Story by Thornton W. Burgess
The Merry Little Breezes of Old Mother West Wind had just been released from the big bag in which she carries them every night to their home behind the Purple Hills and every morning brings them back into the Green Meadows to romp and play all day. They romped and raced and danced away, some one way, some another, to see who they could find to play with.
Some of them spied Jimmy Skunk slowly ambling down the Crooked Little Path, stopping every few steps to pull over a loose stone or stick. They knew what he was doing that for. They knew that he was looking for fat beetles for his breakfast. They danced over to him and formed a ring around him while they sang:
“Who is it never, never hurries?
Who is it never, never worries?
Who is it does just what he pleases,
Just like us Merry Little Breezes?
Jimmy Skunk! Jimmy Skunk!”
Now not so far away but that he could hear them sat Peter Rabbit, just finishing his breakfast in a sweet-clover patch. He sat up very straight, so he could hear better. Of course some of the Little Merry Breezes saw him right away. They left Jimmy to come over and dance in a circle around Peter, for Peter is a great favorite of theirs. And as they danced they sang:
“Who is it hops and skips and jumps?
Who is it sometimes loudly thumps?
Who is it dearly loves to play,
But when there’s danger runs away?
Peter Rabbit! Peter Rabbit!”
Peter grinned good-naturedly. He is quite used to being laughed at for always running away, and he didn’t mind at all.
“When danger’s near, who runs away will live to run another day,” replied Peter promptly and then he began the maddest kind of a frolic with the Merry Little Breezes until they were all quite tired out and ready for a good rest.
“I wish,” said Peter, as he stretched himself out in the middle of the patch of sweet clover, “that you would tell me why it is that Jimmy Skunk never hurries.”
“And we wish that you would tell us the same thing,” cried one of the Merry Little Breezes.
“But I can’t,” protested Peter. “Everybody else seems to hurry, at times anyways, but Jimmy never does. He says it is a waste of energy, whatever that means.”
“I tell you what—let’s go over to the Smiling Pool and ask Grandfather Frog about it. He’ll be sure to know,” spoke up one of the Merry Little Breezes.
“All right,” replied Peter, hopping to his feet. “But you’ll have to ask him. I’ve asked him for so many stories that I don’t dare ask for another right away, for fear that he will say I am a nuisance.”
So it was agreed that the Merry Little Breezes should ask Grandfather Frog why it is that Jimmy Skunk never hurries, and that Peter should keep out of sight until Grandfather Frog had started the story, for they were sure that there would be a story.
Away they all hurried to the Smiling Pool. The Merry Little Breezes raced so hard that they were quite out of breath when they burst through the bulrushes and surrounded Grandfather Frog, as he sat on his big green lily-pad.
“Oh, Grandfather Frog, why is it that Jimmy Skunk never hurries?” they panted.
“Ribbit!” replied Grandfather Frog in his deepest, gruffest voice. “Ribbit ! Probably because he has learned better.”
“Oh!” said one of the Merry Little Breezes, in a rather faint, disappointed sort of voice. Just then he spied a fat, foolish, green fly and blew it right over to Grandfather Frog, who snapped it up in a flash. Right away all the Merry Little Breezes began to hunt for foolish green flies and blow them over to Grandfather Frog, until he didn’t have room for another one inside his white and yellow waistcoat. Indeed the legs of the last one he tried to swallow stuck out of one corner of his big mouth.
“Ribbit!” said Grandfather Frog, trying very hard to get those legs out of sight. “Ribbit! I always like to do something for those who do something for me, and I suppose now that I ought to tell you why it is that Jimmy Skunk never hurries. I would, if Peter Rabbit were here. If I tell you the story, Peter will be sure to hear of it, and then he will give me no peace until I tell him, and I don’t like to tell stories twice.”
“But he is here!” cried one of the Little Breezes. “He’s right over behind that little clump of grass.”
“Humph! I thought he wasn’t very far away,” grunted Grandfather Frog, with a twinkle in his great, goggly eyes.
Peter crept out of his hiding-place, looking rather silly. Then the Merry Little Breezes settled themselves on the lily-pads in a big circle around Grandfather Frog, and Peter sat down as close to the edge of the bank of the Smiling Pool as he dared to get. After what seemed to them a very long time, Grandfather Frog swallowed the legs of the last foolish green fly, opened his mouth, and began:
“Of course you all know that long, long ago, when the world was young, things were very different from what they are now, very different indeed. The great-great-ever-so-great grandfather of Jimmy Skunk was slimmer and trimmer than Jimmy is. He was more like his cousins, Mr. Weasel and Mr. Mink. He was just as quick moving as they were. Yes, Sir, Mr. Skunk was very lively on his feet. He had to be to keep out of the way of his big neighbors, for in those days he didn’t have any means of protecting himself, as Jimmy has now. He was dressed all in black.
You know it wasn’t until Old Mother Nature found out that he was taking advantage of that black suit to get into mischief on dark nights that she gave him white stripes, so that the darker the night, the harder it would be for him to keep from being seen.
“Now Mr. Skunk was very smart and sly, oh, very! When the hard times came, which made so many changes in the lives of the people who lived in the Green Forest and on the Green Meadows, Mr. Skunk was very quick to see that unless he could think of some way to protect himself, it was only a matter of time before he would be dinner for one of his fierce big neighbors, and of course Mr. Skunk had no desire to do that.
It was then that he asked Old Mother Nature to give him a bag of perfume so strong that it would make everybody ill but himself. Mother Nature thought it all over, and then she did, but she made him promise that he would never use it unless he was in great danger.
“Mr. Skunk had to try his new defence only once or twice before his enemies took the greatest care to leave him alone. He found that he no longer had to run for a safe hiding-place when he met Mr. Fox or Mr. Lynx or Mr. Panther. They just snarled at him and passed without offering to touch him.
So Mr. Skunk grew very independent and went where he pleased when he pleased. And, because he had no longer to run from his enemies, he got out of the habit of running. Then he made a discovery.
He watched those of his neighbors who were forever hurrying about looking for food, hurrying because each was fearful that his neighbor would get more than he. It wasn’t long before Mr. Skunk saw that in their hurry they overlooked a great deal. In fact, just by following after them slowly, he found all he wanted to eat.
“So Mr. Skunk began to grow fat. His neighbors, who were having to work hard to make a living, grew jealous, and said unkind things about him, and hinted that he must be stealing, or how could he have so much to eat. But Mr. Skunk didn’t mind. He went right on about his business.
He never worried, because, you know, he feared nobody. And he never hurried, because he found that it paid best to go slowly. In that way he never missed any of the good things that his hurrying, worrying neighbors did. So he grew fatter and fatter, while others grew thinner.
After a while he almost forgot how to run. Being fat and never hurrying or worrying made him good-natured. He kept right on minding his own business and never meddling in the affairs of others, so that by and by his neighbors began to respect him.
“Of course he taught his children to do as he did, and they taught their children. And so, ever since that long-ago day, when the world was young, that little bag of perfume has been handed down in the Skunk family, and none of them has ever been afraid.
Now you know why Jimmy Skunk, whom you all know, is so independent, never hurries.”
“Thank you! Thank you, Grandfather Frog!” cried the Merry Little Breezes. “When you want some more silly green flies, just let us know, and we’ll get them for you.”
“Ribbit! What are you looking so thoughtful for, Peter Rabbit?” demanded Grandfather Frog.
“I—I was just wishing that I had a—” began Peter. Then suddenly he made a face. “No, I don’t!” he declared. “I guess I’d better be getting home to the dear Old Briar-patch. Mrs. Peter probably thinks something has happened to me.” And away he went, hippety-hippity-hop.