Old Mr. Toad’s Mistake
If is a very little word to look at, but the biggest word you have ever seen doesn’t begin to have so much meaning as little “if.” If Jimmy Skunk hadn’t ambled down the Crooked Little Path just when he did; if he hadn’t been looking for fat beetles; if he hadn’t seen that big piece of bark at one side and decided to pull it over; if it hadn’t been for all these “ifs,” why Old Mr. Toad wouldn’t have made the mistake he did, and you wouldn’t have had this story. But Jimmy Skunk did amble down the Crooked Little Path, he did look for beetles, and he did pull over that big piece of bark. And when he had pulled it over, he found Old Mr. Toad there.
Old Mr. Toad had crept under that piece of bark because he wanted to take a nap. But when Jimmy Skunk told him that he had seen Mr. Blacksnake that very morning, and that Mr. Blacksnake had asked after Old Mr. Toad, the very last bit of sleepiness left Old Mr. Toad. Yes, Sir, he was wide awake right away. You see, he knew right away why Mr. Blacksnake had asked after him. He knew that Mr. Blacksnake has a fondness for Toads. He turned quite pale when he heard that Mr. Blacksnake had asked after him, and right then he made his mistake. He was in such a hurry to get away from that neighborhood that he forgot to ask Jimmy Skunk just where he had seen Mr. Blacksnake. He hardly waited long enough to say good-by to Jimmy Skunk, but started off as fast as he could go.
Now it just happened that Old Mr. Toad started up the Crooked Little Path, and it just happened that Mr. Blacksnake was coming down the Crooked Little Path. Now when people are very much afraid, they almost always seem to think that danger is behind instead of in front of them. It was so with Old Mr. Toad. Instead of watching out in front as he hopped along, he kept watching over his shoulder, and that was his second mistake. He was so sure that Mr. Blacksnake was somewhere behind him that he didn’t look to see where he was going, and you know that people who don’t look to see where they are going are almost sure to go headfirst right into trouble.
Old Mr. Toad went hopping up the Crooked Little Path as fast as he could, which wasn’t very fast, because he never can hop very fast. And all the time he kept looking behind for Mr. Blacksnake. Presently he came to a turn in the Crooked Little Path, and as he hurried around it, he almost ran into Mr. Blacksnake himself. It was a question which was more surprised. For just a wee second they stared at each other. Then Mr. Blacksnake’s eyes began to sparkle.
“Good morning, Mr. Toad. Isn’t this a beautiful morning? I was just thinking about you,” said he.
But poor Old Mr. Toad didn’t say good morning. He didn’t say anything. He couldn’t, because he was too scared. He just gave a frightened little squeal, turned around, and started down the Crooked Little Path twice as fast as he had come up. Mr. Blacksnake grinned and started after him, not very fast because he knew that he wouldn’t have to run very fast to catch Old Mr. Toad, and he thought the exercise would do him good.
And this is how it happened that summer morning that jolly, bright Mr. Sun, looking down from the blue, blue sky and smiling to see how happy everybody seemed, suddenly discovered that there was one of the little meadow people who wasn’t happy, but instead was terribly, terribly unhappy. It was Old Mr. Toad hopping down the Crooked Little Path for his life, while after him, and getting nearer and nearer, glided Mr. Blacksnake.