Jimmy Skunk ambled slowly along, chuckling as he thought of what a hurry Mr. Toad had been in, when he had heard that Mr. Hognose the snake had asked after him. It had been funny, very funny indeed, to see Mr. Toad try to hurry.
Suddenly Jimmy stopped chuckling. Then he stopped ambling along the Crooked Little Path. He turned around and looked back, and as he did so he scratched his head thoughtfully. He had just happened to think that Old Mr. Toad had gone up the Crooked Little Path, and it was up the Crooked Little Path that Mr. Hognose had shown himself that morning.
“If he’s still up there,” thought Jimmy, “Old Mr. Toad is hopping right straight into the very worst kind of trouble. How silly of him not to have asked me where Mr. Hognose was! Well, it’s none of my business. I guess I’ll go on.”
And yet he had just gone down the Crooked Little Path only a few steps when he stopped again. You see, Jimmy is really a very kind-hearted little fellow, and somehow he didn’t like to think of what might happen to Old Mr. Toad.
“I don’t like to retrace my steps to go way back there,” he grumbled. “Still, the Green Meadows wouldn’t be quite the same without Old Mr. Toad. I should miss him if anything happened to him. I suppose it would be partly my fault, too, for if I hadn’t pulled over that piece of bark he probably would have stayed there the rest of the day and been safe.”
“Maybe he won’t meet Mr. Hognose,” said a little voice inside of Jimmy.
“And maybe he will,” said Jimmy right out loud. And with that, he started back up the Crooked Little Path, and funny and yet true Jimmy hurried.
He had just reached a turn in the Crooked Little Path when who should run right into him – Old Mr. Toad! He gave a frightened squeal and fell right over on his back, and kicked frightfully as he tried to get on his feet again. He was all out of breath, and so frightened and tired that all he could do was to kick and kick. He hadn’t seen Jimmy at all, for he had been looking behind him, and he didn’t even know who it was he had run into.
Right behind him came Mr. Hognose the snake. Of course he saw Jimmy, and he stopped short and hissed angrily.
“What were you going to do to Mr. Toad?” demanded Jimmy.
“None of your business!” hissed Mr. Hognose. “Get out of my way, or you’ll be sorry.”
Jimmy Skunk stepped in front of Old Mr. Toad. Mr. Hognose coiled himself up in the path and darted his tongue out at Jimmy trying to look very fierce. Then he jumped straight at Jimmy Skunk with his mouth wide open, although he took great care not to jump quite far enough to reach Jimmy. You see, he was just trying to scare Jimmy
Jimmy didn’t scare though. He knows all about Mr. Hognose and that he really likes to bluff. So he suddenly gritted his teeth in a way not at all pleasant to hear and started for Mr. Hognose. Mr. Hognose didn’t wait. He suddenly turned and glided back up the Crooked Little Path, hissing angrily. Jimmy followed him a little way, and then he went back to Old Mr. Toad.
“Oh my,” panted Mr. Toad, “you came just in time! I couldn’t have hopped another hop.”
“I guess I did,” replied Jimmy. “Now you get your breath and come along with me.” And Old Mr. Toad did just that.
They both made their way together, with Jimmy Skunk escorting Old Mr. Toad, back down the Crooked Little Path and connecting to the Lone Little Path that they had met on just a few days earlier.
Then Old Mr. Toad spent his day resting after all the excitement and as jolly, round, Mr. Sun went to bed behind the Purple Hills he gave thanks for the good fortune of his friend with such good timing.
“If” is a very little word to look at, and the biggest word you have ever seen doesn’t begin to have so much meaning as the little “if”. If Jimmy Skunk hadn’t ambled down the Crooked Little Path just when he did; if he hadn’t been looking for fat beetles; if he hadn’t seen that big piece of bark at one side and decided to pull it over; if it hadn’t been for all these “ifs,” why Old Mr. Toad wouldn’t have made the mistake he did, and you wouldn’t have had this story. However, Jimmy Skunk did amble down the Crooked Little Path, he did look for beetles, and he did pull over that big piece of bark. And when he had pulled it over, he found Old Mr. Toad there.
Old Mr. Toad had crept under that piece of bark because he wanted to take a nap. And when Jimmy Skunk told him that he had seen Mr. Hognose the snake that very morning, and that Mr. Hognose had asked after Old Mr. Toad, the very last bit of sleepiness left Old Mr. Toad. He was instantly wide awake. You see, he knew right away why Mr. Hognose the snake had asked after him. He knew that Mr. Hognose has a fondness for Toads. He turned quite pale when he heard that Mr. Hognose had asked after him, and right then he made his mistake. He was in such a hurry to get away from that neighborhood that he forgot to ask Jimmy Skunk just where he had seen Mr. Hognose. He hardly waited long enough to say goodbye to Jimmy Skunk, and he started off as fast as he could go.
Now it just happened that Old Mr. Toad started up the Crooked Little Path, and it just happened that Mr. Hognose the snake was coming down the Crooked Little Path. Now when people are very much afraid, they almost always seem to think that danger is behind instead of in front of them. It was so with Old Mr. Toad. Instead of watching out in front as he hopped along, he kept watching over his shoulder, and that was his second mistake.
He was so sure that Mr. Hognose was somewhere behind him that he didn’t look to see where he was going.
Old Mr. Toad went hopping up the Crooked Little Path as fast as he could, which wasn’t very fast, because he never can hop very fast. And all the time he kept looking behind for Mr. Hognose the snake.
Presently he came to a turn in the Crooked Little Path, and as he hurried around it, he almost ran into Mr. Hognose himself. It was simply a question of which of them was more surprised. For just a wee second they stared at each other. Then Mr. Hognose’s eyes began to sparkle.
“Good morning, Mr. Toad. Isn’t this a beautiful morning? I was just thinking about you,” he said.
Poor Old Mr. Toad couldn’t say good morning. He didn’t say anything. He couldn’t, because he was too scared. He just gave a frightened little squeal, turned around, and started down the Crooked Little Path twice as fast as he had come up. Mr. Hognose the snake grinned and started after him, not very fast though because he knew that he wouldn’t have to glide very fast to catch Old Mr. Toad, and he thought the exercise would do him good.
And this is how it happened that summer morning that jolly, bright Mr. Sun, looking down from the blue, blue sky and smiling to see how happy everybody seemed, suddenly discovered that there was one of the little meadow people who wasn’t happy, and was instead terribly, terribly unhappy. It was Old Mr. Toad hopping down the Crooked Little Path for his life, while after him, and getting nearer and nearer, glided Mr. Hognose.
Jimmy Skunk ambled along the Crooked Little Path down the hill. He didn’t hurry because Jimmy doesn’t believe in hurrying. The only time he ever hurries is when he sees a fat beetle trying to get out of sight. Then Jimmy does hurry. And yet just now he didn’t see any fat beetles, although he was looking for them. So he just ambled along as if he had all the time in the world, as indeed he had. He was feeling great. Summer had arrived to stay. On every side he heard glad voices. Bumble the Bee was humming a song. Best of all, Jimmy had found three beetles that very morning, and he knew that there were more if he could find them. All felt right with the world.
Jimmy’s sharp little eyes twinkled as he ambled along, and there wasn’t much that they missed. As he walked he talked, quite to himself of course, because there was nobody near to hear, and this is what he was saying:
“Beetle, beetle, smooth and smug, You are nothing but a bug. Bugs were made for Skunks to eat, So come out from your retreat.”
“Hello! There’s a nice big piece of bark over there that looks as if it ought to have a dozen fat beetles under it. It’s great fun to pull over pieces of bark and see fat beetles run all ways at once. I’ll just have to see what is under that piece.”
Jimmy tiptoed softly over to the big piece of bark, and then as he made ready to turn it over, he began again that little verse.
“Beetle, beetle, smooth and smug, You are nothing but a bug.”
As he said the last word, he suddenly pulled the piece of bark over.
“Who’s a bug?” asked a funny voice, and it sounded rather cross. Jimmy Skunk nearly tumbled over backward in surprise, and for a minute he couldn’t find his tongue. There, instead of the fat beetles he had been so sure of, sat Old Mr. Toad, and he didn’t look at all pleased.
“Who’s a bug?” he repeated.
Instead of answering, Jimmy Skunk began to laugh. “Who’s a bug?” Old Mr. Toad asked again.
“There isn’t any bug, Mr. Toad, and I beg your pardon,” replied Jimmy, remembering his politeness. “I just thought there was. You see, I didn’t know you were under that piece of bark. I hope you will excuse me, Mr. Toad. Have you seen any fat beetles this morning?”
“No,” said Old Mr. Toad a little grumpily, and yawned and rubbed his eyes.
“Why,” exclaimed Jimmy Skunk, “I believe you have just woken up!”
“What if I have?” said Old Mr. Toad.
“Oh, nothing, nothing at all, Mr. Toad,” replied Jimmy Skunk, “only you are the second one I’ve met this morning who has just woken up.
“Who was the other?” asked Old Mr. Toad.
“Mr. Hognose,” replied Jimmy. “He inquired for you.”
Old Mr. Toad turned quite pale. “I–I think I best be moving along,” he said.
It was too much for Peter. Look as he would, he couldn’t see so much as a chip under which Old Mr. Toad might have hidden, excepting the old board, and Old Mr. Toad had given his word of honor that he wouldn’t hide under that. Nevertheless, Peter hopped over to it and turned it over again, because he couldn’t think of any other place to look. Of course, Old Mr. Toad wasn’t there. He had given his word that he wouldn’t hide there, and he always lives up to his word.
Old Mr. Toad had also said that he would not go three feet from the spot where he was sitting at the time, so Peter should have known better than to have raced up the Crooked Little Path as he did. And yet if Old Mr. Toad had nothing to hide under, of course he must have hopped away, reasoned Peter. He couldn’t hop far in five minutes, that was sure, and so Peter ran this way and that way a great deal farther than it would have been possible for Old Mr. Toad to have gone. It was not a successful search, and presently Peter returned and sat down on the very spot where he had last seen Old Mr. Toad. Peter felt so confused and he began to think that Old Mr. Toad must have had some strange power of making himself invisible.
For a long time Peter sat perfectly still, trying to puzzle out how Old Mr. Toad had disappeared, and yet the more he puzzled over it, the more impossible it seemed. Plain and simple Old Mr. Toad had disappeared. Suddenly Peter gave a start and jumped higher than he ever had jumped before in all his life. The voice of Old Mr. Toad himself, had said, “Well, now are you satisfied?” And that voice had come from right under Peter! When he turned to look, there sat Old Mr. Toad right where he himself had been sitting just a moment before. Peter rubbed his eyes and stared.
“Wh-wh-where did you come from?” he stammered at last.
Old Mr. Toad grinned. “I’ll show you,” he said. And right while Peter was looking at him, he began to sink down into the ground until only the top of his head could be seen. Then that disappeared. Old Mr. Toad had gone down, and the sand had fallen right back over him. Peter just had to rub his eyes again. Then, to make sure, he began to dig away the sand where Old Mr. Toad had been sitting. In a minute he felt Old Mr. Toad, who had come out once again.
Old Mr. Toad’s beautiful eyes twinkled with delight.
“How in the world did you do it?” asked Peter with disbelief.
Old Mr. Toad held up one of his stout hind feet, and on it was a kind of spur. “There’s another just like that on the other foot,” he said, “and I use them to dig with. You go into a hole headfirst, and I go in the other way. I make my hole in soft earth and back into it at the same time, this way.” He began to work his stout hind feet, and as he kicked the earth out, he backed in at the same time. When he was deep enough, the earth just fell back over him, for you see it was very loose and not packed down at all. When he once more reappeared, Peter thanked him. Then he asked one more question.
“Is that the way you go into winter quarters?”
Old Mr. Toad nodded. “And it’s the way I escape from my predators.”
“You see, it was this way,” explained Peter. “I heard something under that old board, and I just naturally turned it over to find out what was there. I was so-o-o curious.”
“Humph!” grunted Old Mr. Toad.
“I didn’t have the least idea that you were there,” continued Peter. “When I found who it was, and what you were doing, I couldn’t help watching because it was so interesting. I’m sorry, Mr. Toad. Truly I am. I didn’t mean to be so impolite. I don’t suppose, Mr. Toad, that it seems at all wonderful to you that you can change your suit that way, like it does to me. I had heard that you swallowed your old suits, and yet I never half believed it. Now I know it is so and just how you do it, and I feel as if I had learned something worth knowing.”
“Humph!” grunted Old Mr. Toad again, and it was very clear that he was actually a little flattered by Peter’s interest in him and was rapidly recovering his good nature.
“There is one thing I don’t understand yet,” said Peter, “and that is where you go to to sleep all winter. Do you go down into the mud at the bottom of the Smiling Pool the way Grandfather Frog does?”
“Oh no,” replied Old Mr. Toad “if I had spent the winter in the Smiling Pool, do you suppose I would have left it to come way up here and then have turned right around and gone back there to sing? I’m not so fond of long journeys as all that.
“Actually, if I wanted to, I could disappear right here” said Old Mr. Toad.
“You mean that you would hide under that old board just as you did before?” asked Peter.
“Nothing of the sort! I could disappear and not go near that old board, not a step nearer than I am now,” Mr. Toad said proudly.
Peter looked in all directions carefully, and yet he could not see a thing under which Old Mr. Toad could possibly hide except the old board, and he had said he wouldn’t hide under that. “I don’t like to doubt your word, Mr. Toad,” he said, “however, you’ll just have to show me before I can believe that.”
Old Mr. Toad’s eyes twinkled. “If you’ll turn your back to me and look straight down the Crooked Little Path for five minutes, I’ll disappear,” he said. “More than that, I give you my word of honor that I will not hop three feet from where I am sitting.”
“All right,” replied Peter promptly, turning his back to Old Mr. Toad. “I’ll look down the Crooked Little Path for five minutes and promise not to peek.”
So Peter sat and gazed straight down the Crooked Little Path. It was a great temptation to roll his eyes back and peep behind him. Although tempted he did not peek. When he thought the five minutes were up, he turned around. Old Mr. Toad was nowhere to be seen. Peter looked hastily this way and that way, and there was not a sign of Old Mr. Toad. He had disappeared as completely as if he never had been there.
Peter Rabbit couldn’t get Old Mr. Toad off his mind. He had discovered so many interesting things about Old Mr. Toad that he believed him to be one of the most interesting of all his neighbors. Peter appreciated Old Mr. Toad’s beautiful eyes, sweet voice, and such a wonderfully odd and useful tongue.
“Funny,” mused Peter, “how we can live right beside people all our lives and not really know them at all. I believe I will go look up Old Mr. Toad and see if I can find out anything more.”
Off started Peter, lipperty-lipperty-lip. He didn’t know just where to go now that Old Mr. Toad had left the Smiling Pool. He had an idea though that he would not be far from their meeting place of the day before, when Old Mr. Toad had explained about his wonderful tongue. However, when he got there, Peter found no trace of Old Mr. Toad. You see, it had rained the day before, and that is just the kind of weather that a Toad likes best for traveling. Peter hadn’t thought of that. He looked for awhile and finally gave up and started up the Crooked Little Path with the idea of running over to call on Johnny Chuck in the Old Orchard.
Jolly, round, bright Mr. Sun was shining his brightest, and Peter soon forgot all about Old Mr. Toad. He scampered along up the Crooked Little Path, thinking of nothing in particular just how good it was to be alive, and occasionally kicking up his heels for pure joy. He had just done this when his ears caught the sound of an odd noise a little to one side of the Crooked Little Path. Instantly Peter stopped and sat up to listen. There it was again, and it seemed to come from under an old piece of board. It was just a little, rustling sound, hardly to be heard.
“There’s someone under that old board,” thought Peter, and peeped under. All he could see was that there was something moving. Instantly Peter was curious. Whoever was there was not very big. He was sure of that. Of course that meant that he had nothing to fear. So what do you think Peter did? Why, he just pulled that old board over. And when he did that, who do you think he saw? It was Old Mr. Toad!
Oh what a sight Old Mr. Toad was! Peter just stared. For a full minute he couldn’t find his voice. Old Mr. Toad was changing his clothes! He was taking off his old suit and under it was a brand new one. And such a time he was having!
He was opening and shutting his big mouth, and drawing his hind legs under him, and rubbing them against his body. Then Peter saw a strange thing. He saw that Old Mr. Toad’s old suit had split in several places, and he was getting it off by sucking it into his mouth!
In a few minutes his hind legs were free of the old suit, and little by little it began to be pulled free from his body. All the time Old Mr. Toad was working very hard to suck it at the corners of his big mouth. He simply glared at Peter as he could say nothing because his mouth was too full. Peter just kept sitting and staring in disbelief.
When Old Mr. Toad had his hands free by pulling the sleeves of his old coat off inside out, he used his hands to pull the last of it over his head. Then he gulped very hard two or three times to swallow his old suit, and when the last of it had disappeared, he found his voice.
“Well Peter, what do you have to say for yourself?” asked Old Mr. Toad in his new suit.
To show one’s tongue, as you well know, Is not considered nice to do; However, if it were like Mr. Toad’s I’d want to show it–wouldn’t you?
Old Mr. Toad thinks his tongue the most satisfactory tongue in the world. In fact, he is quite sure that without it he couldn’t get along at all, and I don’t know as he could. And yet very few of his neighbors know anything about that tongue and how different it is from most other tongues. Peter had puzzled and puzzled over the mysterious way in which bugs and flies disappeared whenever they happened to come within two inches or less of Old Mr. Toad.
What Peter couldn’t understand was what Old Mr. Toad did with a tongue that would reach two inches beyond his mouth.
“I’ll show you my tongue, and then you’ll wish you had one just like it,” said Old Mr. Toad, with a twinkle in his eyes.
He opened his big mouth and slowly ran his tongue out its full length. “Why! Oh my!” exclaimed Peter. “It’s fastened at the wrong end!”
“No such thing!” replied Old Mr. Toad. “If it was fastened at the other end, how could I run it out so far?”
“Oh, it is just that my tongue and all other tongues that I ever have seen are fastened way down in the throat,” protested Peter. “Yours is fastened at the other end, way in the very front of your mouth. I have never heard of such a thing.”
“There are a great many things you have never heard of, Peter Rabbit,” replied Old Mr. Toad. “Mine is the right way for me to have a tongue. It is fastened way up in the front of my mouth and that way I can use the whole of it. You see it goes out its full length. Then, when I draw it in with a bug on the end of it, I just turn it over so that the end that was out goes way back in my throat and takes the bug with it to just the right place to swallow.”
Peter thought this over for a few minutes before he ventured another question. “I begin to understand,” he said, “tell me, how do you hold on to the bug with your tongue?”
“My tongue is sticky,” replied Old Mr. Toad, “just let me touch a bug with it, and he’s mine every time.”
Peter thought this over. Then he felt of his own tongue. “Mine isn’t sticky,” said he very innocently.
Old Mr. Toad laughed and said “Perhaps if it was, you couldn’t ask so many questions. Now watch me catch that fly.” His funny little tongue darted out, and the fly was gone.
“It certainly is very handy,” said Peter politely. “I think we are going to have more rain, and I’d better be getting back to the dear Old Briar-patch. Very much obliged to you, Mr. Toad. Thank you for answering my questions.”
“Not at all,” replied Old Mr. Toad. “I’ve simply got the things I need in order to live, just as you have the things you need. I couldn’t get along with your kind of a tongue, no more than you could get along with mine. If you live long enough, you will learn that Mother Nature makes no mistakes. She gives each of us what we need, and each of us has different needs.”
Peter and Old Mr. Toad sat in the rain watching the tiny Toadlets, who were Mr. Toad’s children, leaving their playground in the Smiling Pool and starting out to see the Great World. When the last little Toadlet had passed them, Old Mr. Toad suddenly remembered that he was hungry, very hungry indeed.
“Didn’t have time to eat much while I was in the Smiling Pool,” Old Mr. Toad explained. “Couldn’t eat and sing too, and while I was down there, I was supposed to sing. Now that it is time to quit singing, I begin to realize that I’ve got a stomach to look out for as well as a voice. See that bug over there on that leaf? Watch him.”
Peter looked, and sure enough there was a fat bug crawling along on an old leaf. He was about two inches from Old Mr. Toad, and he was crawling very fast. And right while Peter was looking at him he disappeared. Peter turned to look at Old Mr. Toad. He hadn’t budged. He was sitting exactly where he had been sitting all the time, and he was smacking his lips, and there was a twinkle of satisfaction in his eyes. Peter opened his eyes very wide.
“Wha–what–” he began.
“Nice bug,” interrupted Old Mr. Toad. “Nicest bug I’ve eaten for a longtime.”
“Hey, I didn’t see you catch him!” protested Peter, looking at Old Mr. Toad as if he suspected him of joking.
“Did you open your eyes?” inquired Old Mr. Toad.
“Yes, I did,” replied Peter just a wee bit frustrated.
“Then watch me catch that fly over yonder,” said Old Mr. Toad. He hopped towards a fly which had lighted on a stick just ahead. About two inches from it he stopped, and so far as Peter could see, he sat perfectly still.
And yet the fly disappeared, and it wasn’t because it flew away, either. Peter was sure of that. As he told Mrs. Peter about it afterwards, “It was there, and then it wasn’t, and that was all there was to it.”
Old Mr. Toad chuckled. “Didn’t you see that one go, Peter?” he asked.
Peter shook his head feeling more confused then ever and said “Please, would you explain?”
Now when Peter said please that way, of course Old Mr. Toad couldn’t resist sharing.
“Here comes an ant this way. Now you watch my mouth instead of the ant and see what happens,” said Old Mr. Toad.
Peter looked and saw a big black ant coming. Then he kept his eyes on Old Mr. Toad’s mouth. Suddenly there was a little flash of red from it, so tiny and so quick that Peter couldn’t be absolutely sure that he saw it. However, when he looked for the ant, it was nowhere to be seen. Peter looked at Old Mr. Toad very hard.
“Do you mean to tell me, Mr. Toad, that you’ve got a tongue long enough to reach way over to where that ant was?” he asked.
Old Mr. Toad chuckled again. With every insect swallowed he felt better natured. “You’ve guessed it, Peter,” he said. “Handy tongue, isn’t it?”
“I think it’s a very odd tongue,” replied Peter, “and I don’t understand it at all. If it’s so long as all that, where do you keep it when it isn’t in use? I should think you’d have to swallow it to get it out of the way, or else leave it hanging out of your mouth.”
“Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!” laughed Old Mr. Toad. “My tongue is never in the way, and it’s the handiest tongue in the world. I’ll show it to you.”