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by Thornton Burgess.
Age Rating 4 to 8.


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Start of Story

Of all the puzzling things over which Peter Rabbit had sat and thought and wondered until the brains in that funny little head of his were topsy-turvy, none was more puzzling than the fact that Sticky-toes the Tree Toad could climb. Often Peter had watched him climb up the trunk of a tree or jump from one branch to another and then thought of Old Mr. Toad, own cousin to Sticky-toes, and of Grandfather Frog, another own cousin, who couldn't climb at all, and wondered how it had all come about that one cousin could climb and be just as much at home in the trees as the birds, while the others couldn't climb at all. He had it on his mind one morning when he met Old Mr. Toad solemnly hopping down the Lone Little Path. Right then and there Peter resolved to ask Old Mr. Toad. "Good morning, Mr. Toad," said Peter politely. "Have you a few minutes to spare?" Old Mr. Toad hopped into the shade of a big mullein leaf. "I guess so, if it is anything important," said he. "Phew! Hot, isn't it? I simply can't stand the sun. Now what is that you've got on your mind, Peter?" Peter hesitated a minute, for he wasn't at all sure that Old Mr. Toad would think the matter sufficiently important for him to spend his time in story telling. Then he blurted out the whole matter and how he had puzzled and puzzled why Sticky-toes was able to climb when none of the rest of the Toad family could. Old Mr. Toad chuckled.

"Looking for a story as usual, I see," said he. "You ought to go to Grandfather Frog for this one, because Sticky-toes is really a Frog and not a Toad. But we are all cousins, and I don't mind telling you about Sticky-toes, or rather about his great-great-ever-so-great-grandfather, who was the first of the family ever to climb a tree. You see, it is all in the family, and I am very proud of my family, which is one of the very oldest." Peter settled himself comfortably and prepared to listen. Old Mr. Toad snapped up a foolish spider who came too near and then cleared his throat. "Once on a time," he began, "when Old Mother Nature made the first land and the first trees and plants, the Toads and the Frogs were the first to leave the water to see what dry land was like. The Toads, being bolder than the Frogs, went all over the new land while the Frogs kept within jumping distance of the water, just as Grandfather Frog does to this day. There was one Frog, however, who, seeing how bravely and boldly the Toads went forth to see all that was to be seen in the new land, made up his mind that he too would see the Great World. He was the smallest of the Frogs, and his friends and relatives warned him not to go, saying that he would come to no good end.

"But he wouldn't listen to their dismal croakings and hurried after the Toads. Being able to make longer jumps than they could, he soon caught up with them, and they all journeyed on together. The Toads were so pleased that one of their cousins was brave enough to join them that they made him very welcome and treated him as one of themselves, so that they soon got to thinking of him as a Toad and not as a Frog at all. "Now the Toads soon found that Old Mother Nature was having a hard time to make plants grow, because as fast as they came up, they were eaten by insects. You see, she had so many things to attend to in those days when the world was young that she had to leave a great many things to take care of themselves and get along the best they could, and it was this way with the plants. It was then that the great idea came to my great-great-ever-so-great-grandfather, and he called all the Toads together and proposed that they help Old Mother Nature by catching the bugs and worms that were destroying the plants.

"Little Mr. Frog, who had been adopted by the Toads, was one of the most eager to help, and he was busy every minute. After a while the Toads had caught most of the bugs and worms on the ground and within reach, and the plants began to grow. But when the plants got above the reach of the Toads, the bugs and the worms were safe once more and began to multiply so that the plants suffered and stopped growing. You see, there were no birds in those days to help. One day little Mr. Frog sat under a bush on which most of the leaves had been eaten. He saw a worm eating a leaf on one of the lower branches. It was quite a way above his head. It worried him. He kept his eyes on that worm and thought and thought until his head ached. At last he got an idea. 'I wonder,' thought he, 'if I jump as hard as I can, if I can catch that fellow. I'll try it. It will do no harm to try.' "So he drew his long legs close under him, and then he jumped up with all his might. He didn't quite reach the bug, but he got his hands on the branch and by pulling and struggling, he managed to get up on it. It was a very uncertain seat, but he hung on and crept along until he could dart his tongue out and catch that worm. Then he saw another, and in trying to catch that one he lost his balance and fell to the ground with a thump. It quite knocked the wind from his body. "That night little Mr. Frog studied and studied, trying to think of some way by which he could get up in the bushes and trees and clear them of bugs and worms. 'If only I could hold on once I get up there, I would be all right,' thought he. 'Then I could leave the bugs and worms on the ground for my cousins the Toads to look after, while I look after those beyond their reach.'

"The next day and the next, and for many days thereafter, little Mr. Frog kept jumping for bugs on the bushes. He got many thumps and bumps, but he didn't mind these, for little by little he was learning how to hang on to the branches once he got up in them. Then one day, just by accident, he put one hand against the trunk of a young pine-tree, and when he started to take it away, he found it stuck fast. He had to pull to get it free. Like a flash an idea popped into his head. He rubbed a little of the pitch, for that was what had made his hand stick, on both hands, and then he started to climb a tree. As long as the pitch lasted, he could climb. "Little Mr. Frog was tickled to death, with his discovery, but he didn't say a word to any one about it. Every day he rubbed pitch on his hands and then climbed about in the bushes and low trees, ridding them of bugs and worms. Of course, it wasn't very pleasant to have that pitch on his hands, because dirt and all sorts of things which he happened to touch stuck to them, but he made the best of a bad matter and washed them carefully when he was through with his day's work.

"Quite unexpectedly Old Mother Nature returned to see how the trees and the plants were getting on. You see, she was worried about them. When she found what the Toads had been doing, she was mightily pleased. Then she noticed that some of the bushes and low trees had very few leaves left, while others looked thrifty and strong. "'That's queer,' said Old Mother Nature to herself and went over to examine a bush. Hanging on to a branch for dear life she saw a queer little fellow who was so busy that he didn't see her at all. It was little Mr. Frog. He was catching bugs as fast as he could. Old Mother Nature wrinkled up her brows. 'Now however did he learn to climb?' thought she. Then she hid where she could watch. By and by she saw little Mr. Frog tumble out of the bush, because, you know, the pitch on his hands had worn off. He hurried over to a pine-tree and rubbed more pitch on and then jumped up into the bush and went to work again.

"You can guess how astonished Old Mother Nature was when she saw this performance. And she was pleased. Oh, yes, indeed, Old Mother Nature was wonderfully pleased. She was pleased because little Mr. Frog was trying so hard to help her, and she was pleased because he had been so smart in finding a way to climb. When she had laughed until she could laugh no more at the way little Mr. Frog had managed to stick to his work, she took him down very gently and wiped the pitch from his hands. Then she gently pinched the end of each finger and each toe so that they ended in little round discs instead of being pointed as before, and in each little disc was a clean, sticky substance. Then she tossed him up in a tree, and when he touched a branch, he found that he could hold on without the least danger of falling. "'I appoint you caretaker of my trees,' said Old Mother Nature, and from that day on little Mr. Frog lived in the trees, as did his children and his children's children, even as Sticky-toes does to-day. And though he was really a Frog, he was called the Tree Toad, and the Toads have always been proud to have him so called. And this is the end of the story," concluded Old Mr. Toad.

the end

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