Here they all tumbled against each other, and pretended to cry bitterly; then starting off again, they sang:
Poor little princesses cannot find their way! Naughty little noses, to lead them astray! Poor little princesses, sadly they roam, Naughty little noses, pray lead them home!
Now is not that a pretty game? Yes, and it is quite new, so you may try it yourselves if you like. Just shut your eyes, and bump against all the chairs and tables, singing this song, and you will find yourselves very much amused. At least, the twins and Downy enjoyed it extremely, until Fluff, the unlucky, tripped over one of her own clothes-lines, and fell against the stove (which, luckily, had no fire in it,) hitting her head harder than even a lost princess could possibly care to do. For a few minutes there was sorrow and confusion among the princesses; but the offer of a story from Mrs. Posset soon calmed their royal minds, and they gathered round the good nurse's table with eager faces.
"Well, and what shall the story be about, Missies?" she asked.
"Oh! about the three little girls!" said Puff. Fluff nodded her head approvingly, and Downy said "Free ittle dirls!" in a satisfied tone. So they listened, and I listened, and my dog listened. And you may listen, too, if you like, though it is an old story, and you may have heard it before.
"Once upon a time, then," said Mrs. Posset, threading her darning-needle, and taking up one of Nibble's stockings, which was in such a condition as might have made a darning-machine turn pale, "there were three little girls, and their names were Orange and Lemon and Hold-your-tongue. And they all lived together in a little red house with a green roof, which stood in the middle of a wood. Now every morning there was the work to be done, you see. So on Monday morning Orange would get up at the break of day, so to speak, and she swept the house, and she made the fire, and she cooked the breakfast—"
"What did they have for breakfast?" asked Fluff.
"Pork chops," said Mrs. Posset. "And then she called her sisters; and when they had eaten their breakfast, they all went out and played for the rest of the day.
"Well, and on Tuesday morning Lemon got up early. And she swept the house, and she made the fire, and she cooked the breakfast—"
"What did they have that morning?" interrupted Puff.
"Cod's head and shoulder!" replied Mrs. Posset. "And then she called her sisters; and when they had eaten their breakfast, they all went out and played for the rest of the day.
"Well, my dears, as I'm telling you, on Wednesday, the third little girl—dear! dear! what was her name now? I seem to forget—"
"Hold-your-tongue!" cried Fluff, eagerly.
"Well! well!" said Mrs. Posset, pretending to be very much vexed. "To think of your having no better manners than that, Miss Fluff! telling me to hold my tongue, indeed! not another story will you get from me to-day, I promise you!"
This was a favorite joke of Mrs. Posset's, I found, and the children were never tired of it, though they knew that the little story went no further than "Hold your tongue!" They were still laughing over it, when they heard a loud scream from below, followed by a heavy fall, and a crash as of broken china. For a moment they all looked at each other in silence, startled by the shock; then Mrs. Posset put Downy off her knee, and flew down stairs, followed by the three little mice, all eager to know what had happened. Uncle Jack had heard the noise in his study, and Susan had heard it in the kitchen; in fact, the whole household was roused, and all turned their steps towards the school-room, where Nibble and Brighteyes were. Uncle Jack was the first to open the door, and when he looked into the room, he saw—see! I will draw you a picture. This is what he saw. Nibble was lying on the floor, apparently half-stunned, while near him lay the fragments of a china teapot; and all around on the floor, were scattered gold coins, large and small, hundreds and hundreds of them. Every one stood astonished, very naturally, and no one was more astonished than Master Nibble himself. As soon as he recovered his composure a little, he sat up on Uncle Jack's knee, and told his story, very much in these words:
"It was all my geography lesson, Uncle!" said Nibble. "I played I was Christopher Columbus, so that I should like it better, and I learned it all, every word of it. But I finished before Mr. Colburn had written his books, so I—"
"Stop! stop! Nibble!" cried Uncle Jack. "Who is Mr. Colburn, pray? and what has he to do with your geography lesson?"
"Why, he is Brighteyes!" said Nibble. "To make her like her arithmetic lesson, don't you know?"
"Oh! indeed!" said Uncle Jack. "Go on, Christopher!"
"So," continued Nibble, "I thought I would go on a voyage of discovery, a real voyage. And I saw that little trap door in the ceiling, that you said must be an old sky-light covered over—"
"And that I forbade you to meddle with," said Uncle Jack, quietly.
"Well, yes, Uncle, I know you did. But if Columbus had minded what other people said, would he ever have found America?"
"Humph!" said Uncle Jack, trying to suppress a smile. "Well, sir?"
"Well, sir," responded Nibble, "so I thought I would sail for that port. I climbed up on some things" (I should say he did! there was a heap of tables and chairs, desks and books, sofa-pillows and coal-scuttles, under the open trap-door, which was enough to frighten one,) "and got into it. It was a kind of an attic place, Uncle, all beams and rafters and cobwebs. I crept in ever so far on my hands and knees, and in the farthest corner I found a heap of queer old clothes all covered with dust; coats and hats, and all sorts of things. I knew they must belong to the queer old man Tomty told us about, who used to live here, and I thought it would be great fun to bring them down and dress up in them. I lifted some of them, and heard something rattle underneath: then I looked, and found that old teapot, hidden away under a great beam. It was very heavy, and the cover was fastened on with sealing-wax, so I was going to bring it down to you; but my foot slipped, and—" "And you came down rather faster than you meant to?" said Uncle Jack.
"Dear to goodness, sir!" cried Mrs. Posset, who had been picking up the gold pieces, and had her apron full of them. "It's my belief that this is neither more nor less than old Jonas Junk's treasure, of which the neighbors talk so much."
"It certainly is, Mrs. Posset!" replied Uncle Jack. "And I think we must always call Nibble Christopher Columbus, for he certainly has made a great discovery!"
A STORY CHAPTER.
IT was quite late one evening when I slipped in at a window in the Mouse-trap, to pay a visit to Nibble and Brighteyes. Nibble's bed, a most intelligent piece of furniture, walked in from the other room of its own accord, as soon as I appeared, so I had not even the trouble of calling it. As for the two mice, they fairly squeaked with delight when they saw me. "Oh! Mr. Moonman!" they cried, "we thought you were never coming again! where have you been all this long, long time?"
"It is only a week since I last came, little mice!" I replied; "and indeed, I should have been here oftener, but two of my pet children have been ill, and I have been telling them stories every night, to make the time pass more quickly."
"Oh! tell us about them, and tell us their names, and tell us the stories you told them!" cried Brighteyes eagerly.
"And take us on another journey, oh! please!" added Nibble, jumping up and down, with excitement.
"How is a poor Moonman to do everything at once?" I inquired. "In the first place, there will be no traveling to-night, let me tell you. A very disagreeable Wind has the watch to-night, and I would not trust you in his hands. Yes, he is a detestable fellow, very different from our seven little friends of the other night. He actually tried to blow out my lantern, which is a piece of impudence I have seldom met with. You shall hear a story about him if you will, for only last night I was telling one to Marie and Emil."
"Yes! yes!" cried the mice; "we should like it above all things. But first tell us a little about Marie and Emil. Are they the two children who have been ill?"
"Yes," I replied; "they are French children, and they live in a sea-board town in the south of France,—that is, they live there about half the time: the other half they spend on the water, in their father's yacht. Their father is a rich man, who has a passion for the sea, and likes to spend most of his time on it: and he takes his little boy and girl with him on many of his yacht voyages, for they are as fond of the water as he is, and they have no mother."
"Oh!" sighed Nibble, "I wish Uncle Jack had a yacht, and a passion for the sea!"
"That would be admirable!" said I. "Two children on a yacht are all very well, but if there were five, the captain and all the crew would jump overboard and drown themselves, I fancy. Certainly, Marie and Emil are very happy on board the Victoria. Marie has a cabin of her own, the prettiest little room you can imagine, where she sits and reads, or swings in her hammock, when she is tired of staying on deck. The sailors are all devoted to them, and now that they are ill on shore, the big captain, Jacques Legros, goes every day up to the house, to ask if 'the little angels are better?'"
"What is the matter with them?" asked Brighteyes; "and shall we have the story now, if you please?"
"You shall have the story now!" I said, "and they have had the scarlet fever, but are doing very well. Hear that angry Wind outside! how he howls, and shakes the window-frame. He knows that I am going to tell you about his misdeeds. Howl away, my friend; you can do us no harm. So then I told the mice the following story. First, however, I showed them a picture of Marie, which I happened to have in my pocket. They thought she was a very pretty little girl. What do you think?"
THE STORY OF THE WIND.
The great Tree stood out in the green meadow, all alone. No other trees dared to come near him, he was so strong, and tall, and grand; but for all that, he was kind and gentle, and never would hurt anything. One morning the great Tree awoke from his long winter sleep, and found the snow all gone, and the sun shining bright and warm as if it were June instead of the first of April. On his branches were sitting a flock of little birds, and it was their chirping and twittering that had waked him. "Chippity-wippity pip pip, cheepy peepy weep wee-e-e!" they said; and that meant "Wake up, old Tree! Spring has sent us to call you. She is coming directly, and she wants you to get your leaves out as soon as possible, as she has forgotten her parasol, and wants some shade for her pretty head."
The great Tree nodded his head, and said, "Tell my lady Spring that I will be ready." And then he shook his branches, and called out, "Little leaves, little children, open your buds and come out! come out!" And one by one the little buds with which the branches were covered opened, and out popped the little leaves. At first they shivered, and wished themselves back in their warm little houses; but the old Tree spoke kindly to them, and then the sunbeams came and kissed them, so that they felt quite happy, and even began to dance about a little on the branches. And they said to each other, "How foolish we were, to think of shutting ourselves up again in those close houses. Here we shall be free and happy, and we will dance all day and all night."
Just then they heard a soft voice whispering, "Little leaves, lovely leaves, will you not dance with me?" And the little leaves said, "Who are you, that whispers so softly?" And the voice answered, "I am the Wind, and I have come to be your playfellow. I can sing, too, and sweetly, and we shall all be happy together." So the Wind sang them a low, sweet song; and then he danced with them, and kissed them gently, and played with them; and they all said, "Oh, dear, gentle Wind, how charming you are! will you not play with us every day, and make us happy?"
But after the Wind had flown away, the old Tree called to them and said, "My children, beware of the Wind, for he is not to be trusted. Soft and gentle he is to-day, but to-morrow he may be fierce and terrible. Play with him and dance with him, but be always on your guard." And the little leaves nodded their little heads, and answered, "Yes, good father, we will be careful."
Well, for many days the Wind came to play with the leaves, and every day they thought him more delightful. Such wonderful stories as he told them! of all the strange countries he had seen in his wanderings; the beautiful tropical islands, where he slept all day in the palm-tree tops, just waking in the evening to fan the cheeks of the dark-eyed southern ladies for an hour, and then sinking to sleep again under the shining stars; and the terrible northern seas, with their fleets of icebergs, whose pilot he loved to be, guiding them hither and thither, tossing the waves about, and sporting with the seals and walruses on the flat ice-cakes. "And some day, little leaves," he said, "you shall go with me to see these wonders; not to the arctic seas, for you are too tender and delicate to bear the cold; but away to the south, to the coral islands and the orange-groves. There you will see all the beauty of the world, and will laugh at the thought of having been content in this dull meadow, with its stupid daisies and buttercups, and its paltry little brook. Also you will find many cousins there, leaves such as you never dreamed of, wonderful in size and shape and color. Say, then, little playmates, will you come with me, and see all these beautiful things, and many more?"
But the leaves shook their little heads, and said, "No, dear Wind! we love you, and it would be delightful to go with you, but we cannot leave our father Tree, who is so kind to us, and loves us so dearly."
At first the Wind seemed angry, but soon he smiled and said, "Never mind! some day you will come,—some day!" and away he flew. But oh! the next time he came, what a different Wind he was! no longer gentle, playful, caressing, but fierce, and rough, and stormy. He rushed at the great Tree, howling furiously. He seized the little leaves, and whirled and dashed them about, trying to tear them from the branches; and flung himself against the Tree, as if he would even loose his rooted hold on the ground. But the leaves clung closer and closer, trembling and shivering; and the great Tree braced himself, and met the fierce blast bravely, never losing an inch of his foothold, and giving back blow for blow with his long powerful arms. At last the Wind was tired and flew away, howling and moaning with anger and disappointment. The little leaves were sadly frightened, but their father Tree comforted them, and said, "Courage, my children! I have fought many a battle with the Wind, and he has never beaten me yet. Only be brave and faithful, and he cannot overcome you."
At first the leaves thought they never wanted to see or hear the Wind again; but a few days after, to their great surprise, he came again, soft and gentle, as he had used to be, and he kissed them and sang to them, and begged them to forgive his wicked temper, and play with him once more. He was so charming that they soon forgave him, and soon forgot all about the storm. And they danced and frolicked about gayly, and listened again to the marvelous tales of far-off countries, of palm-groves and coral islands.
So the time went on and on. The Lady Spring had gathered her green robes about her and passed on, and her children, the wildwood blossoms, had followed her; and now Lady Summer, who had come in her stead, with her arms full of peaches and pears, and her gown covered with lovely garden flowers, was almost ready to depart, and stayed lingering, calling and beckoning to her brother Autumn, who was following very slowly. The leaves on the great Tree had been very happy during Lady Summer's reign. Many a time, it is true, the Wind had been angry with them, because they refused to go away with him, and again and again he had raged and stormed, and tried to tear them away from their happy home. But he was always very sorry after these fits of passion, and they always forgave him readily, for they loved him dearly.
One night, one clear, lovely night, when all things were sleeping in the moonlight, the Wind came and whispered to the leaves. So softly he came, and so softly he spoke, that they did not wake at first, and he had to kiss them all before he could rouse them from their sleep. "Hush, darlings!" he said. "You must not wake the old Tree, for I have a secret to tell you which he must not hear. Something very wonderful is going to happen, and I have come to tell you about it." "What is it, dear Wind? oh, what is it?" whispered the little leaves. And they clustered together and listened. "Well, my darlings," said the Wind, "a very great personage is going to pass through this part of the country to-morrow night. No less a personage than the celebrated Frost, the court painter of the great King Winter. He is one of the most famous painters in the world, but he is also a great friend of mine; and though he is in a hurry to join his royal master, who has now left his Arctic kingdom, and is traveling southward, he has kindly consented to do a great favor for you, my darlings, because I have told him how dearly I love you."
"What is it, dear Wind? oh, what is it?" asked the little leaves again.
"Well," said the Wind, "I know you must be very tired of these dull green dresses. They were well enough in the spring, when they were new and fresh, but now you have been wearing them all summer, and they are dirty and soiled. So I have persuaded my friend Frost to stop here on his way through the meadow, and to paint you all over, with fresh, new, beautiful colors. Only think of it, darlings! think how lovely you will look, all shining in crimson and gold! Now, am I not a good friend? and will you not all give me kisses for this?"
"Oh yes! yes indeed, you good Wind!" cried the leaves. "We will give you as many kisses as you want, and we will thank you till you are tired of being thanked. Oh! how delightful it will be!" and they danced about and about, and they kissed the Wind, and he kissed them.
"And now, good-night!" he said. "Remember, not a word of this to the old Tree, for it would be a pity to rob him of the pleasure of such a charming surprise."
He flew away, but the leaves were too happy to go to sleep again. They whispered and chattered all night about their new dresses. This one would have yellow, and that one would have pink, and that one scarlet, while some of the older ones preferred a rich golden russet. And when morning came, they were still whispering and chattering, and could think of nothing else all day.
At last the wished-for night came; and a beautiful night it was, very cool, but perfectly still, and brilliant with moonlight and starlight. The little leaves waited and waited, till they were, oh! so sleepy! but no one came. At length, when their eyes were closing in spite of themselves, they felt a sudden cold strike them, a cold so intense that it almost took away their breath. They looked up, and saw advancing over the meadow towards them, a strange figure which they knew in a moment must be that of the great Frost. He was very tall and thin, and very pale; and his long robe, and his hair, and his long curling moustaches, looked exactly like silver. Indeed, there was a silvery glitter all about and around him, and as he passed lightly over the grass, it too seemed to them to silver under his feet. He came straight on, came to the tree. Then, without speaking a word, he drew out a long silver brush which had been hidden beneath his robe, and a palette covered with brilliant colors, and began to paint the leaves. But oh! what a deadly chill struck through them when the silver brush touched them. Cold, cold, cold! and a kind of numbness, and a heavy drowsiness, began to creep over them. But when they saw the gorgeous beauty of their new dresses, they were very proud, and tried to hold themselves up, and not to give way to this strange weakness and faintness. And at last, oh! at last, the final touch was given, and with one cold farewell glance from his bright, sharp eyes, the court painter of the great King Winter passed on over the meadow.
Soon morning broke, and the leaves, waking from their brief and uneasy slumber, looked around to see the splendor in which they were arrayed. How the sun stared at them, when he rose. He sent down a special sunbeam to give them his compliments and to say that he had never seen them look so charming. Oh! very proud were the little leaves, and very happy, they thought; but somehow they did not feel at all well. The day was bright and warm, and yet they were so cold, so cold! and the numbness and weakness still seemed creeping over them, and would not now be shaken off. And now the great Tree awoke, (for he was apt to sleep late, being very old.) But instead of being pleased, as his children thought he would be, when he saw their fine appearance, he sighed and wept.
"Ah, my children!" he said; "my poor unhappy children! I see what has happened. You have listened to the Wind, and the Frost has been with you; and now you will leave me, and I shall be alone again, as I have been so many, many years."
"Oh, no! no! Father Tree," cried the leaves, "we will stay with you always."
But the old Tree shook his head, and said, "No, my children! it is too late. You cannot choose now whether you will go or stay, and soon, soon I shall be left alone."
The little leaves did not understand this, and they tried to forget the sad words, and to be happy with their fine new dresses. But still they were so cold, so cold! and still the drowsy numbness kept creeping, creeping over them, and each day they became weaker and weaker. And one day, oh! one fearful day, the Wind came. Fiercely and furiously he flew across the meadow, savagely he rushed at the great Tree. "Now," he howled, "now, little leaves, will you come with me? ha! ha! now will you come?" he clutched the leaves, and they shivered and moaned, and clung to the branches. But alas! their strength was gone, they could no longer resist the blast: and in a moment they were whirled away and away, borne hither and thither on the wings of the mighty Wind, and at last dashed down on the earth, to shiver and die in the cold.
And once more the great Tree stood alone in the meadow.
ONE bright morning, at about eleven o'clock, I tipped my glass in the direction of the Mouse-trap. It had been tipped in a very different direction, for I had been watching a buffalo-hunt on the prairies. That is an exciting sport, and one that I should like to join in, if I were a few thousand years younger. Here at the Mouse-trap, however, there was an excitement of quite another sort. All the five mice were hurrying about, evidently very busy. The carriage stood at the door, and Uncle Jack was packing all sorts of things into it. Nibble brought one big basket, and Puff brought another, and both were stowed away under the seat. Brighteyes came down the steps very carefully carrying something in a pitcher, with a napkin tied over the top, and that too was stowed away. As for Fluff and Downy, they were running round and round the house as fast as they could, shouting: "Picnic! picnic! going to a picnic! oh! Jollykaloo! Jollykaloo!"
"Aha!" I said to my dog, "the mice are going to have a picnic. Let us watch now, and see where they go: and then we shall have all the fun of it, and none of the trouble." So we watched, and saw them all get into the carriage except Nibble, who stood on the steps with his hands in his pockets, evidently waiting for something. The something soon proved to be Jose, the brown donkey, whom Thomas now led up the path, looking very gay with his Mexican saddle and scarlet tassels. Nibble mounted him nimbly, and took the reins and the whip. "Thank you, Tomty!" he said. "And good-bye! I wish you were going to the picnic, Tomty!" "Thank you kindly, sir!" replied Tomty. "The hens and me will be having a picnic in the barn-yard, Master Nibble, I'm thinking."
"Now, Uncle Jack, I am ready!" cried the young horseman. "I will lead the way, and you can follow!"
"Thank you!" said Uncle Jack, who was holding in the spirited horses with some difficulty, "you are extremely kind, I am sure!"
"Get up, Jose!" cried Nibble, "Hi! go on, sir!" But Jose was not inclined to go on. He shook his head, and pointed his long ears backward and forward, but not a step would he stir, for entreaties, threats, or blows. Then Tomty slyly took a sharp-pointed stake, and poked Master Jose from behind. Ah, that was another matter! up went his heels in the air, and off he went at full gallop, while all the occupants of the carriage shouted with laughter, as they saw donkey and rider dash along the avenue, and finally vanish in a cloud of dust.
"Come, Pollux! come, Castor!" said Uncle Jack, "it would never do for the donkey to get to the Glen before us."
Castor and Pollux thought so too, for they tossed their heads, and quickened their pace to a fast trot, though they were far too well behaved to think of breaking into a gallop.
"Oh! isn't it nice to go so fastly?" exclaimed Fluffy, giving Downy a hug. "Just like queens in their chariots. See those two little tiny children, Downy! They are smaller as you, and perhaps they think we are queens, only we haven't any crowns; but we might have left our crowns at home for fear of robbers."
"Yef, wobbers!" said Downy, with a knowing nod.
"No I don't think we will be queens," said Brighteyes. "Let us be wild beasts in a caravan, going to the menagerie, and then we can sing the menagerie song." "Oh! yes! yes!" cried all the others. And then they sang the following song, each singing a verse in turn, and then imitating the voice of the creature she represented while the other verses were sung. It was a lively game, you may believe.
The Tiger is a terrible beast! He lives in jungles of the East, On bad little boys he loves to feast: Oh! fiddledy, diddledy, dido!
The Lion he doth rage and roar; And when he hits you with his paw, You never are troubled with nothing no more, Oh! fiddledy, diddledy, dido!
The Buffalo doth proudly prance, Whenever the hunters will give him a chance, And over the prairies he leads them a dance, Oh! fiddledy, diddledy, dido!
The Crocodile doth open his jaws, Like great big ugly tusky doors, And gobbles you up without a pause, Oh! fiddledy, diddledy, dido!
By the time the last verse was finished the four mice were howling and roaring in a manner frightful to hear, and Uncle Jack's patience finally gave way. "Children," he said, turning round, "I cannot possibly endure this. Be quiet at once, or I will drive you to the Lunatic Asylum and leave you there! See, the people are all coming out of their houses to stare at you!" So indeed they were, and one little girl, who stood with her mother at a cottage gate, staring with might and main, cried: "Them's all mad, be'nt them, mother?" "No, little girl!" said Puff, with great dignity. "We are wild beasts going to a menagerie!" And the carriage whirled away leaving the child not much the wiser.
Now they turned into a lovely wood road, when the trees bent down over the carriage, and whispered in the mice's ears. But the mice did not understand, as usual; they only rubbed their ears and said the leaves tickled them. Uncle Jack stopped the horses, and told the mice to tumble out, which they did speedily.
One took a basket, and another a bottle, and all went trotting down the mossy path that led to the lovely glen, while Uncle Jack stayed to unharness the horses, and then followed with the "biggy-wiggy basket," as Downy called it. Indeed, it was a pretty sight to see those little creatures, playing about like so many fairies in that lovely green place. You should have seen the little flower-spirits start up to look at them, as they frisked about among the trees. Little Primrose threw kisses to them, and Violet offered them a dew-drop in her deepest purple cup; but the merry mice thought nothing of the flower spirits and neither saw nor heard them.
"Oh! the brook! the lovely brook!" cried Brighteyes. "We must take off our shoes and stockings and wade in it. Mayn't we, Uncle Jack?" Uncle Jack nodded, and off went four pairs of shoes, and four pairs of scarlet stockings. Oh? the little white feet! how pretty they looked, shining through the clear water, that looked so brown in the still pools, and sparkled so white over the rocks and the tiny rapids.
That was fine sport, certainly. Fluff fell in, of course, but nobody seemed to mind it much, and Fluff herself least of all, for it was a very warm day, and Mrs. Posset was not there to lament the "ruination" of her white frock.
Suddenly Brighteyes exclaimed: "But where is Nibble?" Sure enough, where was that famous horseman? nobody had seen him since he had galloped away up the avenue. "Oh, dear!" sighed Fluff, "perhaps he played wild beast, and somebody took him and put him in the Lunatic Asylum! Do you think anybody did, Uncle Jack?"
"I don't think he would be likely to play wild beast all alone. My fear is that Jose may have been playing, and——but see!" he added, looking back towards the path by which they had entered the glen, "here comes the young man himself, so now we shall know all about it."
Nibble came down the path slowly, looking very serious. His clothes were covered with dust, his hat was battered out of all shape, and he carried his whip under his arm, instead of snapping it gayly as he had done when he started. Jose was not to be seen.
"Well, Nibble, my boy, what has happened?" asked Uncle Jack, cheerily. "Has Jose been rolling with you again?" "Yes, Uncle!" answered Nibble, as he drew near, and threw himself on the mossy bank where his uncle was seated, "he is the worst donkey I ever saw! he wanted some thistles in the hedge, and I wouldn't let him eat them, of course. So then he kicked and reared, but he couldn't get me off that way, and I whipped him a good bit. But then he lay down and rolled, and then I couldn't stay on you see!" "I see!" said Uncle Jack. "You were certainly justified in getting off. And then Jose went home, I suppose?" "Well, yes, I suppose he did," said Nibble, reluctantly, "and I have walked a long way, Uncle, and I want my dinner." "Bless me!" cried Uncle Jack, "dinner already? Well, come out of the water, you little Nixies, and let us see about our grand feast!"
Patter, patter, came all the little white feet, over the mossy stones, and over the green turf, and I could not tell whether they looked prettier in the water or out of it. There was a rush for the baskets, and their contents were tumbled out pell-mell on the grass. Forks, spoons, tarts, sandwiches, lemons, followed each other in rapid succession.
"Now this will never do!" said Uncle Jack. "Too many cooks spoil the broth, as we know, and we must not spoil our feast. Nibble, do you go and gather brush and make a fire. Hap and Hazard shall pick some flowers to make wreaths and posies, and Brighteyes shall help me to set the table." "And what fell I do?" asked little Downy, piteously; "I muf do fomefing!" "So you shall, Downy," said Uncle Jack; "you shall chase all the butterflies away, so that they will not eat up the tarts."
Now every one was happy and busy. The twinnies wandered off into the meadow near by, filling their aprons with posies, and chattering merrily, with little snatches of song mingling with their pretty talk. It was pleasant to hear their sweet voices singing:
Daisy white and Daisy bright, And Daisy is my heart's delight! I'll twine you now in my true-love's hair, And tell me who is the fairest fair!
Violet blue and Violet true, And Violet filled with diamond dew! I'll give you now to my true love here, And tell me who is the dearest dear!
Meanwhile great things were accomplished in the glen. A snowy cloth was spread on the emerald turf, and on it were arrayed all the good things, in dishes and plates, which had been lately hanging on the great sycamore-tree under which the feast was spread.
"Nothing like leaves for picnic-plates!" said Uncle Jack. "Now then, Brighteyes, hand out that chicken pie! So! now for the strawberries and the sponge cake! ha! this certainly does make one hungry." Indeed it did, as I felt the pangs of hunger merely from seeing all the good things in my mirror. "Go, good dog," I said to my faithful companion, "and bring me some ice-cream from Mt. Vanilla. And dip the ladle into that syllabub cloud that is drifting by, for it will make a pleasant addition."
Bmfkgth departed on his errand, and I turned again to watch the picnic. The kettle was boiling by this time over Nibble's brush fire, and he was calling for the coffee-pot, when suddenly a shrill scream was heard from the meadow, and Downy's voice cried, "Fomebody come! oh! oh! I'm killed!" Brighteyes ran to the rescue, and found the little man gazing in terror at a very innocent-looking white cow, who was quietly grazing in the meadow. He ran to his sister, and clung to her, crying, "Dat cow looked at me! I'm killed!" Brighteyes took his hand and ran back laughing. "Here is a boy who has been killed by a cow's looking at him," she said, "and he wants a sandwich."
All was ready now. The twins were called, and came back laden with flowers; Nibble came with his coffee-pot, and the grand feast began in earnest. Dear! dear! how good everything looked! chicken pie and smoked tongue and sandwiches, and chocolate custard in a pitcher, and everything else that you can think of. I never have chicken pie up here, because there are no chickens, but I think it must be very nice, and it was very evident that the mice thought so. Uncle Jack carved and helped, and everybody ate and drank and chattered merrily. My brother Sun smiled at them, and sent millions of sunbeams, twinkling and sparkling over the grass and dancing on the ripples of the brook; and when they were too warm, hosts of merry Winds came flying, and fanned them and kissed them. Among them were the seven little fellows who had blown Nibble and Brighteyes to China, and they whispered, "Dear little Heavy-Ones; will you take another flying-trip with us?" but the children did not hear nor heed them, so nothing further was said.
When the feast was over, there was a grand washing of spoons and forks, and a putting away of what was good and throwing away of what was bad. Then came blind-man's-buff, and hide-and-seek, and all manner of games; and then more paddling and tumbling in the brook, splashing and dashing, "for all the world like the forty little ducklings!" Uncle Jack said. "Oh! tell us about the little ducklings!" cried all the mice. And they climbed up the bank and sat down in a circle round their uncle, holding up their wet feet to dry in the sun. "About the ducklings, eh?" said Uncle Jack, "well, let me see if I can remember."
The forty little ducklings who lived up at the farm, They said unto each other, "oh! the day is very warm!" They said unto each other, "oh! the river's very cool! The duck who did not seek it now would surely be a fool!"
The forty little ducklings they started down the road, And waddle, waddle, waddle, was the gait at which they goed, The same it is not grammar, you may change it if you choose! But one cannot stop for trifles when inspired by the Muse.
They waddled and they waddled, and they waddled on and on, Till one remarked, "oh! deary me, where is the river gone? We asked the Ancient Gander, and he said 'twas very near, He must have been deceiving us, or else himself, I fear."
They waddled and they waddled, till no further they could go, Then down upon a mossy bank they sat them in a row. They took their little handkerchiefs and wept a little weep, And then they put away their heads, and then they went to sleep.
There came along a farmer, with a basket on his arm, And all those little ducklings he took back to the farm, He put them in their little beds and wished them sweet repose, And fastened mustard plasters on their little webby toes.
Next day those little ducklings were very, very ill, Their mother sent for Dr. Quack, who gave them each a pill, But soon as they recovered, the first thing that they did Was to peck the Ancient Gander, till he ran away and hid.
"There!" said Uncle Jack, "weren't they funny ducklings?" "Yes!" said Puff; "is it true, Uncle?" "Part of it is," replied Uncle Jack. "It is true about the ducklings running away, and about the farmer's finding them. I know the farmer. His name is Mr. Thomas Burnham, and a very good farmer he is. But I did not see him put the mustard plasters on their feet, so I cannot tell about that." "Then tell us something else, please!" cried Brighteyes. "No! no!" said Uncle Jack; "it is six o'clock, you bad children! Once upon a time there were five little mice, and it was time for them to go home. That is the only story I can tell you now."
Well, to be sure, it did seem a shame to go home, just when everything was so lovely. But Downy was beginning to rub his eyes as if my friend the Sand-man had been blowing into them, and the shadows were lengthening, and Brother Sun was beginning to call his beams home. So the mice bade farewell to the lovely glen, and the merry brook, and trotted up the mossy path as cheerfully, if not as quickly as they had trotted down it. Harum-scarum and flyaway my mice certainly are, but they are almost always cheerful and obedient, and that is a great thing. Primrose and Violet and the rest looked after them, and said, "God bless their merry hearts!" then they curled down under their leaves and went to sleep, for it was high time. The brook sang its sweetest good-bye song, as it hurried away toward the sea, to tell the gossipping waves what a delightful afternoon it had passed; and as if in answer to the song, I heard Puff and Fluff singing merrily, as the carriage rolled away:
"Rosebud fine and Rosebud mine, And Rosebud red as the ruby wine, I'll lay you now at my true-love's feet, And tell me who is the sweetest sweet!"
THE CARRIAGE CLOUD.
"GOOD evening to you all!" I said, as I stepped in at the nursery window. "This is a night for a journey, if you please. All the rough and unruly Winds are out of the way, for there is to be a match to-night between the North-east wind and a Southern tornado, to see which can blow the harder, and all their relations have gone to look on. But our seven little friends have no liking for such rough bear-play, and they are waiting outside, with a carriage-cloud which will hold you all. So jump up, and call Nibble and Brighteyes. But first, I must know why my Fluff has been crying. You must have cried yourself to sleep, my mouse, and that will never do. Tell your old Moonman what has happened, for I have been watching a battle in Zululand all day, and have seen neither mice nor mouse-trap."
"We have had a very melancholy day, Mr. Moonman!" replied Fluff, "Vashti Ann has been hanged, and it is a terrible thing to hang your own child, even if Nibble does it for you." "Vashti Ann hanged!" I exclaimed. "Dear! dear! how very distressing! what had she done, pray, and how did it all happen?" "We don't think she meant to do it," said Puff gravely; "but Nibble said she ought to be hanged all the same. You see, we had just dressed the baby"—"and she was Vashti Ann's own child!" Fluff broke in impressively.
"Please do not interrupt me, Fluffy!" said Puffy with dignity. "And we set her down in front of her mother, and told her to say her lesson like a good baby, only she can't really say it, you know, but we play she does. So then Fluffy went for a walk with the other dolls, but I had to darn a hole in my stocking. Mrs. Posset is teaching me to darn, and it is my duty, but I don't like my duty. So I was sitting by the window, and nobody was doing anything at all, when suddenly Vashti Ann fell right down on the baby's head and"—"and killed her!" cried Fluff, bursting into tears. "Killed her all dead into little pieces!" "How very, very shocking!" I said. "And was the wretched mother hurt herself?" "No!" answered Puff. "Her head was china, Mr. Moonman, and the baby's was wax, you see." "I see!" said I. "The brass pot and the earthen one!" "If you had ever seen Vashti Ann, Mr. Moonman," said Fluff through her tears, "you would not call her such names as a brass pot. Her hair was gossy as the raven's wing, like the lady in the ballad that Uncle Jack read to us last night; and I never wanted to call her Vashti Ann, but I wanted to call her Isidora Vienna, but Uncle Jack said her name was Vashti Ann when he buyed her, so I couldn't help it." And Fluff dried her eyes with the end of the pillow-case, and looked very mournful. "Well! well!" I said. "This is certainly very painful. So then you hanged Vashti Ann?" "No, Nibble hanged her," said Fluff, "with a clothesline, and it was a terribul scene, Uncle Jack said it was. And then we buried them both together under a rose bush. We are going to have a monument over them, but Nibble wants to put 'the Murdered and the Murderess' on it, and I won't have it." "I certainly would not!" said I. "But now you must call Nibble, and Brighteyes too, for the little Winds are growing impatient, and we must be off. Dry your eyes, little one, and think what a fine ride you are going to have!"
Nibble and Brighteyes were summoned; and in a few minutes all the five mice were sitting comfortably in the very softest, fattest, whitest cloud that the whole sky could produce. How it curled up round their shoulders, and wrapped itself about them! and how they did enjoy the luxurious softness! then the seven Winds puffed at it, and away it went like a ball of thistledown through the air! "Where shall we go, my pets?" I asked, as I rode along, beside them. "You have the wide world to choose from, und shall go just where you please." "I want to go to the North Pole, Mr. Moonman!" cried Nibble. "You promised us to take us there, you remember, the last time you came. I want to see the icebergs, and the white bears, and all the wonderful things there are there!" "To the North Pole it is, then!" I replied. "It is just the night for it, as all the savage Winds are away."
So we flew northward, far and far away, over cities and hamlets, over vast plains and shaggy forests. By the margin of a pond that we passed a tall night-heron was standing on one leg. He looked up at us, and was so much astonished that he toppled over and fell into the water with a loud splash. How all the mice laughed, and the merry Winds with them! all, that is, except my little Fluff, who looked sad, and was still thinking of Vashti Ann. "Fluffy," I said, "I must see you smile again. Shall I sing you a song that I heard to-day?" "Yes, if you please, Mr. Moonman!" said Fluff meekly. "It is a funny little song," I said. "I heard an Irish mother singing it to her baby. She was sitting by the door of her cottage with the baby in her lap, and she was paring potatoes, and all the parings fell into the baby's face, but he did not seem to mind it at all, so I suppose it was all right."
Eight little gurrls wid their aprons on, Wint out to get some wather, But niver a dhrop could be found at ahl, By any mother's daughter.
"Now well-a-day!" said the eight little gurrls, "If we git no wather we shall die!" "Oh! the very best way," said the eight little gurrls; "Will be for us ahl to cry!"
So they cried and cried, the eight little gurrls, And they cried and they cried all day, And when evening came, there was wather enough For to fill up the salt, salt say!
Fluff laughed a little; and presently she said shyly, "I can sing a song too, Mr. Moonman, if you would like to hear it. It is a song about some dogs, and perhaps if you would learn it, you could sing it to your dog when you get home." "Let us have the song, by all means," I said. "My dog is very fond of music, and has himself a powerful voice."
So Fluffy sang her little song; and in case any of you children should like to sing it for yourselves, I will write down the music as well as the words.
1. Jippy and Jimmy were two little dogs, They went to sail on some floating logs, The logs roll'd over: the dogs roll'd in, And they got very wet, for their clothes were thin.
2. Jippy and Jimmy crept out again, They said, "the river is full of rain!" They said, "the water is far from dry," Ki-hi! ki-hi! ki-hi-yi! ki-hi!
3. Jippy and Jimmy went shivering home, They said, "on the river no more we'll roam! And we won't go to sail until we learn how," Bow-wow! bow-wow! bow-wow-wow! bow-wow!
"Bravo! Fluff," I said. "That is a good song, and they were sensible little dogs. It is well to be sure about understanding a thing before one attempts it, as Master Nibble would find out, if he were once mounted on this frisky moonbeam, at which he is casting such longing eyes." "It does look so delightful!" sighed Nibble. "But after all, the cloud is delightful too, and I suppose I should be cold if I were not wrapped up in it. How far north are we now, Mr. Moonman?" "Somewhere near the coast of Labrador," I replied. "Little Winds, lower the cloud a bit, that the mice may see the fishing fleet. The fishermen are all asleep, but the boats are a pretty sight, when they can be seen through the fog."
Lightly and softly the cloud floated downward, and as they descended, the merry Winds blew the wreaths of fog away, so that we could see the bare brown coast, and the hundreds of fishing-smacks lying at anchor. Lights gleamed at bow and stern. They danced about, as the little vessels rocked gently on the waves, which seemed to be half asleep, singing soft lullabies to each other.
"Ripple blue and ripple green, Foaming crest and silver sheen, Sleep beneath the moon! Till the daylight comes again, Waking us to restless pain All too soon."
"Yes," I said, "this is a holiday-time for the waves, and still more for the fish. All day long the poor creatures have a hard time of it, for hundreds and hundreds of skilful and eager fishermen are on the look-out for them. But at night their only enemies are those who live in the water, and I have heard that the whale and the swordfish go to bed at ten o'clock regularly, and never stir from their trundle-beds till six o'clock in the morning. I do not state that as a fact, however, because I am not positively sure about it." "Dear me!" said Brighteyes. "Just fancy a whale in a trundle-bed! how very queer he would look!" "Does he spout when he's asleep?" inquired Fluff anxiously. "Because the bedclothes would get wet, you know, and he would take cold!"
Here, I am sorry to say, the other mice laughed, and Fluffy does not like to be laughed at, so she was silent. Then said one of the seven Winds, "I never saw any of them in bed, but I have seen their races, and very funny they are. They have hurdle-races every Tuesday afternoon, jumping over the fragments of wrecks which are strewn all over the bottom of the sea. They lead a merry life, those whales; what with hurdle-races and fish hunts and spouting matches. If one could not live in the air, the next best thing would be to live in the water, I think. Hi! yonder is a fleet of icebergs. Look, little Heavyones! that is a sight worth seeing."
Surely, it was very beautiful, though terrible. My silver beams lighted up the huge masses of ice, till they looked like mountains of crystal, moving slowly over the face of the water. The children gazed at them, half frightened, half-admiring, and wrapped themselves more closely in the warm, fleecy cloud. The icebergs formed a huge circle, and midway in it the cloud floated, rocking like an airy vessel as the Winds breathed softly on it. We were all silent for a time: then Brighteyes asked in a half-whisper. "Is this the North Pole, Mr. Moonman?" "Why, no, Brighteyes!" said Puff. "It can't be the Pole, for there isn't any pole for it to be!" "Yes," I said, "that is one way of putting it. We have not reached the North Pole, my mice, and indeed I think we shall hardly go so far to-night, for I see that these icebergs are waiting for the North Wind to blow them home, and that is a sign that he will soon be here. He is a disagreeable fellow, and might be rude to you, so we will fly over to Greenland instead, and see some little friends of mine there. Will that suit you just as well?" "Oh! yes," cried the five voices. "It will be better, for we want to see what the people are like in these strange places." So we floated low till we came to a certain small Esquimaux village on the west of Greenland. "What are all those queer humps of snow on the ground?" asked Fluff. "Oh!" cried Nibble, clapping his hands. "I know! they are houses, for I have seen pictures of them. See! there is smoke coming out of the top of one. And now somebody is coming out of the doorway. Oh! it is a bear, Mr. Moonman! do they have tame bears? And he is brown, and I thought they were all white." "Gently, Nibble!" I said, "your eyes are very sharp usually, but it is shocking that you should not know a boy from a bear. That is Nayato, one of the young friends of whom I spoke just now. There comes his brother Kotchink, and the small figure creeping out of the next house is Polpo, the friend and playmate of the two other boys. Now they will have fine sport, for this is their play-time, and they are as fond of play as any of you." The five mice leaned over the edge of the cloud as far as they dared, and watched the Esquimaux boys with breathless interest. They were queer little fellows, clad in furs from head to foot, and were fat and oily-looking, as indeed anyone might be who ate blubber three times a day: but otherwise they were apparently much like boys all over the world. They chased each other, and played hide-and-seek behind blocks of ice and snow, and amused themselves in all kinds of ways. Their only playthings were some bones of the seal and walrus, nicely polished, but they seemed to have just as much fun with them as if they had been the finest marbles or the most superlative tops that the world could produce. "How jolly they look!" said Nibble. "I wish I could jump down and play with them! and oh! don't they talk strangely, Brighteyes? 'Wogglety wagglety, chacka-chacka punksky'—what are they saying, Mr. Moonman?" "Nayato is telling Polpo of the narrow escape his father had yesterday," I replied. "It seems that he was out on the flat ice looking out for seals. He had just harpooned a fine fellow, and was just on the point of putting him on his sledge, when he heard a loud snuffling noise behind him; and turning round, saw to his horror a huge white bear, squatting on the ice within a few yards of him, and apparently trying to decide whether the seal or the seal-hunter would make the more savory meal. Wallop, however, (that is the man's name,) had no doubt about the matter. He flung the seal towards his Polar Majesty, and took to his heels, fortunately reaching his reindeer-sledge in time to escape being made the second course of Bruin's dinner. 'Chacka-chacka punksky' means 'I will kill that bear when I am a man.'"
"Oh! how exciting that must have been!" cried Nibble. "I think I should like to be an Esquimaux, Mr. Moonman! Couldn't you leave me here for a week or two?" "To live in a snow hut, and eat blubber and drink train-oil?" I asked in return. "No, my mouse, I could not, or at least I would not. And that reminds me that we must be flying home again, for morning will soon be here. Blow, little Winds, blow the cloud back as fast as you can."
How the seven little fellows puffed out their cheeks, and flapped their wings! and how the cloud flew through the air! The mice looked back regretfully, but the Esquimaux boys were already out of sight. Southward and still southward we flew, the Winds striving with might and main to keep up with my swift beam. Over land and sea, mountain and valley, forest and meadow, till at last the great linden trees around the Mouse-trap were shaking their heads at us, and the tall chimneys pointed at us, and said, "look at those children! they have been out all night, which is shocking. That vagrant Moonman is teaching them the worst possible habits!"
A BIRTHDAY PARTY.
"UNCLE JACK!" said Fluff, one morning, as she came and stood by her uncle's side in the porch, while he was reading his newspaper.
"Well, Blossom!" said Uncle Jack, looking up, "what is it? any more murders in the nursery? we shall have to hang all those dolls before long, I am firmly convinced of it."
"No! no! Uncle Jack," exclaimed Fluff, looking much distressed. "It is nothing about the dolls; and you know that was a waxidental murder, Uncle, and I don't see why you laugh about it." "There! there! little woman," said the good uncle, taking her on his knee and kissing her; "she shall not be teased about her children. But now let me hear quickly what you want to say, Blossom, for I must finish reading my newspaper."
"Well, Uncle," said Fluff, in a confidential tone, "this is Peepsy's birthday, you know, and I want to make some pottery for him. I have made a little, but there is something queer about it, and I want you to help me."
"Stop!" said Uncle Jack, gravely. "Let us understand this thing thoroughly. Peepsy, you say? Peepsy? I don't seem to recall the name. Is she a doll?"
"Oh! no! Uncle Jacket!" cried Fluff. "How could she be a doll when she is a bird? and besides, she isn't she at all; she is he."
"Oh!" said Uncle Jack; "a bird! ah yes! that alters the case. And you want to make some pottery for him, eh? why, what's the matter? have you broken his water-dish, or his bath-tub?"
Fluffy sighed and looked despondent. Then she said very gently, "Perhaps you are not quite well this morning, Uncle Jack, for I cannot make you possibly understand anything. When I say pottery, I mean pottery with rhymes in it, like the Riginal Poems. Don't you know 'The Lobster's black, when boiled he's red?' that's what I mean."
"To be sure!" said Uncle Jack. "I am certainly very stupid this morning, but now I understand. We are to make some rhymes, (we call it poetry, Fluffy dear, not pottery,) about Peepsy, a bird, whose birthday is to be celebrated to-day. And it is to be like the Original Poems for Infant Minds; and you have made part of it, and I am to help you with the rest. Is that all right, my Blossom?"
"Yes, you clever Uncle!" cried Fluff, clapping her hands. "That is all right, and the paper is all ready in the library, please, dear."
"Oh! you little monkey!" said Uncle Jack, laughing and laying aside his paper. "Well, the sooner it is done the sooner it is done with, as Mrs. Posset says. So run along, and I will follow you."
Fluff led the way joyfully to the library, and for some time the two were closeted together, in deep and earnest consultation. At length Fluff came out, looking very happy and proud, waving a paper in her hand. She ran up to the nursery, where Puff and Downy were, busy with the doll family, the remaining members of which were more tenderly cherished than ever, since the deaths of Vashti Ann and her daughter. Fluff entered in triumph with her paper. "Here is the pottery, Puffy!" she said. "Uncle Jack says it isn't pottery, but something else; but here it is, anyhow."
"Oh! how nice!" said Puff. "Sit down and read it to the children and Peepsy, won't you, Fluff?"
So Fluff sat down, and as soon as she had recovered her breath, read as follows:
Our Puffy has a little bird, And Peepsy is his name, And now I'll sing a little song, To celebrate the same.
He's yellow all from head to foot, And he is very sweet, And very little trouble, for He never wants to eat.
He never asks for water clear, He never chirps for seed, For cracker or for cuttlefish, For sugar or chickweed.
"Oh what a perfect pet!" you cry, But there's one little thing, One drawback to the bonny bird, Our Peepsy cannot sing.
He chirps no song at dawn or eve, He makes no merry din, But this, one cannot wonder at, For Peepsy's made of tin.
"Isn't it lovely?" said Puff, drawing a long breath. "It prescribes him perfectly. Doesn't it, you dear Peepsy?" she added, holding up a blue cage about two inches square, in which hung the precious bird. "And did you make it almost all, Fluffy?"
"Well—no!" said Fluff, considering, "not almost all, but almost a good deal of it. I said all the things I wanted to say, and Uncle Jack changed some of the words, and put rhymes into them. I think it is nice," she continued, "and I am glad you like it, Puff. But now we must make haste and dress all the dolls in their best clothes, for Nibble and Brighteyes promised to give Peepsy a birthday party, you know, and they are getting it ready in the garden, under the cotton-wool tree."
"The cotton-wool tree!" said I to myself. "I think I must look and see what that means." So I tipped my glass just a hair's breadth, towards the lower part of the garden. There, sure enough, were Nibble and Brighteyes, hard at work amid the new-mown hay. They were making it into five hay-cocks, which were arranged in a circle under a huge balm-of-Gilead tree. The ground was covered with the pods which had fallen from the tree, all filled with white soft silk cotton, and I knew this must be the cotton-wool tree. Grim was tied to another tree hard by, a position which he did not enjoy, to judge from his impatient jumping and barking.
"Yes, Grim, I know it isn't at all nice to be tied up!" said Nibble, in reply to a long howl of protest from the dog. "But we cannot have you jumping over our thrones. When the party is all ready, you shall come to it, so you ought to be patient. Now, Brighteyes, if you will make a little cotton-wool throne in the middle for Peepsy. I will get the lunch ready. Where are the three bones for the dogs?"
"Over there, behind Fluff's hay-cock," said Brighteyes. "And there are five gingerbread birds that Susan made, one for each of us, and the wooden turkey out of the doll-house for Peepsy, because he won't really eat it, you know. Oh! and we ought to have something for Tomty, Nibble, for we invited him, and he said he would certainly come. You might ask Susan for a cup of tea when you go up to call the children, for I heard Tomty tell her yesterday that all the vegetables he wanted were bread and tea."
"Well, so I will!" said Nibble. "And if Susan will not give us any, he can have a cup of milk, and play it is tea."
So away went Nibble, jumping on the hay-cocks, and whistling as he went. Soon he returned, with the three little mice trotting behind him, and Tomty, with his rake over his shoulder, bringing up the rear.
"Here we all are!" cried Puff, joyfully. "Is the party ready, Brighteyes? I think Peepsy is very impatient, though he behaves beautifully."
"Yes, everything is ready!" replied Brighteyes. "Here is Peepsy's throne in the middle, and these hay-cocks are ours. Put him on his throne, Puffy—so! now all sit down yourselves, please, and take the dolls in your laps." The mice and Tomty obeyed meekly, and perched themselves on the hay-cocks as best they might.
"Now," continued Brighteyes, "we must all have names, of course, because it isn't any fun just to be ourselves at a party. I will be the Countess Kinchinjunga. What will you be, Nibble!"
"Oh! I am the Bold Baron of Borodino," said Nibble. "Puff and Fluff can be the Princess Perriwinkle and the Marchioness of Mulligatawney, and Downy shall be Nosolio, the Niggardly Knife-Grinder of Nineveh. There's a fine name for you, Downy, boy!"
The Niggardly Knife-Grinder smiled contentedly, and said, "Yef, I'm dat, only I tan't say it."
"And now," said Nibble, "we will have the lunch, and then we must all make speeches to Peepsy, because that is the proper thing. Countess Kinchinjunga, produce the feast!" Nibble said this with a very lordly air, and waved his hand with great dignity; but unfortunately at that moment he lost his balance, and rolled off the hay-cock, to the great amusement of the other mice. But Brighteyes uttered a cry of distress. "Oh! Nibble, you have rolled on Tomty's cup of tea and upset it. What shall we do?"
"Never mind, Miss!" said Tomty, smiling, "sure I'm not hungry, Miss, let alone it's almost dinner time. And thank ye kindly all the same, Miss Brighteyes."
"Well, Tomty, you shall hear the speeches, anyhow," said Nibble, consolingly, "and that will be the best part of it; though I am very sorry I upset the tea," he added, "and you shall have my gingerbread bird, if you like, instead." But Tomty declined the bird, with many thanks; and now the "party" began in earnest. Grim was untied, and a sharp whistle from Tomty brought Gruff and Grab to see what was going on. Each dog received a huge bone as his share of the feast, and each showed his delight in his own way. Then the five gingerbread birds were distributed, and the wooden turkey, which was certainly a work of art, was placed before Peepsy's cage with a great deal of ceremony. Peepsy himself manifested no excitement, but no doubt he enjoyed himself in his own way. Then the turkey was handed round to all the dolls, Fanny Elssler and Katinka and Sally Bradford; and Puff declared that they all had as much as they could possibly eat, which was probably true. When the feast was over, Nibble rose and said, solemnly, "the speeches will now begin. Tomty, you are the oldest, and you shall make the first speech to Peepsy." "Is it the little tin fowl in the cage, sir?" asked Tomty. "Well, Mr. Peepsy, I've lived forty years, men and boy, and never made a speech yet, sir, but here's wishing you good health, and long life to you, Mr. Peepsy; and if you live till you sing a song, you'll come to a good old age, I'm thinking." And Tomty sat down, amid the applause of his audience.
"That was a very good speech, Tomty," said Nibble, with a patronizing air, "though it was short. Now hear mine, all of you. Ahem!" and the young orator, standing on the top of his hay-cock, struck an imposing attitude. "Friends, Romans, and Tomty, lend me your ears! this is Peepsy's birthday, and he is one year old. I bought him myself at Jane Evans's shop, so I ought to know. He will never be one year old again, and neither shall we, which makes us all sad." "I isn't fad a bit!" interrupted Downy, with a gleeful chuckle. "Well, you ought to be!" said Nibble, "but you are too young to know much, I suppose. Peepsy is sad, and he might weep if he had any eyes, but they are only little holes in his head. It is sad not to have any eyes, but it is an advantage not to be able to weep. If Puff hadn't had any eyes, she wouldn't have made such a fuss yesterday when I jumped on her toe from the apple tree, because I didn't mean to." "I don't think that is very nice to put in a speech, Nibble!" said Puff, looking rather hurt. "Well," said Nibble, hastily, "I won't say anything more about it, but I want to say this:
"When I bought him at Jane Evans's shop, Peepsy was glad. Now that he is one year old and knows that he won't be it any more, Peepsy is sad."
"That is poetry," he added, "and that is the best way to finish a speech."
Upon this Nibble sat down, and after a moment's pause, Brighteyes rose, and spoke as follows: "Peepsy, I am afraid you think it is very hard that you have to stay in your cage all the time. I know I should not like to live in a cage, but then I am not afraid of cats. But if you were to come out and be alive, you would be dreadfully afraid of the china cat in the doll-house, you know you would. Thus we see that all things are for the best! and I am sure your cage is a perfect beauty, which must be a great comfort. Perhaps you think you would like some worms, Peepsy; and we would certainly get you some if you could eat them, but you cannot. My dear Peepsy, I will now conclude my speech, wishing you many happy returns of the day."
Now it was Puff's turn, but to my surprise, this little mouse, who is generally very ready with her tongue, seemed to hang back. "Let Fluffy read the pottery!" said Puff. "I am so hot, and my head aches so, I don't think I can make my speech."
So Fluff read the famous piece of pottery, to the great delight of all. Meanwhile I was looking more closely at Puff, and though I was—well, how many miles off? answer, some of you big children! certainly a great many!—still I could see plainly enough that the child was not well. Her cheeks were hot and flushed, and her blue eyes shone with a strange brightness, very different from their usual sunny light. I was glad to see that Tomty was also observing his little pet; and presently he said quietly, "Miss Puff, dear, the sun is too hot for you. Shall Tomty give you a ride on his shoulder, and we'll find Mrs. Posset?"
"Yes, please, Tomty!" said Puff, wearily; "I am so very tired, though I don't know why I should be."
The other mice clustered round their sister, and kissed and patted her. They saw that Tomty looked anxious, and when he had carried Puff up to the house in his arms, they soon followed, taking Peepsy and the dolls with them. The three dogs only remained under the cotton-wool tree, discussing the party very gravely, and wondering why it was that human beings never cared to gnaw bones. And so, rather sadly, ended Peepsy's birthday party.
I jumped on the back of a dragon-fly, And flew and flew till I reached the sky.
I pulled down a cloud that was hiding the blue, And all the wee stars came tumbling through.
They tumbled down and they tumbled round, And turned into flowers as they touched the ground.
So come with me, little children, come, And down in the meadow I'll pick you some.
SICKNESS IN THE MOUSE-TRAP.
I was very anxious about my little Puff, though I had so much to attend to during the rest of that afternoon, that I could not even look in my glass to see how things were going at the Mouse-trap. A young and giddy Comet had got his tail twisted round one of my mountain-peaks, and could not disentangle it, and this was a pretty piece of work, as you may imagine. He wriggled and flounced about in a truly disgraceful manner, and it was only by making Bmfkgth bite his nose very hard indeed that I was enabled to get him free, and send him off to his grandmother with a good scolding. (A comet cannot move his tail when his nose is bitten. This is a fact not generally known on the earth.) But late in the evening, when I knew it was sleepy-time for all the little people down below, I mounted my faithful Flash, and flew down to see how my mice in general, and my Puffy mouse in particular, were doing.
I found the aspect of the nursery somewhat changed. Downy's crib was gone, and Puff was alone in the large bed. Uncle Jack was leaning over her, listening to her heavy breathing, and beside the bed sat Mrs. Posset, in a huge wrapper and a night-cap, evidently prepared to sit up all night. As I came in, Uncle Jack was just saying "The doctor says it is certainly scarlet fever, Mrs. Posset, so I shall send the other children off by the early train, to their aunt, who is at the sea-shore."
"Dear to goodness, sir!" cried Mrs. Posset. "And who is to go with the lambs? and Downy never away from me a night since he was born, that is to say, further than the next room!"
"I shall go with them, of course," said Uncle Jack, "and I shall take Susan as nursery-maid, that they may not give Mrs. Wilton too much trouble. You will have time to pack their things in the morning, Mrs. Posset. I must go now to give John and Thomas their orders, and you are to call me if Puffy wakes, remember!"
Then Uncle Jack went out softly, and Mrs. Posset, after settling herself comfortably among her cushions, put on her spectacles, and opening a huge Bible which lay in her lap, began to read. Now was my chance, for the good nurse was far too wide awake to hear anything I said, and Puff was in a heavy, feverish sleep.
"So, now we are going to have some delightful evenings together," I said, as I sat down by her pillow. "You have the scarlet fever, my mouse, and all the other mice are to be sent away to the sea-shore, it seems."
"Are they?" said Puff. "I am glad of that, for then they will not be ill. But it will be very lonely without them, Mr. Moonman. And shall I feel so sick all the time, I wonder?"
"I hope not, indeed!" I replied; "and as for loneliness, not a bit of it. In the day time you will have Mrs. Posset and Uncle Jack to take care of you and pet you, and at night you will have me, and the dolls beside. I see that you have Sally Bradford here beside you. You will find her quite companionable, I assure you."
"But the dolls cannot talk, Mr. Moonman!" said Puff. "I have often and often tried to make them, but they never say a word."
"That is because you only try in the day time, Miss Puff!" said Sally Bradford, in a shrill voice. "No well-bred doll would ever think of talking in the day time, as Mr. Moonman can tell you. Try us at night, when you are asleep, and you will find that we have quite as much to say for ourselves as other people."
"But it seems so queer to be doing things when one is asleep!" said Puff.
"Why queerer than to do them when one is awake?" I asked. "The dolls wonder at you quite as much as you wonder at them, depend upon it! And now, what shall I do to amuse you, mouse of mine? will you have a story, or a song, or what will you have?"
"Of course I will have both, if I may, Mr. Moonman!" answered Puff. "I should like to hear stories and songs every days and all nights, and never stop!"
So I sang, and all the dolls sat up in their beds to listen. The Jumping-Jack held up his hands with delight, and the wooden Nutcracker grinned from ear to ear. Only Mrs. Posset sat up in the big chair, wide awake, and heard never a word.
THE FAIRY TEA-PARTY.
I went to take tea with the three little fairies Who live in the depth of the hazel wood. And what do you think we had for supper? Oh! everything dainty and everything good.
There was tea in a buttercup, cream in a blue-bell, Marigold butter and hollyhock cheese, Slices of strawberry served in a nutshell, And honey just brought by the liveried bees.
We sat 'neath the shade of a silvery mushroom, All lined with pale pink, nicely fluted and quilled, And around us the cup-moss held up its red goblets, Each one with a dew drop like diamond filled.
We ate and we drank and we chatted together, Till the fireflies lighted us off to our beds; And we all fell asleep in our cots made of rose leaves, With pillows of thistledown under our heads.
"How nice that must have been!" sighed Puffy. "I wish I could see all the lovely things you see, Mr. Moonman! Don't you want Fluffy and me to come up and be your little girls in the Moon? then we could see all the wonderful things for ourselves."
"And I should not have the pleasure of telling you about them," I replied, "which would be truly melancholy. No, no, my little one! you are far better off where you are. But now we are to have a story, and what shall it be about?"
"Tell her about the poor little woodmouse, Master!" said Flash, who had been staring at Sally Bradford with all his might for ten minutes, in the vain hope of making her wink. "The little woodmouse?" I said. "To be sure! you mean the one that Twinkle saw in the forest the other night. It is rather a sad story, but Puffy shall hear it. It seems, Puffy, that Twinkle, who, as you know, is one of Flash's brothers, was in the oak wood one night last week, wandering about as is his wont, chatting with such flowers as were still awake, and seeing all that he could see. As he twinkled over the grass near the foot of a great oak tree, he noticed something moving, and stopped to see what it was. The something turned out to be a woodmouse, the prettiest little lady woodmouse that ever was seen. She was sitting under a huge yellow toadstool, (very different from the pink-lined mushroom which sheltered the three little fairies,) feasting on acorns to her heart's content. Twinkle said it was really astonishing to see how fast she cracked and ate them, throwing the shells to right and left, and glancing about with her sharp black eyes, in constant fear of some intruder. Presently she heard a rustling among the leaves, and, anxious to make sure of her supper, she hastily put two acorns into her mouth, cramming one into either cheek. Then she sat up, and tried to look very dignified, as another little woodmouse, as sleek and bright-eyed as herself, appeared upon the scene. He evidently knew the little lady, for when he saw her he stopped and made a low bow, pressing one paw on his heart in a most affecting manner. Then advancing toward her, he said softly, 'Miss Woodmouse. I have been searching for you all the evening, for I have been very anxious to see you. I trust that my presence is not disagreeable to you, Miss Woodmouse?' He paused for a reply, but none came, so he went on. 'Lovely creature, I have long admired you, and thought you the fairest mouse I ever gazed upon. The brightness of your eyes, the length of your tail, the sharpness of your whiskers, all proclaim you the belle of the forest. How happy should I be, if I could claim these charms for my own! I have a very snug nest, lined with moss, and well stored with nuts and acorns for the winter. Say, will you share that nest with me? Miss Woodmouse, will you be mine? answer me, I implore you!'
"Poor little Miss Woodmouse! it was really pitiful to see her distress. She could not speak, on account of the two acorns in her mouth; and she was so ashamed of being greedy, that she did not dare to take them out. So she just sat still and looked at the little gentleman, who in turn sat and looked at her, much amazed at her silence.
"'Alas!' he said, 'am I so hateful to you that you will not even speak to me? One word, Miss Woodmouse, to say that I may hope!' But not one word could Miss Woodmouse say, though her long tail quivered with emotion; and at length her little lover, fairly discouraged, turned sadly away, and disappeared among the fallen leaves.
"Then little Miss Woodmouse took the two acorns out of her mouth, and looked at them; but her appetite was gone. She threw them away with an exclamation of sorrow, and putting her little pink pocket-handkerchief up to her little black eyes, she hurried off to her lonely nest."
"Now that is the whole story, and the moral of it is that we should not be greedy. Lay it to heart, my Puff, and do not insist upon drinking the whole of that medicine that Mrs. Posset is preparing for you. You will have to wake up and take it now, Mousekin, so good-bye for the present!"
Puffy smiled a good-bye, and opened her sweet eyes with the smile still on her face. I looked back as I stepped out of the window, and will do her the justice to say that she showed no disposition to be greedy as far as the medicine was concerned.
OFF TO THE SEA-SHORE.
UNCLE JACK was as good as his word, and the next morning was a busy time at the Mouse-trap.
Trunks were packed, jackets were brushed, and wonders were accomplished in the way of getting ready before breakfast. As I looked in my glass, there seemed to be only two rooms in the house where there was no bustle and confusion: one was the nursery, where Puff lay, half-awake and wondering what all the noise was about; and the other was the room next to it, where my dear little Fluff was kneeling by the bed, praying that her darling sister might be "quite all perfectly well" very soon.
And now the carriage was announced; the "good-byes" were softly whispered at the nursery door, and away went four of my mice, leaving the poor old Mouse-trap quite deserted, with only Mrs. Posset and the cook and faithful Tomty, beside the poor little sick mouse.
A few hours journey on the train brought the travelers to the lovely sea-shore place where Aunt Grace Wilton was spending the summer: and what was their delight on leaving the train, to find Aunt Grace herself waiting for them, with her basket-wagon, and Max, the pretty black pony. I know Mrs. Wilton, though she does not remember me. I used to pay her frequent visits when she was a child, and now I go to see Roger, her little boy, who is a great friend of mine, and a fine little fellow. He had the scarlet fever when he was two years old, so that his mother had no fear of his taking it again. Well how all those mice managed to get into that pony-carriage is more than I can tell you: but they did manage it somehow, and after bidding good-bye to their dear Uncle Jack, who was going back in the next train, as he did not like to stay away from Puff, they rolled away at a fine pace toward Glenwood, while Susan followed in the carts with the trunks.
A very pretty place Glenwood is, and very much delighted the four mice were, when they tumbled out of the carriage, and saw Roger waiting to welcome them. Here I will make a little picture of Roger, by the way, as of course a great many of you have never seen him.
"How do, Nibble?" he cried, jumping up and down with joy as he saw his cousins. "How do, all of you! come and see my pets! I-have-a-cat-and- some-birds-and-a-rabbit-and-a-lamb-because-I-haven't-any-brothers-and- sisters-you-know-and-a-dog—big-enough—to-eat-them-all-up-and-do-you- think-Puff-would-like-a-white-kitten?"
Roger said all this as if it were one word, and it was no wonder that the four mice looked rather bewildered.
"Gently, Roger! gently!" said his mother, laughing. "Your cousins cannot understand a word you say, if you talk so fast."
"I heard 'lamb' and 'kitten,' Auntie," said Fluff, sedately, "and I should like to see them very much indeed."
"I want to go down to the beach, please, Auntie!" cried Nibble.
"And so do I!" said Brighteyes, eagerly.
"Very well, dears," said Mrs. Wilton; "you may run wherever you like, if you are not tired. I shall take little Downy in the house with me, for I see he is very sleepy, and wants a nap. But, my chickens, don't you want some lunch before you go out to play?" she added, turning back from the door.
"Oh! no, Auntie!" they all cried. "We had lunch in the train, as much as we wanted."
And off they all scampered in different directions, while Mrs. Wilton went into the house, carrying little sleepy Downy in her arms. Fluff and Roger walked away hand in hand, and I tipped my glass so that I could follow.
"Have you many pets, Fluff?" asked Roger.
"No!" replied Fluff. "We have only the three dogs, and Jose, the brown donkey, and the kitten that Brighteyes found in the tree. But then we have a great many dolls," she added, "and I suppose you have'nt any dolls, because you are a boy."
"Animals is better than dolls," said Roger. "Here is my lamb, under this tree. Isn't he lovely? here, Belladonna, come and have some sugar, dear!" The lamb, which was a very pretty one, came up to be petted, and ate a lump of sugar with every sign of approval.
"What did you say his name was?" asked Fluff.
"Belladonna," replied Roger, "because he wears a bell, you know. I think it is a very pretty name, but Mamma laughs at it."
"It's medicine, isn't it?" said Fluff, doubtfully.
"Well, yes!" said Roger; "but that doesn't make any difference. Rhubarb is medicine, too, and yet it makes nice pies and tarts."
"So it does!" said Fluff; "I never thought of that. And have your other pets, medicine-names, too, Roger?"
"The dog is Blanco," replied Roger. "I called him that before I had him, because I thought he was going to be white, and Blanco means white. And then he went and was black when he came, but I don't like to change names, so I called him so just the same. And I call my cat Plunket, after the story of the Chattering Cat, and the rabbit is Binks, and—oh! well, let us go in and see them, for they are all in the play-room, and it is hot out here!"
And Roger led the way to the house, while Fluff followed meekly, wondering, as she said afterwards to Brighteyes, how any one could talk so fast without "getting his tongue all tied up with his teeth."
In the large, sunny play-room I left the two little ones, having a grand game of romps with Blanco and Binks, while the birds, let loose from their cage, fluttered about their heads, in no fear of the well-behaved cat, who sat and looked at them as if she had no idea that they were good to eat. Yes it was a regular Happy Family, and a very pretty sight.
But I wanted to see what Nibble and Brighteyes were about, so I turned my glass towards the beach, which was not far from the house, though in the other direction. There I found my two eldest mice deep in consultation. Nibble was just saying, "but, Bright, mermaids don't have legs and tails, too, for that would be ridiculous. Don't you remember?
'The little white mermaidens live in the sea, In a palace of silver and gold. And their neat little tails are all covered with scales, Most beautiful for to behold.'
But it doesn't say anything about legs, and there aren't any in the pictures." "I can't help it, Nibble!" replied Brighteyes, rather pettishly. "I can't cut off my legs, and I am going to play mermaid. I can be the queen, and queens have everything they want, I know." And she turned round, displaying to my view a superb tail of seaweed, fastened to her sash, and trailing upon the ground.
"Well," said Nibble, "it is a lovely tail, after all. But we must take off our shoes and stockings, and put them in the fort for safe keeping. Then we can play 'wild white horses' and 'mermaid' too."
The shoes and stockings were soon off, and safely hidden in a sand fort of very superior construction. Then began a wild rushing up and down the smooth sandy beach, with much neighing and kicking on Nibble's part, while Brighteyes waved her seaweed tail in a graceful and effective manner, and sang her song of the mermaids.
"On wild white horses they ride, they ride, And in chairs of pink coral they sit, They swim all the night, with a smile of delight, And never feel tired a bit."
"Look!" said Nibble, "at that line of rocks running out into the water. What fun to jump from one to the other! come on, Brighteyes!" No sooner said than done. It was no easy matter to jump from one smooth slippery rock to the next, without losing foothold, but that made it all the more exciting.
"I am the Nixie!" said Brighteyes, "and you are the knight who caught her asleep and cut off one of her golden ringlets, so that she could not disappear or turn into a fish. Sing, now, and catch me if you can!"
She sprang lightly to the next rock, and thence to the next, while Nibble, pursuing her, sang:
"Nixie, white Nixie, I have you now! The magic ringlet is clipped from your brow. You vanish no more 'neath the shining tide, And I have you and hold you, my snow-white bride!"
Brighteyes sang again:
"Hunter, rash hunter, your triumph's not long, Your arm drops down 'neath the spell of my song. You turn to ice and you turn to stone, And the sea-waves laugh as they hear you moan."
Here the Nixie waved her tail triumphantly, and flirted it in the hunter's face in a way that was too provoking to be endured. The rash youth sprang forward, alighting on the rock and on the Nixie's toe at the same instant. There was a moment of shrieking and clutching at the air, as they tried to regain their balance, and then with a loud splash, pursuer and pursued disappeared beneath the water.
This was really past a joke, and I became much alarmed. As for Bmfkgth, that excellent dog was quite frantic with excitement, and his green hair stood on end, causing him to present a truly remarkable appearance. In another minute, however, we saw the two brown heads emerge from the water; Nibble clambered up the rock, and pulled his sister up after him; then breathless and dripping, they jumped and climbed back over the long line of rocks, till they reached the shore. They sat down on the beach and looked at each other in silence for a few minutes. Then Nibble said, "I say, Brighteyes, ain't you just glad that Mrs. Posset isn't here? look at your frock, now!" "Oh! I don't want to look at it!" said Brighteyes; "and besides your knickerbockers are just as bad. But we have lost our hats, Nibble, and they were our best ones. We ought to have taken them off when we took off our shoes and—but, goodness me! where are our shoes and stockings? Nibble, where is the fort? I don't see it anywhere."
Indeed, it would have been strange if they had seen it, for the rising tide had completely covered it some fifteen minutes before. As for the shoes and stockings—"Look, Bright!" said Nibble, grasping his sister's arm, and pointing to the water. Yes, sure enough, there they were. Far out of reach, floating serenely along, the boots nodding a graceful farewell to their former owners as the little waves bore them off on their voyage of discovery, while the stockings, less courageous, had yielded to despair, and floated limp and piteous, stretching out their scarlet length in a vain appeal for rescue.
This last blow completely sobered the bold spirits of my two mice, and as the loud ringing of a bell proclaimed that dinner-time was come, they turned silently and mournfully towards the house.
A bee came tumbling into my ear,
And what do you think he remarked, my dear?
He said that two tens made up a score,
And really and truly, I knew that before.
POOR little Puff! she certainly was very ill. All day long she tossed and moaned in feverish pain, to the great distress of her good uncle, and the faithful Mrs. Posset. They were very, very anxious about her; but the doctor, who came every day, said that there was no immediate danger, as long as the child slept so well at night. All night long she slept quietly, sometimes smiling in her sleep, and always looking peaceful and happy. Yes, indeed, I flatter myself I had a great deal to do with that. Every night I sat by my little mouse's pillow, and told stories and sang songs, till my brother Sun came and winked at me through the window, and told me it was not night at all, and I must take myself off and leave the field to him. Stories? dear me, there was no end to them; and you shall have some of them, if you will. Here is one, for example, of which Puff was extremely fond. It was called
Once upon a time there was a flea. Wee wee. And he hopped, And he hopped, And he hopped.
And as the flea was hopping one day,
He met a mouse, Round the house, And he squeaked, And he squeaked, And he squeaked.
And when the mouse saw the flea, he said to him, "what do you do for a living?" and the flea said "I bite people." Then the mouse said, "as you have lived upon others, others shall live upon you!" So he caught up the flea, and he ate him up. And there was an end of the flea.
But as the mouse was squeaking one day,
He met a cat, Very fat, And she mewed, And she mewed, And she mewed.
And when the cat saw the mouse, she said to him, "what do you do for a living?" And the mouse said,
"I nibble cheese, And eat fleas."
Then the cat said, "As you have lived upon others, others shall live upon you!" So she caught the mouse, and she ate him up. And there was an end of the mouse.
But as the cat was mewing one day,
She met a dog, Named Gog, And he barked, And he barked, And he barked.
And when the dog saw the cat, he said to her, "what do you do for a living?" And the cat said,
"I eat mice, Because they are nice."