They lived with their mother in a sand-bank, underneath the root of a very big fir-tree.
"Now, my dears," said old Mrs. Rabbit, one morning, "you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don't go into Mr. McGregor's garden; your father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor. Now run along, and don't get into mischief. I am going out."
Then old Mrs. Rabbit took a basket and her umbrella, and went through the wood to the baker's. She bought a loaf of brown bread and five currant buns.
Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail, who were good little bunnies, went down the lane to gather blackberries; but Peter, who was very naughty, ran straight away to Mr. McGregor's garden, and squeezed under the gate. First he ate some lettuces and some French beans; and then he ate some radishes; and then, feeling rather sick, he went to look for some parsley.
But round the end of a cucumber frame, whom should he meet but Mr.
Mr. McGregor was on his hands and knees planting out young cabbages, but he jumped up and ran after Peter, waving a rake and calling out, "Stop thief!"
Peter was most dreadfully frightened; he rushed all over the garden, for he had forgotten the way back to the gate.
He lost one of his shoes among the cabbages, and the other shoe among the potatoes. After losing them, he ran on four legs and went faster, so that I think he might have got away altogether if he had not unfortunately run into a gooseberry net, and got caught by the large buttons on his jacket. It was a blue jacket with brass buttons, quite new. Peter gave himself up for lost, and shed big tears; but his sobs were overheard by some friendly Sparrows, who flew to him in great excitement, and implored him to exert himself.
Mr. McGregor came up with a sieve, which he intended to pop upon the top of Peter; but Peter wriggled out just in time, leaving his jacket behind him, and rushed into the tool-shed, and jumped into a can. It would have been a beautiful thing to hide in, if it had not had so much water in it.
Mr. McGregor was quite sure that Peter was somewhere in the tool-shed, perhaps hidden underneath a flower-pot. He began to turn them over carefully, looking under each.
Presently Peter sneezed--"Kertyschoo!" Mr. McGregor was after him in no time, and tried to put his foot upon Peter, who jumped out of a window, upsetting three plants. The window was too small for Mr.
McGregor, and he was tired of running after Peter. He went back to his work.
Peter sat down, to rest; he was out of breath and trembling with fright, and he had not the least idea which way to go. Also he was very damp with sitting in that can.
After a time he began to wander about, going lippity--lippity--not very fast, and looking all round. He found a door in a wall; but it was locked, and there was no room for a fat little Rabbit to squeeze underneath.
An old Mouse was running in and out over the stone door-step, carrying peas and beans to her family in the wood. Peter asked her the way to the gate, but she had such a large pea in her mouth that she could not answer. She only shook her head at him. Peter began to cry.
Then he tried to find his way straight across the garden, but he became more and more puzzled. Presently, he came to a pond where Mr. McGregor filled his water-cans. A white Cat was staring at some Gold-fish; she sat very, very still, but now and then the tip of her tail twitched as if it were alive. Peter thought it best to go away without speaking to her, he had heard about Cats from his cousin, little Benjamin Bunny.
He went back towards the tool-shed, but suddenly, quite close to him, he heard the noise of a hoe--scr-r-ritch, scratch, scratch, scritch. Peter scuttered underneath the bushes. But presently, as nothing happened, he came out, and climbed upon a wheelbarrow, and peeped over. The first thing he saw was Mr. McGregor hoeing onions.
His back was turned towards Peter, and beyond him was the gate!
Peter got down very quietly off the wheelbarrow, and started running as fast as he could go, along a straight walk behind some black-currant bushes.
Mr. McGregor caught sight of him at the corner, but Peter did not care. He slipped underneath the gate, and was safe at last in the wood outside the garden.
Mr. McGregor hung up the little jacket and the shoes for a scare-crow to frighten the Blackbirds.
Peter never stopped running or looked behind him till he got home to the big fir-tree.
He was so tired that he flopped down upon the nice soft sand on the floor of the rabbit-hole, and shut his eyes. His mother was busy cooking; she wondered what he had done with his clothes. It was the second little jacket and pair of shoes that Peter had lost in a fortnight!
I am sorry to say that Peter was not very well during the evening.
His mother put him to bed, and made some camomile tea; and she gave a dose of it to Peter!
"One tablespoonful to be taken at bed-time."
But Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail had bread and milk and blackberries, for supper.
LIONS AND TIGERS
The Lioness was wide awake, but two of the little Lion Cubs were rather sleepy. The third one however, who had perched himself on his mother's back, was quite livety: he had not had quite so much for dinner as the others.
"Mother," he began, "what do all these two-legged things come and look at us for? And why have they got such funny skins? Do they ever have anything to eat, mother--bones, and things like that?"
"Don't purr so loudly, my dear," said the Lioness, or you'll wake your brother and sister. These two-legged things are people--the big ones are called men and women, and the little ones are boys and girls. They don't do us any harm; indeed, some of them are very kind to us--they give us our dinner, and clean straw in our houses, and help to make us comfortable. They do their best, poor things, so you mustn't growl at them."
"Look, mother," said the Lion Cub, "that small thing with the white skin has thrown something into our house! What does she think we shall do with it?"
"Don't take any notice of her, my dear." said the Lioness, blinking her eyes at the little girl (who was "the small thing with the white skin"); "it's only something that they call bread--she thinks that we shall eat it. But it's really only fit for elephants or bears; _we_ don't eat stuff like that. I tasted it once, I remember, but that was a long time ago, when I was very, very hungry, and glad to get anything I could."
"When was that, mother?" said the baby Lion. "Do tell me about it."
"Ah, I didn't always live in a house like this, my dear," replied the Lioness. "I was born far away from here, in a place called Africa, and I was quite grown-up before I saw a man at all. We used to live very happily there in my young days--though it wasn't such an easy life as that we have now. There was no one to bring you your dinner regularly every day; no, you had to catch your dinner first and then eat it, and sometimes we had to go a long time with nothing but a very small antelope or perhaps a bird or two."
The Lion Cub's eyes opened wide with astonishment.
"What is Africa like, mother?" he said. "Did anyone else live there?"
"Dear me, yes," answered the Lioness. "All sorts of creatures.
There were antelopes and snakes, and several of our own relations, and hosts of others besides."
The Lion Cub thought for a little while. Then he said, "Why did you come here, then, mother?"
The Lioness growled slightly. From the next cage there came a loud roar, waking the two sleeping Lion Cubs, and startling the other so much that he tumbled off his mother's back.
"Ho, ho, ho!" said a deep voice. "I remember! It seemed such a nice fat young calf, didn't it?" It was the big Lion next door. The Lioness seemed quite vexed; she had not known that the Lion was listening. But he had been, and now he seemed to be in a very good humor, and went on purring and talking to himself, but the little Lion Cubs could easily hear what he was saying, and paid the greatest attention.
"Yes," he went on, "and it _was_ a nice fat young calf, too; I saw it first, and I remember thinking that it would make such a fine dinner for us both. I never dreamed that there were hunters about, and it was a trap to catch us; of course I was quite young in those days. But it was a trap, and we were both caught."
"I needn't have been caught," growled the Lioness from the back of her cage, "if I hadn't come to see what you were doing."
"Ah, well," said the Lion. "We were both of us deceived. And then they put us into small, strong cages and took us over the great big water and brought us here. I often think of the days when we were free, but we get along very well here, don't we? It's no use making a fuss about what you can't help, and really these two-legged creatures are very amusing."
"Yes," said the Lioness, still with a little growl in her voice, "but one needn't pretend that one wouldn't rather be free. Those pumas, now, are always saying how much better it is always to live in a cage."
The Lion shook his mane scornfully. "Pumas!" he said. "Who would take any notice of what a puma would say? They call themselves 'friends of man!' They're only friendly because they daren't be anything else."
"Do they come from Africa, too, mother?" said the Lion Cub.
"No, they live in America, my dear," replied the Lioness. "But come, it's time we went out into the garden at the back of the house. You must have a little fresh air." So saying, she stalked through the little door at the back of the cage and went out, followed by her Cubs, into the open space beyond.