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When the days grow cold and the nights are clear, There stalks abroad the spirit of fear. - Lightfoot the Deer.
It is sad but true. Autumn is often called the sad time of the year, and it is the sad time. But it shouldn't be. Old Mother Nature never intended that it should be. She meant it to be the glad time. It is the time when all the little people of the Green Forest and the Green Meadows have got over the cares and worries of bringing up families and teaching their children how to look out for themselves. It is the season when food is plentiful, and every one is fat and is, or ought to be, care free. It is the season when Old Mother Nature intended all her little people to be happy, to have nothing to worry them for the little time before the coming of cold weather and the hard times which cold weather always brings.
But instead of this, a grim, dark figure goes stalking over the Green Meadows and through the Green Forest, and it is called the Spirit of Fear. It peers into every hiding-place and wherever it finds one of the little people it sends little cold chills over him, little chills which jolly, round, bright Mr. Sun cannot chase away, though he shine his brightest. All night as well as all day the Spirit of Fear searches out the little people of the Green Meadows and the Green Forest. It will not let them sleep. It will not let them eat in peace. It drives them to seek new hiding-places and then drives them out of those. It keeps them ever ready to fly or run at the slightest sound.
Peter Rabbit was thinking of this as he sat at the edge of the dear Old Briar-patch, looking over to the Green Forest. The Green Forest was no longer just green; it was of many colors, for Old Mother Nature had set Jack Frost to painting the leaves of the maple-trees and the beech-trees, and the birch-trees and the poplar-trees and the chestnut-trees, and he had done his work well. Very, very lovely were the reds and yellows and browns against the dark green of the pines and the spruces and the hemlocks. The Purple Hills were more softly purple than at any other season of the year. It was all very, very beautiful.
But Peter had no thought for the beauty of it all, for the Spirit of Fear had visited even the dear Old Briar-patch, and Peter was afraid. It wasn't fear of Reddy Fox, or Redtail the Hawk, or Hooty the Owl, or Old Man Coyote. They were forever trying to catch him, but they did not strike terror to his heart because he felt quite smart enough to keep out of their clutches. To be sure, they gave him sudden frights sometimes, when they happened to surprise him, but these frights lasted only until he reached the nearest bramble-tangle or hollow log where they could not get at him. But the fear that chilled his heart now never left him even for a moment.
And Peter knew that this same fear was clutching at the hearts of Bob White, hiding in the brown stubble; of Mrs. Grouse, squatting in the thickest bramble-tangle in the Green Forest; of Uncle Billy Possum and Bobby Coon in their hollow trees; of Jerry Muskrat in the Smiling Pool; of Happy Jack Squirrel, hiding in the tree tops; of Lightfoot the Deer, lying in the closest thicket he could find. It was even clutching at the hearts of Granny and Reddy Fox and of great, big Buster Bear. It seemed to Peter that no one was so big or so small that this terrible Spirit of Fear had not searched him out.
Far in the distance sounded a sudden bang. Peter jumped and shivered. He knew that every one else who had heard that bang had jumped and shivered just as he had. It was the season of hunters with terrible guns. It was man who had sent this terrible Spirit of Fear to chill the hearts of the little meadow and forest people at this very time when Old Mother Nature had made all things so beautiful and had intended that they should be happiest and most free from care and worry. It was man who had made the autumn a sad time instead of a glad time, the very saddest time of all the year, when Old Mother Nature had done her best to make it the most beautiful.
"I don't understand these men creatures," said Peter to little Mrs. Peter, as they stared fearfully out from the dear Old Briar-patch. "They seem to find pleasure, actually find pleasure, in trying to kill us. I don't understand them at all. They haven't any hearts. That must be the reason; they haven't any hearts."
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