Gateway to the Classics: The Adventures of Peter Cottontail by Thornton W. Burgess
The Adventures of Peter Cottontail by  Thornton W. Burgess

Peter Learns His Lesson

P ETER RABBIT, curled up in the little bedchamber at the end of the long hall in the old house made a long time ago by Grandfather Skunk, twisted and turned and tried to make himself feel sleepy. But the harder he tried, the more wide-awake he seemed to feel. Then he began to think of Reddy and Granny Fox and what would happen if by any chance they should find him there fast asleep, and right while he was thinking about it, he heard a noise that made him jump so that he bumped his head.

Peter didn't think anything about the bump on his head! No, Sir, Peter didn't even notice it. He was too frightened. He held his breath and listened, while his heart went pit-a-pat, pit-a-pat. There it was again, that noise he had heard before! Some one was in the long, dark hall! There was no doubt about it. He could hear claws scratching. Whoever it was, was digging. Digging! The very thought made every hair on Peter Rabbit stand on end. He knew that Johnny Chuck had gone to sleep for the winter. He knew that Jimmy Skunk could walk right in without any trouble, and that Jimmy never takes any trouble that he can avoid. He knew that Bobby Coon and Unc' Billy Possum don't go into houses underground unless they have to, to get away from danger, and very seldom then.

If someone was digging in the long, dark hall, it could mean but one thing—that it must be some one too big to get in without making the hall larger; and the only ones he could think of were Bowser the Hound and Reddy and Granny Fox! Peter shivered and shook, for unlike Johnny Chuck's house, this one had no back door.

"If it's Bowser the Hound, he may get tired and go away. Anyway, I can soon tell, for he will sniff and snuff and blow the sand out of his nose," thought Peter, and strained his ears to hear the first sniff.

But there were no sniffs or snuffs. Instead, Peter heard a sound that made his heart almost stop beating again. It was a bark, a bark that sounded very much like the bark of Reddy Fox, and it came from just outside the door! That could mean but one thing—that old Granny Fox was digging her way in to the little bedchamber, while Reddy kept watch outside.

"Oh, dear! Oh, dear! Why wasn't I content to live as I always have lived? Whatever did I try to do something I never was intended to do for?" cried Peter to himself, and shook with fright harder than ever.

There was nothing to do but to sit still and wait. Peter sat as still as ever he could. After a little while, the noise in the long, dark hall stopped. Peter waited and waited, but all was still, and he began to feel better. Perhaps old Granny Fox didn't know that he was there at all and had grown tired of digging and had gone away. Peter waited a long time and then peeped out into the long hall. Way up at the end he could see light where the doorway was, and by this he knew that no one was in the hall.

Little by little, his heart going pit-a-pat, Peter crept up until he could peep outside. No one was to be seen. With his heart almost in his mouth, Peter sprang out and started for the dear Old Briar-patch as fast as his long legs could take him. And then he heard a sound that made him stop suddenly and sit up.

"Ha, ha, ha! Ho, ho, ho! Hee, hee, hee!"

There, behind some bushes, Unc' Billy Possum, Bobby Coon, and Jimmy Skunk were laughing fit to kill themselves.

Then Peter knew that they had played a joke on him, and he shook his fist at them. But down in his heart he was glad, for he knew that he had learned his lesson—that he had no business to try to do what Old Mother Nature had never intended that he should do.

Of course these are not all of Peter Rabbit's adventures. Oh my, no! But there are so many other little people who live on the Green Meadows and in the Green Forest who have adventures, too, and get into funny scrapes, that I am sure you will be willing to say good night to Peter for a little while and hear about the things that have happened to some of the others. And so, in the next book, I am going to tell you about the worries and troubles and exciting escapes of one of Peter's friends—Unc' Billy Possum.

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