10. The Grey Rabbit
"Look at papa," said Frank to little George, one day, as he stood at the window of their play-room up stairs. "I cannot think what he is going to do with that wooden box. I saw John lift it out of the stable just now, and put it into that corner. What have they got in the box? See, papa stoops down to look inside. What can it be, I wonder?"
George came when he was called, and looked out of the window as well as he could; but, being rather short, he had to go back for a stool to mount upon before he could see into the yard. When this was done, he saw all three quite plain,--his papa, and old John, and the large wooden box, with a black handle on the lid.
"I know, Frank," said George, with a wise look. "They are going to put away some flower-seeds in the box. I heard John tell papa that he had saved a great many seeds this year; and papa said they must be put away in a dry place till spring."
"Oh! you silly child," said Frank, who was six years old, and of course knew a great deal more than little George, who was only four. "Do you think they would want such a large box, just to hold a few flower-seeds? No, no; it is something that papa wants to hide. I saw him look round, as much as to say, I do not wish to be seen. Should not you like to know what it is?"
"Yes, I should like to know," said little George; "but I cannot see, the box is so far off."
"Wait a little while, and we will have a peep, when papa and John are gone away." So said Frank, who always liked to pry into every thing. "We will creep softly down stairs, and into the yard, and then lift up the lid of the box. Papa will be in the house, and John will be in the stable; so nobody will know."
The little boys stayed to watch at the window; and very soon, as Frank had said, their papa came into the house, and John went to his work in the stable, and so the box was left alone. Puss, indeed, walked slowly across the yard, and gave a sniff at the key-hole, as if she too wanted to see what there was inside; and then she lay down in the sunshine close by, with her head on her fore-paws: but Frank and George both knew that puss could tell no tales, and so they did not mind her at all. Hand in hand they crept down stairs. All was quiet in the house. Their papa was in his study, and their mamma was in the nursery, and the maids were busy about their work.
Both of these little boys knew that they were doing wrong. They had been told, often and often, not to meddle with things that did not belong to them. As Frank was so much older than George, he was the more to blame; but George was old enough to know better, or why did he put his little foot so gently on the stairs, and go out on tiptoe into the yard?
The two boys went up close to the box, and then looked round to make sure that there was no one to see them. Not a step was to be heard, and only puss lay there, with her eyes fixed upon the box. It was long and low, and the lid was held down by a hasp. Frank and George had both to stoop down, and then Frank took hold of the hasp and lifted up the lid. Oh! sad to tell! out popped a little grey rabbit. Puss darted upon it in a moment; she caught it in her mouth, and, not caring in the least for the cries of Frank and George, away she went over the wall, and the rabbit was seen no more.
Old John ran out of the stable, with his fork in his hand, and at sight of him both Frank and George were still. But both papa and mamma had heard their cries, and came out of the house; and the maids ran down stairs in a fright, to see what was the matter. There was no need for any one to speak a word. The empty box, with its open lid, and the red faces of Frank and George, with their look of shame, told what they had been about.
Their kind papa had bought the little rabbit for Frank and George; and John was going that very day to make a rabbit hutch, and fix it up in the yard, for he was very clever in making such things. Before night, if they had been wise enough to wait, they would have seen the little grey rabbit in its hutch, and might have given it green leaves and clover to nibble. But this was all over now; and it was owing to their fault that they had lost the young rabbit.
But when Frank and George grew to be a little older, their papa gave them a hutch and four young rabbits. They had learned not to meddle with things that did not belong to them, and so they had a reward for their better conduct.