Mother West Wind 'Why' Stories by Thornton W. Burgess
XI. Why Bobby Coon Has Rings on His Tail
Peter Rabbit would give Grandfather Frog no peace. Every day Peter visited the Smiling Pool to tease Grandfather Frog for a story--for one particular story. He wanted to know why it is that Bobby Coon wears rings on his tail. You see, Peter had admired Bobby Coon's tail for a long time. Peter has such a funny little tail himself, just a little white bunch of cotton, that such a handsome tail as Bobby Coon's sometimes stirs just a wee bit of envy in Peter's heart.
But it wasn't envy so much as curiosity that prompted Peter to tease for that story. Bobby Coon's tail is very handsome, you know. It has beautiful rings of black and gray, and Peter didn't know of any other tail at all like it. Somehow, he felt right down deep in his heart that there must be a reason for those rings, just as there is a reason for his own long ears and long legs. The more he thought about it, the more he felt that he simply must know, and the only way he could find out was from Grandfather Frog, who is very old and very wise. So he teased and he teased until finally Grandfather Frog promised him that on the next afternoon he would tell Peter why Bobby Coon has rings on his tail. Peter hurried away to tell all the little meadow and forest people, and the next afternoon they were all on hand on the bank of the Smiling Pool to hear the story about Bobby Coon's tail.
"Chug-a-rum!" began Grandfather Frog, smoothing down his white and yellow waistcoat. "Chug-a-rum! Some folks seem to think that what they do doesn't matter to anybody but themselves. That was the way with old Mr. Rabbit, who lived a long time ago when the world was young. He thought he could make all the trouble he pleased by his dreadful curiosity, and if he was found out, no one would suffer but himself. But it wasn't so. Here is Peter Rabbit, his grandchild a thousand times removed, with long legs and long ears, and the bad habit of curiosity, all because old Mr. Rabbit had a bad habit and didn't try to overcome it.
"It was the same way with old Mr. Coon. He was dishonest and stole from Old King Bear. Old Mother Nature punished him by putting mustard in his food, and Mr. Coon thought he was so smart that he could get ahead of Old Mother Nature by washing all his food before he ate it. Old Mother Nature didn't say anything, but watched him and smiled to herself. You see, she knew that Mr. Coon was beginning a good habit, a very good habit indeed--the habit of neatness. So, though she knew perfectly well that he was doing it just to get ahead of her, she was glad, for she was fond of Mr. Coon in spite of the bad ways he had grown into, and she knew that good habits are like bad habits--once started they grow and grow, and are very likely to lead to more good habits.
"It was so with Mr. Coon. He found that his food tasted better for being so clean, and he grew very fussy about what he ate. No matter where he found it or how tempting it looked, he wouldn't eat it until he had carried it to the nearest water and washed it. He still remembered the mustard and tried to fool himself into thinking that he was simply spiting Old Mother Nature, but right down in his heart he knew that even if he should be told that never again would there be mustard in his food, he would wash it just the same.
"One day, as he sat beside the Laughing Brook eating his supper, he noticed that while his food had been washed clean, his hands were dirty. They spoiled his supper. Yes, Sir, they spoiled his supper.
"'What good does it do to wash my food, if I eat it out of dirty hands?' said Mr. Coon to himself, and he hurried to a quiet little pool to give them a good scrubbing. Then he washed his face and brushed his coat. 'Now I feel better, and I know my supper will taste better,' said he.
"From that time he began to be particular, very particular, about keeping himself clean, until finally there was no one on the Green Meadows or in the Green Forest quite so neat as Mr. Coon.
"Now at this time Mr. Coon had a very plain tail. It was all of one color, a grayish white, not at all pretty. Mr. Coon used to think a great deal about that tail and wish and wish that it was handsome. Sometimes he used to envy Mr. Fox his beautiful red tail with its black and white tip. One day, as he sat on an old log with his chin in his hands, thinking about his tail, who should come along but Old Mother Nature.
"'Good morning, Mr. Coon,' said she in her pleasantest voice.
"Mr. Coon got up and made a very low bow. 'Good morning, Mother Nature,' he replied in his politest manner, which was very polite indeed.
"'What were you thinking about so hard?' asked Old Mother Nature.
"Mr. Coon looked a little bit ashamed. Then he sighed. 'I was wishing that my tail was handsomer,' said he. 'But it is a very good tail as it is,' he added hastily.
"Old Mother Nature's eyes twinkled. She sat down beside Mr. Coon and asked him all about his affairs, just as if she didn't know all about them already. She told him how pleased she was to find him so neat and clean, and Mr. Coon just tingled all over with pleasure. At last she got up to go, and her eyes twinkled more than ever, as she said:
"'By the way, Mr. Coon, I am so pleased with your neatness that I am leaving you a reward. I hope you will like it.'
"Mr. Coon didn't see any reward, but he thanked her just the same, and Old Mother Nature went on her way. Mr. Coon watched her out of sight. Then he sat down on the old log again and scratched his head thoughtfully as he looked this way and that.
"'I wonder what she meant by reward. I don't see any anywhere,' he said to himself.
"By and by he just happened to glance at his tail. 'Oh!' cried Mr. Coon, and then for a long time he couldn't say another word, but just looked and looked with shining eyes and such a queer feeling of happiness in his heart. You see, Old Mother Nature had left a beautiful, broad, black ring around his tail. Mr. Coon couldn't do anything the rest of that day but look at and admire that ring, until his neck ached from twisting it around so long.
"After that he was neater than ever, you may be sure, and the next time Old Mother Nature came around, she left another handsome black ring on his tail, because he hadn't grown careless, but had kept up his good habits.
"Now about this time, hard times came to all the little people of the Green Forest and the Green Meadows. Every one began to grumble. Mr. Bear grumbled. Mr. Fox grumbled. Mr. Rabbit grumbled. Mr. Jay grumbled. Mr. Squirrel grumbled. Even Mr. Chuck grumbled. And one and all they began to blame Old Mother Nature. Then they began to quarrel among themselves and to steal from each other. Some even left their homes and went out into the Great World to try to find a better place to live, only to find that the Great World was a harder place to live in than the Green Forest and the Green Meadows.
"But Mr. Coon didn't grumble, and he didn't go away. No, Sir, Mr. Coon just stuck to his home and did the best he could to find enough to eat. He kept himself as neat as ever and was always cheerful. Whenever he met one of his grumbling neighbors, he would say:
"'Better times coming! Better times coming! Old Mother Nature is doing the best she can. Better times coming!'
"The others would laugh at him for his faith in Old Mother Nature, and say ugly things about her, and urge Mr. Coon to go with them out into the Great World. But he kept right on minding his own business and keeping neat and cheerful, until at last Old Mother Nature, all worried and troubled, came to see what she could do to straighten matters out. It didn't take her long to find out how all the little meadow and forest people, except Mr. Coon, had grumbled and been discontented and said ugly things about her, for you can't fool Old Mother Nature, and it's of no use to try. Some she punished one way, and some she punished another way, for of course she hadn't been to blame for the hard times, but had been working night and day to put an end to them.
"Mr. Coon was the last to be called before her, and instead of being frowning and cross, as she had been to the others, she was all smiles. She said a lot of nice things to him, and when at last she sent him away, what do you think she had given him?"
"More rings," cried Peter Rabbit.
"Yes," replied Grandfather Frog, "Mr. Coon's tail was ringed way to the tip. There was one for cheerfulness, and one for faith, and one for persistence in making the best of a bad matter and staying at home. And ever since that long-ago day when the world was young, the Coons have been very proud of their beautiful tails and have kept up the good habits of old Mr. Coon. Now you know, Peter Rabbit, why Bobby Coon wears rings on his tail," concluded Grandfather Frog.
Peter gave a long sigh. "I think it's perfectly beautiful," he said. "I wish I had rings on my tail."
And then he wondered why everybody laughed.