I T was very, very early in the morning when Old Mother West Wind came down from the Purple Hills with her big bag and out of it emptied her children, the Merry Little Breezes, to play on the Green Meadows. Peter Rabbit, watching her from the doorstep of Jimmy Skunk's house, felt his courage grow. All the night long he and Jimmy Skunk had sat on the doorstep listening to a strange voice, a terrible voice Peter had thought. But with the first light of the coming day the voice had been heard no more, and now, as Peter watched Old Mother West Wind just as he had done so often before, he began to wonder if that dreadful voice hadn't been a bad dream.
So he bade Jimmy Skunk good-by, and started for his home in the dear Old Briar-patch. He wanted to run just as fast as he knew how, but he didn't. No, Sir, he didn't. That is, not while he was in sight of Jimmy Skunk. You see, he knew that Jimmy would laugh at him. He wasn't brave enough to be laughed at.
The bravest boy is not the one
Who does some mighty deed;
Who risks his very life perchance
To serve another's need.
The bravest boy is he who dares
To face the scornful laugh
For doing what he knows is right,
Though others mock and chaff.
But as soon as Peter was sure that Jimmy Skunk could no longer see him, he began to hurry, and the nearer he got to the Old Briar-patch, the faster he hurried. He would run a little way as fast as he could, lipperty-lipperty-lip, and then stop and look and listen nervously. Then he would do it all over again. It was one of these times when he was listening that Peter thought he heard a soft footstep behind him. It sounded very much like the footstep of Reddy Fox. Peter crouched down very low and sat perfectly still, holding his breath and straining his ears. There it was again, pit-a-pat, pit-a-pat, very soft and coming nearer. Peter waited no longer. He sprang forward with a great leap and started for the dear Old Briar-patch as fast as he could go, which, you know, is very fast indeed. As he ran, he saw behind him a fierce, grinning face. It was very much like the face of Reddy Fox, only larger and fiercer and gray instead of red.
Never in all his life had Peter run as he did now, for he knew that he was running for his life. It seemed as if those long legs of his hardly touched the ground. He didn't dare try any of the tricks with which he had so often fooled Reddy Fox, for he didn't know anything about this terrible stranger. He might not be fooled by tricks as Reddy Fox was.
Peter began to breathe hard. It seemed to him that he could feel the hot breath of the fierce stranger. And right down inside, Peter somehow felt sure that this was the owner of the strange voice which had so frightened him in the night. Snap! That was a pair of cruel jaws right at his very heels. It gave Peter new strength, and he made longer jumps than before. The dear Old Briar-patch, the safe Old Briar-patch, was just ahead. With three mighty jumps, Peter reached the opening of one of his own private little paths and dived in under a bramble bush. And even as he did so, he heard the clash of sharp teeth and felt some hair pulled from his tail. And then, outside the Old Briar-patch, broke forth that same terrible voice Peter had heard in the night.
Peter didn't stop to look at the stranger, but hurried to the very middle of the Old Briar-patch and there he stretched out at full length and panted and panted for breath.