I T was really no wonder that Mrs. Rabbit did not like Peter Mink. When you hear what happened the very first time she saw him you will understand why Mrs. Rabbit always called him "the Pest."
One day Mrs. Rabbit heard a knock on her door. And when she went to see who was there, she found a ragged young fellow, with his hat tipped far over on one side. Instead of a collar, he wore a handkerchief about his neck. But it would have taken at least a dozen handkerchiefs, tied one above another, to cover the stranger's neck; for it was by far the longest neck Mrs. Rabbit had ever seen.
"What do you want?" Mrs. Rabbit asked.
"Something to eat!" said the stranger.
You notice that he didn't say "Please!" That was a word that Peter Mink had never used. Probably he didn't even know what it meant.
Now, Mrs. Rabbit saw that the stranger was very thin. She did not know that no matter how much he ate, he would never be what you might call fat. That slimness was something that ran in Peter Mink's family. The Minks were always slender people.
Being a kind-hearted soul, Mrs. Rabbit went back to her kitchen. And soon she brought Peter a plateful of the best food she had.
"You're not ill, are you?" she asked Peter.
"No!" he answered, as he took the dish.
"Then," said Mrs. Rabbit, "I shall expect you to do some work, to pay for this food."
"All right!" said Peter. But he wished that he had said he was ill. For he simply hated work. And he made it a rule never to do a stroke of work if he could avoid it.
Well, he sat down on Mrs. Rabbit's doorstep and ate what she had given him. And while he was eating, Jimmy Rabbit came out and watched him. Even Jimmy Rabbit could see that he had very bad manners. He held something to eat in each hand. And he didn't seem to care from which hand he ate, so long as he kept his mouth stuffed so full that he could hardly talk.
"What's your name?" Peter Mink asked Jimmy. And when Jimmy told him, he said: "No wonder you're fat, with such good things to eat as your mother makes."
When Mrs. Rabbit heard that she was pleased. And for a time she thought that perhaps the stranger was not so bad as he looked.
When he had almost finished his lunch, Mrs. Rabbit went back into her house once more. And pretty soon she came out with a saw in her hand. She gave the saw to Peter Mink and said:
"Now you may saw some wood, to pay me for the food. You'll find the wood-pile behind the house. And you may saw all of it," she added.
Peter Mink took the saw and started for the wood-pile. And Jimmy Rabbit followed him. Peter sawed just one stick of wood; and then he said to Jimmy:
"Go in and ask your mother if she can't find an old pair of shoes for me."
So Jimmy ran into the house to find his mother. And kind-hearted Mrs. Rabbit began at once to hunt for a pair of shoes to give the stranger. She had noticed that his toes were sticking out.
Pretty soon she found some shoes which she thought would fit the stranger. And when she stepped to her door again, there he was, waiting for her.
"What! Is the wood all sawed so soon?" asked Mrs. Rabbit. "If it is, you're a spry worker, young man!"
"The saw—" said Peter Mink—"the saw is no good at all. It broke before I finished sawing half the wood-pile." And that was true, too, in a way; because he had only sawed one stick.
"Well, if you've finished half of it you haven't done badly," Mrs. Rabbit told him. And she gave Peter Mink the shoes.
"They're not very new," he grumbled. "But they're better than none."
They certainly were much better than the shoes he had been wearing.
Then Peter Mink went slouching off. He did not even thank Mrs. Rabbit for her kindness. He did not even take away his old shoes, but left them on the doorstep for Mrs. Rabbit to pick up.
"I must say that young man has had no bringing up at all," she told Jimmy. "I hope this is the last we'll see of him. . . . Come!" she said. "Help me bring in some of the wood he sawed."
Well, Mrs. Rabbit was surprised when she found that the stranger had sawed only one stick.
When Mr. Rabbit came home he took just one look at his broken saw. And he was more than surprised. He was angry.
"Why," he said, "I do believe that good-for-nothing rascal broke my saw on purpose, so he wouldn't have to work."