Written by Thornton W. Burgess.
Jimmy Skunk and Peter Rabbit were having a dispute. It was a good-natured dispute, but both Jimmy and Peter are very decided in their opinions, and neither would give in to the other. Finally they decided that as neither could convince the other, they should leave it for Grandfather Frog to decide which was right. So they started straight away for the Smiling Pool, where on his big green lily-pad Grandfather Frog was enjoying the twilight and leading the great Frog chorus. Both agreed that they would accept Grandfather Frog’s decision.
You see, each was sure that he was right.
When they reached the Smiling Pool, they found Grandfather Frog looking very comfortable and old and wise. “Good evening, Grandfather Frog. I hope you are feeling just as fine as you look,” said Jimmy Skunk, who never forgets to be polite.
“Ribbit! Ribbit! I’m feeling very well, thank you,” replied Grandfather Frog. “What brings you to the Smiling Pool this fine evening?” He looked very hard at Peter Rabbit, for he suspected that Peter had come for a story.
“To get the wisest person of whom we know to decide a matter on which Peter and I cannot agree; and who is there so wise as Grandfather Frog?” replied Jimmy.
Grandfather Frog looked immensely pleased. It always pleases him to be considered wise. “Ribbit! Ribbit!” he said gruffly. “You have a very smooth tongue, Jimmy Skunk. But what is this matter on which you cannot agree?”
“How many animals can fly?” returned Jimmy, by way of answer.
“One,” replied Grandfather Frog. “I thought everybody knew that. Flitter the Bat is the only animal who can fly.”
“You forget Timmy, the Flying Squirrel!” cried Peter excitedly. “That makes two.”
Grandfather Frog shook his head. “Peter, Peter, whatever is the matter with those eyes of yours?” he exclaimed. “They certainly are big enough. I wonder if you ever will learn to use them. Half-seeing is sometimes worse than not seeing at all.
Timmy cannot fly any more than I can.”
“What did I tell you?” cried Jimmy Skunk triumphantly.
“But I’ve seen him fly lots of times!” persisted Peter. “I guess that anyone who has envied him as often as I have ought to know.”
“Hump!” grunted Grandfather Frog. “I guess that’s the trouble. There was so much envy that it got into your eyes, and you couldn’t see straight. Envy is a bad thing.”
Jimmy Skunk chuckled.
“Did you ever see him away from trees?” continued Grandfather Frog.
“No,” said Peter.
“Did you ever see him cut circles in the air like Flitter the Bat?”
“No-o,” replied Peter slowly.
“Of course not,” retorted Grandfather Frog. “The reason is because he doesn’t fly. He hasn’t any wings. What he does do is to coast on the air. He is the greatest jumper and coaster in the Green Forest.”
“Coast on the air!” exclaimed Peter. “I never heard of such a thing.”
“There are many things you have never heard of,” replied Grandfather Frog. “Sit down, Peter, and stop fidgeting, and I’ll tell you a story.”
The very word story was enough to make Peter forget everything else, and he promptly sat down with his big eyes fixed on Grandfather Frog.
“It happened,” began Grandfather Frog, “that way back in the beginning of things, there lived a very timid member of the Squirrel family, own cousin to Mr. Red Squirrel and Mr. Gray Squirrel, but not at all like them, for he was very gentle and very shy. Perhaps this was partly because he was very small and was not big enough or strong enough to fight his way as the others did. In fact, this little Mr. Squirrel was so timid that he preferred to stay out of sight during the day, when so many were about. He felt safer in the dusk of evening, and so he used to wait until jolly, round, red Mr. Sun had gone to bed behind the Purple Hills before he ventured out to hunt for his food. Then his quarrelsome cousins had gone to bed, and there was no one to drive him away when he found a feast of good things.
“But even at night there was plenty of danger. There was Mr. Owl to be watched out for, and other night prowlers. In fact, little Mr. Squirrel didn’t feel safe on the ground for a minute, and so he kept to the trees as much as possible. Of course, when the branches of one tree reached to the branches of another tree, it was an easy matter to travel through the tree-tops, but every once in a while there would be open places to cross, and many a fright did timid little Mr. Squirrel have as he scampered across these open places. He used to sit and watch old Mr. Bat flying about and wish that he had wings. Then he thought how foolish it was to wish for something he hadn’t got and couldn’t have.
“‘The thing to do,’ said little Mr. Squirrel to himself, ‘is to make the most of what I have got. Now I am a pretty good jumper, but if I keep jumping, perhaps I can learn to jump better than I do now.’
“So every night Mr. Squirrel used to go off by himself, where he was sure no one would see him, and practice jumping. He would climb an old stump and then jump as far as he could. Then he would do it all over again ever so many times, and after a little he found that he went farther, quite a little farther, than when he began. Then one night he made a discovery. He found that by spreading his arms and legs out just as far as possible and making himself as flat as he could, he could go almost twice as far as he had been able to go before, and he landed a great deal easier. It was like sliding down on the air. It was great fun, and pretty soon he was spending all his spare time doing it.
“One moonlight night, Old Mother Nature happened along and sat down on a log to watch him. Little Mr. Squirrel didn’t see her, and when at last she asked him what he was doing, he was so surprised and confused that he could hardly find his tongue. At last he told her that he was trying to learn to jump better so that he might take better care of himself. The idea pleased Old Mother Nature. You know she is always pleased when she finds people trying to help themselves.
“‘That’s a splendid idea,’ said she. ‘I’ll help you. I’ll make you the greatest jumper in the Green Forest.’
“Then she gave to little Mr. Squirrel something almost but not quite like wings. Between his front legs and hind legs on each side she stretched a piece of skin that folded right down against his body when he was walking or running so as to hardly show and wasn’t in the way at all.
“‘Now,’ she said, ‘climb that tall tree over yonder clear to the top and then jump with all your might for that tree over there across that open place.’
“It was ten times as far as little Mr. Squirrel ever had jumped before, and the tree was so tall that he felt sure that he would be hurt when he struck the ground. He was afraid, very much afraid. But Old Mother Nature had told him to do it. He knew that he ought to trust her. So he climbed the tall tree. It was a frightful distance down to the ground, and that other tree was so far away that it was silly to even think of reaching it.
“‘Jump!’ commanded Old Mother Nature.
“Little Mr. Squirrel gulped very hard, trying to swallow his fear. Then he jumped with all his might, and just as he had taught himself to do, spread himself out as flat as he could. Just imagine how surprised he was and how tickled when he just coasted down on the air clear across the open place and landed as lightly as a feather on the foot of that distant tree! You see, the skin between his legs when he spread them out had kept him from falling straight down. Of course if he hadn’t jumped with all his might, as Old Mother Nature had told him to, even though he thought it wouldn’t be of any use, he wouldn’t have reached that other tree.
“He was so delighted that he wanted to do it right over again, but he didn’t forget his manners. He first thanked Old Mother Nature.
“She smiled. ‘See that you keep out of danger, for that is why I have made you the greatest jumper in the Green Forest,’ she said.
“Little Mr. Squirrel did. People who, like Peter, did not use their eyes, thought that he could fly, and he was called the Flying Squirrel. He was the great-great-ever-so-great-grandfather of Timmy whom you both know.”
“And Timmy doesn’t really fly at all, does he?” asked Jimmy Skunk.
“Certainly not. He jumps and slides on the air,” replied Grandfather Frog.
“What did I tell you?” cried Jimmy triumphantly to Peter.
“Well, anyway, it’s the next best thing to flying. I wish I could do it,” replied Peter.