Mrs. Peter Rabbit by Thornton W. Burgess
Chapter VIII. The Strange Tracks in the Old Pasture
Who has attentive ear and eye Will learn a lot if he but try. Peter Rabbit.
Peter Rabbit stared and stared at the tracks in the soft mud of the swamp in the Old Pasture. He would look first at the tracks, then at his own feet, and finally back at the tracks again. He scratched his long right ear with his long right hind foot. Then he scratched his long left ear with his long left hind foot, all the time staring his hardest at those strange tracks. They certainly were the tracks of a Rabbit, and it was equally certain that they were not his own.
"They are too big for mine, and they are too small for Jumper the Hare's. Besides, Jumper is in the Green Forest and not way off up here," said Peter to himself. "I wonder--well, I wonder if he will try to drive me away."
You see Peter knew that if he had found a strange Rabbit in his dear Old Briar-patch he certainly would have tried his best to drive him out, for he felt that the Old Briar-patch belonged to him. Now he wondered if the maker of these tracks would feel the same way about the Old Pasture. Peter looked troubled as he thought it over. Then his face cleared.
"Perhaps," said he hopefully, "he is a new comer here, too, and if he is, I'll have just as much right here as he has. Perhaps he simply has big feet and isn't any bigger or stronger than I am, and if that's the case I'd like to see him drive me out!"
Peter swelled himself out and tried to look as big as he could when he said this, but swelling himself out this way reminded him of how stiff and sore he was from the wounds given him by Hooty the Owl, and he made a wry face. You see he realized all of a sudden that he didn't feel much like fighting.
"My," said Peter, "I guess I'd better find out all about this other fellow before I have any trouble with him. The Old Pasture looks big enough for a lot of Rabbits, and perhaps if I don't bother him, he won't bother me. I wonder what he looks like. I believe I'll follow these tracks and see what I can find."
So Peter began to follow the tracks of the strange Rabbit, and he was so interested that he almost forgot to limp. They led him this way and they led him that way through the swamp and then out of it. At the foot of a certain birch-tree Peter stopped.
"Ha!" said he, "now I shall know just how big this fellow is."
How was he to know? Why, that tree was a kind of Rabbit measuring- stick. Yes, Sir, that is just what it was. You see, Rabbits like to keep a record of how they grow, just as some little boys and girls do, but as they have no doors or walls to stand against, they use trees. And this was the measuring-tree of the Rabbit whose tracks Peter had been following. Peter stopped at the foot of it and sat down to think it over. He knew what that tree meant perfectly well. He had one or two measuring-trees of his own on the edge of the Green Forest. He knew, too, that it was more than a mere measuring-tree. It was a kind of "no trespassing" sign. It meant that some other Rabbit had lived here for some time and felt that he owned this part of the Old Pasture. Peter's nose told him that, for the tree smelled very, very strong of Rabbit--of the Rabbit with the big feet. This was because whoever used it for a measuring-tree used to rub himself against it as far up as he could reach.
Peter hopped up close to it. Then he sat up very straight and stretched himself as tall as he could, but he wisely took care not to rub against the tree. You see, he didn't want to leave his own mark there. So he stretched and stretched, but stretch as he would, he couldn't make his wobbly little nose reach the mark made by the other Rabbit.
"My sakes, he is a big fellow!" exclaimed Peter. "I guess I don't want to meet him until I feel better and stronger than I do now."