Story by Thornton W. Burgess
Peter Rabbit loved to play tricks on people and then try to get away with it and today was no different. When Peter saw Jimmy Skunk sound asleep in the barrel at the top of the hill his mind started spinning with ideas. As he snuck away all he could think of was “If Reddy Fox was here I could play a trick on both of them.” Luckily for Peter, Reddy was coming his way. What will happen next?
Jimmy Skunk was angry this time and no mistake. He was just plain mad, and when Jimmy Skunk feels that way, no one wants to be very near him. You know he is one of the very best-natured little fellows in the world ordinarily. He minds his own business, and if no one bothers him, he doesn’t bother anyone. But once he is upset and feels that he hasn’t been treated fairly, look out!
And this time Jimmy was mad clear through, as he got to his feet and shook himself to see that he was all there. I don’t know that anyone could blame him. To be woken up from a comfortable nap by being rolled over and over and shaken nearly to death as Jimmy had been by that wild ride down the hill in the old barrel was enough to make any one mad. So he really is not to be blamed for feeling as he did.
Now Jimmy knew that an old barrel that has been lying in one place for a long time does not move by itself. He knew that that barrel couldn’t possibly have started off down the hill unless someone had made it start, and he had no doubt in the world that whoever had done it, had known that he was inside and had done it to make him uncomfortable. So just as soon as he had made sure that he was really alive and quite whole, he looked about to see who could have played such a trick on him.
The first person he saw was Reddy Fox. In fact, Reddy was quite close by. You see, he had raced down the hill after the barrel to see who was in it when he heard the strange noises coming from it as it rolled and bounded down the hill. If Reddy had known that it was Jimmy Skunk, he would have been quite happy to stay at the top of the hill. But he didn’t know, and if the truth be known, he had hopes that it might prove to be someone who would give him a good breakfast. So, quite out of breath from running, Reddy arrived at the place where the old barrel had broken to pieces just as Jimmy got to his feet.
Now when Jimmy Skunk is angry, he doesn’t bite and he doesn’t scratch. You remember Old Mother Nature has provided him with a little bag of perfume which Jimmy doesn’t mind in the least, but which makes most people want to hold their noses and run. He never uses it, except when he is angry or in danger, but when he does use it, his enemies always turn around and run. That is why he is afraid of no one, and why every one respects Jimmy and his thoughts.
He used it now, and he didn’t waste any time about it. He threw some of that perfume right in the face of Reddy Fox before Reddy had a chance to turn or say a word.
“Take that!” snapped Jimmy Skunk. “Perhaps it will teach you not to play tricks on your honest neighbors!”
Poor Reddy! Some of that perfume got in his eyes and made them sting. In fact, for a little while Reddy couldn’t see at all. And then the smell of it was so strong that it made him quite sick. He rolled over and over on the ground, choking and gasping and rubbing his eyes. Jimmy Skunk just stood and looked on, and there wasn’t a bit of pity in his eyes.
“How do you like that?” he said. “You thought you were very smart, rolling me down hill in a barrel, didn’t you? You might have hurt me.”
“I didn’t know you were in that barrel, and I didn’t mean to roll it down the hill anyway,” whined Reddy, when he could get his voice.
“Huh!” snorted Jimmy Skunk, who didn’t believe a word of it.
“I didn’t. Honestly I didn’t,” protested Reddy. “I bumped the barrel by accident, chasing Peter Rabbit. I didn’t have any idea that any one was in it.”
“Huh!” said Jimmy Skunk again. “If you were chasing Peter Rabbit, where is he now?”
Reddy had to confess he didn’t know. Peter was nowhere in sight, and he certainly hadn’t had time to reach the dear Old Briar-patch. Jimmy looked this way and that way, but there was no sign of Peter Rabbit.
“Huh!” he said again, turning his back on Reddy Fox and walking away.
Sneaking away is usually done only by someone who for some reason or other doesn’t want to be seen. Just as soon as Reddy Fox could see after Jimmy Skunk had thrown that terrible perfume in Reddy’s face he started for the Green Forest. He wanted to get away by himself. But he didn’t trot with his head up and his big tail carried proudly as he usually did. No indeed. Instead he hung his head, and his handsome tail was dropped between his legs; he was the very picture of shame. You see that terrible perfume which Jimmy Skunk had thrown at him clung to his red coat and he knew that he couldn’t get rid of it. And he knew, too, that wherever he went his neighbors would hold their noses and make fun of him, and that no one would have anything to do with him. So he snuck away across the Green Meadows towards the Green Forest and he felt too sick and mean and unhappy to even be angry with Sammy Jay, who was making fun of him and saying that he had got no more than he deserved.
Poor Reddy! He didn’t know what to do or where to go. He couldn’t go home, for old Granny Fox would drive him out of the house. She had warned him time and time again never to anger Jimmy Skunk, and he knew that she would never forgive him if he should bring that terrible perfume near their home.
He knew, too, that it would not be long before all the little people of the Green Forest and the Green Meadows would know what had happened to him. Sammy Jay would see to that. He knew how they would point at him and make fun of him. He would never hear the last of it. He felt as if he would never, ever be able to hold his head and his tail up again. Every few minutes he stopped to roll over and over on the ground trying to get rid of that dreadful perfume.
When he reached the Green Forest he hurried over to the Laughing Brook to wash out his eyes. It was just his luck to have Billy Mink come along while he was doing this. Billy didn’t need to be told what had happened. “Phew!” he exclaimed, holding on to his nose. Then he turned and hurried away from the smell of that perfume. Then Billy stopped and made fun of Reddy Fox. Reddy took no notice though. He felt too miserable.
After he had washed his face he felt better. Water wouldn’t take away the awful smell, but it did take away the smart from his eyes. Then he tried to plan what to do next.
“The only thing I can do is to get as far away from everybody as I can,” he thought. “I guess I’ll have to go up to the Old Pasture to live for a while.”
So he started for the Old Pasture, keeping as much out of sight as possible. On the way he remembered that Old Man Coyote lived there. Of course it would never do to go near Old Man Coyote’s home for if he smelled that awful perfume and discovered that Reddy was the cause of it he would certainly drive him out of the Old Pasture and then where could he go?
So Reddy went to the loneliest part of the Old Pasture and crept into an old house that he and Granny had dug there long ago when they had been forced to live in the Old Pasture in the days when Farmer Brown’s boy and Bowser the Hound had hunted them for stealing chickens. There he stretched himself out and was perfectly miserable.
“It wouldn’t be so bad if I had really been to blame, but I wasn’t. I didn’t know Jimmy Skunk was in that barrel and I didn’t mean to start it rolling down the hill anyway,” he muttered. “It was all an accident and—” He stopped and into his yellow eyes crept a look of suspicion. “I wonder,” he said slowly, “if Peter Rabbit knew that Jimmy Skunk was there and planned to get me into all this trouble. I wonder.”
All the time that Jimmy Skunk was punishing Reddy Fox for rolling him down hill in a barrel, and while Reddy was sneaking away to the Green Forest to get out of sight, Peter Rabbit was lying low in the old house of Johnny Chuck, right near the place where Jimmy Skunk’s wild ride had come to an end. It had been a great relief to Peter when he had seen Jimmy Skunk get to his feet, and he knew that Jimmy hadn’t been hurt in the wild ride. Lying flat in the doorway of Johnny Chuck’s old house, Peter could see all that went on without being seen himself, and he could hear all that was said.
He chuckled as he saw Reddy Fox come up and his eyes were popping right out with excitement as he waited for what would happen next. He felt sure that Reddy Fox was in for something unpleasant, and he was glad. Of course, that wasn’t a bit nice of Peter. Right down in his heart Peter knew it, but he had been chased so often by Reddy and given so many dreadful frights, that he felt now that he was getting even. So he chuckled and he waited for what was to happen.
Suddenly that chuckle broke right off in the middle, and Peter cried “Ouch!” He had felt a pain as if a hot needle had been poked into him. It made him almost jump out of the doorway. But he remembered in time that it would never, never do for him to show himself outside, for right away Reddy Fox and Jimmy Skunk would suspect that he had had something to do with that wild ride of Jimmy’s in the barrel. So it would not do to show himself now. No, indeed!
All he could do was to kick and squirm and twist his head around to see what was happening. It didn’t take long to find out. Even as he looked, he felt another sharp pain which brought another “Ouch!” from him and made him kick harder than ever. Two very angry little insects were just getting ready to sting him again, and more were coming. They were Yellow Jackets, which you know belong to the wasp family and carry very sharp little stingers in their tails. The fact is, this old house of Johnny Chuck’s had been deserted so long the Yellow Jackets had decided that as no one else was using it, they would, and they had begun to build their home just inside the hall.
Poor Peter! What could he do? He didn’t dare go out, and he simply couldn’t stay where he was. Whatever he did must be done quickly, for it looked to him as if a regular army of Yellow Jackets was coming, and those little stingers they carried were about the most painful thing he knew of. By this time he had lost all interest in what was going on outside. There was quite enough going on inside. He remembered that Johnny Chuck digs his house deep down in the ground. He looked down the long hall. It was dark down there. Perhaps if he went down there, these angry little warriors wouldn’t follow him. It was worth trying, anyway.
So Peter scrambled to his feet and scurried down the long hall, and as he ran, he cried “Ouch! Ouch! Oh! Ohoo!” Those sharp little stingers were very busy, and there was no way of fighting back. At the end of the long hall was a snug little room, very dark but cool and comfortable. It was just as he had hoped; the Yellow Jackets did not follow him down there. They had driven him away from their home, which was right near the entrance, and they were satisfied.
But what a fix he was in! What a dreadful fix! He ached and hurt all over. My goodness, how he did hurt! And to get out he would have to go right past the Yellow Jacket home again.
“Oh, dear, I wish I had never thought of such a joke,” moaned Peter, trying to find a comfortable position. “I guess I got what I deserved.”
I think he had, don’t you?