Caroline Guild.

Minnie: or, The Little Woman: A Fairy Story



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CHAPTER XXVI.
HIDE-AND-SEEK

One afternoon, tired of playing in the hot sun, Minnie thought she would creep under some shady cluster of leaves, and sleep.

But the butterflies could never have play enough, and the hotter the sunshine, the better for them. So they did not understand that the little girl needed rest, and, thinking her weariness only make-believe, would not give her any peace.

They ran across her hands, they tickled her cheeks with their feathery feelers, they pelted her with buttercups, and at last began to cover her over with leaves of the wild rose. So full of mischief were they, that one could no more sleep, while they were about, than if they'd been so many bees.

At first Minnie tried to be good-natured, and laugh at their pranks; but, warm and tired as she was, you cannot wonder that her patience didn't last.

Some children would have roughly driven the butterflies away-have pelted them with stones, perhaps, and broken their beautiful wings. But Minnie could not forget how kind they had been; and besides, you know, they were not such little things to her as they seem to us; they were almost as large as herself.

She only arose, and, turning her back, would not speak to them, or spoke in such a snappish manner that the butterflies were frightened, and flew away.

Left alone, she espied, near the wood, something that looked like a side-saddle, just large enough for a little body like herself. She sprang to see if there were a tiny horse to fit, and thought how quickly he should gallop off with her, so far that the butterflies could not follow-no, not if they wore their wings off!

But the saddle proved only to be a flower, so much like a wadded leather cushion, that Minnie took her seat upon it, and was swaying back and forth with its tall, stiff stem, when she noticed that it was surrounded by a row of leaves more curious, even, than the flower.

Each leaf was like a little pitcher, with such great ears that Minnie wondered if it were not the very kind she had heard her mother talk about, when she was whispering secrets. There they stood, like the forty jars in which Ali-Baba caught the forty thieves, in the Arabian Nights.

"Here's a place to hide!" She had hardly said it, when the butterflies came in sight, and Minnie slipped into the tallest pitcher, unseen by them, she thought.

But no-they found her; and now was Minnie's time to laugh. Fold their wide wings together, crumple them as they might, not one of the butterflies could crowd himself through the narrow neck of the pitcher. They could only stand and look down wistfully at the roguish face within.

"I'm glad to see you! shake hands!" said Minnie, shaking their slender wrists till they begged her to be still.

"Ah! Minnie, not so rough! Come, now, don't be cross any longer. Come out and play with us!"

"Don't you wish I would? Don't you wish you could catch me?" was all the answer she made.

"But we've found a bee that a bird killed, and we saved the honey-bag for you."

In vain they urged.

Minnie was very stubborn. She laughed at the butterflies, and teased them, until they were offended, and, one by one, flew back to the brook.

And, now that she had leisure to look about, the little girl found herself in an uncomfortable place. Not only was the pitcher half full of water, but so narrow that she could hardly move, and lined with stiff hairs, that seemed like thorns to tiny hands like hers. She would not stay here.

But how to escape was the question! She only climbed the sides to slip back again; her arms were scratched till they bled; her garments were heavy with the water in which they drabbled. Night was coming down; she could hear the crickets sing; she caught glimpses of birds flying home to their nests; yet all were so noisy or so busy that they could not hear her voice.

How she wished, now, that her rudeness had not driven the butterflies away! But it was too late for such wishes; they had gone.

CHAPTER XXVII.
MINNIE IN PRISON

Minnie thought the night would never end. She watched the stars that moved so slowly overhead; she watched the moonlight slant into the wood, and the pale flowers fill with dew. She heard the night wind creep among the leaves; and her old friend the owl, and other wild creatures that hide by day, she heard prowling about in the dark.

Sometimes there would be a quick cry, or a patter of light little feet, or the dull hoot of the owl; and then all was still again, and Minnie gazed once more to see how far the stars had moved. O, it was such a little way, and they had so far to go before the sun would shine again!

At last she fell asleep from very weariness, and awoke to find a faint red light above the eastern hills. It was morning-morning! Another hour would see the sun rise, and bring some friend, perhaps, to help her away from her prison.

When some kind friend awakens you at sunrise on a summer morning, and, feeling drowsy, you long to turn and sleep again, and wish daylight would never come, you must suppose that you were in Minnie's place, and see then if you do not find it easier to spring from your beds. Because the sunshine comes to us so freely, we must not forget how precious and beautiful it is.

Suppose the darkness, instead of lasting for one night, should last whole months, as it does at the far north. What a damp, dismal world it would be! How we should grope from place to place, and, sitting in our houses by the flicker of poor lamps, how we should long for the sunshine-for the beaming, generous light and pleasant warmth that spread now over all the land!

The birds began to rustle among the boughs, or, half asleep still, sing short dreamy songs upon their nests; but Minnie could not make them hear her little voice, and had resolved to call no more, but drown or starve, if she must, when a humming-bird came wheeling and buzzing by.

He was such a noisy fellow himself, that, like the rest, he might have passed on without noticing Minnie's cry, but he paused to drink at the pitcher, where he knew that water was hid; and what was his surprise to find an old acquaintance there!

Minnie was always ready for a joke; so she popped up her head like the little men you have seen shut into boxes, that, when the cover is lifted, start up and frighten you.

She knew very well that if humming-bird flew away at first, his curiosity would lead him back again. She laughed to see how quickly he flitted into the wood, and then how cautiously he came forth, and, from bough to bough and plant to plant, made his way to her side once more.

Then Minnie's face grew serious, as she told her little friend how much she had suffered and feared through the long, long night, and begged that he would help her to escape. He was not half strong enough to lift her, though he tried till his bill ached with dragging at her tangled hair.

And this work, if hard to him, was not, as you may judge, the most agreeable to Minnie. She persuaded the humming-bird to leave her for a while, and see if he could not find help, or, at least, find something for her to eat.

It happened that, in seeking food for Minnie, the bird found something of which he was especially fond himself; so, after eating his fill, he went humming across the meadow, never thinking again of the friend he had promised to help.

Very impatiently the little girl expected him every moment, until an hour had passed, and still she waited, hungry and alone.

Then came a great flapping of wings overhead, and a rustling such as she had once heard when a hawk flew into her father's poultry-yard. He had eaten the white chicken that she called her own, and it was as large as she was now. Suppose he should eat her!

The rush of wings came nearer, and the bird, whatever his name might be, alighted close beside Minnie, who ventured to peep over the edge of her pitcher, and beheld a curious, tall, awkward creature, such as she had never seen before in her life.

She coughed to attract his attention, and he turned toward her a bill as long as her own arm was once, and began to stalk about on legs longer, even, than his bill, and that looked like a pair of stilts.

CHAPTER XXVIII.
NARROW ESCAPES

"It's a pleasant morning for a walk," Minnie ventured to say.

Her visitor answered with a croak so rough that she couldn't tell whether he agreed with her or not. But, taking a long step, the stork came nearer, and looked directly down into Minnie's prison, and upon the little, tired, mournful, frightened face.

"Pray, don't hurt me! I have lost my way, and fallen into this dreadful place."

"Why do you stay here, if it is not pleasant?"

"O, I cannot climb out, I'm so small; and the sides are so slippery, and all these thorns so rough!"

Then, without waiting to be asked, the stork broke the leaf-stem, and, turning it upside down, shook Minnie out into the grass.

It was so good to stretch herself in the pleasant sunshine, that Minnie folded her hands, and lay there quietly as if she was asleep, or dead.

The stork travelled around her on his stilts, and Minnie heard him say, "In all my flying, I never came across such an odd little creature before; it looks like a woman, yet isn't larger than a bird. Its feathers are like a humming-bird's, and yet they are pretty well worn out. I wonder how it happens!"

With this he began to poke and pull at her cloak; finally, off it came, and stork held it up in the sun for examination. Then he eyed the little silk apron her mother had made, and twitched it by one corner, till Minnie began to think he would eat her piece by piece.

So, the first time he turned his head away, she sprang to her feet, and, without once looking behind, ran, leaped the fences and the fallen boughs, and, reaching her home by the brook-side, hid under the shadow of a stone.

And high above her, she watched the stork beating the air with his heavy wings, and sailing on out of sight.

After eating some savory roots, which the mouse had taught her how to find, and taking a berry or two for dessert, Minnie jumped into the brook, which looked warm and tempting as it rippled through the sunshine.

She could swim as swiftly as any fish, and was so very fond of the sport that she soon forgot her weariness. Laughing and shouting, she started in chase of a swarm of little minnows, whose silvery sides shone like moonbeams when they darted across the brook.

Minnie kept gaining ground, and thought, at last, that she could lay her hand upon the minnows, crowded all together as they swam; but, lo! at the first touch, like so many bubbles of quicksilver, they scattered far and wide. Some shot before her, some dodged behind her back, some hid their silly noses under stones and weeds, thinking, if only their eyes were out of sight, that nobody else could see them.

Of these last, Minnie caught several; but they slipped through her fingers again before she could be certain that she had them there. She might as well have tried to hold one of the ripples of the brook.

Now that the butterflies had forsaken her, Minnie found it lonely in the meadow, and spent most of her time by the stream. When it was low she would trip over the wet, rough stones in its bed so fast that the dragon-flies, with all their wings, could hardly keep pace with her.

And, when the little stream was full to its brim, she would nestle inside of a water-lily, and float for hours, half asleep, watching the sunny ripples pass. In more restless moods, she would climb tall bulrushes, or swing among the long, ribbon-like iris leaves. There was no end to the ways she had of amusing herself.

But one day, when she was swinging, a boy mistook her for a butterfly, and, springing among the iris-leaves, had almost caught her in his hat. Another day, as she was floating in the brook, an angler came, and threw a pretty, gay-winged fly into the water. When Minnie seized this, a sharp hook pierced her hand, and, the next thing she knew, she was lifted high in the air on the fisherman's line! In an instant she freed herself from the hook, and fell back into the water; but it was many days before the wound stopped smarting, and many more before it healed.

Still another time, Minnie found the brook covered with mosquitoes; the fields were parched with the August sun; and the road, where all the birds had gone to chat with the butterflies, was hot and dusty. So the little girl nestled under some cool violet leaves. In the woods violets blossom all the year round, you know, not plentifully as in spring, but here and there you find a cluster in bloom.

Such an one Minnie found, and, when she stretched herself in the grateful shade of its leaves, the sweet flowers looked down at her like the blue eyes of her mother, and the wind, that was whispering through the long, fine grass, seemed her dear lullaby.

But, as she leaned her head on the moss at the violet roots, and thought of home, there came a sudden jar, and the next moment she was rolling in a heap of dusty earth, and vainly striving to free herself, as you have seen ants when their nest was broken open.

A man was digging up the sod of violets to plant on the grave of his little child that was dead. Minnie feared that, if he detected her, he would stick her on a pin, as some new kind of butterfly, for his cabinet. She hardly dared breathe until his work was finished, and the man had gone away.

CHAPTER XXIX.
THE LITTLE SEAMSTRESS

All dusty and ragged, Minnie stood wondering whither she should turn next, and what would become of her.

No place seemed safe, no friends stood by her long; her garments were torn to fringes, and the hot sun pelted down its rays upon her so that she was faint.

She had barely strength to climb a tall pine-tree near in whose boughs she had often swung, through the long afternoons. But that was in happier days. The sighing of the wind among the branches, which used to be such pleasant music, was so mournful now that it filled Minnie's eyes with tears. It seemed as if a hundred soft, sad voices were calling, just as Minnie's heart called, for her mother to come and fold her in her own dear arms once more, and comfort her, and forgive her, and take her home, never, never to wander or be disobedient again.

"Halloa!" said a voice. "What's the matter this time? Have you lost your fine cloak, or has some one else grown tired of my little woman, and sent her off to starve?"

"Pray, squirrel, don't tease me, now. I'm so homesick, and so poor, and tired, and discouraged, that it seems to me I shall die."

"That's what I said you'd come to, when you left us; but I'm your friend, Minnie, though I am such a rude fellow, and I don't mean you any harm. Good-by!"

Master Squirrel was frisking off, when Minnie called, "Wait, wait! Couldn't you-"

"O, you mustn't ask any favors. I'm full of business and care. Since we parted I have found a mate; and have a nest of my own, and lots of little ones. Call and see us!"

He had hardly gone, when Mrs. Yellow-bird came in sight. "My dear friend," Minnie began.

"A pretty friend!" she interrupted; "think of the trouble you've caused me!"

"How?"

"Ah, you can pretend not to know; but I am sure Master Squirrel has told you what he did, in spite, because I helped carry the humming-bird home for you, one day, and tipped him out of the car. You never even came to say you were sorry."

"How could I? I do not even know what the mischief was."

"He upset my nest, and killed all my pretty little birds!" And she poured forth a song that seemed to say, "All my little ones, all my pretty birds gone! I can never be happy again!"

Even after yellow-bird was out of sight, the sad notes of her song came back, and she never knew of the tears that Minnie shed for her.

A spider now let herself down by her silken thread from the bough above, where she had been listening to Minnie's words, and pitying her sorrow.

"Come! this is no way to be happy," she said, "and no way to make friends. Who'd care to know such a ragged little witch as you? And you're dusty as a toad. Why don't you wash your face, and mend your gown, and let folks see you are good for something?"

"O, I have tried!" said Minnie, mournfully. "I tried to sew a new gown out of elm leaves; but they were so tender they wilted and tore before I could put them together. Then I picked some beautiful oak leaves, and they were so tough they blunted my needle, and frayed the spider-webs I was sewing with."

"O, well, come down in the grass, and see what we can do together."

Down leaped Minnie, like a squirrel, and down dropped spider on her silken thread. They ran through the grass together till they came to a dwarf-oak, from which Minnie picked the large leaves, while spider wove them together with her curious web.

Minnie seated herself on a mushroom, and watched her good-natured friend at work. Spider wove her threads back and forth, till the seams appeared to be laced together with silvery, silken cords. She finished each with silver tassels; and, when Minnie had dressed in her handsome gown, wove a scarf of silver-gauze to throw across her shoulders.

Then Minnie twisted grass-blades together, as yellow-bird had taught her, and made a strong girdle for her waist, and tucked a rose leaf under it for apron, and picked for bonnet a purple snap dragon, with a golden frill inside.

But, alas, the happy, laughing look was gone from Minnie's eyes; and the rags and the little sun-burnt face looked out beneath all her finery!

CHAPTER XXX.
STORK

A few days after Minnie's escape from the pitcher-plant she heard the minnows telling each other about a dreadful creature, that had been wading in the brook, catching the fish in his wide bill, and gobbling them down two or three at a time.

She thought it must be the stork, and that she would keep out of his way; but, when he really came at last, she couldn't help feeling how nice it would be to sit high and dry on his back while he waded up and down the stream. So Minnie came out of her hiding-place, and asked stork if he remembered her.

"Don't I? It's all I have lingered here for-the hope of seeing my queer little woman again. My own home is far off, beside the blue ocean, where I can hear the pleasant music of the waves."

"How I should like to hear them!" Minnie exclaimed. "Do they make as loud a sound as the water of the brook?"

"Not much louder when the weather is fair; but, in a storm, they roar like thunder, and don't they throw dainty breakfasts upon the rocks for me, then!"

"What! honey, and rose leaves, and berries?"

"No; where should they come from? The waves bring good fat fish, and clams, and black lobster-claws, that get broken in the storm."

"O, dear, is that all?"

"If you like it better, they bring shells, and pebbles white as eggs, and beautiful seaweeds gay as any garden-flower, and little red crabs, and curious star-fish. Come home with me, and I'll show what the waves can do!"

Minnie was not sorry to leave the brook, which had become so unsafe for her; and, besides, you know she was always ready for a change. So, begging the stork to bend his neck as near the ground as he could, she clambered upon his back. Then stork outspread his broad, strong wings, and up they flew, and on, on, on, I cannot tell how many miles, till they reached the ocean-side.

Minnie had seen wide rivers and lakes before; but never anything equal to this mighty ocean, which lay beneath them like an enormous mirror, as they flew, – like a great glittering floor of glass.

On one side it stretched far out-nothing but water-till it reached the sky; on the other, it was bordered by a beach of smooth, white sand, over which lay strewn the gay seaweeds, and pebbles, and shells, about which stork had told her.

Glad to stand on her feet again, Minnie skipped along the shore, stooping often to admire some smooth, pearly shell, or glistening pebble, or heap of shining bubbles thrown up by the waves, and changing like opals in the sun.

It seemed as if the little waves were chasing her; as if they ran up the smooth sand on purpose to kiss her feet; as if they were asking her to accept the pretty weeds and stones which they kept tossing on the beach.

"O, stork, what a beautiful place it is! We will stay here as long as we live!" she said.

"I don't know about that. The beach is a good place after a storm; but we can't dine on bubbles and pebbles, Minnie, so climb my back again, and I'll take you across to the rocks."

A long, black ledge, against which the waves kept dashing, to turn white with foam, and leap glittering into the air, – this was the place toward which stork now steered.

The little woman could not but tremble as she looked down upon all the restless waves which stretched on every side as far as she could see. It was a beautiful sight; but Minnie knew that, if she should fall, the ocean would swallow her more easily than ever stork swallowed a minnow in the brook.

The rocks were wet, they found, and slippery; half covered with coarse seaweed, that was brown as leaves in winter, and did not look like any growing thing. But, selecting a higher ledge, which the sun had dried, stork asked Minnie to sit here and rest, while he went in search of food.



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