Minnie: or, The Little Woman: A Fairy Storyскачать книгу бесплатно
"No we haven't, Minnie; and I have been rudest of all; and you, so good, to be satisfied with our poor home!"
"Dinner-time! plenty of checkerberry buds and juicy berries in the wood!" sang yellow-bird on a bough above. "Come, Minnie, come!"
"Good-by, squirrel! Yellow-bird, here I am."
"O, Minnie!" was all the answer squirrel could make. She left him wiping his eyes on his hairy paws-left him, and skipped away with her new friend.
MINNIE AND THE BIRDS
For a little while Minnie was very happy with the yellow-birds; they were gentle and loving as the days were long, and only disputed to know which should have the pleasure of doing most for their company.
At home it was all sunshine and music, exactly as they had promised; and, when there was too much sun, they flew to the wood, where hundreds of other birds met also, and merrily passed the long, bright afternoons.
It was like a party every day. Instead of needing to set a table each time, there was the whole wood, with its flowers, berries, gums, and spicy buds, spread out for them to take their choice. The wine bubbled up freshly from their cellar, and spread into bright wells wreathed with flowers. No need of corkscrews and coolers; yet, the best wine in the world never tasted so good, nor left such clear heads, and such merry, thankful hearts, as this simple water-the only drink the birds asked at this woodland feast.
Minnie made friends among great and small, she was so sprightly, and ready to please, and so willing to be pleased herself. This last is a great secret in winning friends. If people find it hard to amuse us, they very soon grow tired of trying, and leave us to entertain ourselves.
But Minnie had a pleasant word and a merry answer for every one. She did not laugh at the oriole for his foolish pride, nor at the ant for her stinginess and silence, nor at the bee for making such a bustle, nor at the indigo-bird for her diffidence. She knew it was their way, and only took care not to imitate their faults herself.
Meantime she never was tired of admiring their better traits of character. Let the oriole be proud as he would; she knew that hardly any one else could sing such lovely songs as he was always twittering. Let the ant be ever so mean and dumb; who else had such an orderly house, and such a store of food? Let the bee buzz; couldn't he turn the poorest weeds into delicious honey, and set it in waxen jars of his own making, yet so neat, and delicate, and well contrived, that any man or woman might be proud of them? Let the indigo-bird be shy; once hidden among the leaves, wasn't she willing enough to trill forth the clearest, loudest, sweetest little songs?
Ah! in this great wide world there is no creature but has some precious gift for us, if we can only find it. The little bird is weak, but his voice can fill the whole sky with music. You may know some rough boy who seems wicked; but be sure there's a good spot in his heart, and, by treating him kindly, we may make that good spot larger.
Isn't it worth while to try?
Though yellow-bird, after giving many lessons, found he could not teach Minnie to fly, he taught her so much that, by resting one hand on his neck, she could easily glide along with him through the air.
In this way they fluttered from bough to bough in the wood, then took longer flights through sunny meadows, and at last ventured up among the clouds, where Minnie had longed to go.
Up, up, they soared, – yellow-bird singing for joy, – till there was nothing around them except the bright blue air, and, close over their heads, rose the pearly morning clouds.
Many a time had the little girl sat on her father's door-step, and longed to be where she now found herself. Many a summer morning she had watched these same clouds gather and wrap themselves together, till they looked like splendid palaces of pearl-pearly domes and spires dazzlingly bright in the sunshine, and porticos with pillars of twisted pearl; and, at little openings, she could look through vast halls, all paved with pearl, and curtained with silvery hangings.
At sunset the roof of her beautiful palace had changed from pearl to silver, and all its spires were gilded; the silvery hangings changed to rose-color; the floor, instead of pearl, was paved with solid gold, and the pillars were made of shining amethyst.
"O," Minnie had thought, "if, instead of this little house, with its dull, iron fence, I could live in such a noble home as that, how proud and happy I should be!"
Then, as a man passed, with his ladder, to light the street-lamps, she wondered if hundreds of ladders tied together couldn't reach as far as the clouds.
"How I would skip up the rounds," she thought, "and, when I had reached the highest, send my ladder tumbling back to earth! The ladder would break, so no one could follow me; and all day long I'd fly from hall to hall, or, through great winding staircases, find my way to the golden cupolas, where I could look down into the poor old dusty earth I had left."
And now, without tying a hundred ladders together, here she was among the clouds. Alas! the pearly halls, that from below had looked so beautiful, were damp and dismal vapors. It was chilly and lonesome up there, while, wonderful to tell! the earth seemed a warmer, sunnier, more cheerful place than she had ever known it. There was the pretty town, with its surrounding hills and woods, with its winding rivers, and green fields, and tranquil lakes. In all the sky there was nothing half so beautiful!
THE SQUIRREL'S TEAM
After the long sky-journey, Minnie was glad to reach her home in the elm once more. She was weary, wet, cold, and disappointed. She longed for the blazing fire in her mother's room, and the warm, pleasant drink her mother could mix for her. She longed to hear Frank's merry voice, and to see baby Allie with her golden curls.
There was no use in longing. Even if yellow-bird should fly with her to the very window, they wouldn't know her. They would only laugh at the curious little creature she had grown, and hang her up in the cage with their canary-birds. So she would make the best of her home that was left, and not distress her kind friends by wearing a gloomy face.
She was trying to smile, when a pleasant chirp told her that the yellow-bird's mate was near. She soon hopped into sight, and, welcoming Minnie in her kind way, told that she had an invitation from no less a person than his majesty, the owl.
The party was made especially for Minnie; so she could not refuse, although it was to be held at midnight. Yellow-bird would go with her.
"And you, too?" Minnie asked.
"Excuse me, dear, this time. I feel obliged to stay at home."
"So do I, then."
"Ah, I will tell you a secret. I have in my nest some of the prettiest little eggs you ever saw. If I should leave them they might be chilled with the night-air; so never mind me, Minnie, but go and have the pleasantest time you can."
"To tell another secret, then," Minnie answered, "my dress is not only worn to rags, but so soiled that I am ashamed of it, and cannot think of going into company. See what a plight!" And she held up the skirt that was torn into strips like ribbon.
"Is that all? I watched to-day while a cruel boy was shooting in the wood. He fired at a poor little humming-bird, and broke its wing. It fluttered down among the bushes, and lies there now, I suppose, for I took care to call the boy away."
"O, we understand. I cried out as if he had also wounded me; and, when he began to search, went slyly round into another place, and cried again. So I led the boy on, till I felt pretty sure he could not find his game if he went back."
"But why did you take so much pains?"
"Partly so that he should not carry the pretty little creature home, and send half the boys in town out here, next day, hunting humming-birds, and partly because I thought the feathers would make you such a warm, handsome cloak. Fly with me, now, and we'll find it; for here comes my mate, to take his turn in staying with the nest."
They quickly reached the bush, under which humming-bird lay dead; but how heavy he was! It was as much as ever Minnie could do to lift him from the ground.
While they stood over him, wondering what was next to be done, Master Squirrel frisked in sight, rolling before him a large, round turtle-shell.
"Stand out of the way!" he shouted. But Minnie stood across his path, and, for fear of throwing her down, he stopped; and, leaning on his shell, not very good-naturedly asked what she wanted.
"O, squirrel, do leave your play a little while, and help us!" she said. "We have this heavy bird to carry home, and skin, and make the skin into a cloak, while the daylight lasts; do be kind, now, and help us!"
"It isn't my way to be kind; but I'll make a bargain with you."
"Yellow-bird shall fix a harness out of straw, fasten you into my shell for a horse, and I will drive home with your load."
"That's a good plan," said Minnie, not waiting to think how squirrel had kept the best of the bargain for his own share. "What say you, yellow-bird?"
"Poor little woman! after such a long journey you are too tired to drag this great fellow home. I will do it myself."
"Then I will help you twist the ropes."
To work they went, and soon had the harness finished. Squirrel, meantime, selected a good long twig for a whip, laid the humming-bird across the shell, and leaped into his place.
He could hardly wait for the harnessing to be ended; but Minnie made him stay until he had promised only to snap his whip in the air, not use it on yellow-bird, and they darted on.
THE MOONLIGHT DANCE
Minnie tripped behind, watching the little team. She had grown so nimble that she could keep nearer than squirrel thought.
When he supposed he was out of sight from her, he lifted his whip, and gave yellow-bird a smart stroke across his shoulders.
But she knew how to punish him; – spreading her wings at once, she rose into the air, and made the deceitful squirrel roll out of his chariot.
He was ashamed to see Minnie after this, so limped away, whining that he had broken his paw, and would tell his mother.
Then yellow-bird sung one of her droll little songs, that were like twenty laughs shaken together, and, when Minnie came, begged her to take the squirrel's place, and drive home.
The little woman was too thoughtful of her kind friend for that. She went behind and pushed, while yellow-bird dragged the shell, and they soon had it safe beneath the elm.
Then they slipped off the humming-bird's skin in a trice, hung it a while on the sunny side of the elm to dry, and Minnie's good friend pulled out from among the twigs of the nest that dear piece of her mother's dress, and gave it to her for a lining.
You never saw a prettier and more fairy-like little garment than this when it was finished; the tiny feathers all lay together so evenly, and whenever the wearer moved they took such brilliant hues! Now the cloak was red, now brown, now green and gold, and again it glittered with all these colors at once.
Minnie had always seemed like a bird, with her quick, light, flying ways, and more than ever she seemed one now, with her gay feather cloak, and the fluttering, sailing motions she had caught from yellow-bird.
Mrs. Yellow-bird, having put the last stitch in Minnie's cloak, fastened it about her neck, and looked at her guest with great satisfaction. Then, at a chirp, her mate came, and readily consented to be Minnie's escort; so away they flew together.
The evening was mild, and clear moonlight filled the wood. Owl had chosen a lovely green dell in which to meet his friends, and had fitted it up with taste, and no little pains. All among the bushes and lower boughs of the trees he had tied live fire-flies and bright green beetles. He had built for the dance a tent of bark, and had sanded the floor with a curious dust that is found in the wood countries, and is like pale coals of fire.
The birds dared not step on this fiery carpet at first, for fear of singeing their feet; but owl assured them that it had no warmth. As for the fire-fly lanterns, it must be confessed that the birds' mouths watered in passing them, but they were too civil to eat up their host's decorations.
There was an orchestra of crickets, and they played such merry tunes that the guests all danced and waltzed till they were tired, and then it was supper-time.
Alas! owl had not been so thoughtful as the squirrels, and had only furnished such food as he liked himself. You may judge the surprise and disgust of the company, when, to the music of the band, they were marched in front of a heap of dead mice!
The owl began to eat at once, and begged his guests not to be diffident. Not one of them tasted a morsel, however. Some politely refused, some went home angry, and a few had the courage to own that they were not fond of mouse-flesh.
Thus owl's party ended, and, indeed, all his parties, for, the next time he sent out invitations, every bird in the wood respectfully declined.
If we think of no one but ourselves, we shall soon be left to ourselves.
THE LITTLE NURSES
Minnie almost fell asleep on her way back to the elm, and found it hard to keep up with yellow-bird, who flew on briskly as ever.
Her long morning journey, the labor and hurry of making her cloak, as well as the effort to bring the humming-bird home, and the party afterwards, the dancing and late hours, tired her so much-so much that she feared all the rest in the world would not make her strong again.
And when the tree was reached, Minnie's friends did not, as usual, offer her their nest. They must keep it now for the eggs. Cold and weary as she was, the little girl must lie down among damp leaves, with no other bed than a mossy place which she found on the rough bark of the elm.
In the morning she still felt tired, lame, and stiff, yet her spirits came back with the sunshine, and when she told yellow-bird she had not strength enough to fly away with him, he stayed and sung to her a while, and afterwards brought her delicious berries from the wood, all sweet and ripe, and cool with dew.
With such an attentive friend to supply her wants, it was not very hard to sit quietly upon her couch of moss, so green and velvety, with sunshine all about her on the leaves, and the pleasant prospect below.
You will remember that the tree was full of inhabitants, and our Minnie had made friends with almost all of them. When well and active, she had never passed them without a pleasant word, or at least a nod of welcome; and, now that she was sick, they were most happy to sit and talk with her, or offer their assistance.
They brought her presents, each in his kind. The bee came up from among the clover-blossoms, to place clear drops of honey on the leaf beside his little friend. The silent ant stopped a moment to tell the news, and presented a morsel of sugar which she had hoarded in her nest till it was brown with age. Indigo-bird brought a berry, blue as his wings. Some of the birds brought good fat angle-worms or snails, which would be dainty morsels to them. These Minnie laid aside for her friend Mr. Yellow-bird, although she thanked the givers politely, as if what they brought were her own favorite food.
This was not deceitful, because what Minnie enjoyed was the thoughtful kindness of her friends, and not their gifts. The berries were sweet, to be sure, but their friendship was sweeter.
Master Squirrel came among the rest. He and a spider of his acquaintance had made Minnie a beautiful parasol, with the humming-bird's bill for a handle, and a wild rose for the top.
The pink cup of this flower, turned downward as it was, cast such a glow upon Minnie's pale face, that Master Squirrel thought he had never before seen her look so handsome.
Soon, tired of listening to his coarse compliments, the little girl asked what else it was that he kept so nicely covered in his hands.
"O, that's my mother's offering!" he replied. "How the old woman would have scolded if I had forgotten to give it to you!"
"Pray, let me have it. How kind your mother always is!"
"Except when her nest is too clean, eh? Well, she saw me working over the humming-bird's carcass, and thought, as the meat was fresh, perhaps you'd like a scrap cooked for your dinner."
"Cooked meat! O, I haven't tasted a morsel since I left my father's house!" said Minnie, in delight. "Where could your mother have found the fire, though?"
"Not far off the woods are burning, – took fire in the dry season, as they often do, – and there were plenty of coals; so madam cut off the humming-bird's wing, and broiled it-O, my! – till it smells so nice that it made my mouth water to bring it to you!"
He lifted the cover, and there, on a green leaf, lay the dainty wing, all crisp and smoking now. Minnie relished her dinner more than words can tell.
Before Minnie was strong again, yellow-bird's eggs hatched, and both he and his mate were busy and anxious, all the time, with taking care of their nest full of little ones. She did not see her friends so often as formerly, and, when they came, their visits were hurried and short.
And, one by one, her other acquaintances grew forgetful, for birds and insects don't have such good memories as we, you know. Each was occupied with his own cares and amusements. Perhaps the truth was that they had grown tired of Minnie, as you grow tired, in time, of your prettiest playthings.
She felt all these changes. She remembered sadly what Master Squirrel had said, that his mother thought company a great deal of trouble, and herself, though a cunning body, of no use to any one.
What if yellow-bird and his mate should begin to feel the same? She determined not to stay and trouble them any longer, after they both had been so kind; but where in the great world could she go for a home? Who would feed, and comfort, and love her? Ah! how sadly she remembered the dear mother who had made it all her care to watch over and supply her children's wants!
Every creature in the wood had a home and friends, except herself! And yet none of these homes were so pleasant, none of these friends so sweet and loving, as the ones she had foolishly thrown away.
"Ah!" thought Minnie, as in the dusky twilight she lay swinging on a lonely bough of the elm, "Ah! if I could whisper loud enough for every little boy and girl on earth to hear, I'd say, 'Be happy in your own home, with your own friends; for there are no others like them-none, none, none!'"
Though these sad feelings were weighing on the heart, the rocking of the bough and sighing of the evening wind among the leaves lulled Minnie soon asleep.
She awoke in a terrible storm. She was drenched with rain, which pelted like pebbles, in sharp, quick drops, beating the leaves, while the wind dashed the boughs together, and made Minnie fear that, though clinging with all her strength to the branch, she must fall.
And she did fall into the wet grass far below, and was stunned, perhaps, for she did not awake until morning.
Then the sun shone brightly once more, the elm above her glittered with sparkling drops, and the first sound which Minnie heard was yellow-bird's song of joy that his little ones were safe after all the wind and rain.
"He has forgotten me, or he would not be so glad!" she whispered to herself. Then came the thought, "Perhaps he is happier because I am swept away out of his sight!" and with this she began to cry.
"What's the matter?" asked a little mouse, that was running about in the grass, picking up worms and flies which had perished in the rain. "What's the matter? Have my proud cousins, the squirrels, been treating you badly again?"
"No, they all do more for me than I can do for them; but, dear little mouse, I've stayed in the woods too long. Every one is tired of me. Couldn't you show me the way back to my mother's house?"
"Why, Minnie, I am not tired of you. Pray, don't go home yet. Come and make me a visit in my snug little hole, so quiet underground. No storms reach there. I shall not whisk you about as squirrel has done; nor take you long, weary journeys through the air, like yellow-bird. I'll bring you cheese, and meal, and melon-seeds, till you grow rosy as your little sister Alice."
"My sister! What can you know about her, pray?"
"Wasn't I at your house this morning? I have, not far from this very wood, a passage-way underground that leads into your mother's pantry. Come to my nest, and you'll hear news from home."
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