Gateway to the Classics: The Burgess Animal Book for Children by Thornton W. Burgess
The Burgess Animal Book for Children by  Thornton W. Burgess

More of Peter's Long‑Legged Cousins

A T sun-up the next morning Peter Rabbit and Jumper the Hare were on hand promptly for their next lesson. Old Mother Nature smiled as she saw the eager curiosity shining in their eyes. She didn't wait for them to ask questions. "Yesterday," said she, "I told you about your water-loving cousin, the Marsh Rabbit. You have another relative down there in the Sunny South who is almost as fond of the water. Some folks call him the Swamp Rabbit. Others call him the Swamp Hare. The latter is really the best name for him, because he is a true Hare. He lives in swamps instead of marshes, but he is a splendid swimmer and fond of the water. When he is chased by an enemy he makes for the nearest pond or stream."


This cousin of Peter Rabbit is a famous swimmer.

"How big is he?" asked Jumper.

"Just about your size, Jumper," replied Old Mother Nature. "If anything, he is a little bit heavier. But because his hair lies much smoother than yours, you probably would look a little bit bigger if you were sitting beside him. As with his cousin, the Marsh Rabbit, the hair on his feet is thin. His toes are rather long and he can spread them widely, which is a great help in swimming. He doesn't have to take to the water as his little cousin does, for he is a very good runner. But he does take to it as the easiest way of getting rid of those who are chasing him. The Marsh Rabbit and the Swamp Hare are the only members of your family in all the Great World who are fond of the water and who are at home in it. Now, who shall I tell you about?"

"Our biggest cousins," cried Peter and Jumper together. "The ones you told us yesterday are bigger than Jumper," added Peter. "It is hard to believe that there can be any much bigger than he."

Old Mother Nature's eyes twinkled. "It is often hard to believe things you know nothing about," said she. "Compared with these other relatives, Jumper really isn't big at all. He seems big to you, Peter, but if he should meet his cousin, Snow White the Arctic Hare, who lives way up in the Frozen North, I am quite sure Jumper would feel small. Snow White looks very much like Jumper in his winter coat, for he is all white save the tips of his ears, which are black."


Here he is at home with his friends in the far North.

"Does he wear a white coat all year round?" asked Peter eagerly.

"When he lives so far north that there is snow and ice for most of the year, he does," replied Old Mother Nature. "But when he lives far enough south for the snow to disappear for a little while in the summer, he changes his white coat for one of gray."

"But how can he live so far north that the snow and ice seldom melt?" asked Peter, looking very much puzzled. "What can he find to eat?"

"Even way up there there is moss growing under the snow. And in the short summer other plants grow. During the long winter Snow White digs down through the snow to get these. He also eats the bark and twigs of little stunted trees. But big as he is, you have a cousin who is still bigger, the biggest of all the family."

"Who is he?" Jumper and Peter cried together.

"He is called White-tailed Jack," replied Old Mother Nature. "And he lives chiefly on the great plains of the Northwest, though sometimes he is found in the mountains and forests. He is sometimes called the Prairie Hare. In winter his coat is white, but in summer it is a light brown. Summer or winter his tail is white, wherein he is much like you, Peter. It is because of this that he is called White-tailed Jack."

"Is his tail as short as mine?" asked Peter eagerly.

Old Mother Nature laughed right out. "No, Peter," she replied. "It wouldn't be called a long tail by any other animal, but for a member of your family it really is long, and when White-tailed Jack is running he switches it from side to side. His hind legs are very long and powerful, and he can make a single jump of twenty feet without half trying. Not even Old Man Coyote can catch him in a straightaway race. You think Jumper's ears are long, Peter, but they are short compared to the ears of White-tailed Jack. Not only are his ears long, but they are very big. When he squats in his form and lays his ears back they reach way over his shoulders. Like the other members of the Hare family he doesn't use holes in the ground or hollow logs. He trusts to his long legs and to his wonderful speed to escape from his enemies. Among the latter are Howler the Wolf, Old Man Coyote, Eagles, Hawks and Owls. He is so big that he would make five or six of you, Peter."

Peter drew a long breath. "It is dreadfully hard to believe that I can have a cousin as big as that," he exclaimed. "But of course if you say it is so, it is so," he hastened to add. "Have I any other cousins anywhere near as big?"

Old Mother Nature nodded. "There are some others very like White-tailed Jack, only not quite as big," said she. "They have just such long hind legs, and just such great ears, but their coats are different, and they live on the great plains farther south. Some of them live so far south that it is warm all the year round. One of these latter is Antelope Jack, whose home is in the Southwest."

"Tell us about him," begged Peter.

"To begin with," replied Old Mother Nature, "he is a member of the big Jack Rabbit or Jack Hare branch of your family. None of this branch should be called a Rabbit. All the members are first cousins to Jumper and are true Hares. All have big ears, long, rather thin necks, and long legs. Even their front legs are comparatively long. Antelope Jack is probably next in size to White-tailed Jack. Strange to say, although he lives where it is warm for most of the year, his coat is very largely white. His back is a yellowish-brown and so is his throat. But his sides are white. The surprising thing about him is that he has the power of making himself seem almost wholly white. He can make the white hair spread out at will by means of some special little muscles which I have given him, so that the white of his sides at times almost seems to meet on his back. When he does this in the sun it makes flashes of white which can be seen a long way. By means of this Antelope Jack and his friends can keep track of each other when they are a long distance apart. There is only one other animal who can flash signals in this way, and that is the Antelope of whom I will tell you some other time. It is because Jack flashes signals in this way that he is called Antelope Jack. In his habits he is otherwise much like the other members of his family. He trusts to his long legs and his wonderful powers of jumping to keep him out of danger. He is not as well known as his commoner cousin, plain Jack Rabbit. Everybody knows Jack Rabbit."

Peter shook his head. "I don't," said he very meekly.

"Then it is time you did," replied Old Mother Nature. "If you had ever been in the Far West you would know him. Everybody out there knows him. He isn't quite as big as Antelope Jack but still he is a big fellow. He wears a brownish coat much like Jumper's, and the tips of his long ears are black. His tail is longer than Jumper's, and when he runs he carries it down."

"I don't carry mine down," Peter piped up.

Old Mother Nature laughed right out. "True enough, Peter, true enough," said she. "You couldn't if you wanted to. It isn't long enough to carry any way but up. Jack has more of a tail than you have, just as he has longer legs. My, how he can run! He goes with great bounds and about every tenth bound he jumps very high. This is so that he can get a good look around to watch out for enemies."

"Who are his enemies?" asked Peter.

"Foxes, Coyotes, Hawks, Eagles, Owls, Weasels, and men," replied Old Mother Nature. "In fact, he has about as many enemies as you have."

"I suppose when you say men, you mean hunters," said Peter.

Old Mother Nature nodded. "Yes," said she, "I mean those who hunt him for fun and those who hunt him to get rid of him."

Peter pricked up his ears. "What do they want to get rid of him for? What harm does he do?" he asked.

"When he lives far away from the homes of men he does no harm," replied Old Mother Nature. "But when he lives near the homes of men he gets into mischief, just as you do when you visit Farmer Brown's garden." Old Mother Nature looked very severe when she said this and Peter hung his head.

"I know I ought to keep away from that garden," said Peter very meekly, "but you have no idea what a temptation it is. The things in that garden do taste so good."

Old Mother Nature turned her head to hide the twinkle in her eyes. When she turned toward Peter again her face was severe as before. "That is no excuse, Peter Rabbit," said she. "You should be sufficiently strong-minded not to yield to temptation. Yielding to temptation is the cause of most of the trouble in this world. It has made man an enemy to Jack Rabbit. Jack just cannot keep away from the crops planted by men. His family is very large, and when a lot of them get together in a field of clover or young wheat, or in a young orchard where the bark on the trees is tender and sweet, they do so much damage that the owner is hardly to be blamed for becoming angry and seeking to kill them. Yes, I am sorry to say, Jack Rabbit becomes a terrible nuisance when he goes where he has no business. Now I guess you have learned sufficient about your long-legged cousins. I've a great deal to do, so skip along home, both of you."

"If you please, Mother Nature, may we come again to-morrow?" asked Peter.

"What for?" demanded Old Mother Nature. "Haven't you learned enough about your family?"

"Yes," replied Peter, "but there are lots and lots of things I would like to know about other people. If you please, I would like to come to school to you every day. You see, the more I learn about my neighbors, the better able I will be to take care of myself."

"All right, Mr. Curiosity," replied Old Mother Nature good-naturedly, "come again to-morrow morning. I wouldn't for the world deny any one who is really seeking for knowledge."

So Peter and Jumper politely bade her good-by and started for their homes.

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