Sure enough! old Mr. Crow was in the cornfield. And though he was feeling somewhat peevish that morning, because a coon had disturbed his rest the night before, he listened to what Jolly Robin had to say.
“I’ve come to ask you a question,” Jolly told him. “I’ve decided to go into business—the laughing business. And I want to inquire if you wouldn’t like to engage me to do your laughing for you.”
Well, that struck old Mr. Crow as being very funny. He forgot all about his loss of sleep. And his eye twinkled quite merrily. He tried to laugh, too; but it was a pitiful attempt—no more than a hoarse cackle, which was, as Jimmy Rabbit had said, positively painful. Old Mr. Crow seemed to realize that he was making a very queer sound. He hastily turned his laugh into a cough and pretended that he had a kernel of corn stuck in his throat.
“What are your prices?” he asked Jolly Robin. “Are you going to charge by the day or by the laugh?”
“Just as you prefer!” Jolly answered.
“Well, I’ll have to think about it,” old Mr. Crow told him. “It’s a question that I wouldn’t care to decide in a hurry. If I paid you by the day you might not laugh at all. And if I paid you by the laugh you might laugh all the time.... It would be pretty expensive, either way. And I don’t believe I’d like that.”
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” said Jolly Robin then. “I’ll stay with you one day for nothing. And we’ll see how the arrangement suits us.”
That suggestion pleased Mr. Crow.
“Agreed!” he said quickly. “And now,” he added, “you may laugh for me, because I am quite delighted.”
So Jolly Robin laughed happily. And old Mr. Crow remarked that it was a fair laugh, though not so loud as he would have liked.
“I’ll do better next time,” Jolly assured him.
“Good!” said Mr. Crow. “And now, since I’ve finished my breakfast, we’ll go over to the woods and see what’s going on there this morning.”
The first person they saw in the woods was Peter Mink. He was fishing for trout in Broad Brook. And old Mr. Crow, as soon as he spied him, sang out:
“How many of Farmer Green’s fish have you eaten this morning?”
Peter Mink was just crawling out of the water, with a fish in his mouth. When he heard Mr. Crow calling to him, he dropped his trout upon a rock and looked up quickly.
“How much of Farmer Green’s corn have you stolen for your breakfast?” he cried.
At that Jolly Robin began to laugh. But Mr. Crow stopped him quickly.
“Don’t laugh!” the old gentleman squawked. “There’s nothing to laugh at, so far as I can see.”
So Jolly managed to smother his laughter, for he noticed that Mr. Crow was angry.
“You’ll have to be careful,” Mr. Crow warned him. “You mustn’t laugh at the wrong time, you know.”
“I’ll do my best,” Jolly Robin promised. And he could see already that old Mr. Crow was going to be hard to please.