Caroline Guild.

Minnie: or, The Little Woman: A Fairy Story



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And it was so much prettier to have flowers growing in the ground than if they had been cut and brought from some green-house! Both Minnie and the squirrels were delighted with their dining-hall.

Next they spread shining oak-leaves for a table-cloth, which was better so than if it had all been in one piece, because now, wherever a tuft of violets grew, or any of the slight starry flowers that dotted over the grass, they could remain there, and save the trouble of arranging vases.

Then came a great variety of food, – nuts, honey, grain and berries, apple and quince seeds, bits of gum, and strips of fragrant bark. Minnie was shocked when she saw among the game a dish of dead ants, and one of frogs' feet, and another of red spiders; but the squirrel said she must have something to suit all tastes, and the birds would be disappointed if they had not animal food.

Then she begged Minnie to slice some cold meat for her, and brought a big black beetle to be shaved up like dried beef, and an angle-worm to be cut in slices for tongue.

"O, dear!" exclaimed Minnie, as the little round slices of this last fell into the plate, "can this be what I mistook for tongue, and relished so heartily last night?"

"Very likely," squirrel answered; "it is one of the tenderest meats we have."

Minnie resolved to eat no more dainties in the wood, until she had first found out their names; but she had not time to grieve much over her mistake, for the father-squirrel came to tell that he had promised his oldest children a race in the woods, and invited her to make one of the party.

She was glad to take lessons in running of such a quick little body as he; and, while his young ones frisked and bounded, and chased each other, he was very patient in teaching her all his arts. Before many such lessons, Minnie could balance herself on the most uneven and unsteady place; could climb slippery boughs, skip without stopping over the crookedest places, and even leap from branch to branch, so nimbly that squirrel was proud of his pupil.

He would not let her go very far that day, because she must be fresh for the afternoon, when his guests would come.

CHAPTER XI.
THE SQUIRREL'S PARTY

In due time the company arrived, and all were in such good spirits, and so polite, that Minnie thought she had never known a more charming party.

On each side of herself sat the birds; a blue-bird and yellow-bird first, then a thrush and an oriole, then-cunning little creatures! – a wren and an indigo-bird. The robins and bobolinks were not invited, because they were such gluttons. The crows could not come, because they were so quarrelsome, and the cherry-birds were too great thieves.

Then came a whole row of squirrels, that sat with their bushy tails up in the air, and paws folded quietly, notwithstanding the nuts before them, while they made themselves agreeable to the meek mice and moles, that were all a-tremble, not often finding themselves in such grand company.

One large gray squirrel came in his rough hunting-coat; but he talked so loud and boastfully, and seemed to look down upon all the others with such contempt, they were not sorry when he said, at last, that he had promised to take a walk with his distinguished friend the rabbit, and must therefore go home.

Several toads were invited, and Minnie had even taken pains to roll some round stones into the room for their seats.

They came, and were chatting gayly, when their eyes, that wandered over the delicious feast, fell upon the dish of frogs' feet, and home they hopped at once, offended. It was a great mistake, on the squirrel's part, to bring such guests and such a dish together; for who could be expected to relish seeing his cousin chopped up into souse?

The butterflies came, but declined taking seats at the table, as they never ate anything. They fluttered above, with their beautiful velvet wings, and clung to the flowers, bending them down with their weight; and, when Minnie observed how wistfully the birds were eying them, she thought perhaps the butterflies had a better reason than they gave for keeping at a distance.

After eating all they wanted, squirrel proposed that his guests should go to the brook for a drink. It was not far, and Minnie had swept the path nicely with her broom, and spread new moss wherever the ground was bare; so they seemed to be walking on a strip of green velvet carpeting, as, two by two, they started for the water-side.

Some little green, graceful snakes followed on from curiosity, while over the heads of the party fluttered all the butterflies; and a rabbit, chancing to see them, very politely asked squirrel if he might join the guests.

Meantime the toads, that had crept into a corner to mutter about their insult, hopped back to the table, and, along with a swarm of flies and ants, and greedy robins, crows, and bobolinks, soon finished all that the company had left.

CHAPTER XII.
BY THE RIVER

A yellow-bird was the companion of Minnie's walk, and a pleasant little man he was, with his gayly-spotted wings, his graceful manners, and musical voice.

The oriole was handsomer, and had a sweeter song; but he was proud, and spoke in a sharp, short way, that was not agreeable. Minnie said to herself, "I can listen to oriole while he sings at the top of the tall elm; but for my friend I will choose some one with gentler behavior, if he hasn't so loud a song." Do you think Minnie was wise?

Yellow-bird was equally pleased with his companion, and very ready to converse. He told her that he had often wished to become acquainted with some of his neighbors in the village, but dare not trust them.

"Why?" Minnie asked.

"O, one of my brothers, after eating the plant that makes us wise, heard a little girl begging him to come and live with her. She promised a beautiful cage in the summer-house, and plants to eat and drink."

"And he went?"

"Yes; he was so unwise. Before the end of a week the little girl had forgotten to feed him, and he lay dead in the bottom of his cage."

"Yet that was an accident; the little girl was sorry, I am sure."

"Her sorrow did not bring him to life again; and I could tell sadder stories-O, too sad stories for to-day!" Here yellow-bird stopped talking, and breathed forth a low, mournful song.

The squirrel, hearing him, turned quickly: "This will never do! Why, friend, we're going to a feast, and not a funeral; pray give us some gladder music."

"Excuse me, I never can sing so soon after eating," said yellow-bird, who was not willing to leave his new friend.

As for Minnie, she had never stood so near a bird before in her life; and could not be satisfied with looking into yellow-bird's round eyes, and stroking the soft feathers on his neck. She had a hundred questions to ask; and he answered so graciously that she began to think she would rather live with those gentle creatures, the birds, than with her kind, but wild and frisky friends, the squirrels.

You may remember it was Minnie's wish at first to live like a bird, on that morning-how long ago it seemed to her now! – when she had sat on her father's door-step, and watched a sparrow soar into the sky, and sing.

They had not time for many words before reaching the water, which in one place spread to a little pond beneath the trees, and reflected the leafy branches on every side, and the sky, with its pearl-white clouds, and the sunshine that lay across it like a path of gold.

An aged birch-tree, uprooted by the wind, had fallen into this pond. Its large and handsome boughs were still alive; and here flew oriole at once, singing as he alighted, and swung on the tip of a branch. The other birds followed through the air, except Minnie's friend, who walked quietly on with her. The squirrels bounded in a trice across the broad, white trunk of the tree. The mice and the moles followed them, and the rabbit was not far behind. The butterflies chose to hover above the sunny water in a flock.

Then squirrel made a speech, thanking his guests for the honor they had done him in spending so much time at his poor feast. He was glad it had been in his power to make some return, by presenting to them so distinguished a guest.

The rabbit took this compliment to himself; so he replied by assuring squirrel that the obligation was all on the part of his guests. In ending, he regretted that he had not chanced to meet earlier with such pleasant companions; the truth was, he had only an hour ago been able to rid himself of a gray squirrel, a rough, unmannerly fellow from the backwoods, whom he would have been ashamed to bring into such polite society.

"Ha!" said squirrel, forgetting his dignity as host, "the very chap that honored us with his presence a little while, and boasted about his mighty friend, the rabbit."

Rabbit folded his ears together very wisely at this, and replied: "A person who feels it necessary to boast of his friends, is never much in himself. Now, I always feel that I'm as good as any of my acquaintance."

"I wonder which is worse vanity," thought Minnie, "to boast of one's friends or one's self!"

But here yellow-bird hopped upon a spray, and sang a delightful little song in honor of their fair guest, whom he compared to a flower, a little cloud, a soft willow-bud of the spring-time, a white strawberry, and many other things in which birds delight.

The company were so pleased that they begged to hear the song again, – all except rabbit, who, finding his mistake at last, hopped further in among the leaves, and hid himself, feeling very much ashamed.

Then yellow-bird, instead of repeating his first song, sang another, which was sweeter still. It told how full the world might be of love and happiness, how many such good times as this all creatures might have, if they would but be gentle and kind, willing to please, and ready to forgive.

As the last note died away, oriole, impatient to show his skill, remarked that yellow-bird's song was too much like a sermon; and, without waiting for invitation, he then gave what seemed to him a better one.

And it was enchanting music. O, so clear, and wild, and joyous, that it made the other birds lift their wings, and long to fly!

Hearing a plunge in the water near, and a sigh of pleasure, Minnie looked down between the branches, and saw a handsome green frog, that had come to listen to the music; and swarms of little fish, with rainbow-colors on their silver scales, all listening too.

So the afternoon passed in speeches and music. The squirrels, who could not sing, told stories that made the company laugh right heartily. Even Minnie took her part in the entertainment, by relating how people in the village lived, how they ate, and drank, and slept, and why they did many things which had puzzled the birds and squirrels amazingly.

All this was as interesting to her listeners as it would be for us to read Robinson Crusoe, or Dr. Kane's travels among the icebergs and Esquimaux.

Repeating their thanks to squirrel, and each one politely urging Minnie to visit him, the company now went home.

Yellow-bird insisted upon taking Minnie on his wings, but soon found the little woman so heavy that he was satisfied to let her dance along by squirrel's side, and flew off to find his young. He had, too, a world to tell his mate about the merry feast, and the queer little lady in whose honor it was given.

I am afraid all the birds and squirrels that were at the party kept their mates or their brothers and sisters awake that night, relating what they had seen and heard. Even the mice talked about it in their cellars under ground; and oriole did not sleep a wink, he worked so hard composing a song to Minnie's eyelashes.

CHAPTER XIII.
THE YELLOW-BIRD

At daybreak the next morning yellow-bird came with the indigo-bird and thrush, and awakened Minnie with their charming songs. Sunrise, you know, is the time birds always choose for serenades; and I am not sure they are wrong-everything is so fresh, and still, and dewy, then.

She could hardly wait till the music was over before shaking away the moss in which she had slept, and going to bid her friends good-morning. Skipping fearlessly along the boughs, – for she had not forgotten squirrel's lessons, – just as the birds were preparing to fly away, Minnie surprised them with a sight of her merry face.

They did not chat long, for Minnie could see that her friends were impatient for their morning sail up in the fresh blue air. So she begged them to fly away, while she would go to the squirrel-nest and find if breakfast was ready.

She met squirrel, who, though much fatigued, and sometimes obliged to put his tail before his mouth in order to hide his gapes, was as civil as ever, and bade her a pleasant good-morning.

His wife did not happen to be in so amiable a mood. Not only was she tired from all the work and anxiety of the day before, but Minnie's sweeping and dusting, she said, had put everything out of order in her nest. Besides this, the children had taken cold from staying out of doors so long, and the light of the sun had given them weak eyes.

Minnie was troubled, and offered her help in making things go right again.

"No," Mrs. Squirrel replied, "I have had enough of such help, and now you can best assist me by keeping out of the way."

This was very rude, and brought tears into Minnie's eyes. It was bad enough, she thought, to be so far from home, but to be treated unkindly, and after she had worked so hard in hopes to please the squirrel, this was more than she could bear.

Running so far from the nest that she could not hear the angry voice within, Minnie seated herself on the bough, and, all alone there, thought of her pleasant home, and the mother who was so ready to praise her when she did right, and just as ready to forgive her when she did wrong. She seemed to see Franky looking through the fence, waiting, and wondering if she would never come. Then she saw Allie open her large eyes, and, peeping between the bars of her crib, look all about the room, and stretch her little hands forth for Minnie, and no Minnie there!

Even if she went back now, would they know her, shrunk as she was to a mere doll? Before she could reach her father's door, wouldn't the boys in the street pick up such a curious little being, and put her in a cage, or sell her, perhaps, to be killed and stuffed for some museum?

"O, I haven't any home, or friends in all the world!" she said, and, covering her face with her little hands, Minnie sobbed as if her heart would break.

"Hallo, there! what's the matter?" shouted young Master Squirrel from the bough above. "It can't be you're crying because the old woman is cross? Why, she'll be good as chestnuts by the time you see her again. Here, catch these nuts! she made me crack them for your breakfast."

Minnie thanked the squirrel, but she could not eat. Her heart was too heavy. She hoped that, when the birds came back, they would not find her, for she was too much grieved to talk, or even listen to music.

She had hardly drawn the leaves about her, when she saw the indigo-bird, and then the thrush, making their way towards the elm. Minnie held her breath, while they alighted and hopped from bough to bough, and turned their heads on one side to peer between the leaves, and sang little snatches of song, that she might hear and answer them. At last they flew away, and when oriole came, he had no better success.

Then came yellow-bird, with a fresh ripe strawberry in his mouth. He also looked in vain, until, just as he was lifting his wings to go, his quick ear caught a sigh, so low that only loving ears would have heard it, and he flew at once to Minnie's feet.

She still held the leaves fast, and yellow-bird was obliged to tear them with his beak before he could be certain that she was within.

"Poor little soul! what is the matter?" he said, when he saw her sad face, wet with tears.

Then Minnie put her arms around yellow-bird's neck, and told all her troubles. He did not speak a word until she had finished, when he exclaimed, "You shall not live with the squirrels any longer. Come to my own warm little nest on the other side of the elm. My mate will be glad to see you, and you shall have sunshine and music all day long. Tell me, Minnie, will you come?" He ended with a little strain of song, so sweet and pleading that Minnie could have kissed him for it, only, you know, a bird's mouth is rather sharp to kiss. She pleased him better by promising to go that very hour to his nest.

CHAPTER XIV.
IN A BIRD'S NEST

Yellow-bird's nest was all that he had promised. It was built on one of the outer boughs of the elm, deep enough among the leaves to be shady at noon, yet not so deep but in the cool of morning the sunshine could rest upon it.

Then the view was much finer than that from squirrel's side of the tree. Minnie looked down upon fields of wild flowers all wet with dew, across at hills that rose grandly against the sky; and, better still, between the trees she caught a glimpse of the town, with its white spires and cottages.

It was an important day with yellow-bird, for a whole brood of young ones were leaving his nest for the last time. He had taught them to sing and fly, had shown them where to find food, and given so much good advice, that now he did not feel afraid to trust them by themselves.

He brought his children to see Minnie before they left, made them sing a little song of welcome and farewell, and then watched with pleasure as they flew into the wood, and soon were lost amid its shady boughs.

Minnie asked if it did not make him sad to lose his treasures all at once.

"O, no," he said; "if one of my chicks had been blind, or had grown up with a broken wing, and could not leave the nest, I well might grieve. Now that all has gone well, I'm only too glad to see them fly away."

"But suppose that, when out of your sight, they fall into trouble or mischief?"

"They are never out of God's sight. Cannot he take better care of them than a little bird like me? Ah, Minnie, it isn't best to fret! The smaller and weaker we are, the more care our heavenly Father takes of us."

Yellow-bird's mate came now to see what her husband could be talking about, and invited Minnie to take a nearer look at her nest, which she had been industriously cleaning and mending since her children went.

It was a smooth, cool bed of horse-hair and moss, set prettily amidst the thick green leaves. Slender roots and threads were woven across the outside, and what was Minnie's delight to find among them a scrap of one of her mother's dresses, which yellow-bird said he had picked up beneath a window in the village, for it was so soft, and covered with such bright flowers, he knew it must please his mate!

Minnie felt that the nest would be dearer to her, and more like home than ever now. Yet she knew it was not civil to leave her good friends, the squirrels, without a word of good-by; so, lighter-hearted than when she left it, she skipped back to their den on the other side of the tree.

She found the old lady's temper very much improved, perhaps because she had her nest in what she called order again. Minnie tumbled over nut-shells, tore her dress against thorny sticks, and, when she stretched her hand toward the wall, trying to rise, she felt cold mushrooms growing out of the crumbling wood.

It was dark, too, – no prospect there, – and there was the old musty odor, which she remembered so well, instead of the sweet air and fresh green leaves above yellow-bird's nest; and there was the heap of sleepy young squirrels squeaking in a corner.

"O, dear!" thought Minnie, "how could I ever have wished to live in a place like this?"

Mrs. Squirrel was polite once more, and kindly offered her some luncheon, but did not ask her to stay. And, though surprised, she did not seem grieved when the little lady told her that she had come to say farewell.

Not so squirrel himself, who was proud of Minnie, and fond of her, and felt so badly at parting, that his lips trembled too much to bid her good-by, and he ran off into a hole in the ground to hide his tears.

"Dear squirrel! he has done the best he could for me," she thought; "and now, because he doesn't happen to have a pleasant home, I am about to leave him! I have a great mind to go back!"

Just then a nut-shell dropped on her head, and, looking up, she saw Master Squirrel, who laughed at her surprise. Leaping a little nearer, he began:

"So you've returned, Miss Runaway! My mother said it would be too good luck to lose you in a hurry. She was sure we should see you before the sun went down."

"Then your mother doesn't like me?"

"O, yes! she says you're a cunning little body, and mean no harm; but, like all company, you make a great deal of trouble, and do no one any good, that she can see."

"What does your father say to that?"

"He takes your part; tells her he's ashamed that she is not more hospitable; and then they quarrel well, I tell you!"

"There shall be no more trouble on my account," said Minnie, with dignity. "I am going to live with my friends, the yellow-birds. I have bidden your father and mother good-by, and now good-by, squirrel; you have all been very kind to me."



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