VIII. Why Old Man Coyote Has Many Voices
 

Of course Old Man Coyote has only one voice, but that one is such a wonderful voice that he can make it sound like a great many voices, all yelping and howling and shouting and laughing at the same time. So those who hear him always say that he has many voices, and that certainly is the way it seems. The first time Peter Rabbit heard Old Man Coyote, he was sure, absolutely sure, that there was a whole crowd of strangers on the Green Meadows, and you may be sure that he kept very close to his dear Old Briar-patch. If you had been there and tried to tell Peter that all that noise was made by just one voice, he wouldn't have believed you. No, Sir, he wouldn't have believed you. And you couldn't have blamed him.

It was the Merry Little Breezes of Old Mother West Wind who first told Peter who the stranger was and warned him to watch out, because Old Man Coyote is just as fond of Rabbit as Granny or Reddy Fox, and is even more crafty and sly than they. Peter thanked the Merry Little Breezes for the warning, and then he asked them how many of his family Old Man Coyote had brought with him. Of course the Merry Little Breezes told Peter that Old Man Coyote was all alone, and they became very indignant when Peter laughed at them. He just couldn't help it.

"Why," said he, "every night I hear a whole crowd yelping and howling together."

"But you don't!" insisted the Merry Little Breezes. "It is Old Man Coyote alone who makes all that noise."

"Don't you suppose I know what I hear?" demanded Peter.

"No!" retorted the Merry Little Breezes. "You may have big ears and be able to hear a great deal, sometimes a great deal more than you have any business to hear, but you are old enough by this time to have learned that you cannot believe all you hear." And with that the Merry Little Breezes indignantly raced away to spread the news all over the Green Meadows.

Now Peter was quite as indignant because they thought he couldn't or shouldn't believe his own ears, as they were because he wouldn't believe what they told him, and all the rest of that day he couldn't put the matter out of his mind. He was still thinking of it as the Black Shadows came creeping down from the Purple Hills across the Green Meadows. Suddenly Peter saw a dark form skulking among the Black Shadows. At first he thought it was Reddy Fox, only somehow it looked bigger. Peter, safe in the dear Old Briar-patch, watched. Presently the dark form came out from among the Black Shadows where Peter could see it clearly, sat down, pointed a sharp nose up at the first twinkling little stars, opened a big mouth, and out of it poured such a yelping and howling as made Peter shiver with fright. And now Peter had to believe his eyes rather than his ears. His ears told him that there were many voices, but his eyes told him that all that dreadful sound was coming out of one mouth. It was hard, very hard, to believe, but it was so.

"The Merry Little Breezes were right," muttered Peter to himself, as Old Man Coyote trotted away in the direction of the Green Forest, and he felt a wee bit ashamed to think that he had refused to believe them.

After that, Peter could think of nothing but Old Man Coyote's wonderful voice that sounded like many voices, and at the very first opportunity he hurried over to the Smiling Pool to ask Grandfather Frog what it meant.

"Chug-a-rum!" said Grandfather Frog. "It means simply that Old Man Coyote comes of a very smart family, and that he knows how to make the most of the gift of Old Mother Nature to his grandfather a thousand times removed."

This sounded so much like a story that Peter straightway teased Grandfather Frog to tell him all about it. At last, to get rid of him and enjoy a little quiet and peace, Grandfather Frog did so.

"Chug-a-rum!" he began, as he always does. "The great-great-ever-so-great grandfather of Old Man Coyote, who lived long, long ago when the world was young, was very much as Old Man Coyote is to-day. He was just as smart and just as clever. Indeed, he was smart enough and clever enough not to let his neighbors know that he was smart and clever at all. Those were very peaceful times at first, and everybody was on the best of terms with everybody else, as you know. There was plenty to eat without the trouble to steal, and everybody was honest simply because it was easier to be honest than it was to be dishonest. So Old King Bear ruled in the Green Forest, and everybody was happy and contented.

"But there came a time when food was scarce, and it was no longer easy to get plenty to eat. It was then that the stronger began to steal from the weaker, and by and by even to prey upon those smaller than themselves. The times grew harder and harder, and because hunger is a hard and cruel master, it made the larger and stronger people hard and cruel, too. Some of them it made very sly and cunning, like old Mr. Fox. Mr. Coyote was another whom it made sly and cunning. He was smart in the first place, even smarter than Mr. Fox, and he very early made up his mind that if he would live, it must be by his wits, for he wasn't big enough or strong enough to fight with his neighbors such as his big cousin, Mr. Timber Wolf, or Mr. Lynx, or Mr. Panther or Old King Bear, who was king no longer. And yet he liked the same things to eat.

"So he used to study and plan how he could outwit them without danger to himself. 'A whole skin is better than a full stomach, but both a whole skin and a full stomach are better still,' said he to himself; as he thought and schemed. For a while he was content to catch what he could without danger to himself, and to eat what his bigger and stronger neighbors left when they happened to get more than they wanted for themselves. Little by little he got the habit of slyly following them when they were hunting, always keeping out of sight. In this way, he managed to get many meals of scraps. But these scraps never wholly satisfied him, and his mouth used to water as he watched the others feast on the very best when they had had a successful hunt. He knew it wouldn't be of the least use to go out and boldly ask for some, for in those hard times everybody was very, very selfish.

"The times grew harder and harder, until it seemed as if Old Mother Nature had wholly forgotten her little people of the Green Meadows and the Green Forest. Mr. Coyote still managed to pick up a living, but he was hungry most of the time, and the less he had to put in his stomach, the sharper his wits grew. At last one day, as he stole soft-footed through the Green Forest, he discovered Mr. Lynx having a great feast. To keep still and watch him was almost more than Mr. Coyote could stand, for he was so hungry that it seemed as if the sides of his stomach almost met, it was so empty.

"'If I could make myself into three, we could take that dinner away from Mr. Lynx!" thought he, and right on top of that thought came a great idea. Why not make Mr. Lynx think he had a lot of friends with him? It would do no harm to try. So Mr. Coyote put his nose up in the air and howled. Mr. Lynx looked up and grinned. He had no fear of Mr. Coyote. Then Mr. Coyote hurried around to the other side of Mr. Lynx, all the time keeping out of sight, and howled again, and this time he tried to make his voice sound different. Mr. Lynx stopped eating and looked up a little surprised. 'I wonder if Mr. Coyote has got a brother with him,' thought he. A minute later Mr. Coyote howled again from the place where he had howled in the first place. 'He certainly has,' thought Mr. Lynx, 'but I'm a match for two of them,' and once more he went on eating.

"Then Mr. Coyote began to run in a circle around Mr. Lynx, always keeping out of sight in the thick brush, and every few steps he yelped or howled, and each yelp or howl he tried to make sound different. Now Mr. Coyote could run very fast, and he ran now as hard as ever he could in a big circle, yelping and howling and making his voice sound as different as possible each time. Mr. Lynx grew anxious and lost his appetite. 'Mr. Coyote must have a whole crowd of brothers,' thought he. 'I guess this is no place for me!' With that he started to sneak away.

"Mr. Coyote followed him, still trying to make his voice sound like the voices of many. Mr. Lynx gave a hurried look over his shoulder and began to run. Mr. Coyote kept after him, yelping and howling, until he was sure that Mr. Lynx was so frightened that he wouldn't dare come back. Then Mr. Coyote returned to the dinner Mr. Lynx had left, and ate and ate until he couldn't hold another mouthful. His throat was very raw and sore because he had strained it trying to make his voice change so often, but he didn't mind this, because, you know, it felt so good to have all he could eat at one time once more.

"Now it just happened that Old Mother Nature had come along just in time to see and hear Mr. Coyote, and it tickled her so to think that Mr. Coyote had been so smart that what do you think she did? Why, while he slept that night, she healed his sore throat, and she gave him a new voice; and this voice was very wonderful, for it sounded for all the world like many voices, all yelping and howling at the same time. After that, all Mr. Coyote had to do when he wanted to frighten some one bigger and stronger than himself was to open his mouth and send forth his new voice, which sounded like many voices.

"So he had plenty to eat from that time on. And all his children and his children's children had that same wonderful voice, just as Old Man Coyote has now. Chug-a-rum! Now scamper home, Peter Rabbit, and see that you don't let Old Man Coyote's sharp wits get you into trouble."

"Thank you, Grandfather Frog!" cried Peter and scampered as fast as he could go for the dear, safe Old Briar-patch.