VI. Why Sammy Jay Has a Fine Coat
 

Sammy Jay has a very fine coat, a very beautiful coat. Everybody knows that. In fact, Sammy's coat has long been the envy of a great many of his neighbors in the Green Forest. Some of them, you know, have very modest coats. They are not beautiful at all. And yet the owners of some of these plain coats are among the most honest and hard-working of all the little people who live in the Green Forest. They find it hard, very hard indeed, to understand why such a scamp and mischiefmaker as Sammy Jay should be given such a wonderful blue coat with white trimmings.

Peter Rabbit often had thought about it. He has a number of feathered friends whom he likes ever so much better than he does Sammy Jay. In fact, he and Sammy are forever falling out, because Sammy delights to tease Peter. He sometimes makes up for it by warning Peter when Granny or Reddy Fox happens to be about, and Peter is honest enough to recognize this and put it to Sammy's credit. But in spite of this, it never seemed to him quite right that Sammy Jay should be so handsomely dressed.

"Of course," said Peter to Grandfather Frog, "Old Mother Nature knows a great deal more than I do--"

"Really! You don't mean to say so! Chug-a-rum! You don't mean to say so, Peter!" interrupted Grandfather Frog, pretending to be very much surprised at what Peter said.

Peter grinned and wrinkled his nose at Grandfather Frog.

"Yes," said he, "Old Mother Nature knows a great deal more than I do, but it seems to me as if she had made a mistake in giving Sammy Jay such a handsome coat. There must be a reason, I suppose, but for the life of me I cannot understand it. I should think that she would give such a thief as Sammy Jay the very homeliest suit she could find. You may depend I would, if I were in her place."

Grandfather Frog chuckled until he shook all over.

"It's lucky for some of us that you are not in her place!" said he. "Chug-a-rum! It certainly is lucky!"

"If I were, I would give you a handsome coat, too, Grandfather Frog," replied Peter.

Grandfather Frog suddenly swelled out with indignation. "Chug-a-rum! Chug-a-rum! What's the matter with the coat I have got, Peter Rabbit? Tell me that! Who's got a handsomer one?" Grandfather Frog glared with his great, goggly eyes at Peter.

"I didn't mean to say that you haven't got a handsome coat. Your coat is handsome, very handsome indeed, Grandfather Frog," Peter hastened to say. "I always did like green. I just love it! And I should think you would be ever so proud of your white and yellow waistcoat. I would if it were mine. What I meant to say is, that if I were in Old Mother Nature's place, I would give some plain folks handsome suits. Certainly, I wouldn't give such a rascal as Sammy Jay one of the handsomest coats in all the Green Forest. Knowing Sammy as well as I do, it is hard work to believe that he came by it honestly."

Grandfather Frog chuckled way down deep in his throat.

"Sammy came by it honestly enough, Peter. Yes, Sir, he came by it honestly enough, because it was handed down to him by his father, who got it from his father, who got it from his father, and so on, way back to the days when the world was young, but--" Grandfather Frog paused, and that dreamy, far-away look which Peter had seen so often came into his great, goggly eyes.

"But what, Grandfather Frog?" asked Peter eagerly, when he could keep still no longer.

Grandfather Frog settled himself comfortably on his big green lily-pad and looked very hard at Peter.

"I'm going to tell you a story, Peter Rabbit," said he, "so that never again will you be led to doubt that Old Mother Nature knows exactly what she is about. In the first place, Sammy Jay is not wholly to blame for all his bad habits. Some of them were handed down to him with his fine coat, just the same as your troublesome curiosity was handed down to you with the white patch on the seat of your trousers."

Peter nodded. He had felt a great many times that he just couldn't help this habit of poking that wobbly little nose of his in where it had no business to be, any more than he could change that funny little bunch of white cotton, which he called a tail, for a really, truly tail.

"Of course, you have heard all about what a very fine gentleman Sammy Jay's great-great-ever-so-great grandfather was thought to be until it was discovered that he was all the time stealing from his neighbors and putting the blame on others, and how Old Mother Nature punished him by taking away the beautiful voice of which he was so proud, and giving him instead the harsh voice which Sammy has now, and making him tell just what he is by screaming 'thief, thief, thief!' every time he opens his mouth to speak.

"At first Old Mother Nature had intended to take away the fine coat of which Mr. Jay was so proud, but when he discovered that he had lost his fine voice, he was so ashamed that he hurried away to hide himself from the eyes of his neighbors, so that Old Mother Nature didn't have time to change his coat just then.

'I'll wait a bit,' said she to herself, 'and see how he behaves. Perhaps he is truly sorry for what he has done, and I will not have to punish him more.'

"But if Mr. Jay was truly sorry, he gave no signs of it. You see, he had cheated his neighbors, and had stolen from them for so long, that he found this the easiest way to get a living. His bad habits had become fixed, as bad habits have a way of doing. Besides, right down in his heart, he wasn't sorry for what he had done, only angry at having been found out. Now that he had been found out, of course every one was on the watch for him, and it wasn't so easy to steal as it had been before. So now, instead of going about openly, with his head held high, he grew very crafty, and sneaked quietly about through the Green Forest, trying to keep out of sight, that he might the easier steal from his neighbors and make trouble for them.

"When Old Mother Nature saw this, she changed her mind about taking away his handsome suit. 'If I do that,' thought she, 'it will make it all the easier for him to keep out of sight, and all the harder for his neighbors to know when he is about.'

"So instead of giving him the plain, homely suit that she had thought of giving him, she made his coat of blue brighter than before and trimmed it with the whitest of white trimmings, so that Mr. Jay had one of the very handsomest coats in all the Green Forest. At first he was very proud of it, but it wasn't long before he found that it was very hard work to keep out of sight when he wanted to. That bright blue coat was forever giving him away when he was out on mischief. Everybody was all the time on the watch for it, and so where in the past Mr. Jay had been able, without any trouble, to steal all he wanted to eat, now he sometimes actually had to work for his food, and get it honestly or else go hungry.

"You would suppose that he would have mended him ways, wouldn't you?"

Peter nodded.

"But he didn't. He grew more sly and crafty than ever. But in spite of this, he didn't begin to make as much trouble as before. He couldn't, you know, because of his bright coat. When Old Mother Nature found that Mr. Jay had passed along his bad habits to his children, she passed along his handsome blue coat, too, and so it has been from that long-ago day right down to this. Sammy Jay's fine coat isn't a reward for goodness, as is Winsome Bluebird's, but is to help the other little people of the Green Forest and the Green Meadows to protect themselves, and keep track of Sammy when he is sneaking and snooping around looking for mischief. Now what do you think, Peter Rabbit?"

Peter scratched one long ear and then the other long ear thoughtfully, and he looked a wee bit ashamed as he replied: "I guess Old Mother Nature makes no mistakes and always knows just what she is doing."

"Chug-a-rum!" said Grandfather Frog in his deepest voice. "You may be sure she does. And another thing, Peter Rabbit: Never judge any one by his clothes. It is a great mistake, a very great mistake. Plain clothes sometimes cover the kindest hearts, and fine clothes often are a warning to beware of mischief."

"I--I don't know but you are right," admitted Peter.

"I know I am," said Grandfather Frog.