Queer Little Folks
Harriet Beecher Stowe
This etext was scanned by David Price, email email@example.com
from the 1897 T. Nelson and Sons edition. Proofing was by Rab
Hughes, Carrie A. Fellman and Susan A. Wheeler.
QUEER LITTLE FOLKS
Hen that Hatched Ducks
The Nutcrackers of Nutcracker Lodge
The History of Tip-Top
Miss Katy-Did and Miss Cricket
Mother Magpie's Mischief
The Squirrels that live in a House
Hum, the Son of Buz
Our Country Neighbours
The Diverting History of Little Whiskey
HEN THAT HATCHED DUCKS
Once there was a nice young hen that we will call Mrs. Feathertop.
She was a hen of most excellent family, being a direct descendant of
the Bolton Grays, and as pretty a young fowl as you could wish to see
of a summer's day. She was, moreover, as fortunately situated in
life as it was possible for a hen to be. She was bought by young
Master Fred Little John, with four or five family connections of
hers, and a lively young cock, who was held to be as brisk a
scratcher and as capable a head of a family as any half-dozen
sensible hens could desire.
I can't say that at first Mrs. Feathertop was a very sensible hen.
She was very pretty and lively, to be sure, and a great favourite
with Master Bolton Gray Cock, on account of her bright eyes, her
finely shaded feathers, and certain saucy dashing ways that she had
which seemed greatly to take his fancy. But old Mrs. Scratchard,
living in the neighbouring yard, assured all the neighbourhood that
Gray Cock was a fool for thinking so much of that flighty young
thing; THAT she had not the smallest notion how to get on in life,
and thought of nothing in the world but her own pretty feathers.
"Wait till she comes to have chickens," said Mrs. Scratchard; "then
you will see. I have brought up ten broods myself--as likely and
respectable chickens as ever were a blessing to society--and I think
I ought to know a good hatcher and brooder when I see her; and I know
THAT fine piece of trumpery, with her white feathers tipped with
gray, never will come down to family life. SHE scratch for chickens!
Bless me, she never did anything in all her days but run round and
eat the worms which somebody else scratched up for her."
When Master Bolton Gray heard this he crowed very loudly, like a cock
of spirit, and declared that old Mrs. Scratchard was envious, because
she had lost all her own tail-feathers, and looked more like a worn-
out old feather-duster than a respectable hen, and that therefore she
was filled with sheer envy of anybody that was young and pretty. So
young Mrs. Feathertop cackled gay defiance at her busy rubbishy
neighbour, as she sunned herself under the bushes on fine June
Now Master Fred Little John had been allowed to have these hens by
his mamma on the condition that he would build their house himself,
and take all the care of it; and to do Master Fred justice, he
executed the job in a small way quite creditably. He chose a sunny
sloping bank covered with a thick growth of bushes, and erected there
a nice little hen-house with two glass windows, a little door, and a
good pole for his family to roost on. He made, moreover, a row of
nice little boxes with hay in them for nests, and he bought three or
four little smooth white china eggs to put in them, so that, when his
hens DID lay, he might carry off their eggs without their being
missed. This hen-house stood in a little grove that sloped down to a
wide river, just where there was a little cove which reached almost
to the hen-house.
This situation inspired one of Master Fred's boy advisers with a new
scheme in relation to his poultry enterprise. "Hallo! I say, Fred,"
said Tom Seymour, "you ought to raise ducks; you've got a capital
place for ducks there."
"Yes; but I've bought HENS, you see," said Freddy; "so it's no use
"No use! Of course there is. Just as if your hens couldn't hatch
ducks' eggs. Now you just wait till one of your hens wants to sit,
and you put ducks' eggs under her, and you'll have a family of ducks
in a twinkling. You can buy ducks' eggs a plenty of old Sam under
the hill. He always has hens hatch his ducks."
So Freddy thought it would be a good experiment, and informed his
mother the next morning that he intended to furnish the ducks for the
next Christmas dinner and when she wondered how he was to come by
them, he said mysteriously, "Oh, I will show you how," but did not
further explain himself. The next day he went with Tom Seymour and
made a trade with old Sam, and gave him a middle-aged jack-knife for
eight of his ducks' eggs. Sam, by-the-by, was a woolly-headed old
negro man, who lived by the pond hard by, and who had long cast
envying eyes on Fred's jack-knife, because it was of extra fine
steel, having been a Christmas present the year before. But Fred
knew very well there were any number more of jack-knives where that
came from, and that, in order to get a new one, he must dispose of
the old; so he made the purchase and came home rejoicing.
Now about this time Mrs. Feathertop, having laid her eggs daily with
great credit to herself, notwithstanding Mrs. Scratchard's
predictions, began to find herself suddenly attacked with nervous
symptoms. She lost her gay spirits, grew dumpish and morose, stuck
up her feathers in a bristling way, and pecked at her neighbours if
they did so much as look at her. Master Gray Cock was greatly
concerned, and went to old Dr. Peppercorn, who looked solemn, and
recommended an infusion of angle-worms, and said he would look in on
the patient twice a day till she was better.
"Gracious me, Gray Cock!" said old Goody Kertarkut, who had been
lolling at the corner as he passed, "ain't you a fool?--cocks always
are fools. Don't you know what's the matter with your wife? She
wants to sit, that's all; and you just let her sit. A fiddlestick
for Dr. Peppercorn! Why, any good old hen that has brought up a
family knows more than a doctor about such things. You just go home
and tell her to sit if she wants to, and behave herself."
When Gray Cock came home, he found that Master Freddy had been before
him, and had established Mrs. Feathertop upon eight nice eggs, where
she was sitting in gloomy grandeur. He tried to make a little
affable conversation with her, and to relate his interview with the
doctor and Goody Kertarkut; but she was morose and sullen, and only
pecked at him now and then in a very sharp, unpleasant way. So after
a few more efforts to make himself agreeable he left her, and went
out promenading with the captivating Mrs. Red Comb, a charming young
Spanish widow, who had just been imported into the neighbouring yard.
"Bless my soul," said he, "you've no idea how cross my wife is."
"O you horrid creature!" said Mrs. Red Comb. "How little you feel
for the weaknesses of us poor hens!"
"On my word, ma'am," said Gray Cock, "you do me injustice. But when
a hen gives way to temper, ma'am, and no longer meets her husband
with a smile--when she even pecks at him whom she is bound to honour
"Horrid monster! talking of obedience! I should say, sir, you came
straight from Turkey." And Mrs. Red Comb tossed her head with a most
bewitching air, and pretended to run away; and old Mrs. Scratchard
looked out of her coop and called to Goody Kertarkut, -
"Look how Mr. Gray Cock is flirting with that widow. I always knew
she was a baggage."
"And his poor wife left at home alone," said Goody Kertarkut. "It's
the way with 'em all!"
"Yes, yes," said Dame Scratchard, "she'll know what real life is now,
and she won't go about holding her head so high, and looking down on
her practical neighbours that have raised families."
"Poor thing! what'll she do with a family?" said Goody Kertarkut.
"Well, what business have such young flirts to get married?" said
Dame Scratchard. "I don't expect she'll raise a single chick; and
there's Gray Cock flirting about, fine as ever. Folks didn't do so
when I was young. I'm sure my husband knew what treatment a sitting
hen ought to have,--poor old Long Spur! he never minded a peck or so
and then. I must say these modern fowls ain't what fowls used to
Meanwhile the sun rose and set, and Master Fred was almost the only
friend and associate of poor little Mrs. Feathertop, whom he fed
daily with meal and water, and only interrupted her sad reflections
by pulling her up occasionally to see how the eggs were coming on.
At last "Peep, peep, peep," began to be heard in the nest, and one
little downy head after another poked forth from under the feathers,
surveying the world with round, bright, winking eyes; and gradually
the brood were hatched, and Mrs. Feathertop arose, a proud and happy
mother, with all the bustling, scratching, care-taking instincts of
family-life warm within her breast. She clucked and scratched, and
cuddled the little downy bits of things as handily and discreetly as
a seven-year-old hen could have done, exciting thereby the wonder of
Master Gray Cock came home in high spirits, and complimented her;
told her she was looking charmingly once more, and said, "Very well,
very nice," as he surveyed the young brood. So that Mrs. Feathertop
began to feel the world going well with her, when suddenly in came
Dame Scratchard and Goody Kertarkut to make a morning call.
"Let's see the chicks," said Dame Scratchard.
"Goodness me," said Goody Kertarkut, "what a likeness to their dear
"Well, but bless me, what's the matter with their bills?" said Dame
Scratchard. "Why, my dear, these chicks are deformed! I'm sorry for
you, my dear; but it's all the result of your inexperience. You
ought to have eaten pebble-stones with your meal when you were
sitting. Don't you see, Dame Kertarkut, what bills they have?
That'll increase, and they'll be frightful!"
"What shall I do?" said Mrs. Feathertop, now greatly alarmed.
"Nothing, as I know of," said Dame Scratchard, "since you didn't come
to me before you sat. I could have told you all about it. Maybe it
won't kill 'em, but they'll always be deformed."
And so the gossips departed, leaving a sting under the pin-feathers
of the poor little hen mamma, who began to see that her darlings had
curious little spoon-bills, different from her own, and to worry and
fret about it.
"My dear," she said to her spouse, "do get Dr. Peppercorn to come in
and look at their bills, and see if anything can be done."
Dr. Peppercorn came in, and put on a monstrous pair of spectacles,
and said, "Hum! ha! extraordinary case; very singular."
"Did you ever see anything like it, doctor?" said both parents in a
"I've read of such cases. It's a calcareous enlargement of the
vascular bony tissue, threatening ossification," said the doctor.
"Oh, dreadful! Can it be possible?" shrieked both parents. "Can
anything be done?"
"Well, I should recommend a daily lotion made of mosquitoes' horns
and bicarbonate of frogs' toes, together with a powder, to be taken
morning and night, of muriate of fleas. One thing you must be
careful about: they must never wet their feet, nor drink any water."
"Dear me, doctor, I don't know what I SHALL do, for they seem to have
a particular fancy for getting into water."
"Yes, a morbid tendency often found in these cases of bony
tumification of the vascular tissue of the mouth; but you must resist
it, ma'am, as their life depends upon it." And with that Dr.
Peppercorn glared gloomily on the young ducks, who were stealthily
poking the objectionable little spoon-bills out from under their
After this poor Mrs. Feathertop led a weary life of it; for the young
fry were as healthy and enterprising a brood of young ducks as ever
carried saucepans on the end of their noses, and they most utterly
set themselves against the doctor's prescriptions, murmured at the
muriate of fleas and the bicarbonate of frogs' toes, and took every
opportunity to waddle their little ways down to the mud and water
which was in their near vicinity. So their bills grew larger and
larger, as did the rest of their bodies, and family government grew
weaker and weaker.
"You'll wear me out, children, you certainly will," said poor Mrs.
"You'll go to destruction, do ye hear?" said Master Gray Cock.
"Did you ever see such frights as poor Mrs. Feathertop has got?" said
Dame Scratchard. "I knew what would come of HER family--all
deformed, and with a dreadful sort of madness which makes them love
to shovel mud with those shocking spoon-bills of theirs."
"It's a kind of idiocy," said Goody Kertarkut. "Poor things! they
can't be kept from the water, nor made to take powders, and so they
get worse and worse."
"I understand it's affecting their feet so that they can't walk, and
a dreadful sort of net is growing between their toes. What a
"She brought it on herself," said Dame Scratchard. "Why didn't she
come to me before she sat? She was always an upstart, self-conceited
thing; but I'm sure I pity her."
Meanwhile the young ducks throve apace. Their necks grew glossy,
like changeable green and gold satin, and though they would not take
the doctor's medicine, and would waddle in the mud and water--for
which they always felt themselves to be very naughty ducks--yet they
grew quite vigorous and hearty. At last one day the whole little
tribe waddled off down to the bank of the river. It was a beautiful
day, and the river was dancing and dimpling and winking as the little
breezes shook the trees that hung over it.
"Well," said the biggest of the little ducks, "in spite of Dr.
Peppercorn, I can't help longing for the water. I don't believe it
is going to hurt me; at any rate, here goes," and in he plumped, and
in went every duck after him, and they threw out their great brown
feet as cleverly as if they had taken swimming lessons all their
lives, and sailed off on the river, away, away among the ferns, under
the pink azaleas, through reeds and rushes, and arrow-heads and
pickerel-weed, the happiest ducks that ever were born; and soon they
were quite out of sight.
"Well, Mrs. Feathertop, this is a dispensation!" said Mrs.
Scratchard. "Your children are all drowned at last, just as I knew
they'd be. The old music-teacher, Master Bullfrog, that lives down
in Water-Dock Lane, saw 'em all plump madly into the water together
this morning. That's what comes of not knowing how to bring up a
Mrs. Feathertop gave only one shriek and fainted dead away, and was
carried home on a cabbage-leaf; and Mr. Gray Cock was sent for, where
he was waiting on Mrs. Red Comb through the squash-vines.
"It's a serious time in your family, sir," said Goody Kertarkut, "and
you ought to be at home supporting your wife. Send for Dr.
Peppercorn without delay."
Now as the case was a very dreadful one, Dr. Peppercorn called a
council from the barn-yard of the squire, two miles off, and a brisk
young Dr. Partlett appeared, in a fine suit of brown and gold, with
tail-feathers like meteors. A fine young fellow he was, lately from
Paris, with all the modern scientific improvements fresh in his head.
When he had listened to the whole story, he clapped his spur into the
ground, and leaning back laughed so loudly that all the cocks in the
Mrs. Feathertop rose up out of her swoon, and Mr. Gray Cock was
"What do you mean, sir, by such behaviour in the house of mourning?"
"My dear sir, pardon me; but there is no occasion for mourning. My
dear madam, let me congratulate you. There is no harm done. The
simple matter is, dear madam, you have been under a hallucination all
along. The neighbourhood and my learned friend the doctor have all
made a mistake in thinking that these children of yours were hens at
all. They are ducks, ma'am, evidently ducks, and very finely-formed
ducks I daresay."
At this moment a quack was heard, and at a distance the whole tribe
were seen coming waddling home, their feathers gleaming in green and
gold, and they themselves in high good spirits.
"Such a splendid day as we have had!" they all cried in a breath.
"And we know now how to get our own living; we can take care of
ourselves in future, so you need have no further trouble with us."
"Madam," said the doctor, making a bow with an air which displayed
his tail-feathers to advantage, "let me congratulate you on the
charming family you have raised. A finer brood of young, healthy
ducks I never saw. Give me your claw, my dear friend," he said,
addressing the eldest son. "In our barn-yard no family is more
respected than that of the ducks."
And so Madam Feathertop came off glorious at last. And when after
this the ducks used to go swimming up and down the river like so many
nabobs among the admiring hens, Dr. Peppercorn used to look after
them and say, "Ah, I had the care of their infancy!" and Mr. Gray
Cock and his wife used to say, "It was our system of education did
THE NUTCRACKERS OF NUTCRACKER LODGE
Mr. and Mrs. Nutcracker were as respectable a pair of squirrels as
ever wore gray brushes over their backs. They were animals of a
settled and serious turn of mind, not disposed to run after vanities
and novelties, but filling their station in life with prudence and
sobriety. Nutcracker Lodge was a hole in a sturdy old chestnut
overhanging a shady dell, and was held to be as respectably kept an
establishment as there was in the whole forest. Even Miss Jenny
Wren, the greatest gossip of the neighbourhood, never found anything
to criticise in its arrangements; and old Parson Too-whit, a
venerable owl who inhabited a branch somewhat more exalted, as became
his profession, was in the habit of saving himself much trouble in
his parochial exhortations by telling his parishioners in short to
"look at the Nutcrackers" if they wanted to see what it was to live a
virtuous life. Everything had gone on prosperously with them, and
they had reared many successive families of young Nutcrackers, who
went forth to assume their places in the forest of life, and to
reflect credit on their bringing up,--so that naturally enough they
began to have a very easy way of considering themselves models of
But at last it came along, in the course of events, that they had a
son named Featherhead, who was destined to bring them a great deal of
anxiety. Nobody knows what the reason is, but the fact was, that
Master Featherhead was as different from all the former children of
this worthy couple as if he had been dropped out of the moon into
their nest, instead of coming into it in the general way. Young
Featherhead was a squirrel of good parts and a lively disposition,
but he was sulky and contrary and unreasonable, and always finding
matter of complaint in everything his respectable papa and mamma did.
Instead of assisting in the cares of a family,--picking up nuts and
learning other lessons proper to a young squirrel,--he seemed to
settle himself from his earliest years into a sort of lofty contempt
for the Nutcrackers, for Nutcracker Lodge, and for all the good old
ways and institutions of the domestic hole, which he declared to be
stupid and unreasonable, and entirely behind the times. To be sure,
he was always on hand at meal-times, and played a very lively tooth
on the nuts which his mother had collected, always selecting the very
best for himself; but he seasoned his nibbling with so much grumbling
and discontent, and so many severe remarks, as to give the impression
that he considered himself a peculiarly ill-used squirrel in having
to "eat their old grub," as he very unceremoniously called it.
Papa Nutcracker, on these occasions, was often fiercely indignant,
and poor little Mamma Nutcracker would shed tears, and beg her
darling to be a little more reasonable; but the young gentleman
seemed always to consider himself as the injured party.
Now nobody could tell why or wherefore Master Featherhead looked upon
himself as injured or aggrieved, since he was living in a good hole,
with plenty to eat, and without the least care or labour of his own;
but he seemed rather to value himself upon being gloomy and
dissatisfied. While his parents and brothers and sisters were
cheerfully racing up and down the branches, busy in their domestic
toils, and laying up stores for the winter, Featherhead sat gloomily
apart, declaring himself weary of existence, and feeling himself at
liberty to quarrel with everybody and everything about him. Nobody
understood him, he said;--he was a squirrel of a peculiar nature, and
needed peculiar treatment, and nobody treated him in a way that did
not grate on the finer nerves of his feelings. He had higher notions
of existence than could be bounded by that old rotten hole in a
hollow tree; he had thoughts that soared far above the miserable,
petty details of every-day life, and he could not and would not bring
down these soaring aspirations to the contemptible toil of laying up
a few chestnuts or hickory-nuts for winter.
"Depend upon it, my dear," said Mrs. Nutcracker solemnly, "that
fellow must be a genius."
"Fiddlestick on his genius!" said old Mr. Nutcracker; "what does he
"Oh, nothing, of course; that's one of the first marks of genius.
Geniuses, you know, never can come down to common life."
"He eats enough for any two," remarked old Nutcracker, "and he never
helps to gather nuts."
"My dear, ask Parson Too-whit. He has conversed with him, and quite
agrees with me that he says very uncommon things for a squirrel of
his age; he has such fine feelings,--so much above those of the
"Fine feelings be hanged!" said old Nutcracker. "When a fellow eats
all the nuts that his mother gives him, and then grumbles at her, I
don't believe much in his fine feelings. Why don't he set himself
about something? I'm going to tell my fine young gentleman that, if
he doesn't behave himself, I'll tumble him out of the nest, neck and
crop, and see if hunger won't do something towards bringing down his
But then Mrs. Nutcracker fell on her husband's neck with both paws,
and wept, and besought him so piteously to have patience with her
darling, that old Nutcracker, who was himself a soft-hearted old
squirrel, was prevailed upon to put up with the airs and graces of
his young scapegrace a little longer; and secretly in his silly old
heart he revolved the question whether possibly it might not be that
a great genius was actually to come of his household.
The Nutcrackers belonged to the old-established race of the Grays,
but they were sociable, friendly people, and kept on the best of
terms with all branches of the Nutcracker family. The Chipmunks of
Chipmunk Hollow were a very lively, cheerful, sociable race, and on
the very best of terms with the Nutcracker Grays. Young Tip
Chipmunk, the oldest son, was in all respects a perfect contrast to
Master Featherhead. He was always lively and cheerful, and so very
alert in providing for the family, that old Mr. and Mrs. Chipmunk had
very little care, but could sit sociably at the door of their hole
and chat with neighbours, quite sure that Tip would bring everything
out right for them, and have plenty laid up for winter.
Now Featherhead took it upon him, for some reason or other, to look
down upon Tip Chipmunk, and on every occasion to disparage him in the
social circle, as a very common kind of squirrel, with whom it would
be best not to associate too freely.
"My dear," said Mrs. Nutcracker one day, when he was expressing these
ideas, "it seems to me that you are too hard on poor Tip; he is a
most excellent son and brother, and I wish you would be civil to
"Oh, I don't doubt that Tip is GOOD enough," said Featherhead
carelessly; "but then he is so very common! he hasn't an idea in his
skull above his nuts and his hole. He is good-natured enough, to be
sure,--these very ordinary people often are good-natured,--but he
wants manner; he has really no manner at all; and as to the deeper
feelings, Tip hasn't the remotest idea of them. I mean always to be
civil to Tip when he comes in my way, but I think the less we see of
that sort of people the better; and I hope, mother, you won't invite
the Chipmunks at Christmas,--these family dinners are such a bore!"
"But, my dear, your father thinks a great deal of the Chipmunks; and
it is an old family custom to have all the relatives here at
"And an awful bore it is! Why must people of refinement and
elevation be forever tied down because of some distant relationship?
Now there are our cousins the High-Flyers,--if we could get them,
there would be some sense in it. Young Whisk rather promised me for
Christmas; but it's seldom now you can get a flying squirrel to show
himself in our parts, and if we are intimate with the Chipmunks it
isn't to be expected."
"Confound him for a puppy!" said old Nutcracker, when his wife
repeated these sayings to him. "Featherhead is a fool. Common,
forsooth! I wish good, industrious, painstaking sons like Tip
Chipmunk WERE common. For my part, I find these uncommon people the
most tiresome. They are not content with letting us carry the whole
load, but they sit on it, and scold at us while we carry them."
But old Mr. Nutcracker, like many other good old gentlemen squirrels,
found that Christmas dinners and other things were apt to go as his
wife said, and his wife was apt to go as young Featherhead said; and
so, when Christmas came, the Chipmunks were not invited, for the
first time in many years. The Chipmunks, however, took all
pleasantly, and accepted poor old Mrs. Nutcracker's awkward apologies
with the best possible grace; and young Tip looked in on Christmas
morning with the compliments of the season and a few beech-nuts,
which he had secured as a great dainty. The fact was, that Tip's
little striped fur coat was so filled up and overflowing with
cheerful good-will to all, that he never could be made to understand
that any of his relations could want to cut him; and therefore
Featherhead looked down on him with contempt, and said he had no
tact, and couldn't see when he was not wanted.
It was wonderful to see how, by means of persisting in remarks like
these, young Featherhead at last got all his family to look up to him
as something uncommon. Though he added nothing to the family, and
required more to be done for him than all the others put together,--
though he showed not the smallest real perseverance or ability in
anything useful,--yet somehow all his brothers and sisters, and his
poor foolish old mother, got into a way of regarding him as something
wonderful, and delighting in his sharp sayings as if they had been
the wisest things in the world.
But at last old papa declared that it was time for Featherhead to
settle himself to some business in life, roundly declaring that he
could not always have him as a hanger-on in the paternal hole.
"What are you going to do, my boy?" said Tip Chipmunk to him one day.
"We are driving now a thriving trade in hickory-nuts, and if you
would like to join us--"
"Thank you," said Featherhead; "but I confess I have no fancy for
anything so slow as the hickory trade; I never was made to grub and
delve in that way."
The fact was that Featherhead had lately been forming alliances such
as no reputable squirrel should even think of. He had more than once
been seen going out evenings with the Rats of Rat Hollow,--a race
whose reputation for honesty was more than doubtful. The fact was,
further, that old Longtooth Rat, an old sharper and money-lender, had
long had his eye on Featherhead as just about silly enough for their
purposes,--engaging him in what he called a speculation, but which
was neither more nor less than downright stealing.
Near by the chestnut-tree where Nutcracker Lodge was situated was a
large barn filled with corn and grain, besides many bushels of hazel-
nuts, chestnuts, and walnuts. Now old Longtooth proposed to young
Featherhead that he should nibble a passage into this loft, and there
establish himself in the commission business, passing the nuts and
corn to him as he wanted them. Old Longtooth knew what he was about
in the proposal, for he had heard talk of a brisk Scotch terrier that
was about to be bought to keep the rats from the grain; but you may
be sure he kept his knowledge to himself, so that Featherhead was
none the wiser for it.
"The nonsense of fellows like Tip Chipmunk!" said Featherhead to his
admiring brothers and sisters--"the perfectly stupid nonsense! There
he goes, delving and poking, picking up a nut here and a grain there,
when _I_ step into property at once."
"But I hope, my son, you are careful to be honest in your dealings,"
said old Nutcracker, who was a very moral squirrel.
With that, young Featherhead threw his tail saucily over one
shoulder, winked knowingly at his brothers, and said, "Certainly,
sir! If honesty consists in getting what you can while it is going,
I mean to be honest."
Very soon Featherhead appeared to his admiring companions in the
height of prosperity. He had a splendid hole in the midst of a heap
of chestnuts, and he literally seemed to be rolling in wealth; he
never came home without showering lavish gifts on his mother and
sisters; he wore his tail over his back with a buckish air, and
patronized Tip Chipmunk with a gracious nod whenever he met him, and
thought that the world was going well with him.
But one luckless day, as Featherhead was lolling in his hole, up came
two boys with the friskiest, wiriest Scotch terrier you ever saw.
His eyes blazed like torches, and poor Featherhead's heart died
within him as he heard the boys say, "Now we'll see if we can't catch
the rascal that eats our grain."
Featherhead tried to slink out at the hole he had gnawed to come in
by, but found it stopped.
"Oh, you are there, are you, mister?" said the boy. "Well, you don't
get out; and now for a chase!"
And, sure enough, poor Featherhead ran distracted with terror up and
down, through the bundles of hay, between barrels, and over casks,
but with the barking terrier ever at his heels, and the boys running,
shouting, and cheering his pursuer on. He was glad at last to escape
through a crack, though he left half of his fine brush behind him;
for Master Wasp the terrier made a snap at it just as he was going,
and cleaned all the hair off of it, so that it was bare as a rat's
Poor Featherhead limped off, bruised and beaten and bedraggled, with
the boys and dog still after him; and they would have caught him,
after all, if Tip Chipmunk's hole had not stood hospitably open to
receive him. Tip took him in, like a good-natured fellow as he was,
and took the best of care of him; but the glory of Featherhead's tail
had departed for ever. He had sprained his left paw, and got a
chronic rheumatism, and the fright and fatigue which he had gone
through had broken up his constitution, so that he never again could
be what he had been; but, Tip gave him a situation as under-clerk in
his establishment, and from that time he was a sadder and a wiser
squirrel than he ever had been before.
THE HISTORY OF TIP-TOP
Under the window of a certain pretty little cottage there grew a
great old apple-tree, which in the spring had thousands and thousands
of lovely pink blossoms on it, and in the autumn had about half as
many bright red apples as it had blossoms in the spring.
The nursery of this cottage was a little bower of a room, papered
with mossy-green paper, and curtained with white muslin; and here
five little children used to come, in their white nightgowns, to be
dressed and have their hair brushed and curled every morning.
First, there were Alice and Mary, bright-eyed, laughing little girls,
of seven and eight years; and then came stout little Jamie, and
Charlie; and finally little Puss, whose real name was Ellen, but who
was called Puss, and Pussy, and Birdie, and Toddlie, and any other
pet name that came to mind.
Now it used to happen, every morning, that the five little heads
would be peeping out of the window, together, into the flowery boughs
of the apple-tree; and the reason was this. A pair of robins had
built a very pretty, smooth-lined nest in a fork of the limb that
came directly under the window, and the building of this nest had
been superintended, day by day, by the five pairs of bright eyes of
these five children. The robins at first had been rather shy of this
inspection; but as they got better acquainted, they seemed to think
no more of the little curly heads in the window than of the pink
blossoms about them, or the daisies and buttercups at the foot of the
All the little hands were forward to help; some threw out flossy bits
of cotton,--for which, we grieve to say, Charlie had cut a hole in
the crib quilt,--and some threw out bits of thread and yarn, and
Allie ravelled out a considerable piece from one of her garters,
which she threw out as a contribution; and they exulted in seeing the
skill with which the little builders wove everything in. "Little
birds, little birds," they would say, "you shall be kept warm, for we
have given you cotton out of our crib quilt, and yarn out of our
stockings." Nay, so far did this generosity proceed, that Charlie
cut a flossy, golden curl from Toddlie's head and threw it out; and
when the birds caught it up the whole flock laughed to see Toddlie's
golden hair figuring in a bird's-nest.
When the little thing was finished, it was so neat, and trim, and
workman-like, that the children all exulted over it, and called it
"our nest," and the two robins they called "our birds." But
wonderful was the joy when the little eyes, opening one morning, saw
in the nest a beautiful pale-green egg; and the joy grew from day to
day, for every day there came another egg, and so on till there were
five little eggs; and then the oldest girl, Alice, said, "There are
five eggs: that makes one for each of us, and each of us will have a
little bird by-and-by;"--at which all the children laughed and jumped
When the five little eggs were all laid, the mother-bird began to sit
on them; and at any time of day or night, when a little head peeped
out of the nursery window, might be seen a round, bright, patient
pair of bird's eyes contentedly waiting for the young birds to come.
It seemed a long time for the children to wait; but every day they
put some bread and cake from their luncheon on the window-sill, so
that the birds might have something to eat; but still there she was,
"How long, long, long she waits!" said Jamie impatiently. "I don't
believe she's ever going to hatch."
"Oh, yes she is!" said grave little Alice. "Jamie, you don't
understand about these things; it takes a long, long time to hatch
eggs. Old Sam says his hens sit three weeks;--only think, almost a
Three weeks looked a long time to the five bright pairs of little
watching eyes; but Jamie said the eggs were so much smaller than
hens' eggs that it wouldn't take so long to hatch them, he knew.
Jamie always thought he knew all about everything, and was so sure of
it that he rather took the lead among the children. But one morning,
when they pushed their five heads out of the window, the round,
patient little bird-eyes were gone, and there seemed to be nothing in
the nest but a bunch of something hairy.
Upon this they all cried out, "O mamma, DO come here! the bird is
gone and left her nest?" And when they cried out, they saw five wide
little red mouths open in the nest, and saw that the hairy bunch of
stuff was indeed the first of five little birds.
"They are dreadful-looking things," said Mary; "I didn't know that
little birds began by looking so badly."
"They seem to be all mouth," said Jamie.
"We must feed them," said Charlie.--"Here, little birds, here's some
gingerbread for you," he said; and he threw a bit of his gingerbread,
which fortunately only hit the nest on the outside, and fell down
among the buttercups, where two crickets made a meal of it, and
agreed that it was as excellent gingerbread as if old Mother Cricket
herself had made it.
"Take care, Charlie," said his mamma; "we do not know enough to feed
young birds. We must leave that to their papa and mamma, who
probably started out bright and early in the morning to get breakfast
Sure enough, while they were speaking, back came Mr. and Mrs. Robin,
whirring through the green shadows of the apple tree; and thereupon
all the five little red mouths flew open, and the birds put something
It was great amusement, after this, to watch the daily feeding of the
little birds, and to observe how, when not feeding them, the mother
sat brooding on the nest, warming them under her soft wings, while
the father-bird sat on the topmost bough of the apple-tree and sang
to them. In time they grew and grew, and, instead of a nest full of
little red mouths, there was a nest full of little, fat, speckled
robins, with round, bright, cunning eyes, just like their parents;
and the children began to talk together about their birds.
"I'm going to give my robin a name," said Mary. "I call him Brown-
"And I call mine Tip-Top," said Jamie, "because I know he'll be a
"And I call mine Singer," said Alice.
"I 'all mine Toddy," said little Toddlie, who would not be behindhand
in anything that was going on.
"Hurrah for Toddlie!" said Charlie; "hers is the best of all. For my
part, I call mine Speckle."
So then the birds were all made separate characters by having each a
separate name given it.
Brown-Eyes, Tip-Top, Singer, Toddy, and Speckle made, as they grew
bigger, a very crowded nestful of birds.
Now the children had early been taught to say in a little hymn:-
"Birds in their little nests agree;
And 'tie a shameful sight
When children of one family
Fall out, and chide, and fight;" -
and they thought anything really written and printed in a hymn must
be true; therefore they were very much astonished to see, from day to
day, that THEIR little birds in their nest did NOT agree.
Tip-Top was the biggest and strongest bird, and he was always
shuffling and crowding the others, and clamouring for the most food;
and when Mrs. Robin came in with a nice bit of anything, Tip-Top's
red mouth opened so wide, and he was so noisy, that one would think
the nest was all his. His mother used to correct him for these
gluttonous ways, and sometimes made him wait till all the rest were
helped before she gave him a mouthful; but he generally revenged
himself in her absence by crowding the others and making the nest
generally uncomfortable. Speckle, however, was a bird of spirit, and
he used to peck at Tip-Top; so they would sometimes have a regular
sparring-match across poor Brown-Eyes, who was a meek, tender little
fellow, and would sit winking and blinking in fear while his big
brothers quarrelled. As to Toddy and Singer, they turned out to be
sister birds, and showed quite a feminine talent for chattering; they
used to scold their badly behaving brothers in a way that made the
nest quite lively.
On the whole Mr. and Mrs. Robin did not find their family circle the
peaceable place the poet represents.
"I say," said Tip-Top one day to them, "this old nest is a dull,
mean, crowded hole, and it's quite time some of us were out of it.
Just give us lessons in flying, won't you? and let us go."
"My dear boy," said Mother Robin, "we shall teach you to fly as soon
as your wings are strong enough."
"You are a very little bird," said his father, "and ought to be good
and obedient, and wait patiently till your wing-feathers grow; and
then you can soar away to some purpose."
"Wait for my wing-feathers? Humbug!" Tip-Top would say, as he sat
balancing with his little short tail on the edge of the nest, and
looking down through the grass and clover-heads below, and up into
the blue clouds above. "Father and mother are slow old birds; they
keep a fellow back with their confounded notions. If they don't
hurry up, I'll take matters into my own claws, and be off some day
before they know it. Look at those swallows, skimming and diving
through the blue air! That's the way I want to do."
"But, dear brother, the way to learn to do that is to be good and
obedient while we are little, and wait till our parents think it best
for us to begin."
"Shut up your preaching," said Tip-Top; "what do you girls know of
"About as much as you," said Speckle. "However, I'm sure I don't
care how soon you take yourself off, for you take up more room than
all the rest put together."
"You mind yourself, Master Speckle, or you'll get something you don't
like," said Tip-Top, still strutting in a very cavalier way on the
edge of the nest, and sticking up his little short tail quite
"O my darlings," said their mamma, now fluttering home, "cannot I
ever teach you to live in love?"
"It's all Tip-Top's fault," screamed the other birds in a flutter.
"My fault? Of course, everything in this nest that goes wrong is
laid to me," said Tip-Top; "and I'll leave it to anybody, now, if I
crowd anybody. I've been sitting outside, on the very edge of the
nest, and there's Speckle has got my place."
"Who wants your place?" said Speckle. "I'm sure you can come in, if
"My dear boy," said the mother, "do go into the nest and be a good
little bird, and then you will be happy."
"That's always the talk," said Tip-Top. "I'm too big for the nest,
and I want to see the world. It's full of beautiful things, I know.
Now there's the most lovely creature, with bright eyes, that comes
under the tree every day, and wants me to come down in the grass and
play with her."
"My son, my son, beware!" said the frightened mother; "that lovely-
seeming creature is our dreadful enemy, the cat,--a horrid monster,
with teeth and claws."
At this, all the little birds shuddered and cuddled deeper in the
nest; only Tip-Top in his heart disbelieved it. "I'm too old a
bird," said he to himself, "to believe THAT story; mother is chaffing
me. But I'll show her that I can take care of myself."
So the next morning, after the father and mother were gone, Tip-Top
got on the edge of the nest again, and looked over and saw lovely
Miss Pussy washing her face among the daisies under the tree, and her
hair was sleek and white as the daisies, and her eyes were yellow and
beautiful to behold, and she looked up to the tree bewitchingly, and
said, "Little birds, little birds, come down; Pussy wants to play
"Only look at her!" said Tip-Top; "her eyes are like gold."
"No, don't look," said Singer and Speckle. "She will bewitch you,
and then eat you up."
"I'd like to see her try to eat me up," said Tip-Top, again balancing
his short tail over the nest. "Just as if she would. She's just the
nicest, most innocent creature going, and only wants us to have fun.
We never do have any fun in this old nest!"
Then the yellow eyes below shot a bewildering light into Tip-Top's
eyes, and a voice sounded sweet as silver: "Little birds, little
birds, come down; Pussy wants to play with you."
"Her paws are as white as velvet," said Tip-Top, "and so soft! I
don't believe she has any claws."
"Don't go, brother, don't!" screamed both sisters.
All we know about it is, that a moment after a direful scream was
heard from the nursery window. "O mamma, mamma, do come here! Tip-
Top's fallen out of the nest, and the cat has got him!"
Away ran Pussy with foolish little Tip-Top in her mouth, and he
squeaked dolefully when he felt her sharp teeth. Wicked Miss Pussy
had no mind to eat him at once; she meant just as she said, to "play
with him." So she ran off to a private place among the currant-
bushes, while all the little curly heads were scattered up and down
looking for her.
Did you ever see a cat play with a bird or a mouse? She sets it
down, and seems to go off and leave it; but the moment it makes the
first movement to get away,--pounce! she springs on it, and shakes it
in her mouth; and so she teases and tantalizes it, till she gets
ready to kill and eat it. I can't say why she does it, except that
it is a cat's nature; and it is a very bad nature for foolish young
robins to get acquainted with.
"Oh, where is he? where is he? Do find my poor Tip-Top," said Jamie,
crying as loud as he could scream. "I'll kill that horrid cat,--I'll
Mr. and Mrs. Robin, who had come home meantime, joined their
plaintive chirping to the general confusion; and Mrs. Robin's bright
eyes soon discovered her poor little son, where Pussy was patting and
rolling him from one paw to the other under the currant-bushes; and
settling on the bush above, she called the little folks to the spot
by her cries.
Jamie plunged under the bush, and caught the cat with luckless Tip-
Top in her mouth; and, with one or two good thumps, he obliged her to
let him go. Tip-Top was not dead, but in a sadly draggled and torn
state. Some of his feathers were torn out, and one of his wings was
broken, and hung down in a melancholy way.
"Oh, what SHALL we do for him? He will die. Poor Tip-Top!" said the
"Let's put him back into the nest, children," said mamma. "His
mother will know best what to do with him."
So a ladder was got, and papa climbed up and put poor Tip-Top safely
into the nest. The cat had shaken all the nonsense well out of him;
he was a dreadfully humbled young robin.
The time came at last when all the other birds in the nest learned to
fly, and fluttered and flew about everywhere; but poor melancholy
Tip-Top was still confined to the nest with a broken wing. Finally,
AS it became evident that it would be long before he could fly, Jamie
took him out of the nest, and made a nice little cage for him, and
used to feed him every day, and he would hop about and seem tolerably
contented; but it was evident that he would be a lame-winged robin
all his days.
Jamie's mother told him that Tip-Top's history was an allegory.
"I don't know what you mean, mamma," said Jamie.
"When something in a bird's life is like something in a boy's life,
or when a story is similar in its meaning to reality, we call it an
allegory. Little boys, when they are about half grown up, sometimes
do just as Tip-Top did. They are in a great hurry to get away from
home into the great world; and then temptation comes, with bright
eyes and smooth velvet paws, and promises them fun; and they go to
bad places; they get to smoking, and then to drinking; and, finally,
the bad habit gets them in its teeth and claws, and plays with them
as a cat does with a mouse. They try to reform, just as your robin
tried to get away from the cat; but their bad habits pounce on them
and drag them back. And so, when the time comes that they want to
begin life, they are miserable, broken-down creatures, like your
"So, Jamie, remember, and don't try to be a man before your time, and
let your parents judge for you while you are young; and never believe
in any soft white Pussy, with golden eyes, that comes and wants to
tempt you to come down and play with her. If a big boy offers to
teach you to smoke a cigar, that is Pussy. If a boy wants you to go
into a billiard-saloon, that is Pussy. If a boy wants you to learn
to drink anything with spirit in it, however sweetened and disguised,
remember Pussy is there. And Pussy's claws are long, and Pussy's
teeth are strong; and if she gives you one shake in your youth, you
will be like a broken-winged robin all your days."
MISS KATY-DID AND MISS CRICKET
Miss Katy-did sat on the branch of a flowering azalea, in her best
suit of fine green and silver, with wings of point-lace from Mother
Nature's finest web.
Miss Katy was in the very highest possible spirits, because her
gallant cousin, Colonel Katy-did, had looked in to make her a morning
visit. It was a fine morning, too, which goes for as much among the
Katy-dids as among men and women. It was, in fact, a morning that
Miss Katy thought must have been made on purpose for her to enjoy
herself in. There had been a patter of rain the night before, which
had kept the leaves awake talking to each other till nearly morning;
but by dawn the small winds had blown brisk little puffs, and whisked
the heavens clear and bright with their tiny wings, as you have seen
Susan clear away the cobwebs in your mamma's parlour; and so now
there were only left a thousand blinking, burning water-drops,
hanging like convex mirrors at the end of each leaf, and Miss Katy
admired herself in each one.
"Certainly I am a pretty creature," she said to herself; and when the
gallant colonel said something about being dazzled by her beauty, she
only tossed her head and took it as quite a matter of course.
"The fact is, my dear colonel," she said, "I am thinking of giving a
party, and you must help me to make out the lists."
"My dear, you make me the happiest of Katy-dids."
"Now," said Miss Katy-did, drawing an azalea-leaf towards her, "let
us see--whom shall we have? The Fireflies, of course; everybody
wants them, they are so brilliant,--a little unsteady, to be sure,
but quite in the higher circles."
"Yes, we must have the Fireflies," echoed the colonel.
"Well, then, and the Butterflies and the Moths. Now, there's a
trouble. There's such an everlasting tribe of those Moths; and if
you invite dull people they're always sure all to come, every one of
them. Still, if you have the Butterflies, you can't leave out the
"Old Mrs. Moth has been laid up lately with a gastric fever, and that
may keep two or three of the Misses Moth at home," said the colonel.
"Whatever could give the old lady such a turn?" said Miss Katy. "I
thought she never was sick."
"I suspect it's high living. I understand she and her family ate up
a whole ermine cape last month, and it disagreed with them."
"For my part, I can't conceive how the Moths can live as they do,"
said Miss Katy, with a face of disgust. "Why, I could no more eat
worsted and fur, as they do--"
"That is quite evident from the fairy-like delicacy of your
appearance," said the colonel. "One can see that nothing so gross or
material has ever entered into your system."
"I'm sure," said Miss Katy, "mamma says she don't know what does keep
me alive; half a dewdrop and a little bit of the nicest part of a
rose-leaf, I assure you, often last me for a day. But we are
forgetting our list. Let's see--the Fireflies, Butterflies, Moths.
The Bees must come, I suppose."
"The Bees are a worthy family," said the colonel.
"Worthy enough, but dreadfully humdrum," said Miss Katy. "They never
talk about anything but honey and housekeeping; still, they are a
class of people one cannot neglect."
"Well, then, there are the Bumble-Bees."
"Oh, I dote on them! General Bumble is one of the most dashing,
brilliant fellows of the day."
"I think he is shockingly corpulent," said Colonel Katy-did, not at
all pleased to hear him praised; "don't you?"
"I don't know but he IS a little stout," said Miss Katy; "but so
distinguished and elegant in his manners--something quite martial and
breezy about him."
"Well, if you invite the Bumble-Bees, you must have the Hornets."
"Those spiteful Hornets! I detest them!"
"Nevertheless, dear Miss Katy, one does not like to offend the
"No, one can't. There are those five Misses Hornet--dreadful old
maids!--as full of spite as they can live. You may be sure they will
every one come, and be looking about to make spiteful remarks. Put
down the Hornets, though."
"How about the Mosquitoes!" said the colonel.
"Those horrid Mosquitoes--they are dreadfully plebeian! Can't one
"Well dear Miss Katy," said the colonel, "if you ask my candid
opinion as a friend, I should say not. There's young Mosquito, who
graduated last year, has gone into literature, and is connected with
some of our leading papers, and they say he carries the sharpest pen
of all the writers. It won't do to offend him."
"And so I suppose we must have his old aunts, and all six of his
sisters, and all his dreadfully common relations."
"It is a pity," said the colonel; "but one must pay one's tax to
Just at this moment the conference was interrupted by a visitor, Miss
Keziah Cricket, who came in with her work-bag on her arm to ask a
subscription for a poor family of Ants who had just had their house
hoed up in clearing the garden-walks.
"How stupid of them," said Katy, "not to know better than to put
their house in the garden-walk; that's just like those Ants."
"Well, they are in great trouble; all their stores destroyed, and
their father killed--cut quite in two by a hoe."
"How very shocking! I don't like to hear of such disagreeable
things; it affects my nerves terribly. Well, I'm sure I haven't
anything to give. Mamma said yesterday she was sure she didn't know
how our bills were to be paid; and there's my green satin with point-
lace yet to come home." And Miss Katy-did shrugged her shoulders and
affected to be very busy with Colonel Katy-did, in just the way that
young ladies sometimes do when they wish to signify to visitors that
they had better leave.
Little Miss Cricket perceived how the case stood, and so hopped
briskly off, without giving herself even time to be offended. "Poor
extravagant little thing!" said she to herself, "it was hardly worth
while to ask her."
"Pray, shall you invite the Crickets?" said Colonel Katy-did.
"Who? I? Why, colonel, what a question! Invite the Crickets? Of
what can you be thinking?"
"And shall you not ask the Locusts, and the Grasshoppers?"
"Certainly. The Locusts, of course,--a very old and distinguished
family; and the Grasshoppers are pretty well, and ought to be asked.
But we must draw a line somewhere,--and the Crickets! why, it's
shocking even to think of!"
"I thought they were nice, respectable people."
"Oh, perfectly nice and respectable,--very good people, in fact, so
far as that goes. But then you must see the difficulty."
"My dear cousin, I am afraid you must explain."
"Why, their COLOUR, to be sure. Don't you see?"
"Oh!" said the colonel. "That's it, is it? Excuse me, but I have
been living in France, where these distinctions are wholly unknown,
and I have not yet got myself in the train of fashionable ideas
"Well, then, let me teach you," said Miss Katy. "You know we
republicans go for no distinctions except those created by Nature
herself, and we found our rank upon COLOUR, because that is clearly a
thing that none has any hand in but our Maker. You see?"
"Yes; but who decides what colour shall be the reigning colour?"
"I'm surprised to hear the question! The only true colour--the only
proper one--is OUR colour, to be sure. A lovely pea-green is the
precise shade on which to found aristocratic distinction. But then
we are liberal;--we associate with the Moths, who are gray; with the
Butterflies, who are blue-and-gold coloured; with the Grasshoppers,
yellow and brown; and society would become dreadfully mixed if it
were not fortunately ordered that the Crickets are black as jet. The
fact is, that a class to be looked down upon is necessary to all
elegant society; and if the Crickets were not black, we could not
keep them down, because, as everybody knows, they are often a great
deal cleverer than we are. They have a vast talent for music and
dancing; they are very quick at learning, and would be getting to the
very top of the ladder if we once allowed them to climb. But their
being black is a convenience; because, as long as we are green and
they black, we have a superiority that can never be taken from us.
Don't you see now?"
"Oh yes, I see exactly," said the colonel.
"Now that Keziah Cricket, who just came in here, is quite a musician,
and her old father plays the violin beautifully;--by the way, we
might engage him for our orchestra."
And so Miss Katy's ball came off, and the performers kept it up from
sundown till daybreak, so that it seemed as if every leaf in the
forest were alive. The Katy-dids and the Mosquitoes, and the
Locusts, and a full orchestra of Crickets made the air perfectly
vibrate, insomuch that old Parson Too-Whit, who was preaching a
Thursday evening lecture to a very small audience, announced to his
hearers that he should certainly write a discourse against dancing
for the next weekly occasion.
The good doctor was even with his word in the matter, and gave out
some very sonorous discourses, without in the least stopping the
round of gaieties kept up by these dissipated Katy-dids, which ran
on, night after night, till the celebrated Jack Frost epidemic, which
occurred somewhere about the first of September.
Poor Miss Katy, with her flimsy green satin and point-lace, was one
of the first victims, and fell from the bough in company with a sad
shower of last year's leaves. The worthy Cricket family, however,
avoided Jack Frost by emigrating in time to the chimney-corner of a
nice little cottage that had been built in the wood that summer.
There good old Mr. and Mrs. Cricket, with sprightly Miss Keziah and
her brothers and sisters, found a warm and welcome home; and when the
storm howled without, and lashed the poor naked trees, the Crickets
on the warm hearth would chirp out cheery welcome to papa as he came
in from the snowy path, or mamma as she sat at her work-basket.
"Cheep, cheep, cheep!" little Freddy would say. "Mamma, who is it
"Dear Freddy, it's our own dear little cricket, who loves us and
comes to sing to us when the snow is on the ground."
So when poor Miss Katy-did's satin and lace were all swept away, the
warm home-talents of the Crickets made for them a welcome refuge.
MOTHER MAGPIE'S MISCHIEF
Old Mother Magpie was about the busiest character in the forest. But
you must know that there is a great difference between being busy and
being industrious. One may be very busy all the time, and yet not in
the least industrious; and this was the case with Mother Magpie.
She was always full of everybody's business but her own--up and down,
here and there, everywhere but in her own nest, knowing everyone's
affairs, telling what everybody had been doing or ought to do, and
ready to cast her advice gratis at every bird and beast of the woods.
Now she bustled up to the parsonage at the top of the oak-tree, to
tell old Parson Too-Whit what she thought he ought to preach for his
next sermon, and how dreadful the morals of the parish were becoming.
Then, having perfectly bewildered the poor old gentleman, who was
always sleepy of a Monday morning, Mother Magpie would take a peep
into Mrs. Oriole's nest, sit chattering on a bough above, and pour
forth floods of advice, which, poor little Mrs. Oriole used to say to
her husband, bewildered her more than a hard north-east storm.
"Depend upon it, my dear," Mother Magpie would say, "that this way of
building your nest, swinging like an old empty stocking from a bough,
isn't at all the thing. I never built one so in my life, and I never
have headaches. Now you complain always that your head aches
whenever I call upon you. It's all on account of this way of
swinging and swaying about in such an absurd manner."
"But, my dear," piped Mrs. Oriole timidly, "the Orioles always have
built in this manner, and it suits our constitution."
"A fiddle on your constitution! How can you tell what agrees with
your constitution unless you try? You own you are not well; you are
subject to headaches; and every physician will tell you that a
tilting motion disorders the stomach and acts upon the brain. Ask
old Dr. Kite. I was talking with him about your case only yesterday,
and says he, 'Mrs. Magpie, I perfectly agree with you.'"
"But my husband prefers this style of building."
"That's only because he isn't properly instructed. Pray, did you
ever attend Dr. Kite's lectures on the nervous system?"
"No, I have no time to attend lectures. Who would sit on the eggs?"
"Why, your husband, to be sure; don't he take his turn in sitting?
If he don't, he ought to. I shall speak to him about it. My husband
always sits regularly half the time, that I may have time to go about
"O Mrs. Magpie, pray don't speak to my husband; he will think I've
"No, no, he won't. Let me alone. I understand just how to say the
thing. I've advised hundreds of young husbands in my day, and I
never gave offence."
"But I tell you, Mrs. Magpie, I don't want any interference between
my husband and me, and I will not have it," says Mrs. Oriole, with
her little round eyes flashing with indignation.
"Don't put yourself in a passion, my dear; the more you talk, the
more sure I am that your nervous system is running down, or you
wouldn't forget good manners in this way. You'd better take my
advice, for I understand just what to do,"--and away sails Mother
Magpie; and presently young Oriole comes home all in a flutter.
"I say, my dear, if you will persist in gossiping over our private
family matters with that old Mother Magpie--"
"My dear, I don't gossip. She comes and bores me to death with
talking, and then goes off and mistakes what she has been saying for
what I said."
"But you must CUT her."
"I try to, all I can; but she won't BE cut."
"It's enough to make a bird swear," said Tommy Oriole.
Tommy Oriole, to say the truth, had as good a heart as ever beat
under bird's feathers; but then he had a weakness for concerts and
general society, because he was held to be, by all odds, the
handsomest bird in the woods, and sung like an angel; and so the
truth was he didn't confine himself so much to the domestic nest as
Tom Titmouse or Billy Wren. But he determined that he wouldn't have
old Mother Magpie interfering with his affairs.
"The fact is," quoth Tommy, "I am a society bird, and Nature has
marked out for me a course beyond the range of the commonplace, and
my wife must learn to accommodate. If she has a brilliant husband,
whose success gratifies her ambition and places her in a
distinguished public position, she must pay something for it. I'm
sure Billy Wren's wife would give her very bill to see her husband in
the circles where I am quite at home. To say the truth, my wife was
all well enough content till old Mother Magpie interfered. It is
quite my duty to take strong ground, and show that I cannot be
So, after this, Tommy Oriole went to rather more concerts, and spent
less time at home than ever he did before, which was all that Mother
Magpie effected in that quarter. I confess this was very bad in
Tommy; but then birds are no better than men in domestic matters, and
sometimes will take the most unreasonable courses, if a meddlesome
Magpie gets her claw into their nest.
But old Mother Magpie had now got a new business in hand in another
quarter. She bustled off down to Water-Dock Lane, where, as we said
in a former narrative, lived the old music-teacher, Dr. Bullfrog.
The poor old doctor was a simple-minded, good, amiable creature, who
had played the double-bass and led the forest choir on all public
occasions since nobody knows when. Latterly some youngsters had
arisen who sneered at his performances as behind the age. In fact,
since a great city had grown up in the vicinity of the forest, tribes
of wandering boys broke up the simple tastes and quiet habits which
old Mother Nature had always kept up in those parts. They pulled the
young checkerberry before it even had time to blossom, rooted up the
sassafras shrubs and gnawed their roots, fired off guns at the birds,
and on several occasions, when old Dr. Bullfrog was leading a
concert, had dashed in and broken up the choir by throwing stones.
This was not the worst of it. The little varlets had a way of
jeering at the simple old doctor and his concerts, and mimicking the
tones of his bass-viol. "There you go, Paddy-go-donk, Paddy-go-donk-
-umph--chunk," some rascal of a boy would shout, while poor old
Bullfrog's yellow spectacles would be bedewed with tears of honest
indignation. In time, the jeers of these little savages began to
tell on the society in the forest, and to corrupt their simple
manners; and it was whispered among the younger and more heavy birds
and squirrels that old Bullfrog was a bore, and that it was time to
get up a new style of music in the parish, and to give the charge of
it to some more modern performer.
Poor old Dr. Bullfrog knew nothing of this, however, and was doing
his simple best, in peace, when Mother Magpie called in upon him one
"Well, neighbour, how unreasonable people are! Who would have
thought that the youth of our generation should have no more
consideration for established merit? Now, for my part, _I_ think
your music-teaching never was better; and as for our choir, I
maintain constantly that it never was in better order, but--Well, one
may wear her tongue out, but one can never make these young folks
listen to reason."
"I really don't understand you, ma'am," said poor Dr. Bullfrog.
"What! you haven't heard of a committee that is going to call on you,
to ask you to resign the care of the parish music?"
"Madam," said Dr. Bullfrog, with all that energy of tone for which he
was remarkable, "I don't believe it,--I CAN'T believe it. You must
have made a mistake."
"I mistake! No, no, my good friend; I never make mistakes. What I
know, I know certainly. Wasn't it I that said I knew there was an
engagement between Tim Chipmunk and Nancy Nibble, who are married
this very day? I knew that thing six weeks before any bird or beast
in our parts; and I can tell you, you are going to be scandalously
and ungratefully treated, Dr. Bullfrog."
"Bless me, we shall all be ruined!" said Mrs. Bullfrog; "my poor
"Oh, as to that, if you take things in time, and listen to my
advice," said Mother Magpie, "we may yet pull you through. You must
alter your style a little,--adapt it to modern times. Everybody now
is a little touched with the operatic fever, and there's Tommy Oriole
has been to New Orleans and brought back a touch of the artistic. If
you would try his style a little,--something Tyrolean, you see."
"Dear madam, consider my voice. I never could hit the high notes."
"How do you know? It's all practice; Tommy Oriole says so. Just try
the scales. As to your voice, your manner of living has a great deal
to do with it. I always did tell you that your passion for water
injured your singing. Suppose Tommy Oriole should sit half his days
up to his hips in water, as you do,--his voice would be as hoarse and
rough as yours. Come up on the bank and learn to perch, as we birds
do. We are the true musical race."
And so poor Mr. Bullfrog was persuaded to forego his pleasant little
cottage under the cat-tails, where his green spectacles and honest
round back had excited, even in the minds of the boys, sentiments of
respect and compassion. He came up into the garden, and established
himself under a burdock, and began to practise Italian scales.
The result was, that poor old Dr. Bullfrog, instead of being
considered as a respectable old bore, got himself universally laughed
at for aping fashionable manners. Every bird and beast in the forest
had a gibe at him; and even old Parson Too-Whit thought it worth his
while to make him a pastoral call, and admonish him about courses
unbefitting his age and standing. As to Mother Magpie, you may be
sure that she assured every one how sorry she was that dear old Dr.
Bullfrog had made such a fool of himself; if he had taken her advice,
he would have kept on respectably as a nice old Bullfrog should.
But the tragedy for the poor old music-teacher grew even more
melancholy in its termination; for one day, as he was sitting
disconsolately under a currant-bush in the garden, practising his
poor old notes in a quiet way, THUMP came a great blow of a hoe,
which nearly broke his back.
"Hallo! what ugly beast have we got here?" said Tom Noakes, the
gardener's boy. "Here, here, Wasp, my boy."
What a fright for a poor, quiet, old Bullfrog, as little wiry, wicked
Wasp came at him, barking and yelping. He jumped with all his force
sheer over a patch of bushes into the river, and swam back to his old
home among the cat-tails. And always after that it was observable
that he was very low-spirited, and took very dark views of life; but
nothing made him so angry as any allusion to Mother Magpie, of whom,
from that time, he never spoke except as OLD MOTHER MISCHIEF.
THE SQUIRRELS THAT LIVE IN A HOUSE
Once upon a time a gentleman went out into a great forest, and cut
away the trees, and built there a very nice little cottage. It was
set very low on the ground, and had very large bow-windows, and so
much of it was glass that one could look through it on every side and
see what was going on in the forest. You could see the shadows of
the fern-leaves, as they flickered and wavered over the ground, and
the scarlet partridge-berry and winter-green plums that matted round
the roots of the trees, and the bright spots of sunshine that fell
through their branches and went dancing about among the bushes and
leaves at their roots. You could see the chirping sparrows and the
thrushes and robins and bluebirds building their nests here and there
among the branches, and watch them from day to day as they laid their
eggs and hatched their young. You could also see red squirrels, and
gray squirrels, and little striped chip-squirrels, darting and
springing about, here and there and everywhere, running races with
each other from bough to bough, and chattering at each other in the
gayest possible manner.
You may be sure that such a strange thing as a house for human beings
to live in did not come into this wild wood without making quite a
stir and excitement among the inhabitants that lived there before.
All the time it was building, there was the greatest possible
commotion in the breasts of all the older population; and there
wasn't even a black ant, or a cricket, that did not have his own
opinion about it, and did not tell the other ants and crickets just
what he thought the world was coming to in consequence.
Old Mrs. Rabbit declared that the hammering and pounding made her
nervous, and gave her most melancholy forebodings of evil times.
"Depend upon it, children," she said to her long-eared family, "no
good will come to us from this establishment. Where man is, there
comes always trouble for us poor rabbits."
The old chestnut-tree, that grew on the edge of the woodland ravine,
drew a great sigh which shook all his leaves, and expressed it as his
conviction that no good would ever come of it,--a conviction that at
once struck to the heart of every chestnut-burr. The squirrels
talked together of the dreadful state of things that would ensue.
"Why!" said old Father Gray, "it's evident that Nature made the nuts
for us; but one of these great human creatures will carry off and
gormandize upon what would keep a hundred poor families of squirrels
in comfort." Old Ground-mole said it did not require very sharp eyes
to see into the future, and it would just end in bringing down the
price of real estate in the whole vicinity, so that every decent-
minded and respectable quadruped would be obliged to move away;--for
his part, he was ready to sell out for anything he could get. The
bluebirds and bobolinks, it is true, took more cheerful views of
matters; but then, as old Mrs. Ground-mole observed, they were a
flighty set,--half their time careering and dissipating in the
Southern States,--and could not be expected to have that patriotic
attachment to their native soil that those had who had grubbed in it
from their earliest days.
"This race of man," said the old chestnut-tree, "is never ceasing in
its restless warfare on Nature. In our forest solitudes hitherto how
peacefully, how quietly, how regularly has everything gone on! Not a
flower has missed its appointed time of blossoming, or failed to
perfect its fruit. No matter how hard has been the winter, how loud
the winds have roared, and how high the snow-banks have been piled,
all has come right again in spring. Not the least root has lost
itself under the snows, so as not to be ready with its fresh leaves
and blossoms when the sun returns to melt the frosty chains of
winter. We have storms sometimes that threaten to shake everything
to pieces,--the thunder roars, the lightning flashes, and the winds
howl and beat; but, when all is past, everything comes out better and
brighter than before,--not a bird is killed, not the frailest flower
destroyed. But man comes, and in one day he will make a desolation
that centuries cannot repair. Ignorant boor that he is, and all
incapable of appreciating the glorious works of Nature, it seems to
be his glory to be able to destroy in a few hours what it was the
work of ages to produce. The noble oak, that has been cut away to
build this contemptible human dwelling, had a life older and wiser
than that of any man in this country. That tree has seen generations
of men come and go. It was a fresh young tree when Shakespeare was
born; it was hardly a middle-aged tree when he died; it was growing
here when the first ship brought the white men to our shores, and
hundreds and hundreds of those whom they call bravest, wisest,
strongest,--warriors, statesmen, orators, and poets,--have been born,
have grown up, lived, and died, while yet it has outlived them all.
It has seen more wisdom than the best of them; but two or three hours
of brutal strength sufficed to lay it low. Which of these dolts
could make a tree? I'd like to see them do anything like it. How
noisy and clumsy are all their movements,--chopping, pounding,
rasping, hammering. And, after all, what do they build? In the
forest we do everything so quietly. A tree would be ashamed of
itself that could not get its growth without making such a noise and
dust and fuss. Our life is the perfection of good manners. For my
part, I feel degraded at the mere presence of these human beings;
but, alas! I am old; a hollow place at my heart warns me of the
progress of decay, and probably it will be seized upon by these
rapacious creatures as an excuse for laying me as low as my noble
In spite of all this disquiet about it, the little cottage grew and
was finished. The walls were covered with pretty paper, the floors
carpeted with pretty carpets; and, in fact, when it was all arranged,
and the garden walks laid out, and beds of flowers planted around, it
began to be confessed, even among the most critical, that it was not
after all so bad a thing as was to have been feared.
A black ant went in one day and made a tour of exploration up and
down, over chairs and tables, up the ceilings and down again, and,
coming out, wrote an article for the Crickets' Gazette, in which he
described the new abode as a veritable palace. Several butterflies
fluttered in and sailed about and were wonderfully delighted, and
then a bumble-bee and two or three honey-bees, who expressed
themselves well pleased with the house, but more especially enchanted
with the garden. In fact, when it was found that the proprietors
were very fond of the rural solitudes of Nature, and had come out
there for the purpose of enjoying them undisturbed; that they watched
and spared the anemones, and the violets, and bloodroots, and dog's-
tooth violets, and little woolly rolls of fern that began to grow up
under the trees in spring; that they never allowed a gun to be fired
to scare the birds, and watched the building of their nests with the
greatest interest,--then an opinion in favour of human beings began
to gain ground, and every cricket and bird and beast was loud in
"Mamma," said young Tit-bit, a frisky young squirrel, to his mother
one day, "why won't you let Frisky and me go into that pretty new
cottage to play?"
"My dear," said his mother, who was a very wary and careful old
squirrel, "how can you think of it? The race of man are full of
devices for traps and pitfalls, and who could say what might happen
if you put yourself in their power? If you had wings like the
butterflies and bees, you might fly in and out again, and so gratify
your curiosity; but, as matters stand, it's best for you to keep well
out of their way."
"But, mother, there is such a nice, good lady lives there! I believe
she is a good fairy, and she seems to love us all so; she sits in the
bow-window and watches us for hours, and she scatters corn all round
at the roots of the tree for us to eat."
"She is nice enough," said the old mother-squirrel, "if you keep far
enough off; but I tell you, you can't be too careful."
Now this good fairy that the squirrels discoursed about was a nice
little old lady that the children used to call Aunt Esther, and she
was a dear lover of birds and squirrels, and all sorts of animals,
and had studied their little ways till she knew just what would
please them; and so she would every day throw out crumbs for the
sparrows, and little bits of bread and wool and cotton to help the
birds that were building their nests, and would scatter corn and nuts
for the squirrels; and while she sat at her work in the bow-window
she would smile to see the birds flying away with the wool, and the
squirrels nibbling their nuts. After a while the birds grew so tame
that they would hop into the bow-window and eat their crumbs off the
"There, mamma," said Tit-bit and Frisky, "only see Jenny Wren and
Cock Robin have been in at the bow-window, and it didn't hurt them,
and why can't we go?"
"Well, my dears," said old Mother Squirrel, "you must do it very
carefully; never forget that you haven't wings like Jenny Wren and
So the next day Aunt Esther laid a train of corn from the roots of
the trees to the bow-window, and then from the bow-window to her
work-basket, which stood on the floor beside her; and then she put
quite a handful of corn in the work-basket, and sat down by it, and
seemed intent on her sewing. Very soon, creep, creep, creep, came
Tit-bit and Frisky to the window, and then into the room, just as sly
and as still as could be, and Aunt Esther sat just like a statue for
fear of disturbing them. They looked all around in high glee, and
when they came to the basket it seemed to them a wonderful little
summer-house, made on purpose for them to play in. They nosed about
in it, and turned over the scissors and the needle-book, and took a
nibble at her white wax, and jostled the spools, meanwhile stowing
away the corn on each side of their little chops, till they both of
them looked as if they had the mumps.
At last Aunt Esther put out her hand to touch them, when, whisk-
frisk, out they went, and up the trees, chattering and laughing
before she had time even to wink.
But after this they used to come in every day, and when she put corn
in her hand and held it very still they would eat out of it; and
finally they would get into her hand, until one day she gently closed
it over them, and Frisky and Tit-bit were fairly caught.
Oh, how their hearts beat! but the good fairy only spoke gently to
them, and soon unclosed her hand and let them go again. So day after
day they grew to have more and more faith in her, till they would
climb into her work-basket, sit on her shoulder, or nestle away in
her lap as she sat sewing. They made also long exploring voyages all
over the house, up and through all the chambers, till finally, I
grieve to say, poor Frisky came to an untimely end by being drowned
in the water-tank at the top of the house.
The dear good fairy passed away from the house in time, and went to a
land where the flowers never fade and the birds never die; but the
squirrels still continue to make the place a favourite resort.
"In fact, my dear," said old Mother Red one winter to her mate, "what
is the use of one's living in this cold, hollow tree, when these
amiable people have erected this pretty cottage, where there is
plenty of room for us and them too? Now I have examined between the
eaves, and there is a charming place where we can store our nuts, and
where we can whip in and out of the garret, and have the free range
of the house; and, say what you will, these humans have delightful
ways of being warm and comfortable in winter."
So Mr. and Mrs. Red set up housekeeping in the cottage, and had no
end of nuts and other good things stored up there. The trouble of
all this was, that, as Mrs. Red was a notable body, and got up to
begin her housekeeping operations, and woke up all her children, at
four o'clock in the morning, the good people often were disturbed by
a great rattling and fuss in the walls, while yet it seemed dark
night. Then sometimes, too, I grieve to say, Mrs. Squirrel would
give her husband vigorous curtain lectures in the night, which made
him so indignant that he would rattle off to another quarter of the
garret to sleep by himself; and all this broke the rest of the worthy
people who built the house.
What is to be done about this we don't know. What would you do about
it? Would you let the squirrels live in your house or not? When our
good people come down of a cold winter morning, and see the squirrels
dancing and frisking down the trees, and chasing each other so
merrily over the garden chair between them, or sitting with their
tails saucily over their backs, they look so jolly and jaunty and
pretty that they almost forgive them for disturbing their night's
rest, and think that they will not do anything to drive them out of
the garret to-day. And so it goes on; but how long the squirrels
will rent the cottage in this fashion, I'm sure I dare not undertake
HUM, THE SON OF BUZ
At Rye Beach, during our summer's vacation, there came, as there
always will to seaside visitors, two or three cold, chilly, rainy
days,--days when the skies that long had not rained a drop seemed
suddenly to bethink themselves of their remissness, and to pour down
water, not by drops, but by pailfuls. The chilly wind blew and
whistled, the water dashed along the ground and careered in foamy
rills along the roadside, and the bushes bent beneath the constant
flood. It was plain that there was to be no sea-bathing on such a
day, no walks, no rides; and so, shivering and drawing our blanket-
shawls close about us, we sat down at the window to watch the storm
The rose-bushes under the window hung dripping under their load of
moisture, each spray shedding a constant shower on the spray below
it. On one of these lower sprays, under the perpetual drip, what
should we see but a poor little humming-bird, drawn up into the
tiniest shivering ball, and clinging with a desperate grasp to his
uncomfortable perch. A humming-bird we knew him to be at once,
though his feathers were so matted and glued down by the rain that he
looked not much bigger than a honey-bee, and as different as possible
from the smart, pert, airy little character that we had so often seen
flirting with the flowers. He was evidently a humming-bird in
adversity, and whether he ever would hum again looked to us
exceedingly doubtful. Immediately, however, we sent out to have him
taken in. When the friendly hand seized him, he gave a little,
faint, watery squeak, evidently thinking that his last hour was come,
and that grim death was about to carry him off to the land of dead
birds. What a time we had reviving him,--holding the little wet
thing in the warm hollow of our hands, and feeling him shiver and
palpitate! His eyes were fast closed; his tiny claws, which looked
slender as cobwebs, were knotted close to his body, and it was long
before one could feel the least motion in them. Finally, to our
great joy, we felt a brisk little kick, and then a flutter of wings,
and then a determined peck of the beak, which showed that there was
sonic bird left in him yet, and that he meant at any rate to find out
where he was.
Unclosing our hands a small space, out popped the little head with a
pair of round brilliant eyes. Then we bethought ourselves of feeding
him, and forthwith prepared him a stiff glass of sugar and water, a
drop of which we held to his bill. After turning his head
attentively, like a bird who knew what he was about and didn't mean
to be chaffed, he briskly put out a long, flexible tongue, slightly
forked at the end, and licked off the comfortable beverage with great
relish. Immediately he was pronounced out of danger by the small
humane society which had undertaken the charge of his restoration,
and we began to cast about for getting him a settled establishment in
our apartment. I gave up my work-box to him for a sleeping-room, and
it was medically ordered that he should take a nap. So we filled the
box with cotton, and he was formally put to bed, with a folded
cambric handkerchief round his neck, to keep him from beating his
wings. Out of his white wrappings he looked forth green and grave as
any judge with his bright round eyes. Like a bird of discretion, he
seemed to understand what was being done to him, and resigned himself
sensibly to go to sleep.
The box was covered with a sheet of paper perforated with holes for
purposes of ventilation; for even humming-birds have a little pair of
lungs, and need their own little portion of air to fill them, so that
they may make bright scarlet little drops of blood to keep life's
fire burning in their tiny bodies. Our bird's lungs manufactured
brilliant blood, as we found out by experience; for in his first nap
he contrived to nestle himself into the cotton of which his bed was
made, and to get more of it than he needed into his long bill. We
pulled it out as carefully as we could, but there came out of his
bill two round, bright scarlet, little drops of blood. Our chief
medical authority looked grave, pronounced a probable hemorrhage from
the lungs, and gave him over at once. We, less scientific, declared
that we had only cut his little tongue by drawing out the filaments
of cotton, and that he would do well enough in time,--as it
afterwards appeared he did, for from that day there was no more
bleeding. In the course of the second day he began to take short
flights about the room, though he seemed to prefer to return to us;
perching on our fingers or heads or shoulders, and sometimes choosing
to sit in this way for half an hour at a time. "These great giants,"
he seemed to say to himself, "are not bad people after all; they have
a comfortable way with them; how nicely they dried and warmed me!
Truly a bird might do worse than to live with them."
So he made up his mind to form a fourth in the little company of
three that usually sat and read, worked and sketched, in that
apartment, and we christened him "Hum, the son of Buz." He became an
individuality, a character, whose little doings formed a part of
every letter, and some extracts from these will show what some of his
little ways were:-
"Hum has learned to sit upon my finger, and eat his sugar and water
out of a teaspoon with most Christian-like decorum. He has but one
weakness--he will occasionally jump into the spoon and sit in his
sugar and water, and then appear to wonder where it goes to. His
plumage is in rather a drabbled state, owing to these performances.
I have sketched him as he sat to-day on a bit of Spiraea which I
brought in for him. When absorbed in reflection, he sits with his
bill straight up in the air, as I have drawn him. Mr. A- reads
Macaulay to us, and you should see the wise air with which, perched
on Jenny's thumb, he cocked his head now one side and then the other,
apparently listening with most critical attention. His confidence in
us seems unbounded: he lets us stroke his head, smooth his feathers,
without a flutter; and is never better pleased than when sitting, as
he has been doing all this while, on my hand, turning up his bill,
and watching my face with great edification.
"I have just been having a sort of maternal struggle to make him go
to bed in his box; but he evidently considers himself sufficiently
convalescent to make a stand for his rights as a bird, and so
scratched indignantly out of his wrappings, and set himself up to
roost on the edge of the box, with an air worthy of a turkey, at the
very least. Having brought in a lamp, he has opened his eyes round
and wide, and sits cocking his little head at me reflectively."
When the weather cleared away, and the sun came out bright, Hum
became entirely well, and seemed resolved to take the measure of his
new life with us. Our windows were closed in the lower part of the
sash by frames with mosquito gauze, so that the sun and air found
free admission, and yet our little rover could not pass out. On the
first sunny day he took an exact survey of our apartment from ceiling
to floor, humming about, examining every point with his bill--all the
crevices, mouldings, each little indentation in the bed-posts, each
window-pane, each chair and stand; and, as it was a very simply
furnished seaside apartment, his scrutiny was soon finished. We
wondered at first what this was all about; but on watching him more
closely, we found that he was actively engaged in getting his living,
by darting out his long tongue hither and thither, and drawing in all
the tiny flies and insects which in summer time are to be found in an
apartment. In short, we found that, though the nectar of flowers was
his dessert, yet he had his roast beef and mutton-chop to look after,
and that his bright, brilliant blood was not made out of a simple
vegetarian diet. Very shrewd and keen he was, too, in measuring the
size of insects before he attempted to swallow them. The smallest
class were whisked off with lightning speed; but about larger ones he
would sometimes wheel and hum for some minutes, darting hither and
thither, and surveying them warily, and if satisfied that they could
be carried, he would come down with a quick, central dart which would
finish the unfortunate at a snap. The larger flies seemed to
irritate him, especially when they intimated to him that his plumage
was sugary, by settling on his wings and tail; when he would lay
about him spitefully, wielding his bill like a sword. A grasshopper
that strayed in, and was sunning himself on the window-seat, gave him
great discomposure. Hum evidently considered him an intruder, and
seemed to long to make a dive at him; but, with characteristic
prudence, confined himself to threatening movements, which did not
exactly hit. He saw evidently that he could not swallow him whole,
and what might ensue from trying him piecemeal he wisely forbore to
Hum had his own favourite places and perches. From the first day he
chose for his nightly roost a towel-line which had been drawn across
the corner over the wash-stand, where he every night established
himself with one claw in the edge of the towel and the other clasping
the line, and, ruffling up his feathers till he looked like a little
chestnut-burr, he would resign himself to the soundest sleep. He did
not tuck his head under his wing, but seemed to sink it down between
his shoulders, with his bill almost straight up in the air. One
evening one of us, going to use the towel, jarred the line, and soon
after found that Hum had been thrown from his perch, and was hanging
head downward, fast asleep, still clinging to the line. Another
evening, being discomposed by somebody coming to the towel-line after
he had settled himself, he fluttered off; but so sleepy that he had
not discretion to poise himself again, and was found clinging, like a
little bunch of green floss silk, to the mosquito netting of the
A day after this we brought in a large green bough, and put it up
over the looking-glass. Hum noticed it before it had been there five
minutes, flew to it, and began a regular survey, perching now here,
now there, till he seemed to find a twig that exactly suited him; and
after that he roosted there every night. Who does not see in this
change all the signs of reflection and reason that are shown by us in
thinking over our circumstances, and trying to better them? It
seemed to say in so many words: "That towel-line is an unsafe place
for a bird; I get frightened, and wake from bad dreams to find myself
head downwards; so I will find a better roost on this twig."
When our little Jenny one day put on a clean white muslin gown
embellished with red sprigs, Hum flew towards her, and with his bill
made instant examination of these new appearances; and one day, being
very affectionately disposed, perched himself on her shoulder, and
sat some time. On another occasion, while Mr. A was reading, Hum
established himself on the top of his head just over the middle of
his forehead, in the precise place where our young belles have lately
worn stuffed humming-birds, making him look as if dressed out for a
party. Hum's most favourite perch was the back of the great rocking-
chair, which, being covered by a tidy, gave some hold into which he
could catch his little claws. There he would sit, balancing himself
cleverly if its occupant chose to swing to and fro, and seeming to be
listening to the conversation or reading.
Hum had his different moods, like human beings. On cold, cloudy,
gray days he appeared to be somewhat depressed in spirits, hummed
less about the room, and sat humped up with his feathers ruffled,
looking as much like a bird in a great-coat as possible. But on hot,
sunny days, every feather sleeked itself down, and his little body
looked natty and trim, his head alert, his eyes bright, and it was
impossible to come near him, for his agility. Then let mosquitoes
and little flies look about them! Hum snapped them up without mercy,
and seemed to be all over the ceiling in a moment, and resisted all
our efforts at any personal familiarity with a saucy alacrity.
Hum had his established institutions in our room, the chief of which
was a tumbler with a little sugar and water mixed in it, and a spoon
laid across, out of which he helped himself whenever he felt in the
mood--sitting on the edge of the tumbler, and dipping his long bill,
and lapping with his little forked tongue like a kitten. When he
found his spoon accidentally dry, he would stoop over and dip his
bill in the water in the tumbler; which caused the prophecy on the
part of some of his guardians that he would fall in some--day and be
drowned. For which reason it was agreed to keep only an inch in
depth of the fluid at the bottom of the tumbler. A wise precaution
this proved; for the next morning I was awaked, not by the usual hum
over my head, but by a sharp little flutter, and found Mr. Hum
beating his wings in the tumbler--having actually tumbled in during
his energetic efforts to get his morning coffee before I was awake.
Hum seemed perfectly happy and satisfied in his quarters; but one
day, when the door was left open, he made a dart out, and so into the
open sunshine. Then, to be sure, we thought we had lost him. We
took the mosquito netting, out of all the windows, and, setting his
tumbler of sugar and water in a conspicuous place, went about our
usual occupations. We saw him joyous and brisk among the
honeysuckles outside the window, and it was gravely predicted that he
would return no more. But at dinner-time in came Hum, familiar as
possible, and sat down to his spoon as if nothing had happened.
Instantly we closed our windows and had him secure once more.
At another time I was going to ride to the Atlantic House, about a
mile from my boarding-place. I left all secure, as I supposed, at
home. While gathering moss on the walls there, I was surprised by a
little green humming-bird flying familiarly right towards my face and
humming above my head. I called out, "Here is Hum's very brother."
But, on returning home, I saw that the door of the room was open, and
Hum was gone. Now certainly we gave him up for lost. I sat down to
painting, and in a few minutes in flew Hum, and settled on the edge
of my tumbler in a social, confidential way, which seemed to say,
"Oh, you've got back then." After taking his usual drink of sugar
and water, he began to fly about the ceiling as usual, and we gladly
shut him in.
When our five weeks at the seaside were up, and it was time to go
home, we had great questionings what was to be done with Hum. To get
him home with us was our desire; but who ever heard of a humming-bird
travelling by railroad? Great were the consultings. A little basket
of Indian work was filled up with cambric handkerchiefs, and a bottle
of sugar and water provided, and we started with him for a day's
journey. When we arrived at night the first care was to see what had
become of Hum, who had not been looked at since we fed him with sugar
and water in Boston. We found him alive and well, but so dead asleep
that we could not wake him to roost; so we put him to bed on a toilet
cushion, and arranged his tumbler for morning. The next day found
him alive and humming, exploring the room and pictures, perching now
here and now there; but as the weather was chilly, he sat for the
most part of the time in a humped-up state on the tip of a pair of
stag's horns. We moved him to a more sunny apartment; but, alas! the
equinoctial storm came on, and there was no sun to be had for days.
Hum was blue; the pleasant seaside days were over; his room was
lonely, the pleasant three that had enlivened the apartment at Rye no
longer came in and out; evidently he was lonesome, and gave way to
depression. One chilly morning he managed again to fall into his
tumbler, and wet himself through; and notwithstanding warm bathings
and tender nursings, the poor little fellow seemed to get diphtheria,
or something quite as bad for humming-birds.
We carried him to a neighbouring sunny parlour, where ivy embowers
all the walls and the sun lies all day. There he revived a little,
danced up and down, perched on a green spray that was wreathed across
the breast of a Psyche, and looked then like a little flitting soul
returning to its rest. Towards evening he drooped; and, having been
nursed and warmed and cared for, he was put to sleep on a green twig
laid on the piano. In that sleep the little head drooped--nodded--
fell; and little Hum went where other bright dreams go--to the Land
of the Hereafter.
OUR COUNTRY NEIGHBOURS
We have just built our house in rather an out-of-the-way place--on
the bank of a river, and under the shade of a patch of woods which is
a veritable remain of quite an ancient forest. The checkerberry and
partridge-plum, with their glossy green leaves and scarlet berries,
still carpet the ground under its deep shadows; and prince's-pine and
other kindred evergreens declare its native wildness,--for these are
children of the wild woods, that never come after plough and harrow
have once broken a soil.
When we tried to look out the spot for our house, we had to get a
surveyor to go before us and cut a path through the dense underbrush
that was laced together in a general network of boughs and leaves,
and grew so high as to overtop our heads. Where the house stands,
four or five great old oaks and chestnuts had to be cut away to let
it in; and now it stands on the bank of the river, the edges of which
are still overhung with old forest-trees, chestnuts and oaks, which
look at themselves in the glassy stream.
A little knoll near the house was chosen for a garden-spot; a dense,
dark mass of trees above, of bushes in mid-air, and of all sorts of
ferns and wild-flowers and creeping vines on the ground. All these
had to be cleared out, and a dozen great trees cut down and dragged
off to a neighbouring saw-mill, there to be transformed into boards
to finish off our house. Then, fetching a great machine, such as
might be used to pull a giant's teeth, with ropes, pulleys, oxen, and
men, and might and main, we pulled out the stumps, with their great
prongs and their network of roots and fibres; and then, alas! we had
to begin with all the pretty wild, lovely bushes, and the
checkerberries and ferns and wild blackberries and huckleberry-
bushes, and dig them up remorselessly, that we might plant our corn
and squashes. And so we got a house and a garden right out of the
heart of our piece of wild wood, about a mile from the city of H-.
Well, then, people said it was a lonely place, and far from
neighbours,--by which they meant that it was a good way for them to
come to see us. But we soon found that whoever goes into the woods
to live finds neighbours of a new kind, and some to whom it is rather
hard to become accustomed.
For instance, on a fine day early in April, as we were crossing over
to superintend the building of our house, we were startled by a
striped snake, with his little bright eyes, raising himself to look
at us, and putting out his red, forked tongue. Now there is no more
harm in these little garden-snakes than there is in a robin or a
squirrel--they are poor little, peaceable, timid creatures, which
could not do any harm if they would; but the prejudices of society
are so strong against them that one does not like to cultivate too
much intimacy with them. So we tried to turn out of our path into a
tangle of bushes; and there, instead of one, we found four snakes.
We turned on the other side, and there were two more. In short,
everywhere we looked, the dry leaves were rustling and coiling with
them; and we were in despair. In vain we said that they were
harmless as kittens, and tried to persuade ourselves that their
little bright eyes were pretty, and that their serpentine movements
were in the exact line of beauty: for the life of us, we could not
help remembering their family name and connections; we thought of
those disagreeable gentlemen the anacondas, the rattlesnakes, and the
copper-heads, and all of that bad line, immediate family friends of
the old serpent to whom we are indebted for all the mischief that is
done in this world. So we were quite apprehensive when we saw how
our new neighbourhood was infested by them, until a neighbour calmed
our fears by telling us that snakes always crawled out of their holes
to sun themselves in the spring, and that in a day or two they would
all be gone.
So it proved. It was evident they were all out merely to do their
spring shopping, or something that serves with them the same purpose
that spring shopping does with us; and where they went afterwards we
do not know. People speak of snakes' holes, and we have seen them
disappearing into such subterranean chambers; but we never opened one
to see what sort of underground housekeeping went on there. After
the first few days of spring, a snake was a rare visitor, though now
and then one appeared.
One was discovered taking his noontide repast one day in a manner
which excited much prejudice. He was, in fact, regaling himself by
sucking down into his maw a small frog, which he had begun to swallow
at the toes, and had drawn about half down. The frog, it must be
confessed, seemed to view this arrangement with great indifference,
making no struggle, and sitting solemnly, with his great unwinking
eyes, to be sucked in at the leisure of his captor. There was
immense sympathy, however, excited for him in the family circle; and
it was voted that a snake which indulged in such very disagreeable
modes of eating his dinner was not to be tolerated in our vicinity.
So I have reason to believe that that was his last meal.
Another of our wild woodland neighbours made us some trouble. It was
no other than a veritable woodchuck, whose hole we had often wondered
at when we were scrambling through the underbrush after spring
flowers. The hole was about the size of a peck-measure, and had two
openings about six feet apart. The occupant was a gentleman we never
had had the pleasure of seeing, but we soon learned his existence
from his ravages in our garden. He had a taste, it appears, for the
very kind of things we wanted to eat ourselves, and helped himself
without asking. We had a row of fine, crisp heads of lettuce, which
were the pride of our gardening, and out of which he would from day
to day select for his table just the plants we had marked for ours.
He also nibbled our young beans; and so at last we were reluctantly
obliged to let John Gardiner set a trap for him. Poor old simple-
minded hermit, he was too artless for this world! He was caught at
the very first snap, and found dead in the trap,--the agitation and
distress having broken his poor woodland heart, and killed him. We
were grieved to the very soul when the poor fat old fellow was
dragged out, with his useless paws standing up stiff and imploring.
As it was, he was given to Denis, our pig, which, without a single
scruple of delicacy, ate him up as thoroughly as he ate up the
This business of eating, it appears, must go on all through creation.
We eat ducks, turkeys, and chickens, though we don't swallow them
whole, feathers and all. Our four-footed friends, less civilized,
take things with more directness and simplicity, and chew each other
up without ceremony, or swallow each other alive. Of these
unceremonious habits we had other instances.
Our house had a central court on the southern side, into which looked
the library, dining-room, and front hall, as well as several of the
upper chambers. It was designed to be closed in with glass, to serve
as a conservatory in winter; and meanwhile we had filled it with
splendid plumy ferns, taken up out of the neighbouring wood. In the
centre was a fountain surrounded by stones, shells, mosses, and
various water-plants. We had bought three little goldfish to swim in
our basin; and the spray of it, as it rose in the air and rippled
back into the water, was the pleasantest possible sound of a hot day.
We used to lie on the sofa in the hall, and look into the court, and
fancy we saw some scene of fairy-land, and water-sprites coming up
from the fountain. Suddenly a new-comer presented himself,--no other
than an immense bull-frog, that had hopped up from the neighbouring
river, apparently with a view to making a permanent settlement in and
about our fountain. He was to be seen, often for hours, sitting
reflectively on the edge of it, beneath the broad shadow of the
calla-leaves. When sometimes missed thence, he would be found under
the ample shield of a great bignonia, whose striped leaves grew hard
The family were prejudiced against him. What did he want there? It
was surely some sinister motive impelled him. He was probably
watching for an opportunity to gobble up the goldfish. We took his
part, however, and strenuously defended his moral character, and
patronized him in all ways. We gave him the name of Unke, and
maintained that he was a well-conducted, philosophical old water-
sprite, who showed his good taste in wanting to take up his abode in
our conservatory. We even defended his personal appearance, praised
the invisible-green coat which he wore on his back, and his gray
vest, and solemn gold spectacles; and though he always felt
remarkably slimy when we touched him, yet, as he would sit still and
allow us to stroke his head and pat his back, we concluded his social
feelings might be warm, notwithstanding a cold exterior. Who knew,
after all, but he might be a beautiful young prince, enchanted there
till the princess should come to drop the golden ball into the
fountain, and so give him a chance to marry her and turn into a man
again? Such things, we are credibly informed, are matters of
frequent occurrence in Germany. Why not here?
By-and-by there came to our fountain another visitor,--a frisky,
green young frog of the identical kind spoken of by the poet
"There was a frog lived in a well,
Rig dum pully metakimo."
This thoughtless, dapper individual, with his bright green coat, his
faultless white vest, and sea-green tights, became rather the popular
favourite. He seemed just rakish and gallant enough to fulfil the
conditions of the song
"The frog he would a-courting ride,
With sword and pistol by his side."
This lively young fellow, whom we shall call Cri-Cri, like other
frisky and gay young people, carried the day quite over the head of
the solemn old philosopher under the calla-leaves. At night, when
all was still, he would trill a joyous little note in his throat,
while old Unke would answer only with a cracked guttural more
singular than agreeable; and to all outward appearance the two were
as good friends as their different natures would allow.
One day, however, the conservatory became the scene of a tragedy of
the deepest dye. We were summoned below by shrieks and howls of
horror. "Do pray come down and see what this vile, nasty, horrid old
frog has been doing!" Down we came; and there sat our virtuous old
philosopher, with his poor little brother's hind legs still sticking
out of the corner of his mouth, as if he were smoking them for a
cigar, all helplessly palpitating as they were. In fact, our solemn
old friend had done what many a solemn hypocrite before has done,--
swallowed his poor brother, neck and crop,--and sat there with the
most brazen indifference, looking as if he had done the most proper
and virtuous thing in the world.
Immediately he was marched out of the conservatory at the point of a
walking-stick, and made to hop down to the river, into whose waters
he splashed, and we saw him no more. We regret to say that the
popular indignation was so precipitate in its results; otherwise the
special artist who sketched Hum, the son of Buz, intended to have
made a sketch of the old villain, as he sat with his luckless
victim's hind legs projecting from his solemn mouth. With all his
moral faults, he was a good sitter, and would probably have sat
immovable any length of time that could be desired.
Of other woodland neighbours there were some which we saw
occasionally. The shores of the river were lined here and there with
the holes of the muskrats; and in rowing by their settlements, we
were sometimes strongly reminded of them by the overpowering odour of
the perfume from which they get their name. There were also owls,
whose nests were high up in some of the old chestnut-trees. Often in
the lonely hours of the night we could hear them gibbering with a
sort of wild, hollow laugh among the distant trees. But one tenant
of the woods made us some trouble in the autumn. It was a little
flying-squirrel, who took to making excursions into our house in the
night season, coming down the chimney into the chambers, rustling
about among the clothes, cracking nuts or nibbling at any morsels of
anything that suited his fancy. For a long time the inmates of the
rooms were awakened in the night by mysterious noises, thumps, and
rappings, and so lighted candles, and searched in vain to find whence
they came; for the moment any movement was made, the rogue whipped up
the chimney, and left us a prey to the most mysterious alarms. What
could it be?
But one night our fine gentleman bounced in at the window of another
room, which had no fireplace; and the fair occupant, rising in the
night, shut the window, without suspecting that she had cut off the
retreat of any of her woodland neighbours. The next morning she was
startled by what she thought a gray rat running past her bed. She
rose to pursue him, when he ran up the wall, and clung against the
plastering, showing himself very plainly a gray flying-squirrel, with
large, soft eyes, and wings which consisted of a membrane uniting the
fore paws to the hind ones, like those of a bat. He was chased into
the conservatory, and a window being opened, out he flew upon the
ground, and made away for his native woods, and thus put an end to
many fears as to the nature of our nocturnal rappings.
So you see how many neighbours we found by living in the woods, and,
after all, no worse ones than are found in the great world.
THE DIVERTING HISTORY OF LITTLE WHISKEY
And now, at the last, I am going to tell you something of the ways
and doings of one of the queer little people, whom I shall call
You cannot imagine how pretty he is. His back has the most beautiful
smooth shining stripes of reddish brown and black, his eyes shine
like bright glass beads, and he sits up jauntily on his hind
quarters, with his little tail thrown over his back like a ruffle.
And where does he live? Well, "that is telling," as we children say.
It was somewhere up in the mountains of Berkshire, in a queer,
quaint, old-fashioned garden, that I made Mr. Whiskey's acquaintance.
Here there lives a young parson, who preaches every Sunday in a
little brown church, and during week-days goes through all these
hills and valleys, visiting the poor, and gathering children into
His wife is a very small-sized lady--not much bigger than you, my
little Mary--but very fond of all sorts of dumb animals; and by
constantly watching their actions and ways, she has come to have
quite a strange power over them, as I shall relate.
The little lady fixed her mind on Whiskey, and gave him his name
without consulting him upon the subject. She admired his bright
eyes, and resolved to cultivate his acquaintance.
By constant watching, she discovered that he had a small hole of his
own in the grass-plot a few paces from her back-door. So she used to
fill her pocket with hazel-nuts, and go out and sit in the back
porch, and make a little noise, such as squirrels make to each other,
to attract his attention.
In a minute or two up would pop the little head with the bright eyes,
in the grass-plot, and Master Whiskey would sit on his haunches and
listen, with one small ear cocked towards her. Then she would throw
him a hazel-nut, and he would slip instantly down into his hole
again. In a minute or two, however, his curiosity would get the
better of his prudence; and she, sitting quiet, would see the little
brown-striped head slowly, slowly coming up again, over the tiny
green spikes of the grass-plot. Quick as a flash he would dart at
the nut, whisk it into a little bag on one side of his jaws, which
Madam Nature has furnished him with for his provision-pouch, and down
into his hole again. An ungrateful, suspicious little brute he was
too; for though in this way he bagged and carried off nut after nut,
until the patient little woman had used up a pound of hazelnuts,
still he seemed to have the same wild fright at sight of her, and
would whisk off and hide himself in his hole the moment she appeared.
In vain she called, "Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey," in the most
flattering tones; in vain she coaxed and cajoled. No, no; he was not
to be caught napping. He had no objection to accepting her nuts, as
many as she chose to throw to him; but as to her taking any personal
liberty with him, you see, it was by no means to be thought of.
But at last patience and perseverance began to have their reward.
Little Master Whiskey said to himself, "Surely this is a nice, kind
lady, to take so much pains to give me nuts; she is certainly very
considerate;" and with that he edged a little nearer and nearer every
day, until, quite to the delight of the small lady, he would come and
climb into her lap and seize the nuts, when she rattled them there,
and after that he seemed to make exploring voyages all over her
person. He would climb up and sit on her shoulder; he would mount
and perch himself on her head; and when she held a nut for him
between her teeth, he would take it out of her mouth.
After a while he began to make tours of discovery in the house. He
would suddenly appear on the minister's writing-table when he was
composing his Sunday sermon, and sit cocking his little pert head at
him, seeming to wonder what he was about. But in all his
explorations he proved himself a true Yankee squirrel, having always
a shrewd eye on the main chance. If the parson dropped a nut on the
floor, down went Whiskey after it, and into his provision-bag it
went, and then he would look up as if he expected another; for he had
a wallet on each side of his jaws, and he always wanted both sides
handsomely filled before he made for his hole. So busy and active
and always intent on this one object was he, that before long the
little lady found he had made way with six pounds of hazel-nuts. His
general rule was to carry off four nuts at a time--three being
stuffed into the side-pockets of his jaws, and the fourth held in his
teeth. When he had furnished himself in this way, he would dart like
lightning for his hole, and disappear in a moment; but in a short
time up he would come, brisk and wide-awake, and ready for the next
Once a person who had the curiosity to dig open a chipping squirrel's
hole found in it two quarts of buckwheat, a quantity of grass-seed,
nearly a peck of acorns, some Indian corn, and a quart of walnuts; a
pretty handsome supply for a squirrel's winter store-room--don't you
Whiskey learned in time to work for his living in many artful ways
that his young mistress devised. Sometimes she would tie his nuts up
in a paper package, which he would attack with great energy, gnawing
the strings, and rustling the nuts out of the paper in wonderfully
quick time. Sometimes she would tie a nut to the end of a bit of
twine and swing it backward and forward over his head; and after a
succession of spry jumps, he would pounce upon it, and hang swinging
on the twine, till he had gnawed the nut away.
Another squirrel, doubtless hearing of Whiskey's good luck, began to
haunt the same yard; but Whiskey would by no means allow him to
cultivate his young mistress's acquaintance. No indeed! he evidently
considered that the institution would not support two. Sometimes he
would appear to be conversing with the stranger on the most familiar
and amicable terms in the back-yard; but if his mistress called his
name, he would immediately start and chase his companion quite out of
sight, before he came back to her.
So you see that self-seeking is not confined to men alone, and that
Whiskey's fine little fur coat covers a very selfish heart.
As winter comes on, Whiskey will go down into his hole, which has
many long galleries and winding passages, and a snug little bedroom
well lined with leaves. Here he will doze and dream away his long
winter months, and nibble out the inside of his store of nuts.
If I hear any more of his cunning tricks, I will tell you of them.
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