Written by Thornton W. Burgess.
Peter Rabbit never had seen Howler the Wolf, but he had heard his voice in the distance, and the mere sound had given him cold shivers. It just went all through him. It was very different from the voice of Old Man Coyote. The latter is bad enough, sounding as it does like many voices, but there is not in it that terrible fierceness which the voice of his big cousin contained. Peter had no desire to hear it any closer. The first time he met his cousin, Jumper the Hare, he asked him about Howler, for Jumper had come down to the Green Forest from the Great Woods where Howler lives.
“Did you hear him?” exclaimed Jumper. “I hope he won’t get it into his mind to come down here. I don’t believe he will, because it is too near the homes of men. If the sound of his voice way off there gave you cold shivers, I’m afraid you would shake all to pieces if you heard him close by. He’s just as fierce as his voice sounds. There is one thing about him that I like, though, and that is that he gives fair warning when he is out and about. He doesn’t come sneaking about without a sound, like Tuffy the Lynx. He goes like Bowser the Hound and lets you know that he is out and around. Did you ever hear how he got his name?”
“No. How did he get his name?” asked Peter eagerly.
“Well, of course it’s a family name now and is handed down and has been for years and years, ever since the first Wolf began hunting way back when the world was young,” explained Jumper. “For a long time the first Wolf had no name. Most of the other animals and birds had names, but nothing seemed to just fit the big gray Wolf. He looked a great deal like his cousin, Mr. Dog, and still more like his other cousin, Mr. Coyote. But he was stronger than either, could run farther and faster than either, and had a more wonderful nose than either.
“With Mr. Wolf, as with all the other animals, life was an easy matter at first. There was plenty to eat, and everybody was on good terms with everybody else. But there came a time, as you know, when food became scarce. It was then that the big learned to hunt the small, and fear was born into the world. Mr. Wolf was swift of leg and keen of nose. His teeth were long, and he was so strong that there were few he was afraid to fight with. In fact, he didn’t know fear at all, for he simply kept out of the way of those who were too big and strong for him to fight.
“Most people like to do the things they know they can do well. Mr. Wolf early learned the joy of hunting. I can’t understand it myself. Can you?”
Peter shook his head.
“Perhaps it was because he was so strong of wind and leg that he enjoyed running, and because he was so keen of nose that he enjoyed following a trail. Anyway, he scorned to spend his time sneaking about as did his cousin, Mr. Coyote, but chose to follow the swiftest runners and to match his nose and speed and skill against their speed and wits. He didn’t bother to chase little people like us when there were big people like Mr. Deer. The longer and harder the chase, the more Mr. Wolf seemed to enjoy it.
“At first he went silently, running swiftly with his nose to the ground. But this gave the ones he chased very little chance; he caught them before they even suspected that he was on their trail. That always made Mr. Wolf feel mean. He never could hold his head and his tail up after that kind of a chase. He felt so much like a sneak that he just had to put his tail between his legs for shame. There was nothing to be proud about in such a chase.
“One night he sat thinking about it. Gentle Miss Moon looked down at him through the tree-tops, and something inside him urged him to tell her his troubles. He pointed his sharp nose up at her, opened his mouth and, because she was so far away, did his best to make her hear. That was the very first Wolf howl ever heard. There was something very lonely and shivery in the sound, and all who heard it shook with fear. Mr. Wolf didn’t know this, but he did know that he felt better for howling. So every night he pointed his nose up at Miss Moon and howled.
“It happened that once as he did this, a Deer jumped at the first sound and rushed away. This gave Mr. Wolf an idea. The next day when he went out he threw up his head and howled at the very first smell of fresh tracks. That day he had the longest chase he ever had known, for the Deer had had fair warning. Mr. Wolf didn’t catch the Deer, because the deer swam across a lake and so got away, but he returned home in high spirits in spite of an empty stomach. You see, he felt that it had been a fair chase. After that he always gave fair warning. As he ran, he howled for joy. No longer did he carry his bushy tail between his legs, for no longer did he feel like a sneak. Instead, he carried it proudly. Of all the animals who gave chase, he was the only one who gave fair warning, and he felt that he had a right to be proud. All the others chased sneakily. He alone chased openly and boldly.
“Now this earned for him first the dislike and then the hatred of the others. You see, when he was out, he spoiled the luck of those who stole soft-footed through the Green Forest and caught their prey by surprise. The little people heard his voice and either hid away or were on guard, so that it was hard work for the silent animals to surprise them. At the sound of his howling cry, old King Bear, who was king no longer, would growl a deep, rumbly-grumbly growl, though he didn’t mind so much as some, because he did very little chasing. He wouldn’t have done any if food had not been so scarce, because he would have been entirely satisfied with berries and roots, if he could have found enough. Mr. Lynx and Mr. Panther would snarl angrily. Mr. Coyote and Mr. Fox would show their teeth and mutter about what they would do to Mr. Wolf if only they were big enough and strong enough and brave enough.
“Of course, it wasn’t long before Mr. Wolf discovered that he had no friends. The little people were afraid of him, and the big people didn’t like him because he spoiled their chase. But he didn’t mind. In fact, he looked down on Mr. Lynx and Mr. Panther and Mr. Coyote and Mr. Fox, and when he met them, he lifted his tail a little more proudly than ever. Sometimes he would howl out of pure mischief just to spoil the chase for the others. So, little by little, he began to be spoken of as Howler the Wolf, and after a while everybody called him Howler.
“Of course, Howler taught his children how to chase and that the only honorable and fair way was to give those they chased fair warning. So it grew to be a fixed habit of the Wolf family to give fair warning that they were abroad and then trust to their wind and wits and speed and noses to catch those they were after. The result was that they grew strong, able to travel long distances, keen of nose, and sharp of wit. Because the big people didn’t like them, and the little people feared them, they lived by themselves and so formed the habit of running together for company.
“It has been so ever since, and the name Howler has been handed down to this day. No sound in all the Green Woods carries with it more fear than does the voice of Howler the Wolf, and no one goes out so openly, boldly, and honorably. Be thankful, Peter, that Howler never comes down to the Green Forest, but stays far from the homes of men.”
“I am,” replied Peter. “Just the same, I think he deserves a better name for the fair way in which he chases, though his name certainly does fit him. I would a lot rather be caught by some one who had given me fair warning than by some one who came sneaking after me and gave me no warning at all. But, really, I don’t want to be caught at all, so I think I’ll hurry back to the dear Old Briar-patch.” And Peter did.