy, whatever that means."
"I tell you what—let's go over to the Smiling Pool and ask Grandfather Frog about it now. He'll be sure to know," spoke up one of the Merry Little Breezes.
"All right," replied Peter, hopping to his feet. "But you'll have to ask him. I've asked him for so many stories that I don't dare ask for another right away, for fear that he will say that I am a nuisance."
So it was agreed that the Merry Little Breezes should ask Grandfather Frog why it is that Jimmy Skunk never hurries, and that Peter should keep out of sight until Grandfather Frog had begun the story, for they were sure that there would be a story. Away they all hurried to the Smiling Pool. The Merry Little Breezes raced so hard that they were quite out of breath when they burst through the bulrushes and surrounded Grandfather Frog, as he sat on his big green lily-pad.
"Oh, Grandfather Frog, why is it that Jimmy Skunk never hurries?" they panted.
"Chug-a-rum!" replied Grandfather Frog in his deepest, gruffest voice. "Chug-a-rum! Probably because he has learned better."
"Oh!" said one of the Merry Little Breezes, in a rather faint, disappointed sort of voice. Just then he spied a fat, foolish, green fly and blew it right over to Grandfather Frog, who snapped it up in a flash. Right away all the Merry Little Breezes began to hunt for foolish green flies and blow them over to Grandfather Frog, until he didn't have room for another one inside his white and yellow waistcoat. Indeed the legs of the last one he tried to swallow stuck out of one corner of his big mouth.
"Chug-a-rum!" said Grandfather Frog, trying very hard to get those legs out of sight. "Chug-a-rum! I always like to do something for those who do something for me, and I suppose now that I ought to tell you why it is that Jimmy Skunk never hurries. I would, if Peter Rabbit were here. If I tell you the story, Peter will be sure to hear of it, and then he will give me no peace until I tell it to him, and I don't like to tell stories twice."
"But he is here!" cried one of the Little Breezes. "He's right over behind that little clump of tall grass."
"Humph! I thought he wasn't very far away," grunted Grandfather Frog, with a twinkle in his great, goggly eyes.
Peter crept out of his hiding-place, looking rather shamefaced and very foolish. Then the Merry Little Breezes settled themselves on the lily-pads in a big circle around Grandfather Frog, and Peter sat down as close to the edge of the bank of the Smiling Pool as he dared to get. After what seemed to them a very long time, Grandfather Frog swallowed the legs of the last foolish green fly, opened his big mouth, and began:
"Of course you all know that long, long ago, when the world was young, things were very different from what they are now, very different indeed. The great-great-ever-so-great grandfather of Jimmy Skunk was slimmer and trimmer than Jimmy is. He was more like his cousins, Mr. Weasel and Mr. Mink. He was just as quick moving as they were. Yes, Sir, Mr. Skunk was very lively on his feet. He had to keep out of the way of his big neighbors, for in those days he didn't have any means of protecting himself, as Jimmy has now. He was dressed all in black. You know it wasn't until Old Mother Nature found out that he was taking advantage of that black suit to get into mischief on dark nights that she gave him white stripes, so that the darker the night, the harder it would be for him to keep from being seen.
"Now Mr. Skunk was very smart and shrewd, oh, very! When the hard times came, which made so many changes in the lives of the people who lived in the Green Forest and on the Green Meadows, Mr. Skunk was very quick to see that unless he could think of some way to protect himself, it was only a matter of time when he would furnish a dinner for one of his fierce big neighbors, and of course Mr. Skunk had no desire to do that. It was then that he asked Old Mother Nature to give him a bag of perfume so strong that it would make everybody ill but himself. Mother Nature thought it all over, and then she did, but she made him promise that he would never use it unless he was in great danger.
"Mr. Skunk had to try his new defence only once or twice before his enemies took the greatest care to let him alone. He found that he no longer had to run for a safe hiding-place when he met Mr. Wolf or Mr. Lynx or Mr. Panther. They just snarled at him and passed without offering to touch him. So Mr. Skunk grew very independent and went where he pleased when he pleased. And, because he no longer had to run from his enemies, he got out of the habit of running. Then he made a discovery. He watched those of his neighbors who were forever hurrying about looking for food, hurrying because all the time there was great fear upon them that an enemy might be near, hurrying because each was fearful that his neighbor would get more than he. It wasn't long before Mr. Skunk saw that in their hurry they overlooked a great deal. In fact, by just following after them slowly, he found all he wanted to eat.
"So Mr. Skunk began to grow fat. His neighbors, who were having hard work to make a living, grew envious, and said unkind things about him, and hinted that he must be stealing, or he never could have so much to eat. But Mr. Skunk didn't mind. He went right on about his business. He never worried, because, you know, he feared nobody. And he never hurried, because he found that it paid best to go slowly. In that way he never missed any of the good things that his hurrying, worrying neighbors did. So he grew fatter and fatter, while others grew thinner. After a while he almost forgot how to run. Being fat and never hurrying or worrying made him good-natured. He kept right on minding his own affairs and never meddling in the affairs of others, so that by and by his neighbors began to respect him.
"Of course he taught his children to do as he did, and they taught their children. And so, ever since that long-ago day, when the world was young, that little bag of perfume has been handed down in the Skunk family, and none of them has ever been afraid. Now you know why Jimmy Skunk, whom you all know, is so independent and never hurries."
"Thank you! Thank you, Grandfather Frog!" cried the Merry Little Breezes. "When you want some more foolish green flies, just let us know, and we'll get them for you."
"Chug-a-rum! What are you looking so wistful for, Peter Rabbit?" demanded Grandfather Frog.
"I—I was just wishing that I had a——" began Peter. Then suddenly he made a face. "No, I don't either!" he declared. "I guess I'd better be getting home to the dear Old Briar-patch now. Mrs. Peter probably thinks something has happened to me." And away he went, lipperty-lipperty-lip.CHAPTER 2
Why Sammy Jay Has a Fine Coat
Sammy Jay has a very fine coat, a very beautiful coat. Everybody knows that. In fact, Sammy's coat has long been the envy of a great many of his neighbors in the Green Forest. Some of them, you know, have very modest coats. They are not beautiful at all. And yet the owners of some of these plain coats are among the most honest and hard-working of all the little people who live in the Green Forest. They find it hard, very hard indeed, to understand why such a scamp and mischief-maker as Sammy Jay should be given such a wonderful blue coat with white trimmings.
Peter Rabbit often had thought about it. He has a number of feathered friends whom he likes ever so much better than he does Sammy Jay. In fact, he and Sammy are forever falling out, because Sammy delights to tease Peter. He sometimes makes up for it by warning Peter when Granny or Reddy Fox happens to be about, and Peter is honest enough to recognize this and put it to Sammy's credit. But in spite of this, it never seemed to him quite right that Sammy Jay should be so handsomely dressed.
"Of course," said Peter to Grandfather Frog, "Old Mother Nature knows a great deal more than I do—"
"Really! You don't mean to say so! Chug-a-rum! You don't mean to say so, Peter!" interrupted Grandfather Frog, pretending to be very much surprised at what Peter said.
Peter grinned and wrinkled his nose at Grandfather Frog.
"Yes," said he, "Old Mother Nature knows a great deal more than I do, but it seems to me as if she had made a mistake in giving Sammy Jay such a handsome coat. There must be a reason, I suppose, but for the life of me I cannot understand it. I should think that she would give such a thief as Sammy Jay the very homeliest suit she could find. You may depend I would, if I were in her place."
Grandfather Frog chuckled until he shook all over.
"It's lucky for some of us that you are not in her place!" said he. "Chug-arum! It certainly is lucky!"
"If I were, I would give you a handsome coat, too, Grandfather Frog," replied Peter.
Grandfather Frog suddenly swelled out with indignation. "Chug-a-rum! Chug-arum! What's the matter with the coat I have got, Peter Rabbit? Tell me that! Who's got a handsomer one?" Grandfather Frog glared with his great, goggly eyes at Peter.
"I didn't mean to say that you haven't got a handsome coat. Your coat is handsome, very handsome indeed, Grandfather Frog," Peter hastened to say. "I always did like green. I just love it! And I should think you would be ever so proud of your white and yellow waistcoat. I would if it were mine. What I meant to say is, that if I were in Old Mother Nature's place, I would give some plain folks handsome suits. Certainly, I wouldn't give such a rascal as Sammy Jay one of the handsomest coats in all the Green Forest. Knowing Sammy as well as I do, it is hard work to believe that he came by it honestly."
Grandfather Frog chuckled way down deep in his throat.
"Sammy came by it honestly enough, Peter. Yes, Sir, he came by it honestly enough, because it was handed down to him by his father, who got it from his father, who got it from his father, and so on, way back to the days when the world was young, but—" Grandfather Frog paused, and that dreamy, far-away look which Peter had seen so often came into his great, goggly eyes.
"But what, Grandfather Frog?" asked Peter eagerly, when he could keep still no longer.
Grandfather Frog settled himself comfortably on his big green lily-pad and looked very hard at Peter.
"I'm going to tell you a story, Peter Rabbit," said he, "so that never again will you be led to doubt that Old Mother Nature knows exactly what she is about. In the first place, Sammy Jay is not wholly to blame for all his bad habits. Some of them were handed down to him with his fine coat, just the same as your troublesome curiosity was handed down to you with the white patch on the seat of your trousers."
Peter nodded. He had felt a great many times that he just couldn't help this habit of poking that wobbly little nose of his in where it had no business to be, any more than he could change that funny little bunch of white cotton, which he called a tail, for a really, truly tail.
"Of course, you have heard all about what a very fine gentleman Sammy Jay's great-great-ever-so-great grandfather was thought to be until it was discovered that he was all the time stealing from his neighbors and putting the blame on others, and how Old Mother Nature punished him by taking away the beautiful voice of which he was so proud, and giving him instead the harsh voice which Sammy has now, and making him tell just what he is by screaming 'thief, thief, thief!' every time he opens his mouth to speak.
"At first Old Mother Nature had intended to take away the fine coat of which Mr. Jay was so proud, but when he discovered that he had lost his fine voice, he was so ashamed that he hurried away to hide himself from the eyes of his neighbors, so that Old Mother Nature didn't have time to change his coat just then.
'I'll wait a bit,' said she to herself, 'and see how he behaves. Perhaps he is truly sorry for what he has done, and I will not have to punish him more.'
"But if Mr. Jay was truly sorry, he gave no signs of it. You see, he had cheated his neighbors, and had stolen from them for so long, that he found this the easiest way to get a living. His bad habits had become fixed, as bad habits have a way of doing. Besides, right down in his heart, he wasn't sorry for what he had done, only angry at having been found out. Now that he had been found out, of course every one was on the watch for him, and it wasn't so easy to steal as it had been before. So now, instead of going about openly, with his head held high, he grew very crafty, and sneaked quietly about through the Green Forest, trying to keep out of sight, that he might the easier steal from his neighbors and make trouble for them.
"When Old Mother Nature saw this, she changed her mind about taking away his handsome suit. 'If I do that,' thought she, 'it will make it all the easier for him to keep out of sight, and all the harder for his neighbors to know when he is about.'
"So instead of giving him the plain, homely suit that she had thought of giving him, she made his coat of blue brighter than before and trimmed it with the whitest of white trimmings, so that Mr. Jay had one of the very handsomest coats in all the Green Forest. At first he was very proud of it, but it wasn't long before he found that it was very hard work to keep out of sight when he wanted to. That bright blue coat was forever giving him away when he was out on mischief. Everybody was all the time on the watch for it, and so where in the past Mr. Jay had been able, without any trouble, to steal all he wanted to eat, now he sometimes actually had to work for his food, and get it honestly or else go hungry.
"You would suppose that he would have mended his ways, wouldn't you?"
"But he didn't. He grew more sly and crafty than ever. But in spite of this, he didn't begin to make as much trouble as before. He couldn't, you know, because of his bright coat. When Old Mother Nature found that Mr. Jay had passed along his bad habits to his children, she passed along his handsome blue coat, too, and so it has been from that long-ago day right down to this. Sammy Jay's fine coat isn't a reward for goodness, as is Winsome Bluebird's, but is to help the other little people of the Green Forest and the Green Meadows to protect themselves, and keep track of Sammy when he is sneaking and snooping around looking for mischief. Now what do you think, Peter Rabbit?"
Peter scratched one long ear and then the other long ear thoughtfully, and he looked a wee bit ashamed as he replied: "I guess Old Mother Nature makes no mistakes and always knows just what she is doing."
"Chug-a-rum!" said Grandfather Frog in his deepest voice. "You may be sure she does. And another thing, Peter Rabbit: Never judge any one by his clothes. It is a great mistake, a very great mistake. Plain clothes sometimes cover the kindest hearts, and fine clothes often are a warning to beware of mischief."
"I—I don't know but you are right," admitted Peter.
"I know I am," said Grandfather Frog.
Excerpted from Five-Minute Bedtime Tales by THORNTON W. BURGESS, Harrison Cady. Copyright © 2011 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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