“Do tell me quickly what has happened to Peter!”
Happy Jack Squirrel had had a wonderful day. He had found some big chestnut-trees that he had never seen before, and which promised to give him all the nuts he would want for all the next winter.
Now he was thinking of going home, for it was getting late in the afternoon. He looked out across the open field where Mr. Goshawk had nearly caught him that morning. His home was on the other side.
“It’s a long way ‘round,” said Happy Jack to himself, “but it is best to be safe and sure.”
So Happy Jack started on his long journey around the open field. Now, Happy Jack’s eyes are bright, and there is very little that Happy Jack does not see. So, as he was jumping from one tree to another, he spied something down on the ground which excited his curiosity.
“I must stop and see what that is,” said Happy Jack. So down the tree he ran, and in a few minutes he had found the queer thing, which had caught his eyes. It was smooth and black and white, and at one end it was very sharp with a tiny little barb. Happy Jack found it out by pricking himself with it.
“Ooch,” he cried, and dropped the queer thing. Pretty soon he noticed there were a lot more on the ground.
“I wonder what they are,” said Happy Jack. “They don’t grow, for they haven’t any roots. They are not thorns, for there is no plant from which they could come. They are not alive, so what can they be?”
Now, Happy Jack’s eyes are bright, but sometimes he doesn’t use them to the very best advantage. He was so busy examining the queer things on the ground that he never once thought to look up in the tops of the trees. If he had, perhaps he would not have been so much puzzled.
As it was he just gathered up three or four of the queer things and started on again. On the way he met Peter Rabbit and showed Peter what he had. Now, you know Peter Rabbit is very curious. He just couldn’t sit still, but must scamper over to the place Happy Jack Squirrel told him about.
“You’d better be careful, Peter Rabbit; they’re very sharp,” shouted Happy Jack.
But as usual, Peter was in too much of a hurry to heed what was said to him. Lipperty-lipperty-lip, lipperty-lipperty-lip, went Peter Rabbit through the woods, as fast as his long legs would take him. Then suddenly he squealed and sat down to nurse one of his feet.
But he was up again in a flash with another squeal louder than before. Peter Rabbit had found the queer things that Happy Jack Squirrel had told him about. One was sticking in his foot, and one was in the white patch on the seat of his trousers.
The Merry Little Breezes of Old Mother West Wind were excited. Yes, Sir, they certainly were excited. They had met Happy Jack Squirrel and Peter Rabbit, and they were full of the news of the queer things that Happy Jack and Peter Rabbit had found over in the Green Forest.
They hurried this way and that way over the Green Meadows and told every one they met. Finally they reached the Smiling Pool and excitedly told Grandfather Frog all about it.
Grandfather Frog smoothed down his white and yellow waistcoat and looked very wise, for you know that Grandfather Frog is very old.
“Pooh,” said Grandfather Frog. “I know what they are.”
“What?” cried all the Merry Little Breezes together. “Happy Jack says he is sure they do not grow, for there are no strange plants over there.”
Grandfather Frog opened his big mouth and snapped up a foolish green fly that one of the Merry Little Breezes blew over to him.
“Chug-a-rum,” said Grandfather Frog. “Things do not have to be on plants in order to grow. Now I am sure that those things grew, and that they did not grow on a plant.”
The Merry Little Breezes looked puzzled. “What is there that grows and doesn’t grow on a plant?” asked one of them.
“How about the claws on Peter Rabbit’s toes and the hair of Happy Jack’s tail?” asked Grandfather Frog.
The Merry Little Breezes looked foolish. “Of course,” they cried. “We didn’t think of that. But we are quite sure that these queer things that prick so are not claws, and certainly they are not hair.”
“Don’t you be too sure,” said Grandfather Frog. “You go over to the Green Forest and look up in the treetops instead of down on the ground; then come back and tell me what you find.”
Away raced the Merry Little Breezes to the Green Forest and began to search among the treetops. Presently, way up in the top of a big poplar, they found a stranger.
He was bigger than any of the little meadow people, and he had long sharp teeth with which he was stripping the bark from the tree. The hair of his coat was long, and out of it peeped a thousand little spears just like the queer things that Happy Jack and Peter Rabbit had told them about.
“Good morning,” said the Merry Little Breezes politely.
“Mornin’,” grunted the stranger in the treetop.
“May we ask where you come from?” said one of the Merry Little Breezes politely.
“I come from the North Woods,” said the stranger and then went on about his business, which seemed to be to strip every bit of the bark from the tree and eat it.
The Merry Little Breezes soon spread the news over the Green Meadows and through the Green Forest that a stranger had come from the North. At once all the little meadow people and forest folk made some excuse to go over to the big poplar tree where the stranger was so busy eating.
At first he was very shy and had nothing to say. He was a queer fellow, and he was so big, and his teeth were so sharp and so long, that his visitors kept their distance.
Reddy Fox, who, you know, is a great boaster and likes to brag of how smart he is and how brave he is, came with the rest of the little meadow people.
“Pooh,” exclaimed Reddy Fox. “Who’s afraid of that fellow?”
Just then the stranger began to come down the tree. Reddy backed away.
“It looks as if you were afraid, Reddy Fox,” said Peter Rabbit.
“I’m not afraid of anything,” said Reddy Fox, and swelled himself up to look twice as big as he really is.
“It seems to me I hear Bowser the Hound,” piped up Striped Chipmunk.
“Pooh,” exclaimed Reddy Fox. “Who’s afraid of that fellow?”.
Now Striped Chipmunk had not heard Bowser the Hound at all when he spoke, but just then there was the patter of heavy feet among the dried leaves, and sure enough there was Bowser himself. My, how everybody did run, — everybody but the stranger from the North.
He kept on coming down the tree just the same. Bowser saw him and stopped in surprise. He had never seen anything quite like this big dark fellow.
“Bow, wow, wow!” shouted Bowser in his deepest voice.
Now, when Bowser used that great deep voice of his, he was accustomed to seeing all the little meadow people and forest folk run, but this stranger did not even hurry. Bowser was so surprised that he just stood still and stared.
Then he growled his deepest growl. Still the stranger paid no attention to him. Bowser did not know what to make of it.
“I’ll teach that fellow a lesson,” said Bowser to himself. “I’ll shake him, and shake him and shake him until he hasn’t any breath left.”
By this time the stranger was down on the ground and starting for another tree, minding his own business. Then something happened. Bowser made a rush at him, and instead of running, what do you suppose the stranger did?
He just rolled himself up in a tight ball with his head tucked down in his waistcoat. When he was rolled up that way, all the little spears hidden in the hair of his coat stood right out until he looked like a great chestnut-burr. Bowser stopped short.
Then he reached out his nose and sniffed at this queer thing. Slap! The tail of the stranger struck Bowser the Hound right across the side of his face, and a dozen of those little spears were left sticking there just like pins in a pin-cushion.
“Wow! wow! wow! wow!” yelled Bowser at the top of his lungs, and started for home with his tail between his legs, and yelling with every jump. Then the stranger unrolled himself and smiled, and all the little meadow people and forest folk who had been watching shouted aloud for joy.
And this is the way that Prickly Porky the Porcupine made friends.