“He went right on about his business.”
The Merry Little Breezes of Old Mother West Wind are great friends of Striped Chipmunk. They hurry to call on him the very first thing every morning after Old Mother West Wind has brought them down from the Purple Hills. They always beg him to stop and play with them, but often he refuses. But he does it in such a merry way and with such a twinkle in his eyes that the Merry Little Breezes never get cross because he won’t play. No, Sir, they never get cross. If anything, they think just a little bit more of Striped Chipmunk because he won’t play. You see, they know that the reason he won’t play is because he has work to do, and Striped Chipmunk believes and says:
“When there is work for me to do
The sooner started, sooner through.”
So every morning they ask him to play, and every morning they laugh when he says he has too much to do. Then they rumple up his hair and pull his whiskers and give him last tag and race down to the Smiling Pool to see Grandfather Frog and beg him for a story. Now Grandfather Frog is very old and very wise, and he knows all about the days when the world was young. When he is feeling just right, he dearly loves to tell about those long-ago days.
One morning the Merry Little Breezes found Grandfather Frog sitting as usual on his big green lily-pad, and they knew by the way he folded his hands across his white and yellow waistcoat that it was full of foolish green flies.
“Oh, Grandfather Frog, please do tell us why it is that Striped Chipmunk has such beautiful stripes on his coat,” begged one of the Merry Little Breezes.
“Chug-a-rum! They are stripes of honor,” replied Grandfather Frog, in his deep, gruff voice.
“Honor! Oh, how lovely! Do tell us about it! Please do!” begged the Merry Little Breezes.
“Chug-a-rum!” began Grandfather Frog, his big, goggly eyes twinkling. “Once upon a time, when the world was young, old Mr. Chipmunk, the grandfather a thousand times removed of Striped Chipmunk, lived very much as Striped Chipmunk does now. He was always very busy, very busy, indeed, and it was always about his own affairs. ‘By attending strictly to my own business, I have no time to meddle with the affairs of my neighbors, and so I keep out of trouble,’ said old Mr. Chipmunk,”
“Just what Striped Chipmunk says now,” broke in one of the Merry Little Breezes.
“That shows that he is just as wise as was his grandfather a thousand times removed, about whom I am telling you,” replied Grandfather Frog. “Old Mr. Chipmunk wore just a little, plain brown coat. It didn’t worry him a bit, not a bit, that his coat was just plain brown. It kept him just as warm as if it were a beautiful red, like that of Mr. Fox, or handsome black and white, like that of Mr. Skunk. He was perfectly satisfied with his little plain brown coat and took the best of care of it.
“One day as he was hurrying home to dinner, he climbed up on an old stump to look around and make sure that the way was clear. Over in a little path in the meadow grass was walking old Mr. Meadow Mouse. He was strolling along as if there was nothing in the world to fear. Way back behind him in the same little path, walking very fast but very quietly, was big Mr. Bob Cat. His eyes were yellow, and a hungry look was in them. He didn’t see Mr. Meadow Mouse, but he would in a few minutes. Mr. Chipmunk saw that he would, and that there was no place for Mr. Meadow Mouse to hide.
“‘Humph! I never meddle in other people’s affairs, and this is none of my business,’ said little Mr. Chipmunk.
“But old Mr. Meadow Mouse was a friend. He thought a great deal of Mr. Meadow Mouse, did little Mr. Chipmunk. He couldn’t bear to think of what would happen to Mr. Meadow Mouse if big Mr. Bob Cat should catch him. Then, almost without realizing what he was doing, little Mr. Chipmunk began to shout at big Mr. Bob Cat and to call him names. Of course big Mr. Bob Cat looked up right away and saw little Mr. Chipmunk sitting on the old stump. His eyes grew yellower and yellower, he drew his lips back from his long, sharp teeth in a very angry way, and his little bob tail twitched and twitched. Then, with great leaps, he came straight for the old stump on which little Mr. Chipmunk was sitting.
“Little Mr. Chipmunk didn’t wait for him to get there. Oh, my, no! He took one good look at those fierce, hungry, yellow eyes and long, cruel teeth, and then he whisked into a hole in the old stump. You see, there wasn’t time to go anywhere else. Big Mr. Bob Cat found the hole in the stump right away. He snarled when he saw it. You see it was too small, very much too small, for him to get into himself. But he could get one hand and arm in, and he did, feeling all around inside for little Mr. Chipmunk. Little Mr. Chipmunk was frightened almost to death. Yes, Sir, he was frightened almost to death. He made himself just as flat as he could on the bottom of the hollow and held his breath.
“‘You’d better come out of there, Mr. Chipmunk, or I’ll pull you out!’ snarled Mr. Bob Cat.
“Little Mr. Chipmunk just snuggled down flatter than ever and didn’t say a word. Mr. Bob Cat felt round and round inside the hollow stump and raked his long claws on the sides until little Mr. Chipmunk’s hair fairly stood up. Yes, Sir, it stood right up on end, he was so scared. When it did that, it tickled the claws of Mr. Bob Cat. Mr. Bob Cat grinned. It was an ugly grin to see. Then he reached in a little farther and made a grab for little Mr. Chipmunk. His wide-spread, sharp claws caught in little Mr. Chipmunk’s coat near the neck and tore little strips the whole length of it.
“Of course little Mr. Chipmunk squealed with pain, for those claws hurt dreadfully, but he was glad that his coat tore. If it hadn’t, Mr. Bob Cat would surely have pulled him out. After a long time, Mr. Bob Cat gave up and went off, growling and snarling. When he thought it was safe, little Mr. Chipmunk crawled out of the old stump and hurried home. He ached and smarted terribly, and his little plain brown coat was torn in long strips.
“‘This is what I get for meddling in the affairs of other folks!’ said little Mr. Chipmunk bitterly. ‘If I’d just minded my own business, it wouldn’t have happened.’
“Just then he happened to look over to the house of Mr. Meadow Mouse. There was Mr. Meadow Mouse playing with his children. He didn’t know a thing about what his neighbor, little Mr. Chipmunk, had done for him, for you remember he hadn’t seen Mr. Bob Cat at all. Little Mr. Chipmunk grinned as well as he could for the pain.
“‘I’m glad I did it,’ he muttered. ‘Yes, Sir, I’m glad I did it, and I’m glad that Neighbor Meadow Mouse doesn’t know about it. I’m glad that nobody knows about it.
‘A kindly deed’s most kindly done
In secret wrought, and seen of none.
And so I’m glad that no one knows.’
“Now just imagine how surprised little Mr. Chipmunk was, when in the fall it came time to put on a new coat, to have Old Mother Nature hand him out a beautiful striped coat instead of the little plain brown coat he had expected. Old Mother Nature’s eyes twinkled as she said:
“‘There’s a stripe for every tear made in your old coat by the claws of Mr. Bob Cat the day you saved Mr. Meadow Mouse. They are honor stripes, and hereafter you and your children and your children’s children shall always wear stripes.’
“And that is how it happens that Striped Chipmunk comes by his striped coat, and why he is so proud of it, and takes such good care of it,” concluded Grandfather Frog.
Happy Jack Squirrel sat with his hands folded across his white waistcoat. He is very fond of sitting with his hands folded that way. A little way from him sat Peter Rabbit. Peter was sitting up very straight, but his hands dropped right down in front. Happy Jack noticed it.
“Why don’t you fold your hands the way I do, Peter Rabbit?” shouted Happy Jack.
“I — I — don’t want to,” stammered Peter.
“You mean you can’t!” jeered Happy Jack.
Peter pretended not to hear, and a few minutes later he hopped away towards the dear Old Briar-patch, lipperty-lipperty-lip. Happy Jack watched him go, and there was a puzzled look in Happy Jack’s eyes.
“I really believe he can’t fold his hands,” said Happy Jack to himself, but speaking aloud.
“He can’t, and none of his family can,” said a gruff voice.
Happy Jack turned to find Old Mr. Toad sitting in the Lone Little Path.
“Why not?” asked Happy Jack.
“Ask Grandfather Frog; he knows,” replied Old Mr. Toad, and started on about his business.
And this is how it happens that Grandfather Frog told this story to the little meadow and forest people gathered around him on the bank of the Smiling Pool.
“Chug-a-rum!” said Grandfather Frog. “Old Mr. Rabbit, the grandfather a thousand times removed of Peter Rabbit, was always getting into trouble. Yes, Sir, old Mr. Rabbit was always getting into trouble. Seemed like he wouldn’t be happy if he couldn’t get into trouble. It was all because he was so dreadfully curious about other people’s business, just as Peter Rabbit is now. It seemed that he was just born to be curious and so, of course, to get into trouble.
“One day word came to the Green Forest and to the Green Meadows that Old Mother Nature was coming to see how all the little meadow and forest people were getting along, to settle all the little troubles and fusses between them, and to find out who were and who were not obeying the orders she had given them when she had visited them last. My, my, my, such a hurrying and scurrying and worrying as there was! You see, everybody wanted to look his best when Old Mother Nature arrived, Yes, Sir, everybody wanted to look his best.
“There was the greatest changing of clothes you ever did see. Old King Bear put on his blackest coat. Mr. Coon and Mr. Mink and Mr. Otter sat up half the night brushing their suits and making them look as fine and handsome as they could. Even Old Mr. Toad put on a new suit under his old one, and planned to pull the old one off and throw it away as soon as Old Mother Nature should arrive. Then everybody began to fix up their homes and make them as neat and nice as they knew how — everybody but Mr. Rabbit.
“Now Mr. Rabbit was lazy. He didn’t like to work any more than Peter Rabbit does now. No, Sir, old Mr. Rabbit was afraid of work. The very sight of work scared old Mr. Rabbit. You see, he was so busy minding other people’s business that he didn’t have time to attend to his own. So his brown and gray coat always was rumpled and tumbled and dirty. His house was a tumble-down affair in which no one but Mr. Rabbit would ever have thought of living, and his garden — oh, dear me, such a garden you never did see! It was all weeds and brambles. They filled up the yard, and old Mr. Rabbit actually couldn’t have gotten into his own house if he hadn’t cut a path through the brambles.
“Now when old Mr. Rabbit heard that Old Mother Nature was coming, his heart sank way, way down, for he knew just how angry she would be when she saw his house, his garden and his shabby suit.
“‘Oh, dear! Oh, dear! What shall I do?’ wailed Mr. Rabbit, wringing his hands.
“‘Get busy and clean up,’ advised Mr. Woodchuck, hurrying about his own work.
“Now Mr. Woodchuck was a worker and very, very neat. He meant to have his home looking just as fine as he could make it. He brought up some clean yellow sand from deep down in the ground and sprinkled it smoothly over his doorstep.
“‘I’ll help you, if I get through my own work in time,’ shouted Mr. Woodchuck over his shoulder.
“That gave Mr. Rabbit an idea. He would ask all his neighbors to help him, and perhaps then he could get his house and garden in order by the time Old Mother Nature arrived. So Mr. Rabbit called on Mr. Skunk and Mr. Coon and Mr. Mink and Mr. Squirrel and Mr. Chipmunk, and all the rest of his neighbors, telling them of his trouble and asking them to help. Now, in spite of the trouble Mr. Rabbit was forever making for other people by his dreadful curiosity and meddling with other people’s affairs, all his neighbors had a warm place in their hearts for Mr. Rabbit, and they all promised that they would help him as soon as they had their own work finished.
“Instead of hurrying home and getting to work himself, Mr. Rabbit stopped a while after each call and sat with his arms folded, watching the one he was calling on work. Mr. Rabbit was very fond of sitting with folded arms. It was very comfortable. But this was no time to be doing it, and Mr. Skunk told him so.
“‘If you want the rest of us to help you, you’d better get things started yourself,’ said old Mr. Skunk, carefully combing out his big, plumy tail.
“‘That’s right, Mr. Skunk! That’s right!’ said Mr. Rabbit, starting along briskly, just as if he was going to hurry right home and begin work that very instant.
“But half an hour later, when Mr. Skunk happened to pass the home of Mr. Chipmunk, there sat Mr. Rabbit with his arms folded, watching Mr. Chipmunk hurrying about as only Mr. Chipmunk can.
“Finally Mr. Rabbit had made the round of all his friends and neighbors, and he once more reached his tumble-down house. ‘Oh, dear,’ sighed Mr. Rabbit, as he looked at the tangle of brambles which almost hid the little old house, ‘I never, never can clear away all this! It will be a lot easier to work when all my friends are here to help,’ So he sighed once more and folded his arms, instead of beginning work as he should have done. And then, because the sun was bright and warm, and he was very, very comfortable, old Mr. Rabbit began to nod, and presently he was fast asleep.
“Now Old Mother Nature likes to take people by surprise, and it happened that she chose this very day to make her promised visit. She was greatly pleased with all she saw as she went along, until she came to the home of Mr. Rabbit.
“‘Mercy me!’ exclaimed Old Mother Nature, throwing up her hands as she saw the tumble-down house almost hidden by the brambles and weeds. ‘Can it be possible that any one really lives here?’