Sammy Jay doesn’t mind the cold of winter. Indeed, he rather likes it. Under his handsome coat of blue, trimmed with white, he wears a warm silky suit of underwear, and he laughs at rough Brother North Wind and his cousin, Jack Frost. But still he doesn’t like the winter as well as he does the warmer seasons because — well, because he is a lazy fellow and doesn’t like to work for a living any harder than he has to, and in the winter it isn’t so easy to get something to eat.
And there is another reason why Sammy Jay doesn’t like the winter as well as the other seasons. What do you think it is? It isn’t a nice reason at all. No, Sir, it isn’t a nice reason at all. It is because it isn’t so easy to stir up trouble. Somehow, Sammy Jay never seems really happy unless he is stirring up trouble for some one else. He just delights in tormenting other little people of the Green Meadows and the Green Forest.
Dear, dear, it is a dreadful thing to say, but Sammy Jay is bold and bad. He steals! Yes, Sir, Sammy Jay steals whenever he gets a chance. He had rather steal a breakfast any time than get it honestly. Now people who steal usually are very sly. Sammy Jay is sly. Indeed, he is one of the slyest of all the little people who live in the Green Forest.
Instead of spending his time honestly hunting for his meals, he spends most of it watching his neighbors to find out where they have their store-houses, so that he can help himself when their backs are turned. He slips through the Green Forest as still as still can be, hiding in the thick tree-tops and behind the trunks of big trees, and peering out with those sharp eyes of his at his neighbors. Whenever he is discovered, he always pretends to be very busy about his own business, and very much surprised to find any one is near.
It was in this way that he had discovered one of the store-houses of Chatterer the Red Squirrel. He didn’t let Chatterer know that he had discovered it. Oh, my, no! He didn’t even go near it again for a long time. But he didn’t forget it. Sammy Jay never forgets things of that kind, never! He thought of it often and often. When he did, he would say to himself:
“Sometime when the snow is deep
And Chatterer is fast asleep,
When Mother Nature is unkind
And things to eat are hard to find,
I’ll help myself and fly away
To steal again some other day.”
The snow was deep now, and things to eat were hard to find, but Chatterer the Red Squirrel wasn’t asleep. No, indeed! Chatterer seemed to like the cold weather and was as frisky and spry as ever he is. And he never went very far away from that store-house. Sammy Jay watched and watched, but never once did he get a chance to steal the sweet acorns that he had seen Chatterer store away in the fall.
“H-m-m!” said Sammy Jay to himself, “I must do something to get Chatterer away from his store-house.”
For a long time Sammy Jay sat in the top of a tall, dark pine-tree, thinking and thinking. Then his sharp eyes twinkled with a look of great cunning, and he chuckled. It was a naughty chuckle. Away he flew to a very thick spruce-tree some distance away in the Green Forest, but where Chatterer the Red Squirrel could hear him. There Sammy Jay began to make a great fuss.
He screamed and screeched as only he can. Pretty soon, just as he expected, he saw Chatterer the Red Squirrel hurrying over to see what the fuss was all about. Sammy Jay slipped out of the other side of the spruce-tree and without a sound hurried over to Chatterer’s store-house.
As he flew through the Green Forest, Sammy Jay chuckled and chuckled to himself. It wasn’t a good chuckle to hear. It was the kind of chuckle that only folks who are doing wrong, and think they are smart because they are doing wrong, use.
Sammy Jay thought that he was smart, very smart indeed. He had screamed and shrieked and made a great fuss over nothing at all until Chatterer the Red Squirrel had come hurrying over to find out what it all meant. Then Sammy Jay had slipped away unseen and come straight to the store-house of Chatterer the Red Squirrel.
This particular store-house had once been the home of Blacky the Crow. When Blacky deserted it for a new home, Chatterer had taken it for a store-house. He had roofed it over, and all through the pleasant fall he had stored away nuts and acorns in it. Sammy Jay had watched him. He had seen those sweet acorns and nuts put there, and he had never forgotten them.
Now, with the snow deep on the ground, the easiest way to get a good meal that he knew of was to steal some of those very acorns. So he chuckled as he pulled apart the roof of Chatterer’s store-house in search of those acorns.
Now Chatterer the Red Squirrel is quite as smart as Sammy Jay. Indeed, he is very much like Sammy Jay, for he is a mischief-maker and a thief himself. So, because people who do wrong always are on the watch for others to do wrong, Chatterer the Red Squirrel had kept his sharp eyes wide open all the time he had been filling his store-house in the fall, and he had spied Sammy Jay’s smart blue coat when Sammy had thought himself nicely hidden.
Chatterer had known what Sammy Jay was hiding there for. His sharp eyes snapped, but he went right on filling his store-house just the same. Then, just as soon as he was sure that Sammy Jay had gone away, Chatterer had taken out every one of the sweet acorns and put them in another store-house inside a hollow tree. He had left nothing but hickory nuts, for he knew that these are too hard for Sammy Jay to crack.
But Sammy Jay didn’t know anything about this, and so now, as he broke his way into the store-house, he chuckled greedily. Pretty soon he had a hole big enough to stick his head in, and his mouth watered as he reached in for a sweet acorn. All he could find were hard hickory nuts. What did it mean? In a great rage, Sammy Jay began to tear the store-house to pieces.
There must be some sweet acorns there somewhere! Hadn’t he seen Chatterer put them there? He forgot that he was stealing. He forgot everything except his disappointment, and the more he thought of this, the angrier he grew. He would have pulled the store-house all to pieces, if Chatterer himself hadn’t come home.
Sammy Jay had just stopped for breath when he heard the rattle of claws on the bark of the tree. He knew what that meant, and he didn’t wait to look down. He just spread his blue wings and with a scream of rage flew over to the next tree. Then such a dreadful noise as there was in the Green Forest!
“Robber!” screamed Chatterer the Red Squirrel, dancing up and down with anger.
“Thief yourself!” screamed Sammy Jay.
It was a dreadful quarrel, and all the little forest people who were within hearing stopped their ears.
When Sammy Jay isn’t planning mischief, or sticking his bill into the affairs of other folks with which he has no concern, or trying to frighten some one bigger than himself or scare some one smaller than himself, he spends a great deal of his time admiring his fine clothes and thinking what a handsome fellow he is. And he is a handsome fellow. Even Chatterer the Red Squirrel, who is always quarreling with him, admits that Sammy Jay is a handsome fellow.
He carries himself proudly when he thinks any one is looking. His shape is very trim and neat, and he is a very smart looking fellow indeed. And his coat! Was there ever such a coat before? It seems as if Old Mother Nature must have cut off a little piece of the sky when it was bluest on a summer day to make Sammy Jay’s coat, and that she must have taken a tiny strip from the whitest cloud to trim it with.
And then she gave him a smart cap and a black collar and a waistcoat of just the softest grayish-white, that shows off his blue coat best. Old Mother Nature certainly was feeling very good indeed when she planned Sammy Jay’s clothes.
Now Sammy Jay knows just how handsome he is. If you should ask him, and he would condescend to talk to you at all, which he probably wouldn’t do, he would tell you that he is the handsomest fellow in the world. Of course this isn’t true, but Sammy Jay thinks it is. And so Sammy Jay is very fond of showing off his fine clothes and making fun of other people who are not so finely dressed. He spends a great deal of time in caring for his beautiful coat and in admiring himself whenever he can see his reflection in a little pool of water.
Now Peter Rabbit isn’t the least bit like Sammy Jay. He doesn’t think about his clothes at all. Indeed, Peter thinks so little about his clothes that it doesn’t trouble him a bit to wear a white patch on the seat of his trousers. And Peter dearly loves to make fun of Sammy Jay.
So it tickled Peter immensely one day to find Sammy Jay admiring himself. Peter had come up through the Green Forest without making a sound, for with the snow covering the ground, there were no dead leaves to rustle. As usual, his long ears were cocked up to catch every sound.
Suddenly Peter stopped. He had heard Sammy Jay’s voice, and by the sound, Peter knew that Sammy was talking to himself. Very, very softly Peter stole forward and hid where he could see Sammy Jay in a big pine-tree.
“I’ve got the handsomest coat in all the Green Forest!” said Sammy Jay, stretching one of his wings out and cocking his head on one side to admire it. “And where else is such a beautiful tail to be found?” He spread his tail so that a ray of sunshine would fall on it.
It certainly was very beautiful, as blue as the sky, with a little band of white across the tip and little bars of black across the outer sides. Even Peter Rabbit, with his nose turned up in scorn, had to admit to himself that it certainly was a handsome tail.
“I’m so glad it’s mine!” sighed Sammy Jay. “It must be dreadful not to be handsome.”
Peter Rabbit could keep still no longer. “It’s a good thing you admire yourself, Sammy Jay, because no one else does!” he shouted.
“Handsome is as it may do!
Don’t forget that, Sammy Jay.
Underneath that coat of blue
Is a black heart, Sammy Jay.
Everybody near and far
Knows you for just what you are —
Of all mischief-makers chief.
Handsome clothes won’t hide a thief.”
Sammy Jay flew into a rage, but when he opened his mouth to call Peter names, all he could say was “Thief! thief! thief!”
“What did I tell you?” said Peter Rabbit, grinning.
“I’ll get even with you, Peter Rabbit! I’ll get even with you!” Sammy Jay fairly hopped up and down on the branch of the big pine, he was so angry. Peter just thrust his tongue into one cheek in the sauciest way and then laughed at Sammy Jay. Of course it is true, as every one in the Green Forest and on the Green Meadows knows, that Sammy Jay is a thief.
But no one likes to be told that he is a thief, even if he is, Sammy Jay least of all. Like a great many other people who do wrong, Sammy Jay likes to pretend that he is a very fine gentleman, and he wants other people to think so too. So he takes great care of his handsome blue coat and struts around a great deal when he thinks other folks are looking at him.
So Sammy Jay studied and studied how he could get even with Peter Rabbit. He called Peter names whenever he saw him, but Peter didn’t mind that in the least, for he could call names back again. Besides, names never hurt, and it is very foolish to call them. So Sammy Jay studied and studied how he could get even with Peter Rabbit in some other way.
Then one day, as he sat in the big pine-tree studying, Sammy heard a voice that gave him an idea. It was the voice of Redtail the Hawk, who, you know, is own cousin to old Whitetail and to Roughleg. Now Sammy Jay can scream so exactly like Redtail the Hawk that you cannot tell their voices apart. When he heard that scream, Sammy Jay chuckled out loud. He had thought of a plan to get even with Peter Rabbit.
Every day after that, Sammy Jay went peeking and prying through the Green Forest and around the edge of the Green Meadows without making a sound, just watching for Peter Rabbit. The snow was almost all gone, and that is how it happened that Redtail had come back from the South where he had spent the winter. Sammy Jay felt quite sure that Peter didn’t know that Redtail was back yet. He hoped he didn’t, anyway.
Early one morning, Sammy Jay sat hidden on the edge of the Green Forest, watching the Old Briar-patch where Peter Rabbit lives. He saw Peter come out of one of his private little paths and sit up very straight. For a long time Peter sat looking this way and looking that way over the Green Meadows.
When he was sure that Reddy and Granny Fox were nowhere about, and that Roughleg was nowhere in sight, Peter kicked up his heels and scampered out on to the Green Meadows away from the dear Old Briar-patch to see if there were any signs of spring.
Sammy waited until Peter had reached the big hickory-tree over by the Smiling Pool, then very silently he flew over to the big hickory-tree. Peter was so busy looking for Jerry Muskrat that he didn’t see Sammy Jay at all. Suddenly, right over Peter’s head, sounded a fierce, shrill scream. Peter knew that voice.
At least, he thought he did. He didn’t stop to look. He had learned long ago that it is best to run first and look afterward. So now he started for the dear Old Briar-patch as fast as his long legs would take him, his heart in his mouth.
Again that fierce scream sounded right over him. Peter ran faster than ever, and as he ran, he dodged this way and dodged that way. Every second he expected to feel the sharp claws of Redtail the Hawk. My, such jumps as Peter did take! It seemed to him that he never would reach the dear Old Briar-patch.
But he did, and just as soon as he was safely inside, he turned around to see what had become of Redtail. And what do you think he saw? Why, only Sammy Jay laughing fit to kill himself.
“Fraidcat! Fraidcat!” shouted Sammy Jay.
Peter shook his fist. Then he grinned foolishly. “I guess you are even, Sammy Jay!” he said.