The gristmill where Farmer Green had his wheat ground into flour stood near a mill-pond.
Now, Farmer Green always supposed that the pond was there so that the miller would have water to turn his mill. But Paddy Muskrat thought that the pond had been put there in order to give him and his neighbors a pleasant place in which to live.
His house was dug out of the bank of the pond. But you might have walked right over it without knowing it was there. Paddy reached it through a long tunnel, the door of which was hidden by the water. And there he lived with his wife. They liked their home. And so long as Paddy did as his wife wanted him to do, they were quite happy and never had a quarrel.
Sometimes Paddy Muskrat stayed away from home more than Mrs. Paddy liked. You see, he was very fond of swimming. In fact, that was why he was called Paddy, because he had begun to paddle in the water when he was so young that he was hardly more than a little, round ball.
To be sure, Mrs. Paddy was a fine swimmer herself. But she used to say that her husband ought to have been a fish; for he never seemed to get enough swimming to satisfy him. He had a way, in summer, of spending a good deal of time right where a big willow flung its shadow upon the water. And he might have been seen there often, swimming round and round in a circle and trying to catch his tail.
Mrs. Paddy used to tell him that he was too old for such foolishness. But it was a game he liked. And he never grew tired of it.
Even in winter, when the water was freezing cold, Paddy went for a swim almost every day. In one way he enjoyed his winter more than his summer swims, for he was quite safe from enemies when the ice covered the pond. In fact, unless Peter Mink or one of his relations came prowling about beneath the ice, there was nothing to trouble Paddy and his wife at that season.
In summer Paddy Muskrat had many enemies. Johnnie Green was by no means the least of these. He was continually setting traps to catch Paddy, who was the biggest of all the Muskrat family that lived in Pleasant Valley.
Now, Johnnie Green had succeeded in catching a good many of Paddy’s distant cousins. If you could have seen the side of Farmer Green’s woodshed, half covered by the skins Johnnie Green had nailed there, you would understand why Paddy was usually pretty careful where he stepped.
And when you hear that Mr. Crow told him one day that Johnnie had saved a place on the side of the woodshed especially for him, you can see why Paddy Muskrat was in no hurry to occupy it.
Luckily for him, he never came to such a sad end. Though when he vexed Mrs. Paddy she said, sometimes, that if he should get caught perhaps it would teach him not to stay away from home so much.
And then Paddy Muskrat always told her that being nailed to Farmer Green’s woodshed ought to teach him to stay away all the time.
Of course, that was just a little joke of his. But Mrs. Paddy never cared for it.
One day Paddy Muskrat came home looking quite distressed. His wife noticed that he seemed to be in trouble.
“What has happened my dear?” she asked him. “You are looking very sad. And you’ve lost your hat. I hope you haven’t been in a fight,” she said, as she peered at Paddy anxiously.
“No!” said Paddy. “There’s been no fight. As I was swimming near the mill-dam my hat came off and the water swept it right over the dam and down the stream.”
“There!” Mrs. Paddy cried. “I knew that would happen! That’s the fourth hat you’ve lost this summer. You remember I wanted to sew an elastic band on your hat, to snap under your chin.”
“None of my friends keep their hats on in that way,” said Paddy Muskrat. “But I shall have to do something. I can’t keep losing hats like this. I’m going over to buy a new hat of Jimmy Rabbit and I’ll ask him what I’d better do.”
“Jimmy Rabbit!” Mrs. Paddy exclaimed. “I didn’t know he was a hatter.”
“Mr. Crow tells me he has just opened a fine hat store. He has all the latest styles of hats — so Mr. Crow says.”
“Do go over there at once, then!” Mrs. Paddy urged her husband. “I hope you’ll find a becoming hat,” she said. “A hat with a pink ribbon on it would look well on you. I’m sorry I’m so busy, for I’d like to go and help you choose one.”
But Paddy Muskrat was not sorry. He shuddered at the mere idea of wearing a hat with a pink ribbon.
“I’ll see what Jimmy Rabbit has,” he promised. And then he started for the hat-store.
It was just as Mr. Crow had said. Jimmy Rabbit had a fine array of hats. And though he had hats with ribbons of many different colors, to Paddy Muskrat’s great relief he hadn’t a single one with a pink ribbon on it.
Paddy tried on a hat that took his fancy.
“Have you a looking-glass?” he asked Jimmy Rabbit.
“Certainly!” Jimmy replied. “That pool over there in the brook is the best mirror you ever saw.”
So Paddy went and looked into the pool.
“This hat makes my ears look too big,” he objected.
“Big ears are quite the fashion this season,” Jimmy Rabbit told him. “As you see, I’m wearing mine quite large. The trouble with this hat is that it makes your ears look not too big, but too little. The way to make your ears look as big as possible is to wear the smallest hat you can keep on your head. Here,” he said, “is one that will just suit you.” And he clapped upon Paddy Muskrat’s head a little, flat straw hat with a narrow brim. “Now go and look at yourself in my mirror!” Jimmy urged. “You’ll like this one, I know.”
Once more Paddy looked into the deep pool. At first he thought the hat looked very queer. But the longer he gazed at his reflection the better he liked it.
“There’s just one thing about this hat that I don’t care for,” he told Jimmy Rabbit. “It has a green ribbon; and I want a red one.”
Jimmy Rabbit promptly found a hat exactly like the one on Paddy’s head — except that its ribbon was red.
“Now — ” Jimmy said — “now you ought to feel pretty happy. For you won’t see a stylisher hat anywhere in Pleasant Valley.”
But Paddy Muskrat didn’t seem happy at all.
“I forgot one thing,” he remarked. “I don’t see how I can keep this hat on my head when I’m in the water. It’s so small it will be sure to fall off. I don’t believe I’d better take it, after all.”
For a few moments Jimmy Rabbit looked disappointed. And then he said:
“Let me think! Give me six seconds in which to think and I’ll tell you of some way to fix the hat so it won’t trouble you.”
Paddy Muskrat agreed to that. And he sat down, with the hat on his head, and waited.
After Jimmy Rabbit had thought for exactly six seconds, while Paddy Muskrat waited, he jumped up and knocked his heels together twice.
I have it! he cried. “I know how to fix that hat so it won’t fall off your head. Let me take it!”
“You’re not going to sew an elastic band on it, I hope?” Paddy said, as he handed the hat to Jimmy Rabbit.
“No, indeed!” answered Jimmy. “I’ve thought of a better way than that.” And Paddy watched him while he went to the brook and found a round, flat stone, which he crammed into the crown of the hat.
“There!” Jimmy Rabbit said. “This stone will make the hat stay in place. You won’t have a bit of trouble with it.” He smiled at Paddy Muskrat most cheerfully. But Paddy Muskrat did not smile at him at all.
“What’s the matter now?” Jimmy inquired.
“There’s another thing that I forgot,” said Paddy. “This red ribbon — is it a fast color?”
“Well,” said Jimmy Rabbit, “I can promise you that no matter how fast you travel, that ribbon will reach any place you go to at exactly the moment you get there — so long as the hat stays on your head.”
“You don’t understand,” Paddy Muskrat told him. “I mean, will the color stay the same when it gets wet?”
At that question Jimmy Rabbit looked a bit anxious. He swallowed once or twice and coughed two or three times before he answered. You see, he had to have a little time to think.
“The ribbon will be just as handsome after it’s wet as it is now,” he said with another cheerful smile.