PETER RABBIT! Peter Rabbit! I don’t see what Mother Nature ever gave me such a common sounding name as that for. People laugh at me, but if I had a fine sounding name they wouldn’t laugh. Some folks say that a name doesn’t amount to anything, but it does. If I should do some wonderful thing, nobody would think anything of it. No, Sir, nobody would think anything of it at all just because — why just because it was done by Peter Rabbit.”
Peter was talking out loud, but he was talking to himself. He sat in the dear Old Briar-patch with an ugly scowl on his usually happy face. The sun was shining, the Merry Little Breezes of Old Mother West Wind were dancing over the Green Meadows, the birds were singing, and happiness, the glad, joyous happiness of springtime, was everywhere but in Peter Rabbit’s heart. There there seemed to be no room for anything but discontent. And such foolish discontent — discontent with his name! And yet, do you know, there are lots of people just as foolish as Peter Rabbit.
“Well, what are you going to do about it?”
The voice made Peter Rabbit jump and turn around hastily. There was Jimmy Skunk poking his head in at the opening of one of Peter’s private little paths. He was grinning, and Peter knew by that grin that Jimmy had heard what he had said. Peter didn’t know what to say. He hung his head in a very shame-faced way.
“You’ve got something to learn,” said Jimmy Skunk.
“What is it?” asked Peter.
“It’s just this,” replied Jimmy.
“There’s nothing in a name except
Just what we choose to make it.
It lies with us and no one else
How other folks shall take it.
It’s what we do and what we say
And how we live each passing day
That makes it big or makes it small
Or even worse than none at all.
A name just stands for what we are;
It’s what we choose to make it.
And that’s the way and only way
That other folks will take it.”
Peter Rabbit made a face at Jimmy Skunk. “I don’t like being preached to.”
“I’m not preaching; I’m just telling you what you ought to know without being told,” replied Jimmy Skunk. “If you don’t like your name, why don’t you change it?”
“What’s that?” cried Peter sharply.
“If you don’t like your name, why don’t you change it?” repeated Jimmy.
Peter sat up and the disagreeable frown had left his face. “I — I — hadn’t thought of that,” he said slowly. “Do you suppose I could, Jimmy Skunk?”
“Easiest thing in the world,” replied Jimmy Skunk. “Just decide what name you like and then ask all your friends to call you by it.”
“I believe I will!” cried Peter Rabbit.
“Well, let me know what it is when you have decided,” said Jimmy, as he started for home. And all the way up the Crooked Little Path, Jimmy chuckled to himself as he thought of foolish Peter Rabbit trying to change his name.
PETER RABBIT had quite lost his appetite. When Peter forgets to eat you may make up your mind that Peter has something very important to think about. At least he has something on his mind that he thinks is important. The fact is, Peter had fully made up his mind to change his name. He thought Peter Rabbit too common a name. But when he tried to think of a better one, he found that no name that he could think of really pleased him any more. So he thought and he thought and he thought and he thought. And the more he thought the less appetite he had.
Now Jimmy Skunk was the only one to whom Peter had told how discontented he was with his name, and it was Jimmy who had suggested to Peter that he change it. Jimmy thought it a great joke, and he straightway passed the word along among all the little meadow and forest people that Peter Rabbit was going to change his name. Everybody laughed and chuckled over the thought of Peter Rabbit’s foolishness, and they planned to have a great deal of fun with Peter as soon as he should tell them his new name.
Peter was sitting on the edge of the Old Briar-patch one morning when Ol’ Mistah Buzzard passed, flying low. “Good mo’ning, Brer Cottontail,” said Ol’ Mistah Buzzard, with a twinkle in his eye.
At first Peter didn’t understand that Ol’ Mistah Buzzard was speaking to him, and by the time he did it was too late to reply, for Ol’ Mistah Buzzard was way, way up in the blue, blue sky. “Cottontail, Cottontail.” said Peter over and over to himself and began to smile. Every time he said it he liked it better.
“Cottontail, Peter Cottontail! How much better sounding that is than Peter Rabbit!”
“Cottontail, Peter Cottontail! How much better sounding that is than Peter Rabbit! That sounds as if I really was somebody. Yes, Sir, that’s the very name I want. Now I must send word to all my friends that hereafter I am no longer Peter Rabbit, but Peter Cottontail.”
Peter kicked up his heels in just the funny way he always does when he is pleased. Suddenly he remembered that such a fine, long, high-sounding name as Peter Cottontail demanded dignity. So he stopped kicking up his heels and began to practise putting on airs. But first he called to the Merry Little Breezes and told them about his change of name and asked them to tell all his friends that in the future he would not answer to the name of Peter Rabbit, but only to the name of Peter Cottontail. He was very grave and earnest and important as he explained it to the Merry Little Breezes. The Merry Little Breezes kept their faces straight while he was talking, but as soon, as they had left him to carry his message they burst out laughing. It was such a joke!
And they giggled as they delivered this message to each of the little forest and meadow people:
“Peter Rabbit’s changed his name.
In the future without fail
You must call him, if you please,
Mr. Peter Cottontail.”
While they were doing this, Peter was back in the Old Briar-patch practising new airs and trying to look very high and mighty and important, as became one with such a fine sounding name as Peter Cottontail.
BOBBY COON and Jimmy Skunk had their heads together. Now when these two put their heads together, you may make up your mind that they are planning mischief. Yes, Sir, there is sure to be mischief afoot when Bobby Coon and Jimmy Skunk put their heads together as they were doing now. Had Peter Rabbit seen them, he might not have felt so easy in his mind as he did. But Peter didn’t see them. He was too much taken up with trying to look as important as his new name sounded. He was putting on airs and holding his head very high as he went down to the Smiling Pool to call on Jerry Muskrat.
Whenever any one called him by his old name, Peter pretended not to hear. He pretended that he had never heard that name and didn’t know that he was being spoken to. Bobby Coon and Jimmy Skunk thought it a great joke and they made up their minds that they would have some fun with Peter and perhaps make him see how very foolish he was. Yes, Sir, they planned to teach Peter a lesson. Bobby Coon hurried away to find Reddy Fox and tell him that Peter had gone down to the Smiling Pool, and that if he hid beside the path, he might catch Peter on the way back.
Jimmy Skunk hunted up Blacky the Crow and Sammy Jay and told them of his plan and what he wanted them to do to help. Of course they promised that they would. Then he went to Ol’ Mistah Buzzard and told him. Ol’ Mistah Buzzard grinned and promised that he would do his share. Then Bobby Coon and Jimmy Skunk hid where they could see all that would happen.
Peter had reached the Smiling Pool and now sat on the bank admiring his own reflection in the water and talking to Jerry Muskrat. He had just told Jerry that when his old name was called out he didn’t hear it any more when along came Blacky the Crow.
“Hello, Peter Rabbit! You’re just the fellow I am looking for; I’ve a very important message for you,” shouted Blacky.
Peter kept right on talking with Jerry Muskrat just as if he didn’t hear, although he was burning with curiosity to know what the message was.
“I say, Peter Rabbit, are you deaf?” shouted Blacky the Crow.
Jerry Muskrat looked up at Blacky and winked. “Peter Rabbit isn’t here,” said he. “This is Peter Cottontail.”
Jerry Muskrat looked up at Blacky and winked.
“Oh!” said Blacky. “My message is for Peter Rabbit, and it’s something he really ought to know. I’m sorry he isn’t here.” And with that, away flew Blacky the Crow, chuckling to himself.
Peter looked quite as uncomfortable as he felt, but of course he couldn’t say a word after boasting that he didn’t hear people who called him Peter Rabbit. Pretty soon along came Sammy Jay. Sammy seemed very much excited.
“Oh, Peter Rabbit, I’m so glad I’ve found you!” he cried. “I’ve some very important news for you.”
Peter had all he could do to sit still and pretend not to hear, but he did.
“This is Peter Cottontail,” said Jerry Muskrat, winking at Sammy Jay.
“Oh,” replied Sammy, “my news is for Peter Rabbit!” and off he flew, chuckling to himself.
Peter looked and felt more uncomfortable than ever. He bade Jerry Muskrat good-by and started for the dear Old Briar-patch to think things over. When he was half way there, Ol’ Mistah Buzzard came sailing down out of the sky.
“Brer Cottontail,” said he, “if yo’ see anything of Brer Rabbit, yo’ tell him that Brer Fox am hiding behind that big bunch of grass just ahead.”
Peter stopped short, and his heart gave a great leap. There, behind the clump of grass, was something red, sure enough. Peter didn’t wait to see more. He started for a hiding place he knew of in the Green Forest as fast as he could go, and behind him raced Reddy Fox. As he ran, he heard Blacky the Crow and Sammy Jay laughing, and then he knew that this was the news that they had had for him.
“I — I — guess that Peter Rabbit is a good enough name, after all,” he panted.
PETER RABBIT came hopping and skipping down the Crooked Little Path. Unc’ Billy Possum always calls him Brer Rabbit, but everybody else calls him Peter. Peter was feeling very fine that morning, very fine indeed. Every few minutes he jumped up in the air, and kicked his heels together, just for fun. Presently he met Jimmy Skunk.
Jimmy was on his way back from Farmer Brown’s corn field, where he had been helping Blacky the Crow get free from a snare. Jimmy was still tickling and laughing over the way Blacky the Crow had been caught. He had to tell Peter Rabbit all about it.
Peter thought it just as good a joke as did Jimmy, and the two trotted along side by side, planning how they would spread the news all over the Green Meadows that Blacky the Crow, who thinks himself so smart, had been caught.
“That reminds me,” said Jimmy Skunk suddenly, “I haven’t had my breakfast yet. Have you seen any beetles this morning, Peter Rabbit?”