Caroline Guild.

Minnie: or, The Little Woman: A Fairy Story



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"What's the trouble now?"

"You go so fast it takes away my breath, and the underbrush all but scratches my eyes out; and the grass is full of bugs and ugly caterpillars, that stretch their cold claws to catch at me as I go past."

"Is that all?" He darted by a post, along the fence-rails, and up the trunk of a tree, and into the leafy boughs. But now it was the squirrel's turn to complain.

"Don't pull at my ears so hard! Why, my eyes are half out of my head! It is bad enough to carry such a load!"

"But, dear squirrel, I shall tumble off! Here we are, away up in the air, higher than any house, and you skip and leap, and scramble so, it frightens me out of my wits."

"Jump off a minute, then; I know a better way to carry you."

No sooner had Minnie obeyed, than he was out of sight. With one spring, he had leaped to the bough of a taller tree; – and now would he ever come back?

It made her dizzy to look down. It seemed further than ever to the ground, now, she had grown so small. And the insects that crept and flew around her looked so large! A great mosquito came buzzing about with his poisoned bill, and then a hard-backed beetle trolled past, and two or three fat ants. And a bird alighted on the bough, and began to sing.

Minnie drew down a broad leaf to hide her face, for she felt afraid that the bird would think her some kind of bug, and eat her up. Perhaps he meant to do so, for he kept hopping nearer and nearer as he sang.

"O, how I wish I were at home!" thought Minnie. "Perhaps my mother is looking for me now; and Franky has been standing ever so long at the fence, with the half of his cake that he promised to save for me. How could that old squirrel be so wicked as to leave me here alone?"

Still the bird hopped nearer, and eyed her as he sang, and looked as if his mouth were watering for a taste.

"I shall be killed and eaten up by ants and worms if I fall to the ground," thought Minnie; "or, even if I reached it alive, I could never, never find the way home, with these small, slow feet. Let the robin eat me, then."

But now came a rustling amongst the leaves, and a chirping, chattering sound, and, lo! her friend the squirrel frisked into sight. He seemed to be quarrelling with the bird, for she half spread her wings, and stretched her beak as if she could bite him; and squirrel chattered and chuckled at her, and his bright brown eyes flashed with anger, till the robin flew away.

"A moment later, Minnie, and you would have been changed into a song. That saucy fellow meant to eat you for his luncheon," said squirrel. "Now, don't complain that I went away; if you do, I shall go again. We never allow any grumbling out here in the woods."

"Yet they allow quarrelling, and murder, and mischief of many kinds, I see," thought Minnie; "but as I've come so far, I will not go home without learning how birds and squirrels live."

CHAPTER VI.
LIVING IN A TREE

The squirrel now tucked his little friend under his chin, as if she were a nut, and off they went together, fast as any bird could fly.

Minnie soon found there was no use in urging squirrel to go in a straight line, and pick out the smoothest paths: it was not his way.

He made her dizzy, often, by running along the under side of the boughs, or twirling round them in his frisky way; and, in passing from tree to tree, whichever branches were farthest apart, they were the ones he chose for a leap.

If he heard with his quick ears any sound that frightened him, down squirrel darted into some hollow trunk, that was full of ants and rotten wood, and wiry snails; but Minnie found he was growing very tired, and was all in a perspiration with carrying such a burden; so she did not complain.

Yet, when, in passing, her curly hair caught on the rough bark, and had many a pull, and her cheeks became bruised with brushing against the leaves, and she shook black ants and beetles out of her dress, Minnie more than once wished herself home again.

At last, with a chuckle of delight, squirrel darted up the trunk of a beautiful elm, and seated Minnie where the great boughs parted into something like an arm-chair; while he went to find his mate.

This, then, was her new home! Tired and hungry as she was, the little girl looked about her with pleasure-it was such a lovely place. On one side were sunny fields; on the other, stretched the silent, shady wood, with its beds of moss, and curtains of vine, and clumps of wild-flowers.

Closer about her, fanning her warm cheeks, were the green leaves of the elm-more thousands of them than she could think of counting, and all so fresh, and creased, and pointed so prettily. "Many a game of hide-and-seek I'll have here!" she thought.

But now squirrel returned with his wife, who shook hands with her little guest very politely, and begged her to feel quite at home. Madam Squirrel was not so handsome as her husband, but was such a kind, motherly person, that you would not notice her looks.

She had brought some dry moss from her nest, and with this made a soft bed for Minnie to rest upon while she prepared dinner. The good soul even wove the twigs together into a leafy bower above her head, and called one of her young ones to stand near and keep the flies away, so that Minnie might have a nap.

The young squirrel, however, was less thoughtful than his mamma. He had so many questions to ask, and so much news to tell, that sleep was out of the question. And Minnie found that the wonderful herb had not only made her grow small as squirrels, but at the same time had taught her to understand their language.

And not this alone; by listening carefully, at first, she could soon make out what all the creatures around her were saying-the bees, and birds; and grasshoppers, and wasps, and mice.

Even the leaves she saw talked to each other all day long; the wind had only to come, and make them a call, and start a subject or two-then there was whispering enough! And the grass underneath whispered back, and perfumed wild-flowers talked with the grass, and the river talked to the flowers, or, when they would not listen, talked to its own still pebbles.

The sun, if he did not speak, smiled such a broad, warm smile, that any one could guess it meant, "I know you, and love you, friends!" And at night the silent moonshine stole into the wood, and kissed the leaves till they smiled with happiness, and kissed the flowers till the air was full of perfumes they breathed back to her, and kissed the brook till all its little wavelets sparkled and laughed together for joy.

Meantime the stars were winking at each other, to think they had caught the cold moon making love!

CHAPTER VII.
MASTER SQUIRREL

No sooner had young Master Squirrel taken up his stand by Minnie's couch, than he began to tell how fortunate she was in having such friends.

"Yes," Minnie replied, "I was thinking of them this very minute, and wishing I could send word to my dear mother that I was safe. Poor Franky must be tired of waiting for me by this time; there's no one else to play with him. And then, if you could only see our baby; she's so sweet and cunning!"

"Nonsense!" said Master Squirrel; "she is not half so cunning as you are, now. I was speaking of your new friends, my father and mother."

"Well, what about them?"

"O, we belong to such a fine family, and are so much respected here in the woods, and my father is so rich!"

Minnie laughed. "Who ever heard of a rich squirrel? Where do you keep your money? Are there any banks in the woods?"

"Banks enough, but they bear nothing except grass and violets. We are not so foolish as to put our wealth into pieces of white and yellow stone. My father may not have gold, but he has more nuts and acorns hidden away than any other squirrel in creation. As for the silly birds, they never save anything, and the worms and beetles live from hand to mouth."

"What happens to the frogs and flies?"

"O, they creep into a hole, when winter comes, and freeze, like stupid flowers, till the spring sun is ready to thaw them out again. You see, we squirrels are the only wise and prudent creatures. And to think that, among all squirrels, you should have become acquainted with the richest one-you are very lucky!"

"If all your father's nuts were brought together and measured," said Minnie, "how many bushels would there be?"

"What do I know about bushels? He has at least as many as would make a wagon-load!"

Master Squirrel said this with a great air, but Minnie only laughed. "My father does not pretend to be rich, but he gives away more than a wagon-load of nuts every year; besides keeping all we want for ourselves."

Dear children, as Minnie looked upon the squirrel's nuts, that made him feel so important, just so God's angels look upon our treasures. Money, fine horses and carriages, are to them no reason for being proud. They smile at our gains and savings, which seem foolish toys to them. The angels have better wealth.

The squirrel was silent, and so ashamed that Minnie said, to comfort him:

"I should not mind never seeing a nut, if I were as bright and spry as your father; and, whether she were rich or poor, I know any one as kind and generous as your mother would always be respected."

"Poh! it is easy enough to be kind. I've seen one ant help another home with his dinner; I've seen a ground-sparrow, when her neighbor was shot, feed the hungry young ones left in the nest; but that's nothing – that doesn't give one a place in the best society!"

"I don't believe the little orphan-birds waited to ask if their friend belonged to the aristocracy. But, Master Squirrel, what do you call society?"

"I will show you, to-morrow. I heard my mother say that she should give a grand party in honor of your coming. Though it will be like my parents (who are very condescending) to ask some of the common people, you may expect to see along with them all the aristocracy of the woods."

Now the mother-squirrel came with Minnie's dinner; and, sending her talkative son away to give invitations for the party, busied herself with spreading out the tempting meal.

Of course there were nut-meats in plenty; walnuts on one leaf, chestnuts on another, and ground-nuts and grains of wheat on a third. Then there was a bit of honey-comb, and a ripe red strawberry that squirrel had run a mile to pick on the mountain-top; and there were some slices of what Minnie thought must be squirrels' tongues, they were so small and tender; she ate them with a great relish.

Then squirrel brought, in a nut-shell, a drink of fresh water from the brook; and, filling her shell again, dropping in a sweet-brier leaf or two to perfume it, she bathed Minnie's forehead till the tired little traveller went fast asleep.

CHAPTER VIII.
NIGHT

Upon awaking, Minnie was surprised to find all dark about her. The good old squirrel had tucked the moss of her couch together so nicely that she was warm and comfortable; but, on reaching out a hand, she felt the leaves wet with dew.

Then a wind stirred the branches, and far up in the sky she saw the twinkling stars, and knew that it was night.

Night, and the little girl was alone there out of doors! No mother in the next room listening to see if her children breathed sweetly, and all was well; no sister Allie to nestle close beside her, now; but the great lonely sky above her, and the creaking elm-bough for her cradle.

And how high this cradle lifted her into the air! She hardly knew which was farthest off, the ground or the sky. It was all so strange that Minnie thought she must be dreaming. She stretched her hands out in the starlight; they were small as squirrels' paws, – ten times smaller than even baby Allie's dimpled hands, – small as those of her smallest doll. Who ever heard of such hands for a little girl?

Yes, she felt sure it was a dream; but, turning to sleep, she was aroused by a loud snoring. Could a man be hidden up here among the boughs? And suppose he should catch her alive, and shut her up in a cage, to be advertised, and talked about, and pointed at with canes and parasols in Barnum's museum?

But now the snores seemed changing to sounds more like the purring of a cat. Were not tigers a kind of cat? Suppose this were a tiger, ready to spring down and seize her in his great paws, as a cat might seize a mouse!

No; there came next a loud, rough laugh, startling to hear in the silence; and then a great flutter, and a scratching sound, and something alighted on the bough above her – something heavy, for the bough bent till its leaves were crushed upon her face.

As soon as Minnie could push the leaves apart she looked up, and saw to her dismay two great round eyes staring full at her! She covered her own eyes, and in her terror would have fallen from the tree, had not her dress been caught among the leaves.

"What's that? What's that?" a gruff voice called.

Then Minnie remembered what she had heard her mother, and even the little squirrels, say, that it is foolish to fear anything; so, as loudly as she could with her trembling voice, the little woman shouted:

"How do you do, sir? It's a fine evening, all but the cold!"

And, venturing to look once more, she saw what a curious animal she had addressed; with the eyes of a man, he had the face of a cat, and the bill and body of a bird.

"Who's here? who are you?" was his only answer.

"I am a traveller, sir. I have come from my home in the village, to make my friends, the squirrels, a visit; perhaps I shall have the pleasure of meeting you at their house."

"Not so fast! I'm an owl, I'd have you know, and do not keep company with chattering squirrels. If you wish to see me you must come to my own home."

"And where is that?"

"In the hollow around on the other side of the elm. We owls are satisfied to sit thinking over our wisdom, and do not go scrambling about like squirrels, and other simple creatures."

"How did you happen out to-night?"

"O, every evening I come up on this branch to take the air, and study astronomy."

"Astronomy? – what's that?"

"It is counting the stars, and telling how they move, and watching when they fall. I expect to catch one, some day."

"What shall you do then?"

"Hide it in my nest, to be sure, until I can plant the seeds, and raise another crop."

"Hide a star in an owl's nest! Why, the stars are worlds," laughed Minnie.

"O, that is what ignorant people say. This, that you see above your head, is a huge tree with dark leaves, and hung all over with golden oranges. When the stars seem to move, it is only the boughs that are waving; when the stars seem to fall, it is ripe fruit that drops to the earth. Let me catch one, and you'll see what a fine orange-bush I'll grow from the seed!"

"I'd sooner fly out, in the pleasant morning sunshine, and pick up strawberries, blueberries, checkerberries, all the nice things that grow in the wood," said Minnie; "but, if you can't be happy without the stars, – "

"I never can!" exclaimed the owl.

"Then I would fly up where they grow, and pick them myself from the boughs; – not sit in a dark hole, and wait for them to fall."

But the owl – who thought no one's opinion worth much, except his own – could not agree with her, and flew away.

Then Minnie, tired of talking so long, fell asleep once more, hoping, with all her heart, that she should awake in her little room at home, with Allie's rosy cheek pressed close to hers, and her mother stooping to give them both her morning kiss.

CHAPTER IX.
THE NEW HOME

Cool air and pleasant music were about her, when Minnie awoke the next day, but no home. She was wrapped in a bundle of moss, on the elm-bough, still.

The bright morning sunshine lay over the leaves, fragrant odors came stealing out from the wood, and wreaths of beautiful white mist floated above the brook, and, slowly rising, reached, at last, and melted in with those other white clouds far up in the sky. Yet the lower end of the mist-wreath rested still upon the brook, so that it seemed like a long pearly pathway, joining the earth and heaven.

Many birds had their nests in the elm, and they were feeding and singing to their young; or, floating up in the sky, still kept a close watch over their little homes among the leaves.

Minnie found she had plenty of neighbors. The tree was like a town, filled with people of all colors, and sizes, and occupations. Of course, these were only birds or insects; but Minnie had grown so small that they looked monstrous to her. The birds were as large as herself, you remember. Little lady-bugs seemed as big as a rabbit does to us, and fire-flies were great street-lanterns; butterflies' wings were like window-curtains; bees were like robins; and squirrels, as large as Newfoundland dogs!

As her friends did not come to bid her good-morning, the little girl thought she would go in search of them. She felt afraid to move, at first, but found soon that the bough was as wide for her small feet as a good road would be for larger ones; so, steadying herself now and then by help of a twig or leaf, she wandered on.

Sliding carefully down the slope of a bough, she found herself, at length, close by the entrance of the squirrel nest. Her friend, the young squirrel, was just sweeping the door-way with his bushy tail; but, when he took Minnie in to see his brothers and sisters, she did not find their home a very orderly place.

She could not step without treading on empty nut-shells, bits of moss, or broken sticks; then the place was dark, and did not have a clean, sweet smell, like her mother's parlor. In one corner lay a heap of young squirrels, some so small you could put them into a nut-shell – others larger, and larger still. The nest was so cold and damp that the poor little things had crept together to keep warm.

Master Squirrel said, by way of excuse, that his mother was so busy, preparing for the party, she had not been able to set her house in order this morning; but Minnie never afterwards happened to go there when it was in better order than now.

"Where is your mother?" she asked.

"In the woods, at some of our other houses; for we squirrels don't live always in one place. She is gathering nuts and all kinds of goodies for our supper, and will scold me well if I have not the table set when she comes home."

"O, let me help you!"

Squirrel was glad to accept her offer, and they went to work in earnest. First, Minnie insisted upon bringing all the young ones out into the sun, when they stretched out their little heads and paws to receive the pleasant warmth, while Minnie returned to see if anything could be done with their disorderly home.

She sent squirrel into the woods for some pine leaves, and of these made a broom as large as she could handle. Then she swept, and dusted, and brushed black cobwebs down, and wiped the mouldy walls, and put fresh leaves in place of the musty moss on which the children had laid.

By this time the old squirrel had come back from the woods again; and told what a beautiful place his wife had found for their feast, and how glad she would be of Minnie's help. He limped a little, and said his back ached still from carrying such a load the day before; but, as there was no other way for the little woman to reach the ground, she might go with him, only be sure not to pull his ears!

No sooner said than done. Down the trunk of the tall tree they went with a leap or two, and along the stone walls, over bushes, through hollows, further and further into the wood, till they came to a lovely spot.

CHAPTER X.
IN THE WOODS

A number of trees stood so closely together that they seemed like a solid wood; but, when the squirrel had made a way for Minnie to pass under the heavy boughs, she found inside a circle, covered only with fine soft grass and moss, a few wild flowers nodding across it, and the leaves, with their low, pleasant rustle, closing around it like a wall.

"Now," said the old squirrels, who were too wise to be proud and boastful like their son, "now, Minnie, you know better than we what is proper, and you must tell us how everything shall be arranged."

Nothing could please Miss Minnie better than this. Her mother had not even allowed her to go into the supper-room before company came; and here she was to order all things, and be herself the little mistress of the feast!

They decided to have their party in the afternoon, because at that time the sunshine always slanted so pleasantly through the wood. If they waited till evening, the dew would begin to rise, and there was no depending on the moon for light; and their children, besides, would be needing them at home.

First, Minnie said, they must have a more convenient entrance to the supper-room. On one side stood a large azalea, or wild honeysuckle, in full flower, and near it a sweet-brier; between these were some whortleberry bushes, around the roots of which last Minnie made the squirrels burrow till she could drag them away.

Then, smoothing the broken earth, she covered it with sods of fresh moss, while overhead the sweet-brier and azalia met in a beautiful archway of fragrant leaves and flowers.



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