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Why Jimmy Skunk Wears Stripes

from Boys And Girls Bookshelf - MODERN FABLES





BY THORNTON W. BURGESS


Jimmy Skunk, as everybody knows, wears a striped suit, a suit of black
and white. There was a time, long, long ago, when all the Skunk family
wore black. Very handsome their coats were, too, a beautiful glossy
black. They were very, very proud of them, and took the greatest care of
them, brushing them carefully ever so many times a day.

There was a Jimmy Skunk then, just as there is now, and he was head of
all the Skunk family. Now, this Jimmy Skunk was very proud, and thought
himself very much of a gentleman. He was very independent, and cared for
no one. Like a great many other independent people, he did not always
consider the rights of others. Indeed, it was hinted in the wood and on
the Green Meadows that not all of Jimmy Skunk's doings would bear the
light of day. It was openly said that he was altogether too fond of
prowling about at night, but no one could prove that he was responsible
for mischief done in the night, for no one saw him. You see his coat was
so black that in the darkness of the night it was not visible at all.

Now, about this time of which I am telling you, Mrs. Ruffed Grouse made
a nest at the foot of the Great Pine, and in it she laid fifteen
beautiful buff eggs. Mrs. Grouse was very happy, very happy indeed, and
all the little meadow folks who knew of her happiness were happy, too,
for they all loved shy, demure, little Mrs. Grouse. Every morning when
Peter Rabbit trotted down the Lone Little Path through the wood past the
Great Pine he would stop for a few minutes to chat with Mrs. Grouse.
Happy Jack Squirrel would bring her the news every afternoon. The Merry
Little Breezes of Old Mother West Wind would run up a dozen times a day
to see how she was getting along.

One morning Peter Rabbit, coming down the Lone Little Path for his usual
morning call, found a terrible state of affairs. Poor little Mrs. Grouse
was heartbroken. All about the foot of the Great Pine lay the empty
shells of their beautiful eggs. They had been broken and scattered this
way and that.

"How did it happen?" asked Peter Rabbit.

"I don't know," sobbed poor little Mrs. Grouse. "In the night when I was
fast asleep something pounced upon me. I managed to get away and fly up
in the top of the Great Pine. In the morning I found all my eggs broken,
just as you see them here."

Peter Rabbit looked the ground over very carefully. He hunted around
behind the Great Pine, he looked under the bushes, he studied the ground
with a very wise air. Then he hopped off down the Lone Little Path to
the Green Meadows. He stopped at the house of Johnny Chuck.

"What makes your eyes so big and round?" asked Johnny Chuck. Peter
Rabbit came very close so as to whisper in Johnny Chuck's ear, and told
him all that he had seen. Together they went to Jimmy Skunk's house.
Jimmy Skunk was in bed. He was very sleepy and very cross when he came
to the door. Peter Rabbit told him what he had seen.

"Too bad! Too bad!" said Jimmy Skunk, and yawned sleepily.

"Won't you join us in trying to find out who did it?" asked Johnny
Chuck.

Jimmy Skunk said he would be delighted to come, but that he had some
other business that morning and he would join them in the afternoon.
Peter Rabbit and Johnny Chuck went on. Pretty soon they met the Merry
Little Breezes and told them the dreadful story.

"What shall we do?" asked Johnny Chuck.

"We'll hurry over, and tell Old Dame Nature," cried the Merry Little
Breezes, "and ask her what to do."

So away flew the Merry Little Breezes to Old Dame Nature and told her
all the dreadful story. Old Dame Nature listened very attentively. Then
she sent the Merry Little Breezes to all the little meadow folks to tell
everyone to be at the Great Pine that afternoon. Now, whatever Old Dame
Nature commanded, all the little meadow folks were obliged to do. They
did not dare to disobey her.

Promptly at 4 o'clock that afternoon all the little meadow folks were
gathered around the foot of the Great Pine. Brokenhearted little Mrs.
Ruffed Grouse sat beside her empty nest, with all the broken shells
about her.

Reddy Fox, Peter Rabbit, Johnny Chuck, Billy Mink, Little Joe Otter,
Jerry Muskrat, Hooty the Owl, Bobby Coon, Sammy Jay, Blacky the Crow,
Grandfather Frog, Mr. Toad, Spotty the Turtle, the Merry Little Breezes,
all were there. Last of all came Jimmy Skunk. Very handsome he looked in
his shining black coat, and very sorry he appeared that such a dreadful
thing should have happened. He told Mrs. Grouse how badly he felt, and
he loudly demanded that the culprit should be run down without delay and
severely punished.

Old Dame Nature has the most smiling face in the world, but this time it
was very, very grave indeed. First she asked little Mrs. Grouse to tell
her story all over again that all might hear. Then each in turn was
asked to tell where he had been the night before. Johnny Chuck, Happy
Jack Squirrel, Striped Chipmunk, Sammy Jay, and Blacky the Crow had gone
to bed when Mr. Sun went down behind the Purple Hills. Jerry Muskrat,
Billy Mink, Little Joe Otter, Grandfather Frog, and Spotty the Turtle
had been down in Farmer Brown's corn-field. Hooty the Owl had been
hunting in the lower end of the Green Meadows. Peter Rabbit had been
down in the Berry Patch. Mr. Toad had been under the big piece of bark
which he called a house. Old Dame Nature called on Jimmy Skunk last of
all. Jimmy protested that he had been very, very tired and had gone to
bed very early indeed, and had slept the whole night through.

Then Old Dame Nature asked Peter Rabbit what he had found among the
shells that morning.

Peter Rabbit hopped out and laid three long black hairs before Old Dame
Nature. "These," said Peter Rabbit, "are what I found among the egg
shells."

Then Old Dame Nature called Johnny Chuck. "Tell us, Johnny Chuck," said
she, "what you saw when you called at Jimmy Skunk's house this morning."

"I saw Jimmy Skunk," said Johnny Chuck, "and Jimmy seemed very, very
sleepy. It seemed to me that his whiskers were yellow."

"That will do," said Old Dame Nature, and she called Old Mother West
Wind.

"What time did you come down on the Green Meadows this morning?" asked
Old Dame Nature.

"Just at the break of day," said Old Mother West Wind, "as Mr. Sun was
coming up from behind the Purple Hills."

"And whom did you see so early in the morning?" asked old Dame Nature.

"I saw Bobby Coon going home from old Farmer Brown's corn-field," said
Old Mother West Wind. "I saw Hooty the Owl coming back from the lower
end of the Green Meadows. I saw Peter Rabbit down in the berry patch.
Last of all, I saw something like a black shadow coming down the Lone
Little Path toward the house of Jimmy Skunk."

Everyone was looking very hard at Jimmy Skunk. Jimmy began to look very
unhappy and very uneasy.

"Who wears a black coat?" asked Dame Nature.

"Jimmy Skunk!" shouted all the little meadow folks.

"What might make whiskers yellow?" asked Old Dame Nature.

No one seemed to know at first. Then Peter Rabbit spoke up. "It might be
the yolk of an egg," said Peter Rabbit.

"Who are likely to be sleepy on a bright sunny morning?" asked Old Dame
Nature.

"People who have been out all night," said Johnny Chuck, who himself
always goes to bed with the sun.

"Jimmy Skunk," said Old Dame Nature, and her voice was very stern, very
stern indeed, and her face was very grave. "Jimmy Skunk, I accuse you of
having broken and eaten the eggs of Mrs. Grouse. What have you to say
for yourself?"

Jimmy Skunk hung his head. He hadn't a word to say. He just wanted to
sneak away by himself.

"Jimmy Skunk," said Old Dame Nature, "because your handsome black coat,
of which you are so proud, has made it possible for you to move about in
the night without being seen, and because we can no longer trust you
upon your honor, henceforth you and your descendants shall wear a
striped coat which is the sign that you cannot be trusted. Your coat
hereafter shall be black and white, that will always be visible."

And this is why to this day Jimmy Skunk wears a striped suit of black
and white.

[K] From "Old Mother West Wind," by Thornton W. Burgess; used
by permission of the author and publishers, Little, Brown & Co.





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