Written by Thornton W. Burgess
Have you ever wanted to be in a number of places at the same time? Then you know exactly how Peter Rabbit felt in the beautiful springtime. You see, there was so much going on everywhere all the time that Peter felt sure he was missing something, no matter how much he saw or heard and he was quite right.
But you may be sure Peter did his best not to miss any more than he had to. He scampered hippety-hop this way, hippety-hop that way, and hippety-hop the other way, watching, listening, asking questions and making a nuisance of himself generally.
For a while there were so many new arrivals in the Old Orchard and on the Green Meadows, feathered friends returning from the Sunny South and in a great hurry to begin housekeeping, and strangers passing through on their way to the Far North, that Peter hardly gave the Green Forest a thought.
But one moonlight night he happened to think of Paddy the Beaver and that he hadn’t seen Paddy since before Paddy’s pond froze over early in the winter.
“I must run over and say hello,” thought Peter.
“I certainly must. I wonder if he is as glad as the rest of us that Sweet Spring is here.”
No sooner did he think of this than Peter started, hippety-hippety-hop, through the Green Forest for the pond of Paddy the Beaver. Now the nearest way was past the great windfall where Mrs. Bear made her home. Peter hadn’t thought of this when he started. He didn’t think of it until he came in sight of it. The instant he saw that old windfall he stopped short. He remembered Mrs. Bear and that he had heard that she had a secret. Instantly curiosity took over and he forgot all about Paddy the Beaver.
For some time Peter sat perfectly still, looking and listening. There was no sign of Mrs. Bear. Was she in her bedroom taking a nap, or was she off somewhere? Peter wished he knew. It was such a lovely night that he had a feeling Mrs. Bear was out somewhere. A hop at a time, pausing to look and listen between hops, Peter drew closer. Still there was no sign of Mrs. Bear.
With his heart going pit-a-pat, pit-a-pat, pit-a-pat, Peter drew nearer and nearer to the great windfall, and at last was close to it on the opposite side of Mrs. Bear’s entrance.
Taking care not to so much as rustle a dry leaf on the ground, Peter crept around the end of the great windfall until he could see the entrance Mrs. Bear always used. No one was in sight. Peter drew a long breath and hopped a little nearer. He felt very brave and bold, but you may be sure that at the same time he was ready to jump and run, as only he can at the least hint of danger.
For a long time Peter sat and stared at that entrance and wished he was brave enough to just poke his head inside. If Mrs. Bear really had a secret, it was somewhere inside there.
Anyway, that is what old Granny Fox had said. He had almost worked his courage up to the point of taking just one quick little peek in that entrance when his long ears caught a faint rustling sound.
Peter scurried off to a safe distance, then turned and stared at that entrance. He half expected to see Mrs. Bear’s great head come poking out and he was ready to take off. Instead a very small head and then another close beside it appeared.
Peter was so surprised he nearly fell over backward. Then in a flash it came to him that he knew Mrs. Bear’s secret. It was out at last. Yes, sir, it was out at last. Mrs. Bear had a family! Mrs. Bear and Buster Bear had twins!
It isn’t often that Peter Rabbit has a chance to scare anyone. You know he is such a timid fellow himself that he is the one who usually gets frightened. So when he does happen to scare someone it always amuses him. Somehow he always has more respect for himself.
When on that moonlight night he discovered Mrs. Bear’s secret, he had the most mixed feelings he had ever known. First came surprise, as he saw those two little heads poking out of Mrs. Bear’s entrance. He was sitting up very straight and the surprise was so great that he all but tumbled over backwards. You see, there was no mistaking those two little heads for any but those of baby Bears! He knew that those were two Bear cubs, Mrs. Bear’s babies, the secret she had kept hidden so long.
And his surprise at seeing those two little heads was only a little greater than his surprise at the smallness of them. So for perhaps two minutes Peter sat motionless, quite overcome with surprise, as he stared at those two funny little heads poking out from the entrance. Then all in a flash he understood the cause of Mrs. Bear’s short temper and the reason she drove everybody away from there, and he felt a sudden panic of fright.
“This is no place for me,” thought Peter, “and the sooner I get away from here the better.” He looked quickly all about. There was no sign of Mrs. Bear. Right then and there curiosity returned in full force.
“I wish those youngsters would come out where I can look at them and just see how big they are,” thought Peter. “It seems safe enough here now, and perhaps if I wait a few minutes they will come out.”
So Peter waited. Sure enough, in a few minutes the two little cubs did come out. Plainly it was their first glimpse of the Green Forest, and Peter almost laughed right out loud at the look of wonder on their faces as they stared all about in the moonlight. But not even his first surprise was greater than Peter’s surprise now as he saw how small they were.
“Why,” he exclaimed to himself, “why-ee, they are no bigger than I! I didn’t suppose anyone so big as great big Mrs. Bear could have such small children. I wonder how old they are. I wonder how big they were when they were born. I wonder if they will grow fast. I wonder if they will go about with Mrs. Bear. They look rather wobbly on their legs. I wonder if Mrs. Bear told them they could come out.”
And then an idea came to Peter. “I wonder if I can scare them,” thought Peter. “It would be great fun to scare a Bear, even if it is nothing but a cub, and to scare two at once would be greater fun.”
Peter suddenly thumped the ground very hard with his hind feet. It was so still in the Green Forest that that thump sounded very loud. The two little cubs gave a startled look towards Peter. As he sat up in the moonlight, he looked very big. That is, he did to those two little cubs who never had seen him before.
With funny little whimpers of fright they turned and fairly tumbled over each other as they scurried back through the entrance into their cave. Peter laughed and laughed until his sides ached. He, Peter Rabbit, had actually frightened two Bears and made them run. Now he would have something to boast about.
As two frightened little cubs ran, whimpering and tumbling over each other, for the safety of their bedroom, Peter Rabbit thumped twice more just by way of adding to their fright. It was most unkind of Peter. Of course. He should have been ashamed trying to frighten babies, and those two cubs were babies and nothing more. They were baby Bears.
After the two cubs had disappeared, he could hear them scrambling along under the great windfall as they hurried for the darkest corner of that dark bedroom where Mother Bear had left them when she went out to look for something to eat. All the way there they had whimpered just as if they thought something was after them. Peter laughed until his sides ached and the tears came to his eyes.
An angry growl right behind him put a sudden end to Peter’s laughter and glee. It was his turn to run. My, what jumps he made! It seemed as if his feet barely touched the ground before he was in the air again. If those little cubs had been scared, Peter was twice as scared. They had run without knowing what they had ran from. But Peter knew what he was running from. He was running from an angry mother, and that mother was a Bear.
Peter had been so focused on frightening those little cubs and then laughing at them that he had not heard Mother Bear until she had given that angry growl right behind him.
Mother Bear didn’t follow Peter. She simply growled once or twice in her deepest, most grumbly-rumbly voice just to add a little speed to Peter’s long legs, if that were possible. Then as she watched Peter run headlong she grinned. Just as Peter had laughed at the fright of the little cubs, Mother Bear grinned at Peter’s fright.
“I hope that will teach him a lesson,” muttered Mrs. Bear, way down in her throat. “I don’t want that long-eared bunch of curiosity hanging around here. He got a glimpse of those youngsters of mine, and now my secret will be out. Well, I suppose it would have had to be out soon anyways.”
Mrs. Bear turned into the entrance to her bedroom, while Peter Rabbit kept right on, hippety-hop, hippety-hop, hippety-hop, through the Green Forest towards the Green Meadows and the dear Old Briar-patch. He was eager to get there and tell the news of Mrs. Bear’s long-kept secret.