“Ha!” said Jerry. “Now we shall see!”
Nearer and nearer came the silver line. Then Jerry made out the head of the swimmer. Suddenly all the anger left Jerry. He didn’t have room for anger; a great fear had crowded it out. The head was bigger than that of any Muskrat Jerry had ever seen. It was bigger than the head of any of Billy Mink’s relatives. It was the head of a stranger, a stranger so big that Jerry felt very, very small and hoped with all his might that the stranger would not see him.
Jerry held his breath as the stranger swam past and then climbed out on the dam. He looked very much like Jerry himself, only ever and ever so much bigger. And his tail! Jerry had never seen such a tail. It was very broad and flat. Suddenly the big stranger turned and looked straight at Jerry.
“Hello, Jerry Muskrat!” said he. “Don’t you know me?”
Jerry was too frightened to speak.
“I’m your big cousin from the North; I’m Paddy the Beaver, and if you leave my dam alone, I think we’ll be good friends,” continued the stranger.
“I — I — I hope so,” said Jerry in a very faint voice, trying to be polite, but with his teeth chattering with fear.
“Oh, tell me, you and you and you,
If it may hap you’ve ever heard
Of all that wond’rous is and great
The greatest is the spoken word?”
It’s true. It’sthe truest thing that ever was. If you don’t believe it, you just go ask Jerry Muskrat. He’ll tell you it’s true, and Jerry knows. You see, it’s this way: Words are more than just sounds. Oh, my, yes! They are little messengers, and once they have been sent out, you can’t call them back. No, Sir, you can’t call them back, and sometimes that is a very sad thing, because — well, you see these little messengers always carry something to some one else, and that something may be anger or hate or fear or an untruth, and it is these things which make most of the trouble in this world. Or that something may be love or sympathy or helpfulness or kindness, and it is these things which put an end to most of the troubles in this world.
Just take the ease of Jerry Muskrat. There he sat on the new dam, which had made the strange pond in the Green Forest, shaking with fear until his teeth chattered, as he watched a stranger very, very much bigger than he climb up on the dam. Jerry was afraid, because he had seen that the stranger could swim as well as he could, and as Jerry had no secret burrows there, he knew that he couldn’t get away from the stranger if he wanted to. Somehow, Jerry knew without being told that the stranger had built the dam, and you know Jerry had twice made a hole in the dam to let the water out of the strange pond into the Laughing Brook. Jerry knew right down in his heart that if he had built that dam, he would be very, very angry with any one who tried to spoil it, and that is just what he had tried to do. So he sat with chattering teeth, too frightened to even try to run.