Written by Thornton Burgess.
Did something move among the dead leaves along that old log, or was it the wind that stirred them? Peter Rabbit stared very hard trying to find out. Not that it made the least bit of difference to Peter. It didn’t. If something alive had moved those leaves, that something was too small for Peter to fear it. Probably it was a worm or a bug. It might have been a beetle. That looked like a good place for beetles. There was Jimmy Skunk ambling down the Lone Little Path this very minute, and Jimmy always appeared to be looking for beetles. Peter stared harder than ever. A leaf moved. Another turned fairly over. There wasn’t any wind just then. Dead leaves don’t turn over by themselves, so there must be something alive there.
“What has Peter on his mind this morning to make him stare so?” asked Jimmy Skunk as he ambled up.
Peter grinned. “I was just wondering,” said he, “if there are any fat beetles under that log over there. Those dead leaves along the side of it have a way of moving once in a while without cause that I can see. There! What did I tell you?”
Sure enough, a couple of leaves had moved. Jimmy Skunk’s eyes brightened. He actually almost hurried over to that old log, and began to rake away the leaves. Suddenly he stopped and sniffed. At the same time Peter thought he saw something dart in at the hollow end of that log. It might have been a shadow, but Peter had a feeling that it wasn’t. Jimmy Skunk sniffed once more and then deliberately turned his back on that old log, and with his nose turned up, his face the very picture of disgust and disappointment, he rejoined Peter.
“Teeny Weeny, clever and spry,
Disappears while you wink an eye.’ said Jimmy.
“Oh!” exclaimed Peter. “Is that who it was? I suppose he was hunting beetles himself. He’s such a little mite of a fellow that I should think a good sized beetle could almost carry him away. I declare to goodness, I don’t see how any one so small manages to live! Danny Meadow Mouse and Whitefoot the Wood Mouse are small enough, but they are giants compared with Teeny Weeny the Shrew. They have a hard enough time keeping alive, and I should think that anyone smaller would stand no chance at all.”
“Do you know Teeny Weeny very well?” asked Jimmy.
“No,” confessed Peter. “I’ve seen him only a few times and then had no more than a glimpse of him.”
“And yet he lives right around here where you come and go every day,” said Jimmy.
“I know it,” replied Peter. “I suppose it is because he is so small. He can hide under next to nothing.” Jimmy grinned. “I don’t see but what you’ve answered yourself,” he chuckled. “It’s because he is so small that Teeny Weeny manages to keep out of harm. He isn’t very good eating, anyway, so I have heard say.”
“Why? Because there isn’t enough of him to make a bite?” asked Peter.
“No,” replied Jimmy. “Of course I don’t know anything about it, but I’ve heard those who do say that a Shrew doesn’t taste good, and that no one who is at all particular about his food will touch one. I am told that Hooty the Owl hunts Teeny Weeny, but Hooty isn’t at all particular, you know. If Teeny Weeny tastes the way he smells, I for one don’t want to try him.”
Peter laughed right out loud. He couldn’t help it. The idea of Jimmy Skunk being fussy about smells was too funny.
“What are you laughing at?” demanded Jimmy, suspiciously.
“At the idea that any one so small can smell bad enough to make any difference,” replied Peter. “I wonder how he comes to have that bad smell.”
“It’s a reward,” replied Jimmy. “It’s a reward handed down to him from the days when the world was young, and his great-great-great-ever-so-great-grandfather, the first Shrew, you know, who was also called Teeny Weeny, was given it by Old Mother Nature, because he had sense enough to be grateful and to tell her that he was.”
“It’s a story!” cried Peter. “It’s a story, and you’ve just got to tell it to me, Jimmy Skunk.”
“Say please,” grinned Jimmy.
“Please, please, please, please,” replied Peter. “If that isn’t enough, I’ll say it as many times more.”
“I guess that will do, because after all it isn’t so very much of a story,” returned Jimmy, scratching his head as if he were trying to stir up his memory.
“It happened way back in the beginning of things that when Old Mother Nature had about finished making the birds and the animals, she had just a teeny weeny pinch of the stuff they were made of left over. Because she couldn’t then and can’t now bear to be wasteful, she started to make something. First she started to make it into a very tiny mouse. Then she changed her mind and started to make it into a tiny mole. Finally she changed her mind again and made it into something like each but not just like either, blew the breath of life into it, and set it free in the great world. That was Teeny Weeny, the first Shrew, and the smallest of all animals.
“For a while Teeny Weeny wished that he hadn’t been made at all. He wished that Old Mother Nature hadn’t been so thrifty and saving. What was the good of being an animal at all if he wasn’t big enough to be recognized as such? That’s the way he felt about it for a while. It hurt his feelings to have old King Bear say, after just missing him with his great foot. ‘I beg your pardon, You are so tiny I thought you were a bug of some kind. Of course, I don’t mind stepping on bugs, but I wouldn’t step on you for the world. Why don’t you grow so that we can see you?’
“’Yes, why don’t you?’ asked old Mr. Wolf. ‘If you get stepped on, don’t blame us.’ Even Mr. Meadow Mouse laughed at him because he was so small. Teeny Weeny was quite furious at that. So for a while he was very unhappy because he was so small. He ate and ate and ate, hoping that this would make him grow bigger. But it didn’t. He remained as small as ever, the smallest of all the four-footed people. And his temper did not improve. Not a bit. He was fretful and snappish. He said all sorts of things about Old Mother Nature because she had made him so small. He almost hated her. He couldn’t see a single advantage in being so small.
“Time went on, and at length came the hard times of which you have heard, the times when food was so scarce and most of the little people were always hungry. Then it was that the big and strong began to hunt the small and weak, as you know. At first Teeny Weeny was in a regular panic of fear. He felt that because he was so small he hadn’t any chance at all. But after a while he made a discovery, a most amazing discovery. It quite took his breath away when he first realized it. It was that because he was so small he had more chance than some of those of whom he had been jealous. Because he was so small, he could slip out of sight in a twinkling. He could slip into holes that no one else could get into. A leaf on the ground would hide him.
“Then he discovered that because he was so very small, it didn’t take much food to fill his stomach, and he had no trouble in finding all he needed to eat. While his neighbors were going hungry, he was fat and comfortable. Bugs there were and worms there were in plenty, and on those he lived. One day he saw Old Mother Nature, and she looked worried. She was worried. It was in the very middle of the hard times and wherever she went, the little people of the Green Forest and the Green Meadows crowded about her to complain and ask for help. Teeny Weeny remembered all the bad things he had said and all the bitter thoughts he had had because she had made him so small, and he was ashamed. Yes, Sir, he was ashamed. You see, he realized by this time that his small size was his greatest blessing.
“What did Teeny Weeny do but march right straight up to Old Mother Nature the first chance he got and tell her how grateful he was for what she had done for him. He was quite honest. He told her how he had felt, and how he had said bitter things, and how sorry he was now that he understood how well off he was. Then he thanked her once more and turned to leave. Old Mother Nature called him back. She was wonderfully pleased to have these few words of thanks amid so many complaints.
“’Teeny Weeny,’ she said, ‘because you have been smart enough to see, and honest enough to admit a blessing in what you had thought a hardship, and because you have been grateful instead of complaining, I will now give you this musky odor, which will be distasteful to even the hungriest of your enemies. It is a further protection to you and your children and your children’s children for ever and ever.’
“And so it was, and so it has been, and so it is, and that’s all,” said Jimmy Skunk.