In all his life Peter Rabbit had seen Tufty the Lynx but once, but that
once was enough. Tufty, you know, lives in the Great Woods. But once,
when the winter was very cold, he had ventured down into the Green
Forest, hoping that it would be easier to get a living there. It was
then that Peter had seen him. In fact, Peter had had the narrowest of
escapes, and the very memory of it made him shiver. He never would
forget that great, gray, skulking form that slipped like a shadow
through the trees, that fierce, bearded face, those cruel, pale
yellow-green eyes, or that switching stump of a tail.
That tail fascinated Peter. It was just an apology for a tail. For
Tufty's size it was hardly as much of a tail as Peter himself has. It
made Peter feel a lot better. Also it made him very curious. The first
chance he got, he asked his cousin, Jumper the Hare, about it. You know
Jumper used to live in the Great Woods where Tufty lives, and Peter felt
sure that he must know the reason why Tufty has such a ridiculous stub
of a tail. Jumper did know, and this is the story he told Peter:
"Way back in the beginning of things lived old Mr. Lynx."
"I know," interrupted Peter. "He was the
great-great-ever-so-great-grandfather of Tufty, and he wasn't old then."
"Who's telling this story?" demanded Jumper crossly. "If you know it
why did you ask me?"
"I beg your pardon. Indeed I do. I won't say another word," replied
"All right, see that you don't. Interruptions always spoil a story,"
said Jumper. "You are quite right about old Mr. Lynx. He wasn't old
then. No one was old, because it was in the beginning of things. At that
time Mr. Lynx boasted a long tail, quite as fine a tail as his cousin,
Mr. Panther. He was very proud of it. You know there is a saying that
pride goes before a fall. It was so with Mr. Lynx. He boasted about his
tail. He said that it was the finest tail in the world. He said so much
that his neighbors got tired of hearing about it. He made a perfect
nuisance of himself. He switched and waved his long tail about
continually. It seemed as if that tail were never still. He made fun of
those whose tails were shorter or of different shape or less handsome.
He quite forgot that that tail had been given him by Old Mother Nature,
but talked and acted as if he had grown that tail himself.
"When at last his neighbors could stand it no longer, they decided to
teach him a lesson. One day while he was off hunting, they held a
meeting, and it was decided that the very next time that Mr. Lynx
boasted of his tail old King Bear should slip up behind him and step on
it as close to his body as he could, and then each of the others should
pull a little tuft of hair from it, so that it would be a long time
before Mr. Lynx would be able to boast of its beauty again.
"The chance came that very evening. Mr. Lynx had had a very successful
day, and he was feeling very fine. He began to boast of what a great
hunter he was, and of how very clever and very smart he was, and then,
as usual, he got to boasting about his tail. He was so intent on his
boasting that he didn't notice old King Bear slipping around behind him.
Old King Bear waited until that long tail was still for just an instant,
and then he stepped on it as close to the roots of it as he could. Then
all the other little people shouted with glee and began to pull little
tufts of hair from it, until it was the most disreputable-looking tail
"Old Mr. Lynx let out a yowl and a screech that was enough to make your
blood run cold. But he couldn't do a thing, though he tore the ground up
with his great claws and pulled with all his might. You see, old King
Bear was very big and very heavy, and Mr. Lynx couldn't budge his tail
a bit. And he couldn't turn to fight old King Bear, though it seemed as
if he would turn himself inside out trying to.
"At last, when old King Bear thought he had been punished enough, he
gave the word to the others, and they all scattered to safe
hiding-places, for they were of no mind to be within reach of those
great claws of Mr. Lynx. Then old King Bear let him go.
"'By the looks of it, I hardly think that you will boast of that tail
for a long time to come, Mr. Lynx,' said he in his deep, rumbly-grumbly
"Mr. Lynx turned and screamed in old King Bear's face, but that was all
he dared do, for you know old King Bear was very big and strong. Then he
turned and slunk away in the shadows by himself. Now Mr. Lynx had a
terrible temper, and when he saw how ragged and disreputable his once
beautiful tail looked, he flew into a terrible rage, and he swore that
no one should laugh at his tail. What do you think he did?"
"What?" asked Peter eagerly.
"He bit it off," replied Jumper slowly. "Yes, Sir, he bit it off right
at the place where old King Bear had stepped on it. Of course he was
sorry the minute he had done it, but it was done, and that was all there
was to it. After that he kept out of sight of all his neighbors. He
prowled around mostly at night and was very stealthy and soft-footed,
always keeping in the shadows. His temper grew worse and worse from
brooding over his lost tail. When any one chanced to surprise him, he
would switch his stub of a tail just as he used to switch his long tail.
You see he would forget. Then when he was laughed at by those bigger
than he, he would scream angrily and slink away like a great, gray
"Once he besought Old Mother Nature to give him a new tail, but in vain.
She gave him a lecture which he never forgot. She told him that it was
no one's fault but his own that he had lost the beautiful tail that he
did have and had nothing but a stub left. Mr. Lynx crawled on his
stomach to the feet of Old Mother Nature and begged with tears in his
eyes. Old Mother Nature looked him straight in the eyes, but he couldn't
look straight back. He tried, but he couldn't do it. He would shift his
eyes from side to side.
"'Look me straight in the face, Mr. Lynx, and tell me that if I give you
a handsome new tail, you will never boast about it or take undue pride
in it,' said she.
"Mr. Lynx looked her straight in the face and said 'I--' Then his eyes
shifted. He brought them back to Old Mother Nature's face with a jerk
and began again. 'I promise--' Once more his eyes shifted. Then he gave
up and sneaked away into the darkest shadows he could find. You see, he
couldn't look Old Mother Nature in the face and tell a lie, and that was
just what he had been trying to do. The only reason he wanted a new tail
was so that he could be proud of it and boast of it as he had of the old
one. He hadn't a single real use for it, as he had found out since he
had had only that stub.
"Old Mother Nature knew this perfectly well, for you can't fool her, and
it's of no use to try. So Mr. Lynx never did get a new tail. He
continued to live very much by himself in the darkest parts of the Green
Forest, never showing himself to others if he could help it. To the
little people, he was like a fearsome shadow to be watched out for at
all times. His children were just like him, and his children's children.
Tufty is the same way. No one likes him. All who are smaller than he
fear him. And if he knows why he has only a stub of a tail, he never
mentions it. But you will notice that he switches it just as if it were
a real tail. I think he likes to imagine that it is a real one."
"I've noticed," replied Peter. He was silent for a few minutes. Then he
added: "Isn't it curious how often we want things we don't need at all,
and how those are the things that make us the most trouble in this