I have made many books about well-behaved people. Now, for a change, I am going to make a story about two disagreeable people, called Tommy Brock and Mr. Tod.
Nobody could call Mr. Tod “nice.” The rabbits could not bear him; they could smell him half a mile off. He was of a wandering habit and he had foxey whiskers; they never knew where he would be next.
One day he was living in a stick-house in the coppice, causing terror to the family of old Mr. Benjamin Bouncer. The next day he moved into a pollard willow near the lake, frightening the wild ducks and the water rats.
In the winter and early spring he might generally be found in an earth amongst the rocks at the top of Bull Banks, under Oatmeal Crag. He had a half a dozen houses, but he was seldom at home. The houses were not always empty when Mr. Tod moved out; because sometimes Tommy Brock moved in; (without asking leave).
Tommy Brock was a short bristly fat waddling person with a grin; he grinned all over his face. He was not nice in his habits. He ate wasp nests and frogs and worms; and he waddled about by moonlight, digging things up. His clothes were very dirty; and as he slept in the day-time, he always went to bed in his boots. And the bed which he went to bed in, was generally Mr. Tod’s.
Now Tommy Brock did occasionally eat rabbit-pie; but it was only very little young ones occasionally, when other food was really scarce. He was friendly with old Mr. Bouncer; they agreed in disliking the wicked otters and Mr. Tod; and they often talked over that painful subject.
Old Mr. Bouncer was stricken in years. He sat in the spring sunshine outside the burrow, in a muffler; smoking a pipe of rabbit tobacco. He lived with his son Benjamin Bunny and his daughter-in-law Flopsy, who had a young family. Old Mr. Bouncer was in charge of the family that afternoon, because Benjamin and Flopsy had gone out.
The little rabbit-babies were just old enough to open their blue eyes and kick. They lay in a fluffy bed of rabbit wool and hay, in a shallow burrow, separate from the main rabbit hole. To tell the truth — old Mr. Bouncer had forgotten them. He sat in the sun, and conversed cordially with Tommy Brock, who was passing through the wood with a sack and a little spade which he used for digging, and some mole traps.
He complained bitterly about the scarcity of pheasants’ eggs, and accused Mr. Tod of poaching them. And the otters had cleared off all the frogs while he was asleep in winter —
“I have not had a good square meal for a fortnight, I am living on pig-nuts. I shall have to turn vegetarian and eat my own tail!” said Tommy Brock.
It was not much of a joke, but it tickled old Mr. Bouncer; because Tommy Brock was so fat and stumpy and grinning.
So old Mr. Bouncer laughed; and pressed Tommy Brock to come inside, to taste a slice of seed-cake and “a glass of my daughter Flopsy’s cowslip wine.” Tommy Brock squeezed himself into the rabbit hole with alacrity.
Then old Mr. Bouncer smoked another pipe, and gave Tommy Brock a cabbage leaf cigar which was so very strong that it made Tommy Brock grin more than ever; and the smoke filled the burrow. Old Mr. Bouncer coughed and laughed; and Tommy Brock puffed and grinned. And Mr. Bouncer laughed and coughed, and shut his eyes because of the cabbage smoke ...
When Flopsy and Benjamin came back — old Mr. Bouncer woke up. Tommy Brock and all the young rabbit-babies had disappeared! Mr. Bouncer would not confess that he had admitted anybody into the rabbit hole. But the smell of badger was undeniable; and there were round heavy footmarks in the sand. He was in disgrace; Flopsy wrung her ears, and slapped him.
Benjamin Bunny set off at once after Tommy Brock. There was not much difficulty in tracking him; he had left his foot-mark and gone slowly up the winding footpath through the wood. Here he had rooted up the moss and wood sorrel. There he had dug quite a deep hole for dog darnel; and he had set a mole trap. A little stream crossed the way. Benjamin skipped lightly over dry-foot; the badger’s heavy steps showed plainly in the mud.
The path led to a part of the thicket where the trees had been cleared; there were leafy oak stumps, and a sea of blue hyacinths — but the smell that made Benjamin stop, was not the smell of flowers! Mr. Tod’s stick house was before him and, for once, Mr. Tod was at home. There was not only a foxey flavour in proof of it — there was smoke coming out of the broken pail that served as a chimney.
Benjamin Bunny sat up, staring; his whiskers twitched. Inside the stick house somebody dropped a plate, and said something. Benjamin stamped his foot, and bolted. He never stopped till he came to the other side of the wood. Apparently Tommy Brock had turned the same way. Upon the top of the wall, there were again the marks of badger; and some ravellings of a sack had caught on a briar. Benjamin climbed over the wall, into a meadow. He found another mole trap newly set; he was still upon the track of Tommy Brock.
It was getting late in the afternoon. Other rabbits were coming out to enjoy the evening air. One of them in a blue coat by himself, was busily hunting for dandelions.
— “Cousin Peter! Peter Rabbit, Peter Rabbit!” shouted Benjamin Bunny.
The blue coated rabbit sat up with pricked ears —
“Whatever is the matter, Cousin Benjamin? Is it a cat? or John Stoat Ferret?”
“No, no, no! He’s bagged my family — Tommy Brock — in a sack — have you seen him?”
“Tommy Brock? how many, Cousin Benjamin?”
“Seven, Cousin Peter, and all of them twins! Did he come this way? Please tell me quick!”
“Yes, yes; not ten minutes since ... he said they were caterpillars; I did think they were kicking rather hard, for caterpillars.”
“Which way? which way has he gone, Cousin Peter?”
“He had a sack with something ‘live in it; I watched him set a mole trap. Let me use my mind, Cousin Benjamin; tell me from the beginning.”
Benjamin did so.
“My Uncle Bouncer has displayed a lamentable want of discretion for his years;” said Peter reflectively, “but there are two hopeful circumstances. Your family is alive and kicking; and Tommy Brock has had refreshment. He will probably go to sleep, and keep them for breakfast.”
“Cousin Benjamin, compose yourself. I know very well which way. Because Mr. Tod was at home in the stick-house he has gone to Mr. Tod’s other house, at the top of Bull Banks. I partly know, because he offered to leave any message at Sister Cottontail’s; he said he would be passing.”
(Cottontail had married a black rabbit, and gone to live on the hill).
Peter hid his dandelions, and accompanied the afflicted parent, who was all of a twitter. They crossed several fields and began to climb the hill; the tracks of Tommy Brock were plainly to be seen. He seemed to have put down the sack every dozen yards, to rest.
“He must be very puffed; we are close behind him, by the scent. What a nasty person!” said Peter.
The sunshine was still warm and slanting on the hill pastures. Half way up, Cottontail was sitting in her doorway, with four or five half-grown little rabbits playing about her; one black and the others brown. Cottontail had seen Tommy Brock passing in the distance. Asked whether her husband was at home she replied that Tommy Brock had rested twice while she watched him. He had nodded, and pointed to the sack, and seemed to be doubled up with laughing.
— “Come away, Peter; he will be cooking them; come quicker!” said Benjamin Bunny.
They climbed up and up; — “He was at home; I saw his black ears peeping out of the hole.”
“They live too near the rocks to quarrel with their neighbours. Come on, Cousin Benjamin!”
When they came near the wood at the top of Bull Banks, they went cautiously. The trees grew amongst heaped up rocks; and there, beneath a crag — Mr. Tod had made one of his homes. It was at the top of a steep bank; the rocks and bushes overhung it. The rabbits crept up carefully, listening and peeping.
This house was something between a cave, a prison, and a tumbledown pig-stye. There was a strong door, which was shut and locked. The setting sun made the window panes glow like red flame; but the kitchen fire was not alight. It was neatly laid with dry sticks, as the rabbits could see, when they peeped through the window.
Benjamin sighed with relief.
But there were preparations upon the kitchen table which made him shudder. There was an immense empty pie-dish of blue willow pattern, and a large carving knife and fork, and a chopper. At the other end of the table was a partly unfolded tablecloth, a plate, a tumbler, a knife and fork, salt-cellar, mustard and a chair — in short, preparations for one person’s supper.
No person was to be seen, and no young rabbits. The kitchen was empty and silent; the clock had run down. Peter and Benjamin flattened their noses against the window, and stared into the dusk. Then they scrambled round the rocks to the other side of the house. It was damp and smelly, and overgrown with thorns and briars.
The rabbits shivered in their shoes.
“Oh my poor rabbit babies! What a dreadful place; I shall never see them again!” sighed Benjamin.
They crept up to the bedroom window. It was closed and bolted like the kitchen. But there were signs that this window had been recently open; the cobwebs were disturbed, and there were fresh dirty footmarks upon the window-sill.
The room inside was so dark, that at first they could make out nothing; but they could hear a noise — a slow deep regular snoring grunt. And as their eyes became accustomed to the darkness, they perceived that somebody was asleep on Mr. Tod’s bed, curled up under the blanket.
— “He has gone to bed in his boots,” whispered Peter.
Benjamin, who was all of a twitter, pulled Peter off the window-sill. Tommy Brock’s snores continued, grunty and regular from Mr. Tod’s bed. Nothing could be seen of the young family. The sun had set; an owl began to hoot in the wood. There were many unpleasant things lying about, that had much better have been buried; rabbit bones and skulls, and chickens’ legs and other horrors. It was a shocking place, and very dark.
They went back to the front of the house, and tried in every way to move the bolt of the kitchen window. They tried to push up a rusty nail between the window sashes; but it was of no use, especially without a light. They sat side by side outside the window, whispering and listening.
In half an hour the moon rose over the wood. It shone full and clear and cold, upon the house amongst the rocks, and in at the kitchen window. But alas, no little rabbit babies were to be seen! The moonbeams twinkled on the carving knife and the pie dish, and made a path of brightness across the dirty floor.
The light showed a little door in a wall beside the kitchen fireplace — a little iron door belonging to a brick oven, of that old-fashioned sort that used to be heated with faggots of wood. And presently at that same moment Peter and Benjamin noticed that whenever they shook the window — the little door opposite shook in answer. The young family were alive; shut up in the oven!