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There was once a farmer who lived in great comfort. He had both lands and money, but, though he was so well off, one thing was wanting to complete his happiness; he had no children. Many and many a time, when he met other farmers at the nearest market town, they would tease him, asking how it came about that he was childless. At length he grew so angry that he exclaimed: ‘I must and will have a child of some sort or kind, even should it only be a hedgehog!’
Not long after this his wife gave birth to a child, but though the lower half of the little creature was a fine boy, from the waist upwards it was a hedgehog, so that when his mother first saw him she was quite frightened, and said to her husband, ‘There now, you have cursed the child yourself.’ The farmer said, ‘What’s the use of making a fuss? I suppose the creature must be christened, but I don’t see how we are to ask anyone to be sponsor to him, and what are we to call him?’
‘There is nothing we can possibly call him but Jack the Hedgehog,’ replied the wife.
So they took him to be christened, and the parson said: ‘You’ll never be able to put that child in a decent bed on account of his prickles.’ Which was true, but they shook down some straw for him behind the stove, and there he lay for eight years. His father grew very tired of him and often wished him dead, but he did not die, but lay on there year after year.
Now one day there was a big fair at the market town to which the farmer meant to go, so he asked his wife what he should bring her from it. ‘Some meat and a couple of big loaves for the house,’ said she. Then he asked the maid what she wanted, and she said a pair of slippers and some stockings. Lastly he said, ‘Well, Jack the Hedgehog, and what shall I bring you?’
‘Daddy,’ said he, ‘do bring me a bagpipe.’ When the farmer came home he gave his wife and the maid the things they had asked for, and then he went behind the stove and gave Jack the Hedgehog the bagpipes.
When Jack had got his bagpipes he said, ‘Daddy, do go to the smithy and have the house cock shod for me; then I’ll ride off and trouble you no more.’ His father, who was delighted at the prospect of getting rid of him, had the cock shod, and when it was ready Jack the Hedgehog mounted on its back and rode off to the forest, followed by all the pigs which he had promised to look after.
Having reached the forest he made the cock fly up to the top of a very tall tree with him, and there he sat looking after his pigs, and he sat on and on for several years till he had quite a big herd; but all this time his father knew nothing about him.
As he sat up in his tree he played away on his pipes and drew the loveliest music from them. As he was playing one day a King, who had lost his way, happened to pass close by, and hearing the music he was much surprised, and sent one of his servants to find out where it came from. The man peered about, but he could see nothing but a little creature which looked like a cock with a hedgehog sitting on it, perched up in a tree. The King desired the servant to ask the strange creature why it sat there, and if it knew the shortest way to his kingdom.
On this Jack the Hedgehog stepped down from his tree and said he would undertake to show the King his way home if the King on his part would give him his written promise to let him have whatever first met him on his return.
The King thought to himself, ‘That’s easy enough to promise. The creature won’t understand a word about it, so I can just write what I choose.’
So he took pen and ink and wrote something, and when he had done Jack the Hedgehog pointed out the way and the King got safely home.
Now when the King’s daughter saw her father returning in the distance she was so delighted that she ran to meet him and threw herself into his arms. Then the King remembered Jack the Hedgehog, and he told his daughter how he had been obliged to give a written promise to bestow whatever he first met when he got home on an extraordinary creature which had shown him the way. The creature, said he, rode on a cock as though it had been a horse, and it made lovely music, but as it certainly could not read he had just written that he would not give it anything at all. At this the Princess was quite pleased, and said how cleverly her father had managed, for that of course nothing would induce her to have gone off with Jack the Hedgehog.
Meantime Jack minded his pigs, sat aloft in his tree, played his bagpipes, and was always merry and cheery. After a time it so happened that another King, having lost his way, passed by with his servants and escort, wondering how he could find his way home, for the forest was very vast. He too heard the music, and told one of his men to find out whence it came. The man came under the tree, and looking up to the top there he saw Jack the Hedgehog astride on the cock.
The servant asked Jack what he was doing up there. ‘I’m minding my pigs; but what do you want?’ was the reply. Then the servant told him they had lost their way, and wanted someone to show it them. Down came Jack the Hedgehog with his cock, and told the old King he would show him the right way if he would solemnly promise to give him the first thing he met in front of his royal castle.
The King said ‘Yes,’ and gave Jack a written promise to that effect.
Then Jack rode on in front pointing out the way, and the King reached his own country in safety.
Now he had an only daughter who was extremely beautiful, and who, delighted at her father’s return, ran to meet him, threw her arms round his neck and kissed him heartily. Then she asked where he had been wandering so long, and he told her how he had lost his way and might never have reached home at all but for a strange creature, half-man, half-hedgehog, which rode a cock and sat up in a tree making lovely music, and which had shown him the right way. He also told her how he had been obliged to pledge his word to give the creature the first thing which met him outside his castle gate, and he felt very sad at the thought that she had been the first thing to meet him.
But the Princess comforted him, and said she should be quite willing to go with Jack the Hedgehog whenever he came to fetch her, because of the great love she bore to her dear old father.
Jack the Hedgehog continued to herd his pigs, and they increased in number till there were so many that the forest seemed full of them. So he made up his mind to live there no longer, and sent a message to his father telling him to have all the stables and outhouses in the village cleared, as he was going to bring such an enormous herd that all who would might kill what they chose. His father was much vexed at this news, for he thought Jack had died long ago. Jack the Hedgehog mounted his cock, and driving his pigs before him into the village, he let everyone kill as many as they chose, and such a hacking and hewing of pork went on as you might have heard for miles off.
Then said Jack, ‘Daddy, let the blacksmith shoe my cock once more; then I’ll ride off, and I promise you I’ll never come back again as long as I live.’ So the father had the cock shod, and rejoiced at the idea of getting rid of his son.
Then Jack the Hedgehog set off for the first kingdom, and there the King had given strict orders that if anyone should be seen riding a cock and carrying a bagpipe he was to be chased away and shot at, and on no account to be allowed to enter the palace. So when Jack the Hedgehog rode up the guards charged him with their bayonets, but he put spurs to his cock, flew up over the gate right to the King’s windows, let himself down on the sill, and called out that if he was not given what had been promised him, both the King and his daughter should pay for it with their lives. Then the King coaxed and entreated his daughter to go with Jack and so save both their lives.
The Princess dressed herself all in white, and her father gave her a coach with six horses and servants in gorgeous liveries and quantities of money. She stepped into the coach, and Jack the Hedgehog with his cock and pipes took his place beside her. They both took leave, and the King fully expected never to set eyes on them again. But matters turned out very differently from what he had expected, for when they had got a certain distance from the town Jack tore all the Princess’s smart clothes off her, and pricked her all over with his bristles, saying: ‘That’s what you get for treachery. Now go back, I’ll have no more to say to you.’ And with that he hunted her home, and she felt she had been disgraced and put to shame till her life’s end.
Then Jack the Hedgehog rode on with his cock and bagpipes to the country of the second King to whom he had shown the way. Now this King had given orders that, in the event of Jack’s coming the guards were to present arms, the people to cheer, and he was to be conducted in triumph to the royal palace.
When the King’s daughter saw Jack the Hedgehog, she was a good deal startled, for he certainly was very peculiar looking; but after all she considered that she had given her word and it couldn’t be helped. So she made Jack welcome and they were betrothed to each other, and at dinner he sat next to her at the royal table, and they ate and drank together.
When they retired to rest the Princess feared lest Jack should kiss her because of his prickles, but he told her not to be alarmed as no harm should befall her. Then he begged the old King to place a watch of four men just outside his bedroom door, and to desire them to make a big fire. When he was about to lie down in bed he would creep out of his hedgehog skin, and leave it lying at the bedside; then the men must rush in, throw the skin into the fire, and stand by till it was entirely burnt up.
And so it was, for when it struck eleven, Jack the Hedgehog went to his room, took off his skin and left it at the foot of the bed. The men rushed in, quickly seized the skin and threw it on the fire, and directly it was all burnt Jack was released from his enchantment and lay in his bed a man from head to foot, but quite black as though he had been severely scorched.
The King sent off for his physician in ordinary, who washed Jack all over with various essences and salves, so that he became white and was a remarkably handsome young man. When the King’s daughter saw him she was greatly pleased, and next day the marriage ceremony was performed, and the old King bestowed his kingdom on Jack the Hedgehog.
After some years Jack and his wife went to visit his father, but the farmer did not recognize him, and declared he had no son; he had had one, but that one was born with bristles like a hedgehog, and had gone off into the wide world. Then Jack told his story, and his old father rejoiced and returned to live with him in his kingdom.
Here, O Best Beloved, is another story of the High and Far-Off Times. In the very middle of those times was a Stickly-Prickly Hedgehog, and he lived on the banks of the turbid Amazon, eating shelly snails and things. And he had a friend, a Slow-Solid Tortoise, who lived on the banks of the turbid Amazon, eating green lettuces and things. And so that was all right, Best Beloved. Do you see?
But also, and at the same time, in those High and Far-Off Times, there was a Painted Jaguar, and he lived on the banks of the turbid Amazon too; and he ate everything that he could catch. When he could not catch deer or monkeys he would eat frogs and beetles; and when he could not catch frogs and beetles he went to his Mother Jaguar, and she told him how to eat hedgehogs and tortoises.
She said to him ever so many times, graciously waving her tail, ‘My son, when you find a Hedgehog you must drop him into the water and then he will uncoil, and when you catch a Tortoise you must scoop him out of his shell with your paw.’ And so that was all right, Best Beloved.
One beautiful night on the banks of the turbid Amazon, Painted Jaguar found Stickly-Prickly Hedgehog and Slow-Solid Tortoise sitting under the trunk of a fallen tree. They could not run away, and so Stickly-Prickly curled himself up into a ball, because he was a Hedgehog, and Slow-Solid Tortoise drew in his head and feet into his shell as far as they would go, because he was a Tortoise; and so that was all right, Best Beloved. Do you see?
‘Now attend to me,’ said Painted Jaguar, ‘because this is very important. My mother said that when I meet a Hedgehog I am to drop him into the water and then he will uncoil, and when I meet a Tortoise I am to scoop him out of his shell with my paw. Now which of you is Hedgehog and which is Tortoise? because, to save my spots, I can’t tell.’
‘Are you sure of what your Mummy told you?’ said Stickly-Prickly Hedgehog. ‘Are you quite sure? Perhaps she said that when you uncoil a Tortoise you must shell him out of the water with a scoop, and when you paw a Hedgehog you must drop him on the shell.’
‘Are you sure of what your Mummy told you?’ said Slow-and-Solid Tortoise. ‘Are you quite sure? Perhaps she said that when you water a Hedgehog you must drop him into your paw, and when you meet a Tortoise you must shell him till he uncoils.’
‘I don’t think it was at all like that,’ said Painted Jaguar, but he felt a little puzzled; ‘but, please, say it again more distinctly.’
‘When you scoop water with your paw you uncoil it with a Hedgehog,’ said Stickly-Prickly. ‘Remember that, because it’s important.’
‘But,’ said the Tortoise, ‘when you paw your meat you drop it into a Tortoise with a scoop. Why can’t you understand?’
‘You are making my spots ache,’ said Painted Jaguar, ‘and besides, I didn’t want your advice at all. I only wanted to know which of you is Hedgehog and which is Tortoise.’
‘I shan’t tell you,’ said Stickly-Prickly, ‘but you can scoop me out of my shell if you like.’
‘Aha!’ said Painted Jaguar. ‘Now I know you’re Tortoise. You thought I wouldn’t! Now I will.’ Painted Jaguar darted out his paddy-paw just as Stickly-Prickly curled himself up, and of course Jaguar’s paddy-paw was just filled with prickles. Worse than that, he knocked Stickly-Prickly away and away into the woods and the bushes, where it was too dark to find him. Then he put his paddy-paw into his mouth, and of course the prickles hurt him worse than ever. As soon as he could speak he said, ‘Now I know he isn’t Tortoise at all. But,’ and then he scratched his head with his un-prickly paw, ‘how do I know that this other is Tortoise?’
‘But I am Tortoise,’ said Slow-and-Solid. ‘Your mother was quite right. She said that you were to scoop me out of my shell with your paw. Begin.’
‘You didn’t say she said that a minute ago,’ said Painted Jaguar, sucking the prickles out of his paddy-paw. ‘You said she said something quite different.’
‘Well, suppose you say that I said that she said something quite different, I don’t see that it makes any difference; because if she said what you said I said she said, it’s just the same as if I said what she said she said. On the other hand, if you think she said that you were to uncoil me with a scoop, instead of pawing me into drops with a shell, I can’t help that, can I?’
‘But you said you wanted to be scooped out of your shell with my paw,’ said Painted Jaguar.
‘If you’ll think again you’ll find that I didn’t say anything of the kind. I said that your mother said that you were to scoop me out of my shell,’ said Slow-and-Solid.
‘What will happen if I do?’ said the Jaguar most sniffily and most cautious.
‘I don’t know, because I’ve never been scooped out of my shell before; but I tell you truly, if you want to see me swim away you’ve only got to drop me into the water.’
‘I don’t believe it,’ said Painted Jaguar. ‘You’ve mixed up all the things my mother told me to do with the things that you asked me whether I was sure that she didn’t say, till I don’t know whether I’m on my head or my painted tail; and now you come and tell me something I can understand, and it makes me more mixy than before. My mother told me that I was to drop one of you two into the water, and as you seem so anxious to be dropped I think you don’t want to be dropped. So jump into the turbid Amazon and be quick about it.’
‘I warn you that your Mummy won’t be pleased. Don’t tell her I didn’t tell you,’ said Slow-Solid.
‘If you say another word about what my mother said’ the Jaguar answered, but he had not finished the sentence before Slow-and-Solid quietly dived into the turbid Amazon, swam under water for a long way, and came out on the bank where Stickly-Prickly was waiting for him.
‘That was a very narrow escape,’ said Stickly-Prickly. ‘I don’t like Painted Jaguar. What did you tell him that you were?’
‘I told him truthfully that I was a truthful Tortoise, but he wouldn’t believe it, and he made me jump into the river to see if I was, and I was, and he is surprised. Now he’s gone to tell his Mummy. Listen to him!’
They could hear Painted Jaguar roaring up and down among the trees and the bushes by the side of the turbid Amazon, till his Mummy came.
‘Son, son!’ said his mother ever so many times, graciously waving her tail, ‘what have you been doing that you shouldn’t have done?’
‘I tried to scoop something that said it wanted to be scooped out of its shell with my paw, and my paw is full of per-ickles,’ said Painted Jaguar.
‘Son, son!’ said his mother ever so many times, graciously waving her tail, ‘by the prickles in your paddy-paw I see that that must have been a Hedgehog. You should have dropped him into the water.’
‘I did that to the other thing; and he said he was a Tortoise, and I didn’t believe him, and it was quite true, and he has dived under the turbid Amazon, and he won’t come up again, and I haven’t anything at all to eat, and I think we had better find lodgings somewhere else. They are too clever on the turbid Amazon for poor me!’
‘Son, son!’ said his mother ever so many times, graciously waving her tail, ‘now attend to me and remember what I say. A Hedgehog curls himself up into a ball and his prickles stick out every which way at once. By this you may know the Hedgehog.’
‘I don’t like this old lady one little bit,’ said Stickly-Prickly, under the shadow of a large leaf. ‘I wonder what else she knows?’
‘A Tortoise can’t curl himself up,’ Mother Jaguar went on, ever so many times, graciously waving her tail. ‘He only draws his head and legs into his shell. By this you may know the Tortoise.’
‘I don’t like this old lady at all at all,’ said Slow-and-Solid Tortoise. ‘Even Painted Jaguar can’t forget those directions. It’s a great pity that you can’t swim, Stickly-Prickly.’
‘Don’t talk to me,’ said Stickly-Prickly. ‘Just think how much better it would be if you could curl up. This is a mess! Listen to Painted Jaguar.’
Painted Jaguar was sitting on the banks of the turbid Amazon sucking prickles out of his paws and saying to himself,
‘Can’t curl, but can swim
Slow-Solid, that’s him!
Curls up, but can’t swim
Stickly-Prickly, that’s him!’
‘He’ll never forget that this month of Sundays,’ said Stickly-Prickly. ‘Hold up my chin, Slow-and-Solid. I’m going to try to learn to swim. It may be useful.’
‘Excellent!’ said Slow-and-Solid; and he held up Stickly-Prickly’s chin, while Stickly-Prickly kicked in the waters of the turbid Amazon.
‘You’ll make a fine swimmer yet,’ said Slow-and-Solid. ‘Now, if you can unlace my back-plates a little, I’ll see what I can do towards curling up. It may be useful.’
Stickly-Prickly helped to unlace Tortoise’s back-plates, so that by twisting and straining Slow-and-Solid actually managed to curl up a tiddy wee bit.
‘Excellent!’ said Stickly-Prickly; ‘but I shouldn’t do any more just now. It’s making you black in the face. Kindly lead me into the water once again and I’ll practise that side-stroke which you say is so easy.’ And so Stickly-Prickly practised, and Slow-Solid swam alongside.
‘Excellent!’ said Slow-and-Solid. ‘A little more practice will make you a regular whale. Now, if I may trouble you to unlace my back and front plates two holes more, I’ll try that fascinating bend that you say is so easy. Won’t Painted Jaguar be surprised!’
‘Excellent!’ said Stickly-Prickly, all wet from the turbid Amazon. ‘I declare, I shouldn’t know you from one of my own family. Two holes, I think, you said? A little more expression, please, and don’t grunt quite so much, or Painted Jaguar may hear us. When you’ve finished, I want to try that long dive which you say is so easy. Won’t Painted Jaguar be surprised!’
And so Stickly-Prickly dived, and Slow-and-Solid dived alongside.
‘Excellent!’ said Slow-and-Solid. ‘A leetle more attention to holding your breath and you will be able to keep house at the bottom of the turbid Amazon. Now I’ll try that exercise of wrapping my hind legs round my ears which you say is so peculiarly comfortable. Won’t Painted Jaguar be surprised!’
‘Excellent!’ said Stickly-Prickly. ‘But it’s straining your back-plates a little. They are all overlapping now, instead of lying side by side.’
‘Oh, that’s the result of exercise,’ said Slow-and-Solid. ‘I’ve noticed that your prickles seem to be melting into one another, and that you’re growing to look rather more like a pine-cone, and less like a chestnut-burr, than you used to.’
‘Am I?’ said Stickly-Prickly. ‘That comes from my soaking in the water. Oh, won’t Painted Jaguar be surprised!’
They went on with their exercises, each helping the other, till morning came; and when the sun was high they rested and dried themselves. Then they saw that they were both of them quite different from what they had been.
‘Stickly-Prickly,’ said Tortoise after breakfast, ‘I am not what I was yesterday; but I think that I may yet amuse Painted Jaguar.’
‘That was the very thing I was thinking just now,’ said Stickly-Prickly. ‘I think scales are a tremendous improvement on prickles to say nothing of being able to swim. Oh, won’t Painted Jaguar be surprised! Let’s go and find him.’
By and by they found Painted Jaguar, still nursing his paddy-paw that had been hurt the night before. He was so astonished that he fell three times backward over his own painted tail without stopping.
‘Good morning!’ said Stickly-Prickly. ‘And how is your dear gracious Mummy this morning?’
‘She is quite well, thank you,’ said Painted Jaguar; ‘but you must forgive me if I do not at this precise moment recall your name.’
‘That’s unkind of you,’ said Stickly-Prickly, ‘seeing that this time yesterday you tried to scoop me out of my shell with your paw.’
‘But you hadn’t any shell. It was all prickles,’ said Painted Jaguar. ‘I know it was. Just look at my paw!’
‘You told me to drop into the turbid Amazon and be drowned,’ said Slow-Solid. ‘Why are you so rude and forgetful to-day?’
‘Don’t you remember what your mother told you?’ said Stickly-Prickly,
‘Can’t curl, but can swim
Stickly-Prickly, that’s him!
Curls up, but can’t swim
Slow-Solid, that’s him!’
Then they both curled themselves up and rolled round and round Painted Jaguar till his eyes turned truly cart-wheels in his head.
Then he went to fetch his mother.
‘Mother,’ he said, ‘there are two new animals in the woods to-day, and the one that you said couldn’t swim, swims, and the one that you said couldn’t curl up, curls; and they’ve gone shares in their prickles, I think, because both of them are scaly all over, instead of one being smooth and the other very prickly; and, besides that, they are rolling round and round in circles, and I don’t feel comfy.’
‘Son, son!’ said Mother Jaguar ever so many times, graciously waving her tail, ‘a Hedgehog is a Hedgehog, and can’t be anything but a Hedgehog; and a Tortoise is a Tortoise, and can never be anything else.’
‘But it isn’t a Hedgehog, and it isn’t a Tortoise. It’s a little bit of both, and I don’t know its proper name.’
‘Nonsense!’ said Mother Jaguar. ‘Everything has its proper name. I should call it “Armadillo” till I found out the real one. And I should leave it alone.’
So Painted Jaguar did as he was told, especially about leaving them alone; but the curious thing is that from that day to this, O Best Beloved, no one on the banks of the turbid Amazon has ever called Stickly-Prickly and Slow-Solid anything except Armadillo. There are Hedgehogs and Tortoises in other places, of course (there are some in my garden); but the real old and clever kind, with their scales lying lippety-lappety one over the other, like pine-cone scales, that lived on the banks of the turbid Amazon in the High and Far-Off Days, are always called Armadillos, because they were so clever.
So that’s all right, Best Beloved. Do you see?
Rudyard Kipling, 1912
A boy who was on a visit to the country once said to me, ‘I do so want to find a hedgehog; please tell me where to look for one.’ All I could reply was, ‘It is not very easy to find a hedgehog. The likeliest place to pop upon one is near some hedgerow; you know he is called hedgehog, or hedgepig. But he much prefers darkness to light, and takes excursions after sunset.’
It may be remarked that hedgehogs must be somewhere in the daytime; this is true, but the difficulty is to discover their hiding-place, which is usually a hole or a thick clump of herbage. A search in the dark with a lantern has been tried, and has been successful, but not often; still, those who know how, manage to secure these animals, for they are to be bought in the London streets. People buy them to keep indoors, as killers of blackbeetles, or perhaps they are turned out to destroy garden insects. Somebody who has had them in his garden remarks that it is no easy task to find them, even though you know every corner, for they have such artful ways.
There are some people who think hedgehogs may do harm amongst garden plants, turning up roots occasionally in their hunts after insects, perhaps even nibbling young shoots; and this is quite possible. Piggy is of a greedy nature, certainly, and if he has the range of a kitchen swarming with blackbeetles, he will feed on them until he makes himself ill. Odd, too, are the noises he produces when he is ‘on the warpath.’ The sounds come partly from himself, but also partly from things he clatters against during his wanderings. One night, a gentleman who had a hedgehog heard a very peculiar noise in his kitchen; he went to see what it was, and found that the animal had stormed a cheese-dish. It had lifted the heavy lid to feast upon the cheese inside, making the cover rattle on the edge of the dish. We should not, perhaps, fancy a hedgehog capable of gymnastic feats, but it is an animal with rather a liking for a wall-climb, and has been known to mount one that was nine feet high, aided by creepers on the wall. Another has been noticed to climb an ordinary wall, laying hold of little projections. Upon a search for a missing hedgehog, he was found at the bottom of the stairs, having made a nest under the stair-carpet. Another time, the same hedgehog travelled up to a bedroom, and kept still all day; some one went to bed early, but woke suddenly on hearing a noise, and, jumping out of bed, stepped on the animal’s back. In a home, Piggy usually becomes amiable, and will shut up his spines to be stroked.
The hedgehog is a queer little animal with short limbs. It feeds mostly on insects. It has its body covered with sharp spines instead of hairs, and can roll itself up in a ball, and thus show an array of prickles pointing in every direction.
Slow of foot, this little creature cannot flee from danger; but in the sharp, hard, and tough prickles of its coat, it has a safeguard better than the teeth and claws of the wildcat, or the fleetness of the hare.
The hedgehog has powerful muscles beneath the skin of the back; and by the aid of these, on the slightest alarm, it rolls itself up so as to have its head and legs hidden in the middle of the ball it thus makes of itself.
Our dog Snip saw a hedgehog, the other day, for the first time. As soon as it saw him, the little creature seemed to change from a live thing into a ball. Snip did not know what to make of it. His curiosity was much excited. He went up, and looked at it.
If the two could have spoken, I think this would have been their talk:–
Snip.–“Of all the queer things I ever saw, you are the queerest. What are you anyhow?”
Hedgehog.–“Suppose you put out your paw, and try.”
Snip.–“I don’t like the look of those prickles.”
Hedgehog.–“Don’t be a coward, Snip! Put your nose down, and feel of my nice soft back.”
Whether the cunning hedgehog really cheated him by any such remarks as these, I cannot say. But Snip at last mustered courage enough to put his nose down to the ball. Rash Snip! Up rose the bristles, and pricked him so that he ran back to the house, howling and yelping as if he had been shot.
Having put Snip to flight, the hedgehog quietly unrolled itself, thrust out its queer little head with the long snout, and crept along on its way rejoicing. As for Snip, I am quite sure he will never put his nose to the back of a hedgehog again, as long as he lives.
Charles Selwyn, 1877
Another animal whose methods of defence are by means of his spines, is the hedgehog. His spines do not terminate in sharp points, like those of the porcupine, but end in tiny knobs. These are placed beneath the skin, and are like pins stuck through a cushion.
The hedgehog, like the porcupine, rolls himself into a ball when attacked by enemies, and he has the additional ability of throwing himself down a hillside, like a rolling ball, and thus escaping his enemies without injury to himself.
It would seem that the hedgehog, rolled into a ball and covered with prickles, would be protected from all enemies. But this is not true, for the clever fox knows just how to make him unroll. This one secret of the hedgehog’s weakness very often causes his loss of life. His weakness is a terror of being wet or dropped into water; and when the fox finds him all rolled up, he carefully rolls him into a pond of water and, when he unrolls, quickly drowns him.
Notwithstanding the shortness of the hedgehog’s spines, he is the most highly specialised of all spine-bearing animals.
Royal Dixon, 1918
The care of a large family is no light matter, as everybody knows. And that year I had an unusually large family. No less than seven young urchins for Mrs. Hedgehog and myself to take care of and start in life; and there was not a prickly parent on this side of the brook, or within three fields beyond, who had more than four.
My father’s brother had six one year, I know. It was the summer that I myself was born. I can remember hearing my father and mother talk about it before I could see. As these six cousins were discussed in a tone of interest and respect which seemed to bear somewhat disparagingly on me and my brother and sisters (there were only four of us), I was rather glad to learn that they also had been born blind. My father used to go and see them, and report their progress to my mother on his return.
“They can see to-day.”
“They have curled themselves up. Every one of them. Six beautiful little balls; as round as crab-apples and as safe as burrs!”
I tried to curl myself up, but I could only get my coat a little way over my nose. I cried with vexation. But one should not lose heart too easily. With patience and perseverance most things can be brought about, and I could soon both see and curl myself into a ball. It was about this time that my father hurried home one day, tossing the leaves at least three inches over his head as he bustled along.
“What in the hedge do you think has happened to the six?” said he.
“Oh, don’t tell me!” cried my mother; “I am so nervous.” (Which she was, and rather foolish as well, which used to irritate my father, who was hasty tempered, as I am myself.)
“They’ve been taken by gipsies and flitted,” said he.
“What do you mean by flitted?” inquired my mother.
“A string is tied round a hind-leg of each, and they are tethered in the grass behind the tent, just as the donkey is tethered. So they will remain till they grow fat, and then they will be cooked.”
“Will the donkey be cooked when he is fat?” asked my mother.
“I smell valerian,” said my father; on which she put out her nose, and he ran at it with his prickles. He always did this when he was annoyed with any member of his family; and though we knew what was coming, we are all so fond of valerian, we could never resist the temptation to sniff, just on the chance of there being some about.
I had long wanted to see my cousins, and I now begged my father to let me go with him the next time he went to visit them. But he was rather cross that morning, and he ran at me with his back up.
“So you want to gad about and be kidnapped and flitted too, do you? Just let me– ”
But when I saw him coming, I rolled myself up as tight as a wood-louse, and as my ears were inside I really did not hear what else he said. But I was not a whit the less resolved to see my cousins.
One day my father bustled home.
“Upon my whine,” said he, “they live on the fat of the land. Scraps of all kinds, apples, and a dish of bread and milk under their very noses. I sat inside a gorse bush on the bank, and watched them till my mouth watered.”
The next day he reported–
“They’ve cooked one– in clay. There are only five now.”
And the next day–
“They’ve cooked another. Now there are only four.”
“There won’t be a cousin left if I wait much longer,” thought I.
On the morrow there were only three.
My mother began to cry. “My poor dear nephews and nieces!” said she (though she had never seen them). “What a world this is!”
“We must take it as we eat eggs,” said my father, with that air of wisdom which naturally belongs to the sayings of the head of the family, “the shell with the yolk. And they have certainly had excellent victuals.”
Next morning he went off as usual, and I crept stealthily after him. With his spines laid flat to his sides, and his legs well under him, he ran at a good round pace, and as he did not look back I followed him with impunity. By and by he climbed a bank and then crept into a furze bush, whose prickles were no match for his own. I dared not go right into the bush for fear he should see me, but I settled myself as well as I could under shelter of a furze branch, and looked down on to the other side of the bank, where my father’s nose was also directed. And there I saw my three cousins, tethered as he had said, and apparently very busy over-eating themselves on food which they had not had the trouble of procuring.
If I had heard less about the cooking, I might have envied them; as it was, that somewhat voracious appetite characteristic of my family disturbed my judgment sufficiently to make me almost long to be flitted myself. I fancy it must have been when I pushed out my nose and sniffed involuntarily towards the victuals, that the gipsy man heard me.
He had been lying on the grass, looking much lazier than my cousins– which is saying a good deal– and only turning his swarthy face when the gipsy girl, as she moved about and tended the fire, got out of the sight of his eyes. Then he moved so that he could see her again; not, as it seemed, to see what she was doing or to help her to do it, but as leaves move with the wind, or as we unpacked our noses against our wills when my father said he smelt valerian.
She was very beautiful. Her skin was like a trout pool– clear and yet brown. I never saw any eyes like her eyes, though our neighbour’s– the Water Rat– at times recalls them. Her hair was the colour of ripe blackberries in a hot hedge– very ripe ones, with the bloom on. She moved like a snake. I have seen my father chase a snake more than once, and I have seen a good many men and women in my time. Some of them walk like my father, they bustle along and kick up the leaves as he does; and some of them move quickly and yet softly, as snakes go. The gipsy girl moved so, and wherever she went the gipsy man’s eyes went after her.
Suddenly he turned them on me. For an instant I was paralyzed and stood still. I could hear my father bustling down the bank; in a few minutes he would be at home, where my brother and sisters were safe and sound, whilst I was alone and about to reap the reward of my disobedience, in the fate of which he had warned me– to be taken by gipsies and flitted.
Nothing, my dear children– my seven dear children– is more fatal in an emergency than indecision. I was half disposed to hurry after my father, and half resolved to curl myself into a ball. I had one foot out and half my back rounded, when the gipsy man pinned me to the ground with a stick, and the gipsy girl strode up. I could not writhe myself away from the stick, but I gazed beseechingly at the gipsy girl and squealed for my life.
“Let the poor little brute go, Basil,” she said, laughing. “We’ve three flitted still.”
“Let it go?” cried the young man scornfully, and with another poke, which I thought had crushed me to bits, though I was still able to cry aloud.
The gipsy girl turned her back and went away with one movement and without speaking.
“Sybil!” cried the man; but she did not look round.
“Sybil, I say!”
She was breaking sticks for the fire slowly across her knee, but she made no answer. He took his stick out of my back, and went after her.
“I’ve let it go,” he said, throwing himself down again, “and a good dinner has gone with it. But you can do what you like with me– and small thanks I get for it.”
“I can do anything with you but keep you out of mischief,” she answered, fixing her eyes steadily on him. He sat up and began to throw stones, aiming them at my three cousins.
“Take me for good and all, instead of tormenting me, and you will,” he said.
“Will you give up Jemmy and his gang?” she asked; but as he hesitated for an instant, she tossed the curls back from her face and moved away, saying, “Not you; for all your talk! And yet for your sake, I would give up– ”
He bounded to his feet, but she had put the bonfire between them, and before he could get round it, she was on the other side of a tilted cart, where another woman, in a crimson cloak, sat doing something to a dirty pack of cards.
I did not like to see the gipsy man on his feet again, and having somewhat recovered breath, I scrambled down the bank and got home as quickly as the stiffness and soreness of my skin would allow.
I never saw my cousins again, and it was long before I saw any more gipsies; for that day’s adventure gave me a shock to which my children owe the exceeding care and prudence that I display in the choice of our summer homes and winter retreats, and in repressing every tendency to a wandering disposition among the members of my family.
That summer– I mean the summer when I had seven– we had the most charming home imaginable. It was in a wood, and on that side of the wood which is farthest from houses and highroads. Here it was bounded by a brook, and beyond this lay a fine pasture field.
There are fields and fields. I never wish to know a better field than this one. I seldom go out much till the evening, but if business should take one along the hedge in the heat of the sun, there are as juicy and refreshing crabs to be picked up under a tree about half-way down the south side, as the thirstiest creature could desire.
And when the glare and drought of midday have given place to the mild twilight of evening, and the grass is refreshingly damped with dew, and scents are strong, and the earth yields kindly to the nose, what beetles and lob-worms reward one’s routing!
I am convinced that the fattest and stupidest slugs that live, live near the brook. I never knew one who found out I was eating him, till he was half-way down my throat. And just opposite to the place where I furnished your dear mother’s nest, is a small plantation of burdocks, on the underside of which stick the best flavoured snails I am acquainted with, in such inexhaustible quantities, that a hedgehog might have fourteen children in a season, and not fear their coming short of provisions.
And in the early summer, in the long grass on the edge of the wood– but no! I will not speak of it.
My dear children, my seven dear children, may you never know what it is to taste a pheasant’s egg– to taste several pheasant’s eggs, and to eat them, shells and all.
There are certain pleasures of which a parent may himself have partaken, but which, if he cannot reconcile them with his ideas of safety and propriety, he will do well not to allow his children even to hear of. I do not say that I wish I had never tasted a pheasant’s egg myself, but, when I think of traps baited with valerian, of my great-uncle’s great-coat nailed to the keeper’s door, of the keeper’s heavy-heeled boots, and of the impropriety of poaching, I feel, as a father, that it is desirable that you should never know that there are such things as eggs, and then you will be quite happy without them.
But it was not the abundant and varied supply of food which had determined my choice of our home: it was not even because no woodland bower could be more beautiful,– because the coppice foliage was fresh and tender overhead, and the old leaves soft and elastic to the prickles below,– because the young oaks sheltered us behind, and we had a charming outlook over the brook in front, between a gnarled alder and a young sycamore, whose embracing branches were the lintel of our doorway.
No. I chose this particular spot in this particular wood, because I had reason to believe it to be a somewhat neglected bit of what men call “property,”– because the bramble bushes were unbroken, the fallen leaves untrodden, the hyacinths and ragged-robins ungathered by human feet and hands,– because the old fern-fronds faded below the fresh green plumes,– because the violets ripened seed,– because the trees were unmarked by woodmen and overpopulated with birds, and the water-rat sat up in the sun with crossed paws and without a thought of danger,– because, in short, no birds’-nesting, fern-digging, flower-picking, leaf-mould-wanting, vermin-hunting creatures ever came hither to replenish their ferneries, gardens, cages, markets, and museums.
My feelings can therefore be imagined when I was roused from an afternoon nap one warm summer’s day by the voices of men and women. Several possibilities came into my mind, and I imparted them to my wife.
“They may be keepers.”
“They may be poachers.”
“They may be boys birds’-nesting.”
“They may be street-sellers of ferns, moss, and so forth.”
“They may be collectors of specimens.”
“They may be pic-nic-ers– people who bring salt twisted up in a bit of paper with them, and leave it behind when they go away. Don’t let the children touch it!”
“They may be– and this is the worst that could happen– men collecting frogs, toads, newts, snails, and hedgehogs for the London markets. We must keep very quiet. They will go away at sunset.”
I was quite wrong, and when I heard the slow wheels of a cart I knew it. They were none of these things, and they did not go away. They were travelling tinkers, and they settled down and made themselves at home within fifty yards of mine.
My nerves have never been strong since that day under the furze bush. My first impulse was to roll myself up so tightly that I got the cramp, whilst every spine on my back stood stiff with fright. But after a time I recovered myself, and took counsel with Mrs. Hedgehog.
“Two things,” said she, “are most important. We must keep the children from gadding, and we must make them hold their tongues.”
“They never can be so foolish as to wish to quit your side, my dear, in the circumstances,” said I. But I was mistaken.
I know nothing more annoying to a father who has learned the danger of indiscreet curiosity in his youth, than to find his sons apparently quite uninfluenced by his valuable experience.
“What are tinkers like?” was the first thing said by each one of the seven on the subject.
“They are a set of people,” I replied, in a voice as sour as a green crab, “who if they hear us talking, or catch us walking abroad, will kill your mother and me, and temper up two bits of clay and roll us up in them. Then they will put us into a fire to bake, and when the clay turns red they will take us out. The clay will fall off and our coats with it. What remains they will eat– as we eat snails. You seven will be flitted. That is, you will be pegged to the ground till you grow big.” (I thought it well not to mention the bread and milk.) “Then they will kill and bake and eat you in the same fashion.”
I think this frightened the children; but they would talk about the tinkers, though they dared not go near them.
“The best thing you can do,” said Mrs. Hedgehog, “is to tell them a story to keep them quiet. You can modulate your own voice, and stop if you hear the tinkers.”
Hereupon I told them a story (a very old one) of the hedgehog who ran a race with a hare, on opposite sides of a hedge, for the wager of a louis d’or and a bottle of brandy. It was a great favourite with them.
“The moral of the tale, my dear children,” I was wont to say, “is, that our respected ancestor’s head saved his heels, which is never the case with giddy-pated creatures like the hare.”
“Perhaps it was a very young hare,” said Mrs. Hedgehog, who is amiable, and does not like to blame any one if it can be avoided.
“I don’t think it can have been a very young hare,” said I, “or the hedgehog would have eaten him instead of outwitting him. As it was, he placed himself and Mrs. Hedgehog at opposite ends of the course. The hare started on one side of the hedge and the hedgehog on the other. Away went the hare like the wind, but Mr. Hedgehog took three steps and went back to his place. When the hare reached his end of the hedge, Mrs. Hedgehog, from the other side, called out, ‘I’m here already.’ Her voice and her coat were very like her husband’s, and the hare was not observant enough to remark a slight difference of size and colour. The moral of which is, my dear children, that one must use his eyes as well as his legs in this world. The hare tried several runs, but there was always a hedgehog at the goal when he got there. So he gave in at last, and our ancestors walked comfortably home, taking the louis d’or and the bottle of brandy with them.”
“What is a louis d’or?” cried three of my children; and “What is brandy?” asked the other four.
“I smell valerian,” said I; on which they poked out their seven noses, and I ran at them with my spines, for a father who is not an Encyclopædia on all fours must adopt some method of checking the inquisitiveness of the young.
When grown-up people desire information or take an interest in their neighbours, this, of course, is another matter. Mrs. Hedgehog and I had never seen tinkers, and we resolved to take an early opportunity some evening of sending the seven urchins down to the burdock plantations to pick snails, whilst we paid a cautious visit to the tinker camp.
But mothers are sad fidgets, and anxious as Mrs. Hedgehog was to gratify her curiosity, she kept putting off our expedition till the children’s spines should be harder; so I made one or two careful ones by myself, and told her all the news on my return.
“The animal Man,” so I have heard my uncle, who was a learned hedgehog, say,– “the animal man is a diurnal animal; he comes out and feeds in the daytime.” But a second cousin, who had travelled as far as Covent Garden, and who lived for many years in a London kitchen, told me that he thought my uncle was wrong, and that man comes out and feeds at night. He said he knew of at least one house in which the crickets and black-beetles never got a quiet kitchen to themselves till it was nearly morning.
But I think my uncle was right about men in the country. I am sure the tinker and his family slept at night. He and his wife were out a great deal during the day. They went away from the wood and left the children with an old woman, who was the tinker’s mother. At one time they were away for several days, and about my usual time for going out the children were asleep, and the old woman used to sit over the camp fire with her head on her hands.
“The language of men, my dear,” I observed to Mrs. Hedgehog, “is quite different to ours, even in general tone; but I assure you that when I first heard the tinker’s mother, I could have wagered a louis d’or and a bottle of brandy that I heard hedgehogs whining to each other. In fact, I was about to remonstrate with them for their imprudence, when I found out that it was the old woman who was moaning and muttering to herself.”
“What is the matter with her?” asked Mrs. Hedgehog.
“I was curious to know myself,” said I, “and from what I have overheard, I think I can inform you. She is the tinker’s mother, and judging from what he said the other night, was not by any means indulgent to him when he was a child. She is harsh enough to his young brats now; but it appears that she was devoted to an older son, one of the children of his first wife; and that it is for the loss of this grandchild that she vexes herself.”
“Is he dead?”
“No, my dear, but– ”
“Has he been flitted?”
“Something of the kind, I fear. He has been taken to prison.”
“Dear, dear!” said Mrs. Hedgehog; “what a trial to a mother’s feelings! Will they bake him?”
“I think not,” said I. “I fancy that he is tethered up as a punishment for taking what did not belong to him; and the grandmother’s grievance seems to be that she believes he was unjustly convicted. She thinks the real robber was a gipsy. Just as if I were taken, and my skin nailed to the keeper’s door for pheasant’s eggs which I had never had the pleasure of eating.”
Mrs. Hedgehog was now dying of curiosity. She said she thought the children’s spines were strong enough for anything that was likely to happen to them; and so the next fresh damp evening we sent the seven urchins down to the burdocks to pick snails, and crept cautiously towards the tinker’s encampment to see what we could see. And there, by the smouldering embers of a bonfire, sat the old woman moaning, as I had described her, with her elbows on her knees, rocking and nursing her head, from which her long hair was looped and fell, like grey rags, about her withered fingers.
“I don’t like her looks,” snorted Mrs. Hedgehog. “And how disgustingly they have trampled the grass.”
“It is quite true,” said I; “it will not recover itself this summer. I wish they had left us our wood to ourselves.”
At this moment Mrs. Hedgehog laid her five toes on mine, to attract my attention, and whispered– “Is it a gipsy?” and lifting my nose in the direction of the rustling brushwood, I saw Sybil. There was no mistaking her, though her cheeks looked hollower and her eyes larger than when I saw her last.
“Good-evening, mother,” she said.
The old woman raised her gaunt face with a start, and cried fiercely, “Begone with you! Begone!” and then bent it again upon her hands, muttering, “There are plenty of hedges and ditches too good for your lot, without their coming to worrit us in our wood.”
The gipsy girl knelt quietly by the fire, and stirred up the embers.
“What is the matter, mother?” she said. “We’ve only just come, and when I heard that Tinker George and his mother were in the wood, I started to find you. ‘You makes too free with the tinkers,’ says my brother’s wife. ‘I goes to see my mother,’ says I, ‘who nursed me through a sickness, my real mother being dead, and my own people wanting to bury me through my not being able to speak or move, and their wanting to get to the Bartelmy Fair.’ I never forget, mother; have you forgotten me, that you drives me away for bidding you good-day?”
“Good days are over for me,” moaned the old woman. “Begone, I say! Don’t let me see or hear any that belongs to Black Basil, or it may be the worse for them.”
(“The tinker-mother whines very nastily,” said Mrs. Hedgehog. “If I were the young woman, I should bite her.”
“Hush!” I answered, “she is speaking.”)
“Basil is in prison,” said the gipsy girl hoarsely.
The old woman’s eyes shone in their sockets, as she looked up at Sybil for a minute, as if to read the gipsy’s sentence on her face; and then she chuckled,
“So they’ve taken the Terror of the Roads?”
Sybil’s eyes had not moved from the fire, before which she was now standing with clasped hands.
“The Terror of the Roads?” she said. “Yes, they call him that,– but I could turn him round my finger, mother.” Her voice had dropped, and she smoothed one of her black curls absently round her finger as she spoke.
“You couldn’t keep him out of prison,” taunted the old woman.
“I couldn’t keep him out of mischief,” said the girl, sadly; and then, with a sudden flash of anger, she clasped her hands above her head and cried, “A black curse on Jemmy and his gang!”
“A black curse on them as lets the innocent go to prison in their stead. They comes there themselves in the end, and long may it hold them!” was the reply.
Sybil moved swiftly to the old woman’s side.
“I heard you was in trouble, mother, about Christian; but you don’t think– ”
“Think!” screamed the old woman, shaking her fists, whilst the girl interrupted her–
“Hush, mother, hush! tell me now, tell me all, but not so loud,” and kneeling with her back to us, she said something more in a low voice, to which the old woman replied in a whine so much moderated, that though Mrs. Hedgehog and I strained our ears, and crept as near the group as we dared, we could not catch a word.
Only, after a while Sybil rose up and walked back slowly to the fire, twisting the long lock of her hair as before, and saying– “I turns him round my finger, mother, as far as that goes– ”
“So you thinks,” said the old crone. “But he never will– even if you would, Sybil Stanley! Oh Christian, my child, my child!”
The gipsy girl stood still, like a young poplar-tree in the dead calm before thunder; and there fell a silence, in which I dared not have moved myself, or allowed Mrs. Hedgehog to move, three steps through the softest grass, for fear of being heard.
Then Sybil said abruptly, “I’ve never rightly heard about Christian, mother. What was it made you think so much more of him than you thinks about the others?”
“My son’s first wife died after Christian was born,” said the old woman. “I’ve a sharp tongue, as you know, Sybil Stanley, and I’m doubtful if she was too happy while she lived; but when she was gone I knew she’d been a good ‘un, and I’ve always spoken of her accordingly.
“You’re too young to remember that year; it was a year of slack trade and hard times all over. Farmer-folk grudged you fourpence to mend the kettle, and as to broken victuals, there wasn’t as much went in at the front door to feed the family, as the servants would have thrown out at the back door another year to feed the pigs.
“When one gets old, my daughter, and sits over the fire at night and thinks, instead of tramping all day and sleeping heavy after it, as one does when one is young– things comes back; things comes back, I say, as they says ghosts does.
“And when we camps near trees with long branches, like them over there, that waves in the wind and confuses your eyes among the smoke, I sometimes think I sees her face, as it was before she died, with a pinched look across the nose. That is Christian’s mother, my son’s first wife; and it comes back to me that I believes she starved herself to let him have more; for he’s a man with a surly temper, like my own, is my son George. He grumbled worse than the children when he was hungry, and because she was so slow in getting strong enough to stand on her legs and carry the basket. You see he didn’t hold his tongue when things were bad to bear, as she could. Men doesn’t, my daughter.”
“I know, I know,” said the girl.
“I thinks I was jealous of her,” muttered the old woman; “it comes back to me that I begrudged her making so much of my son, but I knows now that she was a good ‘un, and I speaks of her accordingly. She fretted herself about getting strong enough to carry the child to be christened, while we had the convenience of a parson near at hand, and I wasn’t going to oblige her; but the day after she died, the child was ailing, and thinking it might require the benefit of a burial-service as well as herself, I wrapped it up, and made myself decent, and took my way to the village. I was half-way up the street, when I met a young gentlewoman in a grey dress coming out of a cottage.
“‘Good-day, my pretty lady,’ says I. ‘Could you show an old woman the residence of the clergyman that would do the poor tinkers the kindness of christening a sick child whose mother lies dead in a tilted cart at the meeting of the four roads?’
“‘I’m the clergyman’s wife,’ says she, with the colour in her face, ‘and I’m sure my husband will christen the poor baby. Do let me see it.’
“‘It’s only a tinker’s child,’ says I, ‘a poor brown-faced morsel for a pretty lady’s blue eyes to rest upon, that’s accustomed to the delicate sight of her own golden-haired children; long may they live, and many may you and the gentle clergyman have of them!’
“‘I have no children,’ says she, shortly, with the colour in her face breaking up into red and white patches over her cheeks. ‘Let me carry the baby for you,’ says she, a taking it from me. ‘You must be tired.’
“All the way she kept looking at it, and saying how pretty it was, and what beautiful long eyelashes it had, which went against me at the time, my daughter, for I knowed it was like its mother.
“The clergyman was a pleasing young gentleman of a genteel appearance, with a great deal to say for himself in the way of religion, as was right, it being his business. ‘Name this child,’ says he, and she gives a start that nobody sees but myself. So, thinking that the child being likely to die, there was no loss in obliging the gentlefolk, says I, looking down into the book as if I could read, ‘Any name the lady thinks suitable for the poor tinker’s child;’ and says she, the colour coming up into her face, ‘Call him Christian, for he shall be one.’ So he was named Christian, a name to give no manner of displeasure to myself or to my family; it having been that of my husband’s father, who was unfortunate in a matter of horse-stealing, and died across the water.”
“What did she want with naming the baby, mother?” asked Sybil.
“I comes to that, my daughter, I comes to that, though it’s hard to speak of. I hate myself worse than I hates the police when I thinks of it. But ten pounds– pieces of gold, my daughter, when half-pence were hard to come by– and small expectation that he would outlive his mother by many days– and a feeling against him then, for her sake, though I thinks differently now– ”
“You sold him to the clergy-folks?” said Sybil.
“Ten pieces of gold! You never felt the pains of starvation, my daughter– nor perhaps those of jealousy, which are worse. The young clergywoman had no children, on which score she fretted herself; and must have fretted hard, before she begged the poor tinker’s child out of the woods.”
“What did Tinker George say?” asked the girl.
“He used a good deal of bad language, and said I might as easily have got twenty pounds as ten, if I had not been as big a fool as the child’s mother herself. Men are strange creatures, my daughter.”
“So you left Christian with them?”
“I did, my daughter. I left him in the arms of the young clergywoman with the politest of words on both sides, and a good deal of religious conversation from the parson, which I does not doubt was well meant, if it was somewhat tedious.”
“And then– mother?”
“And then we moved to Banbury, where my son took his second wife, having made her acquaintance in an alehouse; and then, my daughter, I begins to know that Christian’s mother had been a good ‘un.”
“George isn’t as happy with this one, then?”
“Men are curious creatures, my daughter, as you will discover for your own part without any instructions from me. He treats her far better than the other, because she treats him so much worse. But between them they soon put me a-one-side, and when I sat long evenings alone, sometimes in a wood, as it might be this, where the branches waves and makes a confusion of the shadows– and sometimes on the edge of a Hampshire heath where we camps a good deal, and the light is as slow in dying out of the bottom of the sky as he and she are in coming home, and the bits of water looks as if people had drownded themselves in them– when I sat alone, I say, minding the fire and the children– I wondered if Christian had lived, till I was all but mad with wondering and coming no nearer to knowing.
“‘His mother was a good daughter to you,’ I thinks; ‘and if you hadn’t sold him– sold your own flesh and blood– for ten golden sovereigns to the clergywoman, he might have been a good son to your old age.’
“At last I could bear idleness and the lone company of my own thoughts no longer, my daughter, and I sets off to travel on my own account, taking money at back-doors, and living on broken meats I begged into the bargain, and working at nights instead of thinking. I knows a few arts, my daughter, of one sort and another, and I puts away most of what I takes, and changes it when the copper comes to silver, and the silver comes to gold.”
“I wonder you never went to see if he was alive,” said Sybil.
“I did, my daughter. I went several times under various disguisements, which are no difficulty to those who know how to adopt them, and with servant’s jewellery and children’s toys, I had sight of him more than once, and each time made me wilder to get him back.”
“And you never tried?”
“The money was not ready. One must act honourably, my daughter. I couldn’t pick up my own grandson as if he’d been a stray hen, or a few clothes off the line. It took me five years to save those ten pounds. Five long miserable years.”
“Miserable!” cried the gipsy girl, flinging her hair back from her eyes. “Miserable! Happy, you mean; too happy! It is when one can do nothing– ”
She stopped, as if talking choked her, and the old woman, who seemed to pay little attention to any one but herself, went on,
“It was when it was all but saved, and I hangs about that country, making up my plans, that he comes to me himself, as I sits on the outskirts of a wood beyond the village, in no manner of disguisement, but just as I sits here.”
“He came to you?” said Sybil.
“He comes to me, my daughter; dressed like any young nobleman of eight years old, but bareheaded and barefooted, having his cap in one hand, and his boots and stockings in the other.
“‘Good-morning, old gipsy woman,’ says he. ‘I heard there was an old gipsy woman in the wood; so I came to see. Nurse said if I went about in the fields, by myself, the gipsies would steal me; but I told her I didn’t care if they did, because it must be so nice to live in a wood, and sleep out of doors all night. When I grow up, I mean to be a wild man on a desert island, and dress in goats’ skins. I sha’n’t wear hats– I hate them; and I don’t like shoes and stockings either. When I can get away from Nurse, I always take them off. I like to feel what I’m walking on, and in the wood I like to scuffle with my toes in the dead leaves. There’s a quarry at the top of this wood, and I should so have liked to have thrown my shoes and stockings and my cap into it; but it vexes mother when I destroy my clothes, so I didn’t, and I am carrying them.’
“Those were the very words he said, my daughter. He had a swiftness of tongue, for which I am myself famous, especially in fortune-telling; but he used the language of gentility, and a shortness of speech which you will observe among those who are accustomed to order what they want instead of asking for it. I had hard work to summon voice to reply to him, my daughter, and I cannot tell you, nor would you understand it if I could find the words, what were my feelings to hear him speak with that confidence of the young clergywoman as his mother.
“‘A green welcome to the woods and the fields, my noble little gentleman,’ says I. ‘Be pleased to honour the poor tinker-woman by accepting the refreshment of a seat and a cup of tea.’
“‘I mayn’t eat or drink anything when I am visiting the poor people,’ says he, ‘Mother doesn’t allow me. But thank you all the same, and please don’t give me your stool, for I’d much rather sit on the grass; and, if you please, I should like you to tell me all about living in woods, and making fires, and hanging kettles on sticks, and going about the country and sleeping out of doors.'”
“Did you tell him the truth, or make up a tale for him?” asked Sybil.
“Partly one and partly the other, my daughter. But when persons sets their minds on anything, they sees the truth in a manner according to their own thoughts, which is of itself as good as a made-up tale.
“He asks numberless questions, to which I makes suitable replies. Them that lives out of doors– can they get up as early as they likes, without being called? he asks.
“Does gipsies go to bed in their clothes?
“Does they sometimes forget their prayers, with not regularly dressing and undressing?
“Did I ever sleep on heather?
“Does we ever travel by moonlight?
“Do I see the sun rise every morning?
“Did I ever meet a highwayman?
“Does I believe in ghosts?
“Can I really tell fortunes?
“I takes his shapely little hand– as brown as your own, my daughter, for his mother, like myself, was a pure Roman, and looked down upon by her people in consequence for marrying my son, who is of mixed blood (my husband being in family, as in every other respect, undeserving of the slightest mention).
“‘Let me tell you your fortune, my noble little gentleman,’ I says. ‘The lines of life are crossed early with those of travelling. Far will you wander, and many things will you see. Stone houses and houses of brick will not detain you. In the big house with the blue roof and the green carpet were you born, and in the big house with the blue roof and the green carpet will you die. The big house is delicately perfumed, my noble little gentleman, especially in the month of May; at which time there is also an abundance of music, and the singers sits overhead. Give the old gipsy woman a sight of your comely feet, my little gentleman, by the soles of which it is not difficult to see that you were born to wander.’
“With this and similar jaw I entertained him, my daughter, and his eyes looks up at me out of his face till I feels as if the dead had come back; but he had a way with him besides which frightened me, for I knew that it came from living with gentlefolk.
“‘Are you mighty learned, my dear?’ says I. ‘Are you well instructed in books and schooling?’
“‘I can say the English History in verse,’ he says, ‘and I do compound addition; and I know my Catechism, and lots of hymns. Would you like to hear me?’
“‘If you please, my little gentleman,’ I says.
“‘What shall I say?’ he asks. ‘I know all the English History, only I am not always quite sure how the kings come; but if you know the kings and can just give me the name, I know the verses quite well. And I know the Catechism perfectly, but perhaps you don’t know the questions without the book. The hymns of course you don’t want a book for, and I know them best of all.’
“‘I am not learned, myself,’ says I, ‘and I only know of two kings– the king of England– who, for that matter, is a queen, and a very good woman, they say, if one could come at her– and the king of the gipsies, who is as big a blackguard as you could desire to know, and by no means entitled to call himself king, though he gets a lot of money by it, which he spends in the public-house. As regards the other thing, my dear, I certainly does not know the questions without the book, nor, indeed, should I know them with the book, which is neither here nor there; so if the hymns require no learning on my part, I gives the preference to them.’
“‘I like them best, myself,’ he says; and he puts his hat and his shoes and stockings on the ground, and stands up and folds his hands behind his back, and repeats a large number of religious verses, with the same readiness with which the young clergyman speaks out of a book.
“It partly went against me, my daughter, for I am not religious myself, and he was always too fond of holy words, which I thinks brings ill-luck. But his voice was as sweet as a thrush that sits singing in a thorn-bush, and between that and a something in the verses which had a tendency to make you feel uncomfortable, I feels more disturbed than I cares to show. But oh, my daughter, how I loves him!
“‘The blessing of an old gipsy woman on your young head,’ I says. ‘Fair be the skies under which you wanders, and shady the spots in which you rests!
“‘May the water be clear and the wood dry where you camps!
“‘May every road you treads have turf by the wayside, and the patteran[A] of a friend on the left.’
“‘What is the patteran?’ he asks.
“‘It is a secret,’ I says, looking somewhat sternly at him. ‘The roads keeps it, and the hedges keeps it– ‘
“‘I can keep it,’ he says boldly. ‘Pinch my finger, and try me!’
“As he speaks he holds out his little finger, and I pinches it, my daughter, till the colour dies out of his lips, though he keeps them set, for I delights to see the nobleness and the endurance of him. So I explains the patteran to him, and shows him ours with two bits of hawthorn laid crosswise, for I does not regard him as a stranger, and I sees that he can keep his lips shut when it is required.
“He was practising the patteran at my feet, when I hears the cry of ‘Christian!’ and I cannot explain to you the chill that came over my heart at the sound.
“Trouble and age and the lone company of your own thoughts, my daughter, has a tendency to confuse you; and I am not by any means rightly certain at times about things I sees and hears. I sees Christian’s mother when I knows she can’t be there, and though I believes now that only one person was calling the child, yet, with the echo that comes from the quarry, and with worse than twenty echoes in my own mind, it seems to me that the wood is full of voices calling him.
“In my foolishness, my daughter, I sits like a stone, and he springs to his feet, and snatches up his things, and says, ‘Good-bye, old gipsy woman, and thank you very much. I should like to stay with you,’ he says, ‘but Nurse is calling me, and Mother does get so frightened if I am long away and she doesn’t know where. But I shall come back.’
“I never quite knows, my daughter, whether it was the echo that repeated his words, or whether it was my own voice I hears, as I stretches my old arms after him, crying, ‘Come back!’
“But he runs off shouting, ‘Coming, coming!’
“And the wood deafens me, it is so full of voices.
“Christian! Christian!– Coming! Coming!
“And I thinks I has some kind of a fit, my daughter, for when I wakes, the wood is as still as death, and he is gone, as dreams goes.”
“I really feel for the tinker-mother,” whispered Mrs. Hedgehog.
“I feel for her myself,” was my reply. “The cares of a family are heavy enough when they only last for the season, and one sleeps them off in a winter’s nap. When– as in the case of men– they last for a lifetime, and you never get more than one night’s rest at a time, they must be almost unendurable. As to prolonging one’s anxieties from one’s own families to the families of each of one’s children– no parent in his senses– ”
“What is the gipsy girl saying now?” asked Mrs. Hedgehog, who had been paying more attention to the women than to my observations– an annoyance to which, as head of the family, I have been subjected oftener than is becoming.
Sybil had been kneeling at the old woman’s feet, soothing her and chafing her hands. At last she said,
“But you did get him, Mother. How was it?”
“Not for five more years, my daughter. And never in all that time could I get a sight of his face. The very first house I calls at next morning, I sees a chalk mark on the gate-post, placed there by some travelling tinker or pedler or what not, by which I knows that the neighbourhood is being made too hot for tramps and vagrants, as they call us. And go back in what disguisement I might, there was no selling a bootlace, nor begging a crust of bread there– there, where he lived.
“I makes up the ten pounds, and ties it in a bag; but I gets worse and worse in health and spirits and in confusion of mind, my daughter; and when I comes accidentally across my son in a Bedfordshire lane, and his wife is drinking, and he is in much bewilderment with the children, I takes up again with them, and I was with them when Christian comes to me the second time.”
“He came back to you?”
“Learning and the confinement of stone walls, my daughter, than which no two things could be more contrary to the nature of those who dwells in the woods and lanes. I will not deny that the clergyman– and especially the young clergywoman– had been very good to him; but for which he would probably have run away long before. But what is bred in the bone comes out in the flesh. He does pretty well with the learning, and he bears with the confinement of school, though it is worse than that of the clergy-house. But when a rumour has crept out that he is not the son of the clergyman nor of the clergywoman, and he is taunted with being a gipsy and a vagrant, he lays his bare hands on those nearest to him, my daughter, and comes away on his bare feet.”
“How did he find you, Mother?”
“He has no fixed intentions beyond running away, my daughter; but as he is sitting in a hedge to bandage one of his feet with his handkerchief, he sees our patteran, and he goes on, keeping it by the left, and sees it again, and so follows it, and comes home.”
“You mean that he came to you?”
“I do, my dear. For home is not a house that never moves from one place, built of stone or brick, and with a front door for the genteel and a back door for the common people. If it was so, prisons would be homes. But home, my daughter, is where persons is whom you belongs to, and it may be under a hedge to-day and in a fair to-morrow.”
“Mother,” said Sybil, “what did you do about the ten pounds?”
“I will tell you, my daughter. I was obliged to wait longer than was agreeable to me before proceeding to that neighbourhood, for the police was searching everywhere, and it would be wearisome to relate to you with what difficulty Christian was concealed. My plans had been long made, as you know.
“Clergyfolk, my daughter, with a tediousness of jaw which makes them as oppressive to listen long to as houses is to rest long in, has their good points like other persons; they shows kindness to those who are in trouble, and they spends their money very freely on the poor. This is well known, even by those who has no liking for parsons, and I have more than once observed that persons who goes straight to the public-house when they has money in their pockets, goes straight to the parson when their pockets is empty.
“It is also well known, my daughter, that when the clergyman collects money after speaking in his church, he doesn’t take it for his own use, as is the custom with other people, such as Punch and Judy men, or singers, or fortune tellers; at the same time he is as pleased with a good collection as if it were for his own use; and if some rich person contributes a sovereign for the sick and poor, it is to him as it would be to you, my daughter, if your hand was crossed with gold by some noble gentleman who had been crossed in love.
“I explain this, my dear, that you may understand how it was that I had planned to pay back the clergy people’s ten pounds in church, which would be as good as paying it into their hands, with the advantage of secrecy for myself. On the Saturday I drives into the little market in a donkey-cart with greens, and on Sunday morning I goes to church in a very respectable disguisement, and the sexton puts me in a pew with some women of infirm mind in workhouse dresses, for which, my daughter, I had much to do to restrain myself from knocking him down. But I does; and I behaves myself through the service with the utmost care, following the movements of the genteeler portion of the company, those in the pew with me having no manners at all; one of them standing most of the time and giggling over the pew-back, and another sitting in the corner and weeping into her lap.
“But with the exception of getting up and sitting down, and holding a book open as near to the middle as I could guess, I pays little attention, my daughter, for all my thoughts is taken up with waiting for the collection to begin, and with trying to keep my eyes from the clergywoman’s face, which I can see quite clearly, though she is at some distance from me.”
“Did she look very wild, Mother, as if she felt beside herself?”
“She looked very bad, my daughter, and grey, which was not with age. I tells you that I tried not to look at her; and by and by the collection begins.
“It seems hours to me, my daughter, whilst the money is chinking and the clergyman is speaking, and the ten pieces of gold is getting so hot in my hands, I fancies they burns me, and still not one of the collecting-men comes near our pew.
“At last, one by one, they begins to go past me and go up to the clergyman who is waiting for them at the upper end, and then I perceives that they regards us as too poor to pay our way like the rest, and that the plates will never be put into our pew at all. So when the last but one is going past me, I puts out my hand to beckon him, and the woman that is standing by me bursts out laughing, and the other cries worse than ever, and the collecting-man says, ‘Hush! hush!’ and goes past and takes the plate with him.
“‘A black curse on your insolence!’ says I; and then I grips the laughing woman by the arm and whispers, ‘If you make that noise again, I’ll break your head,’ and she sits down and begins to cry like the other.
“There is one more collecting-man, who comes last, and he is the Duke, who lives at the big house.
“The nobility and gentry, my daughter, when they are the real thing, has, like the real Romans, a quickness to catch your meaning, and a politeness of manner which you doesn’t meet with among such people as the keeper of a small shop or the master of a workhouse. The Duke was a very old man, with bent shoulders and the slow step of age, and I thinks he did not see or hear very quickly; and when I beckons to him he goes past. But when he is some way past he looks back. And when he sees my hand out, he turns and comes slowly down again, and hands me the plate with as much politeness as if I had been in his own pew, and he says in a low voice, ‘I beg your pardon.’
“But when I sees him stumbling back, and knows that in his politeness he will bring me the plate, there comes a fear on me, my daughter, that he may see the ten pieces of gold and think I has stolen them. And then I knows not what I shall do, for the nobility and gentry, though quick and polite in a matter of obliging the poor, such as this one,– when they sits as poknees[B] to administer justice, loses both their good sense and their good manners as completely as any of the police.
“But it comes to me also that being such a real one– such an out-and-outer– his politeness may be so great that he may look another way, rather than peep and pry to see what the poor workhouse-company woman puts into the plate. And I am right, my daughter, for he looks away, and I lays the ten golden sovereigns in the plate, and he gives a little smile and a little bow, and goes slowly and stumblingly to the upper end, where the clergyman is still speaking verses.
“And then, my daughter, my hands, which made the gold sovereigns so hot, turns very hot, and I gets up and goes out of the church with as much respectfulness and quiet as I am able.
“And I tries not to look at her face as I turns to shut the door, but I was unable to keep myself from doing so, and as it looked then I can see it now, my dear, and I know I shall remember it till I die. I thinks somehow that she was praying, though it was not a praying part of the service, and when I looks to the upper end I sees that the eyes of the young clergyman her husband is fixed on her, as mine is.
“And of all the words which he preached that day and the verses he spoke with so much readiness, I could not repeat one to you, my daughter, to save my life, except the words he was saying just then, and they remains in my ears as her face remains before my eyes,–
“‘God is not unrighteous, that He will forget your work, and labour which proceedeth of love.'”
“We are all creatures of habit.” So my learned uncle, Draen y Coed, who was a Welsh hedgehog, used to say. “Which was why an ancestor of my own, who acted as turnspit in the kitchen of a farmhouse in Yorkshire, quite abandoned the family custom of walking out in the cool of the evening, and declared that he couldn’t take two steps in comfort except in a circle, and in front of a kitchen-fire at roasting heat.”
Uncle Draen y Coed was right, and I must add that I doubt if, in all his experience, or among the strange traditions of his most eccentric ancestors, he could find an instance of change of habits so unexpected, so complete, I may say so headlong, as when very quiet people, with an almost surly attachment to home, break the bounds of the domestic circle, and take to gadding, gossiping, and excitement.
Perhaps it is because they find that their fellow-creatures are nicer than they have been wont to allow them to be, and that other people’s affairs are quite as interesting as their own.
Perhaps– but what is the good of trying to explain infatuations?
Why do we all love valerian? I can only record that, having set up every prickle on our backs against intruders into our wood, we now dreaded nothing more than that our neighbours should forsake us, and wished for nothing better than for fresh arrivals.
In old days, when my excellent partner and I used to take our evening stroll up the field, we were wont to regard it quite as a grievance if a cousin, who lived at the far end of the hedge, came out and caught us and detained us for a gossip. But now I could hardly settle to my midday nap for thinking of the tinker-mother; and as to Mrs. Hedgehog, she almost annoyed me by her anxiety to see Christian. However, curiosity is the foible of her sex, and I accompanied her daily to the encampment without a murmur.
The seven urchins we sent down to the burdocks to pick snails.
It was not many days after that on which we heard the old tinker-mother relate Christian’s history, that we were stopped on our way to the corner where we usually concealed ourselves, by hearing strange voices from the winding pathway above us.
“It’s a young man,” said I.
“It’s Christian!” cried Mrs. Hedgehog.
“I feel sure that it is not,” said I; “but if you will keep quiet, I will creep a little forward and see.”
I am always in the right, as I make a point of reminding Mrs. Hedgehog whenever we dispute; and I was right on this occasion.
The lad who spoke was a young gentleman of about seventeen, and no more like a gipsy than I am. His fair hair was closely cropped, his eyes were quick and bright, his manner was alert and almost anxious, and though he was very slight as well as very young, he carried himself with dignity and some little importance. A lady, much older than himself, was with him, whom he was helping down the path.
“Take care, Gertrude, take care. There is no hurry, and I believe there’s no one in the wood but ourselves.”
“The people at the inn told us that there were gipsies in the neighbourhood,” said the lady; “and oh, Ted! this is exactly the wood I dreamt of, except the purple and white– ”
“Gertrude! What on earth are you after?”
“The flowers, Ted, the flowers in my dream! There they are, a perfect carpet of them. White– oh, how lovely!– and there, on the other side, are the purple ones. What are they, dear? I know you are a good botanist. He always raved about your collection.”
“Nonsense, I’m not a botanist. Several other fellows went in for it when the prize was offered, and all that my collection was good for was his doing. I never did see any one arrange flowers as he did, I must say. Every specimen was pressed so as somehow to keep its own way of growing. And when I did them, a columbine looked as stiff as a dog-daisy. I never could keep any character in them. Watson– the fellow who drew so well– made vignettes on the blank pages to lots of the specimens– ‘Likely Habitats’ we called them. He used to sit with his paint-box in my window, and Christian used to sit outside the window, on the edge, dangling his legs, and describing scenes out of his head for Watson to draw. Watson used to say, ‘I wish I could paint with my brush as that fellow paints with his tongue’– and when the vignettes were admired, I’ve heard him say, in his dry way, ‘I copied them from Christian’s paintings;’ and the fellows used to stare, for you know he couldn’t draw a line. And when– But I say, Gertrude, for Heaven’s sake, don’t devour everything I say with those great pitiful eyes of yours. I am a regular brute to talk about him.”
“No, Ted, no. It makes me so happy to hear you, and to know that you know how good he really was, and how much he must have been aggravated before– ”
“For goodness’ sake, don’t cry. Christian was a very good fellow, a capital fellow. I never thought I could have got on so well with any one who was– I mean who wasn’t– well, of course I mean who was really a gipsy. I don’t blame him a bit for resenting being bullied about his parents. I only blame myself for not looking better after him. But you know that well enough– you know it’s because I never can forgive myself for having managed so badly when you put him in my care, that I am backing you through this mad expedition, though I don’t approve of it one bit, and though I know John will blame me awfully.”
(“It’s the clergywoman,” whispered Mrs. Hedgehog excitedly, “and I must and will see her.”
When it comes to this with Mrs. Hedgehog’s sex, there is nothing for it but to let the dear creatures have their own way, and take the consequences. She pushed her nose straight through the lower branches of an arbutus in which we were concealed, and I myself managed to get a nearer sight of our new neighbours.
As we crept forward, the clergywoman got up from where she was kneeling amongst the flowers, and laid her hand on the young gentleman’s arm. I noticed it because I had never seen such a white hand before; Sybil’s paws were nearly as dark as my own.)
“John will blame no one if we find Christian,” she said. “You are very, very good, Cousin Ted, to come with me and help me when you do not believe in my dream. But you must say it is odd about the flowers. And you haven’t told me yet what they are.”
“It is the bulbous-rooted fumitory,” said the young man, pulling a piece at random in the reckless way in which men do disfigure forest flower-beds. “It isn’t strictly indigenous, but it is naturalized in many places, and you must have seen it before, though you fancy you haven’t.”
“I have seen it once before,” she said earnestly– “all in delicate glaucous-green masses, studded with purple and white, like these; but it was in my dream. I never saw it otherwise, though I know you don’t believe me.”
“Dear Gertrude, I’ll believe anything you like to tell me, if you’ll come home. I’m sure I have done very wrong. You know I’m always hard up, but I declare I’d give a hundred pounds if you’d come home with me at once. I don’t believe there’s a gipsy within– ”
“Good-day, my pretty young gentleman. Let the poor gipsy girl tell you your fortune.”
He turned round and saw Sybil standing at his elbow, her eyes flashing and her white teeth gleaming in a broad smile. He stood speechless in sudden surprise; but the clergywoman, who was not surprised, came forward with her white hands stretched so expressively towards Sybil’s brown ones, that the gipsy girl all but took them in her own.
“Please kindly tell me– do you know anything of a young gipsy, named Christian?”
The clergywoman spoke with such vehemence that Sybil answered directly, “I know his grandmother”– and then suddenly stopped herself.
But as she spoke, she had turned her head with an expressive gesture in the direction of the encampment, and without waiting for more, the clergywoman ran down the path, calling on her cousin to follow her.
My ancestor’s artifice was very successful when the race was run on two sides of a hedge, backwards and forwards; but if a louis d’or and a bottle of brandy had depended on my reaching the tinker-mother before the clergywoman, I should have lost the wager. We hurried after her, however, as fast as we were able, keeping well under the brushwood.
When we could see our neighbours again, the tinker-mother was standing up, and speaking hurriedly, with a wild look in her eyes.
“Let me be, Sybil Stanley, and let me speak. I says again, what has fine folk to do with coming and worriting us in our wood? If I did sell him, I sold him fair– and if I got him back, I bought him back fair. Aye my delicate gentlewoman, you may look at me, but I did!
“Five years, five years of wind and weather, and hard days and lonely nights:–
“Five years of food your men would chuck to the pigs, and of clothes your maids would think scorn to scour in:–
“Five years– but I scraped it together, and then they baulked me. You shuts the door in the poor tinker-woman’s face; you gives the words of warning to the police.
“Five more years– it was five more, wasn’t it, my daughter?– Sometimes I fancies I makes a mistake and overcounts. But, he’ll know. Christian, my dear! Christian, I say!”
“Sit down, Mother, sit down,” said the gipsy girl; and the old woman sat down, but she went on muttering,–
“I will speak! What has they to do, I say, to ask me where he has gone to? A fine place for the fine gentleman they made of him. What has such as them to say to it, if I couldn’t keep him when I got him– that they comes to taunt me and my grey hairs?”
She wrung her grey locks with a passionate gesture as she spoke, and then dropped her elbows on her knees and her head upon her hands.
The clergywoman had been standing very still, with her two white hands folded before her, and her eyes, that had dark circles round them which made them look large, fixed upon the tinker-mother, as she muttered; but when she ceased muttering the clergywoman unlocked her hands, and with one movement took off her hat. Her hair was smoothly drawn over the roundness of her head, and gathered in a knot at the back of her neck, and the brown of it was all streaked with grey. She threw her hat on to the grass, and moving swiftly to the old woman’s side, she knelt by her, as we had seen Sybil kneel, speaking very clearly, and, touching the tinker-mother’s hand.
“Christian’s grandmother– you are his grandmother, are you not?– you must be much, much older than me, but look at my hair. Am I likely to taunt any one with having grown grey or with being miserable? It takes a good deal of pain, good mother, to make young hair as white as mine.”
“So it should,” muttered the old woman, “so it should. It is a plaguy world, I say, as it is; but it would be plaguy past any bearing for the poor, if them that has everything could do just as they likes and never feel no aches nor pains afterwards. And there’s a many fine gentlefolk thinks they can, till they feels the difference.
“‘What’s ten pound to me?’ says you. ‘I wants the pretty baby with the dark eyes and the long lashes,’ says you.
“‘Them it belongs to is poor, they’d sell anything,’ says you.
“‘I wants a son,’ you says; ‘and having the advantages of gold and silver, I can buy one.’
“You calls him by a name of your own choosing, and puts your own name at the end of that. His hands are something dark for the son of such a delicate white lady-mother, but they can be covered with the kid gloves of gentility.
“You buys fine clothes for him, and nurses and tutors and schools for him.
“You teaches him the speech of gentlefolk, and the airs of gentlefolk, and the learning of gentlefolk.
“You crams his head with religion, which is a thing I doesn’t hold with, and with holy words, which I thinks brings ill-luck.
“You has the advantages of silver and gold, to make a fine gentleman of him, but the blood that flies to his face when he hears the words of insult is gipsy blood, and he comes back to the woods where he was born.
“Let me be, my daughter, I say I will speak– (Heaven keep my head cool!)– it’s good for such as them to hear the truth once in a way. She’s a dainty fine lady, and she taught him many fine things, besides religion, which I sets my face against. Tell her she took mighty good care of him– Ha! ha! the old tinker-woman had only one chance of teaching him anything– but she taught him the patteran!”
The clergywoman had never moved, except that when the tinker-mother shook off her hand she locked her white fingers in front of her as before, and her eyes wandered from the old woman’s face, and looked beyond it, as if she were doing what I have often done, and counting the bits of blue sky which show through the oak-leaves before they grow thick. But she must have been paying attention all the same, for she spoke very earnestly.
“Good mother, listen to me. If I bought him, you sold him. Perhaps I did wrong to tempt you– perhaps I did wrong to hope to buy for myself what God was not pleased to give me. I was very young, and one makes many mistakes when one is young. I thought I was childless and unhappy, but I know now that only those are childless who have had children and lost them.
“Do you know that in all the years my son was with me, I do not think there was a day when I did not think of you? I used to wonder if you regretted him, and I lived in dread of your getting him back; and when he ran away, I knew you had. I never agreed with the lawyer’s plans– my husband will tell you so– I always wanted to find you to speak to you myself. I knew what you must feel, and I thought I should like you to know that I knew it.
“Night after night I lay awake and thought what I would say to you when we met. I thought I would tell you that I could quite understand that our ways might become irksome to Christian, if he inherited a love for outdoor life, and for moving from place to place. I thought I would say that perhaps I was wrong ever to have taken him away from his own people; but as it was done and could not be undone, we might perhaps make the best of it together. I hope you understand me, though you say nothing? You see, if he is a gipsy at heart, he has also been brought up to many comforts you cannot give him, and with the habits and ideas of a gentleman. You are too clever, and too fond of him, to mind my speaking plainly. Now there are things which a gentleman might do if he had the money, which would satisfy his love of roving as well. Many rich gentlemen dislike the confinement of houses and domestic ways as much as Christian, and they leave their fine homes to travel among dangers and discomforts. I could find the money for Christian to do this by and by. If he likes a wandering life, he can live it easily so– only he would be able to wander hundreds of miles where you wander one, and to sleep under other skies and among new flowers, and in forests to which such woods as these are shrubberies. He need not fall into any of the bad ways to which you know people are tempted by being poor. I have thought of it all, night after night, and longed to be able to tell you about it. He might become a famous traveller, you know; he is very clever and very fond of books of adventure. This young gentleman will tell you so. How proud we should both be of him! That is what I have thought might be if you did not hide him from me, and I did not keep him from you.
“And as to religion– dear good mother, listen to me. Look at me– see if religion has been a fashion or a plaything to me. If it had not stood by me when my heart was as heavy as yours, what profit should I have in it?
“Christian’s grandmother– you are his grandmother, I know, and have the better right to him– if you cannot agree to my plans– if you won’t let me help you about him– if you hide him from me, and I must live out my life and never see his dear face again– spare me the hope of seeing it when this life is over.
“If I did my best for your grandson– and you know I did– oh! for the love of Christ, our only Refuge, do not stand between him and the Father of us all!
“If you have felt what he must suffer if he is poor, and if you know so well how little it makes sure of happiness to be rich– if in a long life you have found out how hard it is to be good, and how rare it is to be happy– if you know what it is to love and lose, to hope and to be disappointed in one’s hoping– let him be religious, good mother!
“If you care for Christian, leave him the only strength that is strong enough to hold us back from sin, and to do instead of joy.”
The tinker-mother lifted her head; but before she could say a word, the young gentleman burst into indignant speech.
“Gertrude, I can bear it no longer. Not even for you, not even for the chance of getting Christian back. It’s empty swagger to say that I wish to God I’d the chance of giving my life to get him back for you. But you must come home now. I’ve bitten my lip through in holding my tongue, but I won’t see you kneel another minute at the feet of that sulky old gipsy hag.”
Whilst he was speaking the tinker-mother had risen to her feet, and when she stood quite upright she was much taller than I had thought. The young gentleman had moved to take his cousin by the hand, but the old woman waved him back.
“Stay where you are, young gentleman,” she said. “This is no matter for boys to mix and meddle in. Sybil, my daughter– Sybil, I say! Come and stand near me, for I gets confused at times, and I fears I may not explain myself to the noble gentlewoman with all the respect that I could wish. She says a great deal that is very true, my daughter, and she has no vulgar insolence in her manners of speaking. I thinks I shall let her do as she says, if we can get Christian out, which perhaps, if she is cousin to any of the justiciary, she may be able to do.
“The poor tinker-folk returns you the deepest of obligations, my gentle lady. If she’ll let me see him when I wants to, it will be best, my daughter; for I thinks I am failing, and I shouldn’t like to leave him with George and that drunken slut.
“I thinks I am failing, I say. Trouble and age and the lone company of your own thoughts, my noble gentlewoman, has a tendency to confuse you, though I was always highly esteemed for the facility of my speech, especially in the telling of fortunes.
“Let the poor gipsy look into your white hand, my pretty lady. The lines of life are somewhat broken with trouble, but they joins in peace. There’s a dark young gentleman with a great influence on your happiness, and I sees grandchildren gathered at your knees.
“What did the lady snatch away her hand for, my daughter? I means no offence. She shall have Christian. I have told her so. Tell him to get ready and go before his father gets back. He’s a bad ‘un is my son George, and I knows now that she was far too good for him.
“Come a little nearer, my dear, that I may touch you. I sees your face so often, when I knows you can’t be there, that it pleases me to be able to feel you. I was afraid you bore me ill-will for selling Christian; but I bought him back, my dear, I bought him back. Take him away with you, my dear, for I am failing, and I shouldn’t like to leave him with George. Your eyes looks very hollow and your hair is grey. Not, that I begrudges your making so much of my son, but he treats you ill, he treats you very ill. Don’t cry, my dear, it comes to an end at last, though I thinks sometimes that all the men in the world put together is not worth the love we wastes upon one. You hear what I say, Sybil? And that rascal, Black Basil, is the worst of a bad lot.”
“Hold your jaw, Mother,” said Sybil sharply; and she added, “Be pleased to excuse her, my lady: she is old and gets confused at times, and she thinks you are Christian’s mother, who is dead.”
The old woman was bursting out again, when Sybil raised her hand, and we all pricked our ears at a sound of noisy quarrelling that came nearer.
“It’s George and his wife,” said Sybil. “Mother, the gentlefolks had better go. I’ll go to the inn afterwards, and tell them about Christian. Take the lady away, sir. Come, Mother, come!”
I’ve a horror of gipsy men, and even before our neighbours had dispersed I hustled away with Mrs. Hedgehog into the bushes.
Good Mrs. Hedgehog hurt one of her feet slightly in our hurried retreat, and next day was obliged to rest it; but as our curiosity was more on the alert than ever, I went down in the afternoon to the tinker camp.
The old woman was sitting in her usual position, and she seemed to have recovered herself. Sybil was leaning back against a tree opposite; she wore a hat and shawl, and looked almost as wild as the tinker-mother had looked the day before. She seemed to have been at the inn with the clergywoman, and was telling the tinker-mother the result.
“You told her he had got two years, my daughter? Does she say she will get him out?”
“She says she has no more power to do it than yourself, Mother– and the young gentleman says the same– unless– unless it was made known that Christian was innocent.”
“Two years,” moaned the old woman. “Is she sure we couldn’t buy him out, my dear? Two years– oh! Christian, my child, I shall never live to see you again!”
She sobbed for a minute, and then raising her hand suddenly above her head, she cried, “A curse on Black– ” but Sybil seized her by the wrist so suddenly, that it checked her words.
“Don’t curse him, Mother,” said the gipsy girl, “and I’ll– I’ll see what I can do. I meant to, and I’ve come to say good-bye. I’ve brought a packet of tea for you; see that you keep it to yourself. Good-bye, Mother.”
“Good-evening, my daughter.”
“I said good-bye. You don’t hold with religion, do you?”
“I does not, so far, my daughter; though I think the young clergywoman speaks very convincingly about it.”
“Don’t you think that there may be a better world, Mother, for them that tries to do right, though things goes against them here?”
“I think there might very easily be a better world, my dear, but I never was instructed about it.”
“You don’t believe in prayers, do you, Mother?”
“That I does not, my daughter. Christian said lots of ’em, and you sees what it comes to.”
“It’s not unlucky to say ‘God bless you,’ is it, Mother? I wanted you to say it before I go.”
“No, my daughter, I doesn’t object to that, for I regards it as an old-fashioned compliment, more in the nature of good manners than of holy words.”
“God bless you, Mother.”
“God bless you, my daughter.”
Sybil turned round and walked steadily away. The last glimpse I had of her was when she turned once more, and put the hair from her face to look at the old woman: but the tinker-mother did not see her, for she was muttering with her head upon her hands.
It was a remarkable summer– that summer when I had seven, and when we took so much interest in our neighbours.
I make a point of never disturbing myself about the events of by-gone seasons. At the same time, to rear a family of seven urchins is not a thing done by hedgehog-parents every year, and the careers of that family are very clearly impressed upon my memory.
Number one came to a sad end.
What on the face of the wood made him think of pheasants’ eggs, I cannot conceive. I’m sure I never said anything about them! It was whilst he was scrambling along the edge of the covert, that he met the Fox, and very properly rolled himself into a ball. The Fox’s nose was as long as his own, and he rolled my poor son over and over with it, till he rolled him into the stream. The young urchins swim like fishes, but just as he was scrambling to shore, the Fox caught him by the waistcoat and killed him. I do hate slyness!
Numbers two and three were flitted. I told them so, but young people will go their own way. They had excellent victuals.
Number four (my eldest daughter) settled very comfortably in life, and had a family of three. She might have sent them down to the burdocks to pick snails quite well, but she would take them out walking with her instead. They were picked up (all four of them) by two long-legged Irish boys, who put them into a basket and took them home. I do not think the young gentlemen meant any harm, for they provided plenty of food, and took them to bed with them. They set my daughter at liberty next day, and she spoke very handsomely of the young gentlemen, and said they had cured the skins with saltpetre, and were stuffing them when she left. But the subject was always an awkward one.
Number five is still living. He is the best hand at a fight with a snake that I know.
Numbers six and seven went to Covent Garden in a hamper. They say black-beetles are excellent eating.
The whole seven had a narrow escape with their lives just after Sybil left us. They over-ate themselves on snails, and Mrs. Hedgehog had to stay at home and nurse them. I kept my eye on our neighbours and brought her the news.
“Christian has come home,” I said, one day. “The Queen has given him a pardon.”
“Then he did take the pheasants’ eggs?” said Mrs. Hedgehog.
“Certainly not,” said I. “In the first place it wasn’t eggs, and in the second place it was Black Basil who took whatever it was, and he has confessed to it.”
“Then if Christian didn’t do it, how is it that he has been forgiven?” said Mrs. Hedgehog.
“I can’t tell you,” said I; “but so it is. And he is at this moment with the clergywoman and the tinker-mother.”
“Where is Sybil?” asked Mrs. Hedgehog.
I did not know then, and I am not very clear about her now. I never saw her again, but either I heard that she had married Black Basil, and that they had gone across the water to some country where the woods are bigger than they are here, or I have dreamt it in one of my winter naps.
I am inclined to think it must be true, because I always regarded Sybil as somewhat proud and unsociable, and I think she would like a big wood and very few neighbours.
But really when one sleeps for several months at a stretch it is not very easy to be accurate about one’s dreams.
[A] Patteran = the gipsy “trail.”
[B] “Poknees,” gipsy word for magistrate.
JULIANA HORATIA EWING, 1895
It was winter time, and the Thuringia Forest lay still and white under its snowy covering.
The fir trees waved their branches in the frosty air, and a clear moon had risen over the mountains.
All was quiet and deserted, except that a faint sound of music and singing floated on the wind, coming undoubtedly from the comfortable burrow of the Hedgehog family, who lived under one of the largest pine stumps.
Councilor Igel–for the father was a member of the Hedgehog Government–had consented to allow the young people to have one or two friends to coffee, and they had been dancing with the greatest spirit for the last half hour.
By the porcelain stove stood the Councilor’s only brother, Uncle Columbus, who had devoted himself since childhood to learned pursuits, and was much respected by the rest of the family.
He looked down upon all amusements as frivolous, but then he had been to College, so his superior mind was only what was to be expected.
The Councilor belonged to an ancient Thuringian race who had been settled for centuries in the forest near the little town of Ruhla. They were a proud family, for one of their uncles had, some years before, been called to take up the position of Court Hedgehog at the Royal country Palace, where he moved in the highest society, and occasionally invited his relations to visit him.
“But fifty miles is really almost too far to go with nothing but a cup of coffee at the end,” said the Hedgehog-mother, “and he never invites us to sleep. We don’t, therefore, see so much of him as we otherwise should do.”
“That must be very trying,” replied the Mole-mother, to whom these confidences were being poured out.
“Yes, for of course it would be a great advantage to the children to see a little Court life. However, with the fashions changing so quickly, it would be difficult for me to arrange their dresses in the latest mode–and I couldn’t have them looked down upon.”
“Of course not,” humbly replied the Mole-mother. She was sitting by the table, with her homespun knitting in her hand; and though she was trying to pay attention to her friend’s words, she was arranging her dinner for the next day at the same time, and wondering whether her eldest child could have one more tuck let out of her frock before Christmas time.
“It’s all very well for the Hedgehog-mother,” she thought. “She comes of a high family, and can live in luxury; but with all my children, and my poor husband working away from morning till night, I’m obliged to plan every coffee bean, or I could never keep the house together!”
The Councilor’s wife, however, talked on without noticing her distraction.
“Do you ever find any inconveniences from living so near the town?” she enquired. “Do the boys ever annoy you? They are sometimes very ill-bred.”
“Our house is in such a retired position, I seldom see anyone,” replied the Mole-mother. “The Forester’s family are our nearest neighbors, and really they are so kind they might almost be Moles themselves.”
“Gypsies!” cried Uncle Columbus at this moment. He had an unpleasant habit when he did not like the conversation, of suddenly reminding the family of a tragedy that had happened some sixty years ago, when a promising young Hedgehog had been carried off to captivity by a band of travelling Tinkers, and finally disposed of in a way too terrible to be alluded to.
The Councilor’s wife looked angry, and hastily changed the subject.
“He is quite a trial to us sometimes!” she whispered to the Mole-mother. “Such bad taste to mention Gypsies. It makes me tremble in every quill!”
“I think I must be going now,” said the Mole-mother hurriedly, putting away her knitting into a reticule, and tying a woolen hood over her head–for she felt that it would not do for strangers to be mixed up in these family matters.
Calling her children to her, she helped them into their warm galoshes; and lighting a small lantern, they were soon out in the snowy forest.
“Oh, mother, I wish we were rich like the Hedgehogs,” cried the eldest daughter, Emmie; “Wilhelm and Fritz are so fashionable, and on Berta’s birthday they are going to give a grand coffee party, to which the Court Hedgehog is expected!”
“Well, they won’t ask us, so you had better not think too much about it,” said the Mole-mother; “don’t let your mind run on vanities.”
As she spoke they saw the two rats from the Inn coming towards them. The elder–the proprietor of the Inn–in a peasant’s dress with a pipe in his mouth, dragging a small sledge on which three infant rats were seated, wrapped in a fur rug, while their mother walked beside them, her homespun cloak trailing over the snow.
“Good evening, neighbors!” cried the Mole-mother pleasantly, for though she did not exactly approve of the Rat household, she always treated them with civility. “Where are you out so late? How well the children are looking!”
“Yes, they grow rapidly–bless their little tails and whiskers!” said the Rat-mother proudly. “We have just been to my brother’s in the town, taking a cup of coffee with him, and there we heard some news. I can tell you! There’s to be a grand Coffee Party at the Hedgehogs, and though all the guests have been invited, we alone are left out. Most insulting I call it!”
“Well, it is rude,” allowed the Mole-mother, “but they’ve not asked us either. You see the Court Hedgehog is to be there, and so it is very select.”
“Select! I’ll make them select!” growled the proprietor of the Inn with a scowl. “Who are they I should like to know? They may have Gypsies upon them at any moment!”
“Oh, I hope not!” cried the Mole-mother.
“There’s a Tinker’s boy in the town,” said the Innkeeper, darkly, “and he’s always looking out for Hedgehogs–I shouldn’t be surprised if he heard where the family live.”
“Good-night!” said the Mole-mother, nervously, and hurried on with her children.
“Some mischief will be done if we don’t watch,” she said to Emmie, who was a mole of unusual intelligence. “I’ll tell your brother to keep his eye on the Rat Inn.”
After about half an hour’s walking, they arrived at home; for their house was in a secluded position in the most unfrequented part of the forest.
Though very simple, it was clean and well kept, and furnished with a large cooking stove, a four-post bedstead, and a few wooden benches.
In the one arm-chair sat the Mole-father, reading the newspaper; while his sister, Aunt Betta, with a cap with long streaming ribbons on her head, was busily stirring something in a saucepan.
As the Mole-mother and her family descended the stone stairway that led from the upper air, a delicious smell of cooking greeted them. Two large tallow candles were burning brightly, and altogether the house presented a very lively appearance.
“Here you are at last,” cried the Mole-father. “Supper is just ready, and I have sent Karl to the Inn for some lager-beer.”
“I wonder if he will hear anything,” said the Mole-mother taking off her galoshes; and then she related all the news of the evening.
“If there isn’t some mischief brewing, may I be made into waistcoats!” exclaimed the Mole-father, throwing down his newspaper.
It was his favorite expression when much excited, and never failed to give the Mole-mother a shiver all down her back. She called it such very strong language.
At this moment Karl came clattering down the steps.
“Oh, father! mother! I have heard something!” he shouted. “The Rat-father has started off to the Tinker’s to tell the boy where the Hedgehogs are living!”
The Mole-mother sank down on a bench gasping.
“He’s done it then! Oh, the poor Hedgehogs!” she cried wringing her hands, “They’ll be cooked in clay before they can turn round.”
“Don’t be in such a hurry, wife,” said the Mole-father. “I’ve thought of something. We won’t terrify the Hedgehogs–What can they do?–but we’ll collect all the Moles of the neighborhood, and make a burrow all round the house; then if the Tinker’s son comes, he’ll fall in, and can’t get any further. What do you think of that, eh?”
“An excellent idea!” said the Mole-mother, recovering. “Send Karl round tonight, and begin the first thing tomorrow morning.”
As soon as daylight dawned in the forest, the Mole-father, accompanied by his wife and children, and all their friends; went out in a long procession, with their shovels and wheelbarrows, and commenced work round the Hedgehogs’ house.
The Councilor’s family were so busily occupied in turning out, and arranging, their rooms for the festivity–which was to include a dance in the evening–that they had no time to take any notice of the Moles’ digging; in fact they never even observed it. The younger Hedgehogs were roasting coffee. The house-mother sugared the cakes in the back-kitchen, while the Councilor, with a large Holland apron, rubbed down the floor, and gave a final dust to the furniture.
As to Uncle Columbus–he sat on a sort of island of chairs in one corner, studying a book, and sneering at the preparations.
The Moles, therefore, were quite uninterrupted, and burrowed away vigorously, until the earth all round the house was mined to a depth of several feet; and they returned home to dinner in high spirits.
“If that boy dares to venture, may I be made into waistcoats, if he doesn’t fall in!” cried the Mole-father, wiping his face with a red cotton pocket-handkerchief–for though the snow was on the ground the work was exhausting.
The Tinker’s family sat round a fire, in one of the tumble-down wooden cottages that dotted the outskirts of the little town of Ruhla.
A small stove scarcely warmed the one room, for great cracks appeared in the walls in every direction.
“We’ve got no dinner today; are you going after those Hedgehogs?” said the Tinker to his son Otto. “Now you know where they are, it will be an easy thing to get hold of them.”
“Yes; we’ll have a fine supper tonight,” said Otto, stamping his feet to get them warm. “Come with me, Johann, and we’ll take the old sack over our shoulders to bring them back in.”
They started off over the crisp snow sparkling in the early sunshine, away to the forest; and straight towards the great pine tree, which sheltered the underground home of Councilor Igel.
“Come, Johann!” cried Otto, bounding along over the slippery pathway; but Johann was small and fat, and his little legs could not keep pace with Otto’s long ones. He soon fell behind, and Otto raced on by himself.
“Do be careful, Otto! There’s lots of Moles here,” cried little Johann, but Otto did not stop to listen. On he ran almost up to the pine tree; when Johann saw him suddenly jump into the air, and disappear through the snow with a loud shriek.
At the sound of the fall, the Councilor ran up the steps to his front door, and put out his head cautiously to see what was the matter.
“Gypsies!” said Uncle Columbus without raising his eyes from his book; and for the first time in his life he was right!
Gypsies it certainly was, as the Councilor soon determined; and he hastily scratched some snow over the door, and retired to the back kitchen with his whole family, in a terrible state of fright and excitement.
“What can the boy have fallen into?” he enquired vainly of the Hedgehog-mother, and of Uncle Columbus, in turn. “There are no houses there that I know of. We have been saved by almost a miracle!”
As they remained shuddering in a little frightened knot–only Uncle Columbus maintaining his philosophical calm–the air filled with the odor of burnt sugar; a faint knocking was heard against the side of the stove pipe, and in another minute the Mole-father’s red nightcap appeared through a hole, and his kind face shortly followed.
“Don’t be frightened,” he said reassuringly. “I have made a little tunnel and come through–merely to explain things. I thought perhaps you might be a little alarmed.”
“Alarmed!” cried the Hedgehog-mother. “It doesn’t describe it! Terrified, and distracted, is nearer to the real thing. The sugar biscuits are all spoilt, for I forgot them in the oven; and my daughter Berta fainted on the top of the stove, and is so seriously singed, she will be unable to appear at the party. Not that we shall be able to have a party now,” continued the Hedgehog-mother, weeping, “for Uncle Columbus sat down on the plum cake in mistake for a foot-stool, and Fritz has trodden on the punch bottles. Oh, what a series of misfortunes!”
“Cheer up, my good neighbor, all will come right in time,” said the Mole-father encouragingly.
“As long as the Court Hedgehog doesn’t appear in the middle,” wailed the Councilor. “It makes me shudder in every quill to think of it. Not even a front door to receive him at!”
“Oh, as to that, let him come to us, and we will give him the best we have,” replied the Mole-father. “Our place is homely, but I daresay he will condescend to put up with it till your house is in order again. I sent Karl on to intercept him, and explain just how it is. He will take him straight to our house till you are ready for him.”
“Well, I must say you have been exceedingly thoughtful,” said the Councilor, pompously, “and I feel sincerely grateful to you; but now, will you kindly explain to me the cause of this severe disturbance?”
“I think I’ll come into the room first, if you’ll allow me,” said the Mole-father. “I am getting rather a crick in the neck from sticking my head through here.”
“Come in by all means,” said the Hedgehog-mother, graciously. “I am sorry to be obliged to receive you in this humble apartment.”
“Gypsies!” growled Uncle Columbus, who was brushing the currants and crumbs off his coat with a duster.
The Mole-father had by this time worked himself into the kitchen, dragging his spade after him; and seated on a bench by the stove, he related the whole story to the Councilor, but carefully omitted to give the name of the person who had betrayed the Hedgehogs to the Tinker’s family; and notwithstanding the requests of the whole family, he firmly refused to do so.
“All’s well that ends well,” he said cheerfully, “and as I heard the Tinker forbidding his sons ever to come near the place again, you will be quite safe in the future.”
“What has happened to that dreadful boy? Is he still in the hole, or have they got him out?” enquired the Hedgehog-mother anxiously.
“Got him out some time ago,” said the Mole-father, “and carried him off to the hospital. Broke his leg, I am sorry to say, though it’s nothing very bad. He will be all right in six weeks or so. I don’t think much of those human fractures.”
“Serves him right,” said the Councilor viciously. “And now, my good preserver, in what way can we show our gratitude to you? I shall send Fritz and Wilhelm into the town for more provisions, and we might have our Coffee Party after all. What do you say to that, my children?”
The family clapped their hands joyfully.
“I trust you and your family will grace the party?” said the Hedgehog-mother to the old Mole.
“On one condition,” he replied, “I shall be delighted to do so; and that is that you will allow me to ask the Rats from the Inn. They are touchy people, and do not readily forgive an injury.”
“What I said all along,” muttered Uncle Columbus, lifting his eyes from his dusting. “I said ‘away with pride,’ but I wasn’t listened to.”
“You will be now,” said the Councilor in a soothing and dignified manner. “Certainly; send an invitation to the Inn if you wish it. Just write, ‘To meet the Court Hedgehog,’ at the top, Wilhelm; it will make it more gratifying.”
The Court Hedgehog, with an escort of six guards, had meanwhile arrived at the Mole’s house, and was being entertained by the Mole-mother and her children, who were all in a state of great nervousness.
The Court Hedgehog, however, appeared to be more condescending than could have been expected from his position. He accepted some refreshment, and a pipe of the Mole-father’s tobacco, and then reclining in the one easy chair, he awaited the course of events with calmness.
Here the Councilor found him some hours later, when the confusion in the Hedgehog household having been smoothed over–a deputation of the father and sons started to bring the distinguished guest home in triumph.
The rooms in the Councilor’s house had all been gaily decorated with pine branches; the stove sent out a pleasant glow; and the Hedgehog-mother, in her best cap and a stiff black silk dress, stood waiting to welcome her guests in the ante-room.
By her side sat Berta, who had fortunately recovered sufficiently to be present at the entertainment; though still suffering from the effects of the shock, and with her head tied up in a silk handkerchief.
As the Court Hedgehog appeared in the doorway, three of the younger children, concealed in a bower of branches, commenced to sing an ode composed by Uncle Columbus for the occasion, beginning “Welcome to our honored guest,”–while a fiddler hired for the occasion accompanied it upon the violin, behind a red curtain.
The first visitors to arrive were the Moles; followed by the Rat family, who were filled with remorse when they received the invitation, at the thought of their treacherous behavior.
“I declare, mother,” said the Innkeeper to his wife in a whisper, “the Mole-father is such a good creature, I shall be ashamed to quarrel with any of his friends for the future. ‘Live and let live,’ ought to be our motto.”
Uncle Columbus did not appear till late in the evening, when he entered the room dressed in an antiquated blue coat with brass buttons, finished off by a high stand-up white collar.
He staggered in, carrying a large plum cake about twice the size of the one he had unfortunately sat down upon; which he placed upon the coffee table, where the Hedgehog-mother was presiding over a large collection of various cups, mugs, and saucers.
“I have only just come back from town, where I went to procure a cake fit for this happy occasion,” he whispered. “It does my heart good to see this neighborly gathering, and I have made up my mind to promise you something in memory of the event. I will from this day, give up for ever a habit which I know has been objectionable to you–the word ‘Gypsies’ shall never again be mentioned in the family.”
In the very heart of a great forest in Sweden lived a Bear family, called “Bjornson.”
They were much respected throughout the whole neighborhood, for they were kind and hospitable to everyone; and as their home was in such an unfrequented part of the country they were able often to give entertainments which it was quite safe to attend without fear of Foresters or other human inconveniences.
Their house was built of large stones, neatly roofed with pine branches, and was reached by a winding path through the rocks, the entrance to which had become covered by a dense thicket of bushes. A small wire had been cunningly arranged by the Bear-father, so that in the event of any stranger entering the door a bell would be rung in the Bear-kitchen; but so far the household had fortunately never been alarmed by this contrivance.
The two Bjornson children, Knut and Otto, led a very happy life in the forest. Whenever they liked they could bring some of their young companions home from the School-house in the evening; and then the Bear-mother would seat herself on a tree-stump and play tunes for them to dance to–for Fru Bjornson was highly educated, and had learnt the concertina in all its branches.
This of course was all very delightful: but every morning Knut and Otto were obliged to start off at daybreak with their books and satchels for the forest School, and there a time of trouble usually awaited them. It was kept by an old Badger of very uncertain temper, and all his pupils stood in great awe of the birch rod which lay in a conspicuous place upon his writing-table.
“It’s all very well for the Hedgehogs,” the scholars often grumbled to each other. “Of course they can do just what they like, as they happen to be covered all over with quills–but for us it’s a very different affair!”
Certainly, strict discipline was maintained by the Badger during School time. His eyes seemed to be upon everyone at once, and it was vain to try and crack nuts, draw cartoons, or eat peppermint lozenges–the rod would come down immediately with a thump! and the offender, as he stood in a corner of the room with a fool’s cap on, had time to fully realize the foolishness of his own behavior.
Forest History and Arithmetic were the Badger’s two favorite studies, and each pupil was expected to know the Multiplication Table upside-down, and to be able to give the date of any event in Bear-history, without a moment’s hesitation.
It was perhaps not to be wondered at that the scholars were glad when playtime arrived, and that they rushed home helter-skelter, with shouts of joy, the moment the School-house door was thrown open.
Many practical jokes had been tried upon the old Schoolmaster, and the offenders had always been severely punished, but one day in early autumn Knut and Otto, as they walked home with their friends, suggested a plan which would sweep away at one blow a great part of the misery of their School life.
“You know the great History and Arithmetic books that Herr Badger always keeps on the desk in front of him?” said Knut. “We’ll scoop out the insides and fill them with fireworks. Then when he comes into School, we’ll let them off. What an explosion there’ll be! He will be frightened! No more sums and dates after that. Hurrah! Hurrah!”
The scholars jumped about with delight when they heard the young Bears’ idea, and eagerly agreed to join in the mischief.
Their mothers were quite surprised the next morning to see how eagerly they all started for School–half-an-hour earlier than their usual custom–and Fru Bjornson remarked to her old servant that “she really believed the children were beginning to take an interest in their studies at last!”
The old Badger had not yet finished breakfast in his cottage by the School-house; so his pupils were able to enter the School-room unobserved, and had soon carried out their simple arrangements.
An oiled string was attached, winding up the leg of the table to the fireworks; and the end was to be lighted by Knut the moment Herr Badger had seated himself.
Everything being completed, the scholars seized their books; and when their master appeared in the doorway, murmured a respectful greeting, to which he responded by a stately bow.
“Your slates, pupils. We will commence as usual with a few easy sums.”
A subdued groan broke from the scholars; and Knut–stooping down under pretence of tying up his shoe–applied a match to the string, while his companions shuffled as loudly as possible, to hide the sound of the striking.
“Silence, if you please!” shouted the Badger. “Have you come to school to dance the polka? Attend to this little problem immediately, and mind it is correctly answered. If 10,000 Bears and a Pole-cat, ran round a tree 1,500 times and a half, in an hour and ten minutes; each knocking off one leaf and three-quarters every time he ran round–how many leaves would be knocked off in a fortnight?”
“They couldn’t do it,” muttered a hedgehog derisively. “There wouldn’t be room for a quarter of them!”
“Make haste! Make haste!” cried the Badger, rapping his desk; but just at that moment, whirr! whizz! bang! The books flew open with a loud report, and out sprang the crackers, and began to fizz and bound about the table.
Herr Badger’s black skull cap tumbled off, and he fell backwards in his astonishment, shouting for help; while the whole school darted away through the open door into the woods, in a state of the wildest delight and excitement.
Fru Bjornson was busily employed in her kitchen, stirring up some liquid in a large saucepan. It was cranberry jam for the winter, and on the floor stood a long row of brown jars into which it was to be poured when the boiling was thoroughly completed.
The servant, a little thin light-brown Bear, in a large apron, waited close by, ready to poke the fire, or give any other assistance that was required of her.
In the salon, Herr Bjornson, with a pucker on his forehead, was adding up his Bee accounts–for he kept a number of hives in the garden and fields belonging to him.
Suddenly the alarm bell sounded loudly, and in rushed the Bear-mother, with the jam-ladle in her hand, her hair almost erect with terror.
“They have found us at last! What shall we do? Where shall we fly to?” she cried distractedly.
“Into the ice-cellar,” cried Herr Bjornson, “come, Ingold. Everyone follow me!” and he threw his papers down on the ground and ran out at the back door.
Fortunately the ice-cellar was near the house, and the frightened family were soon safely in its shelter.
By opening a crack in the small trap-door, which was level with the ground, they were able to see all that went on in the garden; and the steps afforded them a place to sit down upon, without touching the great blocks of ice that looked white and ghostly as the thin streak of daylight struggled in upon them.
“Is anyone coming?” whispered the Bear-mother nervously.
“I can’t see anything moving,” growled Herr Bjornson. “Keep back, Mother. I can’t help treading upon you. Dear me! How cramped we are here!”
“It’s terribly cold,” said the Bear-mother shivering. “I can feel myself freezing in every hair.”
“Wrap your shawl round you, and stamp about a little.”
Fru Bjornson attempted to carry out the directions, but the space was so small there was scarcely room to move in it.
The air seemed to get colder and colder; Ingold’s fur turned frost-white, and she twined her apron round her head to prevent herself from being frost-bitten.
“Oh, this is awful,” quaked the Bear-mother. “We shall all die or be turned into icicles if we can’t get out before long!”
The Bear-father had put up his coat-collar and tied his bandanna pocket-handkerchief over his ears. His hair was also covered with white crystals, and he was seized with an attack of coughing which obliged him to borrow the Bear-mother’s shawl to bury his head in, so that the sound might not be heard outside.
“This is painful in the extreme,” he said in a choked voice as he emerged gasping. “A cough lozenge at this moment might be the saving of us!”
“What shall we do if the enemy hears us!” cried Fru Bjornson. “Here! I have just found a peppermint-drop in my pocket. Let us divide it into three. It may be some slight assistance.”
They soon discovered, however, that lozenges were utterly powerless to keep out that biting air, and the Bear-mother seated herself resignedly on an ice-block.
“It’s no good struggling against fate,” she murmured. “We shall be found by the children, I suppose. You’d better keep your arms down straight, father; and freeze as narrow as possible. Then they will be able to get you out of the opening without much difficulty. It seems hard to think they will never know the true facts of the case,” she continued mournfully. “Our epitaph will probably be ‘Sat down carelessly in an Ice-house!'”
“Don’t despair, Mother,” cried Herr Bjornson, who had one eye anxiously applied to the crack in the trap-door. “I see the back gate opening. In another minute we shall know the worst–Hi! What! Well, I never! Who do you think it is, Mother? Why, the Schoolmaster!”
Herr Badger indeed it was, who had come off in a great hurry to complain of the disgraceful behavior of his pupils, and being very excited had inadvertently trodden on the wire of the alarm bell as he entered the private grounds of the Bear-family.
He seemed a little surprised as the strange procession suddenly rose up out of the ground in front of him, but without making any enquiries as to what they had been doing there, he plunged at once into the history of his wrongs.
All day the Badger’s scholars enjoyed themselves in the forest. They played leap-frog, ran races, bathed in the river, had lunch in a shady hollow, and picked more cranberries than they knew what to do with; but as evening came on, they began to wonder a little anxiously whether the Schoolmaster would already have been round to their parents to complain of their behavior; and when Knut and Otto entered their own door in the bushes, their knees were shaking under them, and it occurred to them that perhaps the fireworks hadn’t been quite so amusing as they expected, after all!
They were met by Herr Bjornson with a gloomy frown. There was no doubt that Herr Badger had told him everything, and the little Bears waited tremblingly for what was to happen next.
“What is this that I hear?” commenced the Father-bear angrily. “Your respected Master ill-treated in his own School-house. Thrown violently upon the ground, with crackers exploding round him for several hours! What have you to say for yourselves?”
“Please, father, we didn’t mean to hurt him,” began Knut in a piping voice; “It was only to get rid of the books. We won’t do it again!”
“I should think not, indeed,” said Herr Bjornson. “I shall punish you myself severely tomorrow, after School time, and Herr Badger is going to give you two hours’ extra Arithmetic every day for a fortnight.”
Knut and Otto crept off miserably into the garden, and that evening there was no dancing, and the Bear-mother’s concertina was silent.
Before it was daylight next morning, Knut had awakened Otto. They had determined the night before that they would never return to Herr Badger’s rule, and the matter of the extra Arithmetic had settled their determination.
They started with their cloaks, and with lunch in their satchels, as if going to School–leaving a note for their mother upon the kitchen dresser.
This letter was written with the stump of a lead pencil, and ran as follows:–
“To the well-born Fru Bjornson.
“We cant keep at ilt any mor. We want to be inderpendent, and the sums are 2 mutch. We sik our fortones, and return wen we ar rich.
As soon as they reached the forest, the two little Bears ran forward as quickly as they could towards the river.
They intended to take any canoe they found by the shore, and row themselves over to the opposite side. They did not know exactly what they should do when they got there; but anyhow, they would be safe from punishment when they were once over.
As they went along they kept as much as possible behind the underwood, though it was so early it was scarcely likely that any of the charcoal-burners or fishermen would be stirring.
After some search they discovered a small canoe drawn up under the bushes, and untying it without much difficulty, they got in, and Knut paddled actively out into the strong current.
“This is independence!” cried Otto, arranging the knapsacks and cloaks in the bow of the boat, and taking up the steering-paddle. “What would Herr Badger say if he could see us now?”–and he chuckled.
All day they drifted down the river–watching the salmon dart about the boulders, and the trout leap in the curling eddies. It was so silent in the great forest, with the pine trees growing close to the edge of the water, that at last the little Bears’ high spirits began to fail them; and as the evening came on their laughter ceased, and they sat quietly in the canoe, steering their way between the great rocks without speaking.
“How strong the current is here,” muttered Otto at last. “I can scarcely keep the boat straight!”
“Well, let’s land and find some place to sleep in,” cried Knut–but this was more easily said than done. The moment they tried to turn the canoe in towards the shore, it began to whirl round and round; and finally striking against a stone, it upset the two little Bears into the middle of the foaming river.
Fortunately Knut and Otto were good swimmers, and they were able after some struggling to scramble to the shore; but they found to their great annoyance that they had landed on the same side as that from which they had started.
Their canoe was whirling rapidly away down the rapids, and it was useless to think of recovering it; so the two little Bears proceeded to dry their clothes as well as they could, and then looked about to see if they could find a comfortable place to sleep in.
A large hollow tree stood close to the edge of the river, and into this they climbed, and being very tired they were soon fast asleep.
They were awakened by voices.
“It’s men!” whispered Otto, clutching Knut’s arm in terror. “Oh, why did we ever run away! They’ll be sure to find us!”
“Be quiet, Otto,” muttered Knut. “Do you want them to hear? Lie still, and I’ll think of some way to escape.”
“Are you sure this is the right tree?” said a man’s voice.
“Don’t you see the mark?” asked another. “The Forester put it on himself; though it’s rather high up. You’d better begin work at once, or you’ll not get through with it before he comes round again.”
This was awful. Otto trembled so that he could hear his own teeth chattering; but Knut kept his presence of mind, and poking his brother warningly, said in a hoarse whisper,
“Wait till I give the signal, and then jump out after me as high in the air as you can. Follow me till I tell you to stop.”
An echoing blow resounded against the tree trunk, which made Knut fly up like a sky-rocket.
“Now!” he cried, and bounding on to the edge of the opening, he jumped right over the heads of the woodmen into the tangled bushes, followed by Otto, and away they raced through the forest, before the astonished men could recover themselves.
“What in the world was that?” cried the wood-cutters, rubbing their eyes and blinking; but no one had been able to see more than two flying brown balls, and after hunting about in vain, they decided it must have been a couple of gigantic owls.
Only one thing did they find in the hollow tree, and that certainly puzzled them–a small piece of crumpled paper, on which was sketched a life-like picture of a Badger with a fool’s cap on his head; underneath, written in cramped letters–
“How would you like it?”
After running for about half an hour, Knut sank down panting on a juniper bush, while Otto rolled upon the moss thoroughly exhausted.
“Arithmetic was better than this!” he panted dismally, fanning himself with a large fern leaf. “History was better–anything was better!”
“Well, we’re quite safe here for the present,” replied Knut, “so don’t worry yourself any more. I’m so tired I can’t keep awake, and I’m sure you can’t.” And, indeed, in spite of their fright, in a few minutes both the little Bears were sound asleep again.
When they next opened their eyes, the sun was glinting through the pine trees; and looking down on them benignly, stood a Fox in travelling dress, with a soft felt hat upon his head.
He smiled graciously upon Knut, and beckoned him to come out of the juniper bushes.
“Ha! ha! my good gentlemen, you are taking a comfortable rest in a very secluded spot, but you can’t escape my observation!” he cried cheerfully. “Are you on your way to some foreign Court–or perhaps you are couriers with State secrets?”
The two little Bears, feeling very flattered, sat up and straightened their tunics.
“The truth is, we are seeking our fortunes,” said Knut with dignity.
“Oh, nothing easier,” replied the Fox. “You come with me. Such hearty, well-grown young Bears will find no difficulty in getting excellent situations. I can almost promise you each a large income if you implicitly follow my directions.”
“Where should we go to, then?” asked Knut cautiously.
“To a dear friend of mine, who employs an immense number of workmen,” said the Fox easily. “I will just let you see who I am before we proceed further,” and he drew a case from his pocket, and taking out a card, presented it to the little Bears with a low bow.
“Just as if we were grown up!” whispered Otto. “Oh, Knut, how different this is to Herr Badger!”
On the card, printed in elegant copper-plate, was the following–
“Herr Kreutzen, Under-Secretary (and Working Member) of the Society for promoting the welfare of Farmers.”
Knut looked at Herr Kreutzen respectfully.
“If you’ll be so kind as to show us the way, we’ll follow you at once,” he said. “If we could get a little breakfast on the way, we should be glad; for we have lost our satchels, and berries are not very satisfying.”
“Come along, then!” said the Fox briskly; and seizing the two little Bears by the paw, he dragged them into the heart of the forest at a rapid pace.
On the day after his visit to the Bjornson family, Herr Badger, feeling very dull, sat alone in the cottage by the School-house.
Every one of his pupils had deserted him; for not only had the two little Bears run away, but all their companions had also played truant; and the whole of that part of the forest was filled with parents anxiously searching for their missing children–like a gigantic game of hide-and-seek.
Herr Badger called to his housekeeper to bring him the black-board, a couple of globes, and the book of conic-sections, and for some hours he amused himself happily; but at the end of that time he began to experience an almost irresistible desire to teach something.
“If I can’t get anyone else, I’ll call Brita,” he said to himself. “I can just ask her a few easy questions suited to her limited intellect.”
The housekeeper came in, curtsying respectfully, and seated herself at the table, as she was bidden.
“I must imagine I have given up school, and taken to private pupils,” the Badger said to himself. “I hope she won’t exasperate me, and make me lose my temper! Now take this slate,” he continued aloud, “and try and do one of these simple sums. You’ll soon get used to them–
“If five onions were to be boiled in six saucepans, how would you divide the onions so that there would be exactly the same quantity in each pan?”
“Chop them up,” replied the housekeeper promptly.
The Badger glared. “You’re not attending. I said, ‘How would you divide them!'”
“You might mince them very fine, or pound them in a mortar,” replied the housekeeper anxiously. “I don’t know of no other way of doing it.”
“Work it out on the slate, creature!–on the slate!” cried Herr Badger, thumping the table with his long ruler.
“I’d rather do it on a dish, sir,” said the housekeeper, trembling. “It’s more what I’m accustomed to.”
Herr Badger started up in a fury. “You call yourself a private pupil?” he shouted (quite forgetting that the housekeeper had never called herself anything of the kind). “Go back to the kitchen immediately.”
“I could bring you the Mole who blacks the boots, if he’d be any good,” said the housekeeper humbly. “I know I’m very ignorant, but the Mole tells me he’s been attending day school for years, and he reads recipes out of the cookery-book quite beautiful.”
“Don’t speak to me of Moles!” said the Badger crossly. “I shall take no more private pupils–they’re not worth it.” And he walked over to the black-board, and began to draw diagrams.
“What’s the good of diagrams, without a class to explain them to?” he muttered. “I declare I believe I was too hard on those children. We can’t be all equally gifted. It wouldn’t be a bad idea if I went out as one of the search parties. I declare, I will!” he continued, his face brightening, “and I’ll make every creature I find promise to come back to school again. I must make up a class somehow, or I shall die of monotony.”
He took down his old felt hat with the ear-flaps, and putting some food in a knapsack, and choosing a stout walking-stick, he flung a green cloak over his shoulders, and let himself out into the forest.
The Fox took the two little Bears on so quickly, that they soon began to feel both cross and tired. To their anxious enquiries as to where they were going, and whether they could not soon have some breakfast, Herr Kreutzen answered vaguely that they would very soon reach their destination, and should have as much breakfast as they could possibly care for.
“My friends are kind worthy people, and you’ll find every sort of luxury,” he said, smiling benignly.
“We seem to be coming near a town,” whispered Knut to Otto. “I don’t quite like this!” and he tried to pull his paw away from the good “Secretary of the Society for promoting the welfare of Farmers.”
“Come along, my dear child. We are almost there,” cried the Fox. “I am just going to tie you both up to this tree for a minute–merely to be sure you are quite safe and happy in my absence–and I shall return with my kind friend, in no time!”
Herr Kreutzen took some string from his pocket as he spoke, and the two little Bears–who saw there was no use in struggling–submitted to be fastened together to a fir tree.
As soon as the Fox had disappeared, Otto burst into a loud roar of terror.
“Oh, he’s going to do something dreadful, I know he is! We shall never, never get away again!”
“It’s no good making that noise,” said Knut, angrily. “Leave off, Otto, and let me think.”
“You may think for ever,” wailed Otto, “and unless you’ve got a pocket knife you won’t get these knots undone!” and he began to cry again with renewed vigor.
“Why, whatever is the matter?” said a friendly voice close by.
The little Bears looked round eagerly, and saw that an elderly Badger was approaching. He was evidently a woodcutter, for he had a large axe in his hand, and the three young Badgers who followed him were carrying neatly-tied bundles of sticks.
Knut stretched out his paw beseechingly.
“Please cut the string! Oh, please, Herr Badger, make haste, and let us get free. Herr Kreutzen will be back in a minute, and then there’ll be no hope for us!”
“So this is some of his work!” said the Badger angrily. “I declare that creature is a plague to the whole forest!”
With two blows of his axe he cut the strings that bound the little Bears; and ordering them to follow him to a place of safety, he darted through the bushes with his children, and never stopped until they came out into a secluded valley, at the end of which, in a small clearing, stood a hut built of pine logs.
Before the door sat the Badger-mother with some plain sewing, while five of the young Badger-children played about on the grass in front of her.
“You’re home early today, father,” she said cheerfully, and added, as she caught sight of the little Bears–“Why, wherever did you pick up these strangers, father?”
The Badger described the unpleasant position in which he had found them; and the whole family gathering round, Knut related their adventures truthfully from the very beginning.
“I’ll tell you where the Fox was taking you, my children,” said the Badger-mother; “There’s a Wild Beast Show in the town at this present moment, and Herr Kreutzen has already enticed two or three animals into it. He is well paid by the showman, and would have made a good thing out of you, because you could have been taught to dance. Oh, what a miserable fate you have escaped from!”
Knut and Otto looked thoroughly ashamed of themselves, and began to realize what their foolishness might have led them into.
However, no one could be miserable for long at a time in the Badger family; they were all so happy and light-hearted–so after a good dinner, the two little Bears ran out into the garden, and forgot their troubles in a romp with the children.
“You did not know your old schoolmaster was a cousin of ours?” remarked the Badger-mother, as they rested, later on, under a shady fir tree. “He really is a worthy creature at heart, and you ought all to try and put up with him as much as possible.”
“We really will,” cried the two little Bears heartily. “If ever we get back again, we really will!” and they thoroughly intended to keep their promises.
“I think this evening you should start for home before it grows dusk,” said the Badger-mother. “Father will see you well on your way, and your parents must be longing to hear of you. Come into the house now, and I will make you look respectable.”
Knut and Otto were all obedience, and followed the Badger-mother meekly to the kitchen. Here she took down two large scrubbing-brushes, and proceeded to give them a thorough tidying. Then their faces were soaped, and finally two of the young Badgers’ caps were placed upon their heads–for their own had fallen off when they were upset into the river.
The elastics were very tight under their chins, but they refrained from saying anything–and this showed how complete was their reformation!
Just as all the preparations were completed, there came a loud knock at the door; and the Schoolmaster himself appeared, his clothes torn, one flap off his hat, a bandage covering his right eye, leading in a little crowd of scholars that he had collected with infinite toil from many perilous positions.
There were two Hedgehogs, a young Fox, five Badgers, a Mole, and a tame Guinea-pig. All of them were more or less scratched, and dismal looking; and some had evidently been in the water, for their clothes were still dripping, and hung round them in the most uncomfortable manner.
“What! you here, after all! Well, this is a happy meeting!” cried Herr Badger, embracing the little Bears warmly. “I wasn’t going home till I’d found you–and here you are. A most fortunate coincidence!”
“Sit down, sit down, cousin,” said the Badger-mother hospitably. “Bring in the pupils, and let them dry their hair before the fire–they seem in a sad state, poor things!”
“They certainly do look a little untidy,” said the Badger, “but we shall soon remedy all that. I have been explaining to the class (at least to as much as I’ve got of it),” he continued, turning to Knut, “that the plan of the School is to be entirely reformed–ten minutes’ Arithmetic per day, and History once weekly. What do you say to that, children?”
A feeble cheer arose from the pupils; and the two little Bears, throwing themselves upon their knees, begged their Master’s pardon for all the trouble they had caused him.
Fru Bjornson, seated on a camp-stool by the side of the entrance gate to her house, was looking anxiously around her. Close by stood Ingold, with one eye tightly screwed up, and an old-fashioned telescope in her hand, trying in vain to adjust the focus.
“What do you see now?” enquired the Bear-mother, leaning forward.
“A great fog with snakes in it!” replied the servant truthfully.
“Why, those are trees, of course!” said Fru Bjornson. “Turn the screw a little more, and it will become as plain as possible.”
Ingold twisted her hand several times rapidly, and again applied her eye to the end.
“It doesn’t seem like snakes now, does it?” asked the Bear-mother triumphantly.
“Oh, no! It’s turned to milk with green splashes in it,” said Ingold.
“You don’t see anything of my darling children, then?” enquired Fru Bjornson.
“Nothing at all, ma’am,” said Ingold. “A telescope may be a wonderful thing for those who haven’t any eyes, but really I think I see better without it.”
At this moment, through the trees, an extraordinary procession came in sight; which caused the Bear-mother to jump up from her seat with a cry of joy.
Herr Badger, with his cloak thrown over one shoulder, leading Knut and Otto by the hand; and behind them the rest of the pupils in single file–depressed and gloomy, but resigned to whatever Fate might have in store for them.
Fru Bjornson ran forward, and clasped her children in her arms.
It was a happy meeting; and as she thought the Schoolmaster would already have gone through all the scolding that was necessary, she refrained from adding a word more.
“I’ve got the class together, ma’am,” said Herr Badger triumphantly, “and I’m never going to let it go again! The new School system commences from tomorrow!”
All the parents agreed that the children had been sufficiently punished during their wanderings in the forest, and they were therefore allowed to return to their homes, without anything more being said on the subject.
The next morning the scholars assembled at the School-house in excellent time; but most of them unfortunately, having lost their satchels, were obliged to carry their books and luncheon, wrapped up in untidy brown paper parcels–which was certainly very mortifying.
“My dear pupils,” commenced Herr Badger, as he entered the room and bowed graciously, “on this auspicious occasion, I wish to call the Arithmetic class for ten minutes only. We will begin, if you please, with ‘two times one’–repeating it three times over without a failure!”
A hedgehog is a small animal that doesn’t grow much bigger than a guinea pig. Their most obvious feature is their spines. They are almost completely covered with sharp, prickly spines. They look more like an upside down shoe brush than an animal. When they are born, they can’t see and they are covered with coarse hairs, but within a couple of weeks, their eyes open and the hairs turn into spines.
When they are threatened or scared, hedgehogs tightly tuck in their head and feet, rolling up into a ball. There is hardly an animal alive that can hurt them when they are curled up like this. They become a ball with their sharp spines sticking out in all directions. If they are attacked, all the attacker is likely to get is a bunch of painful pin pricks in their nose, mouth or paws.
Hedgehogs eat bugs. They are bug-eating machines. They will eat young plants, wild bird eggs or nuts if they have to, but they would much, much rather eat a bug. Any kind of bug. They have long, thin snouts so they can get to bugs in very narrow hiding places. A hundred years ago, people would sometimes keep a hedgehog in their house just to keep the house bug-free. Since they eat mostly bugs, they hibernate all winter when there are no bugs around.
Hedgehogs sleep all day. They make a burrow under a bush or other protected place, line it with leaves and moss, curl up into a ball and sleep until the sun goes down. At dusk and into the night, they have no other interest but searching for and eating bugs. If you have a garden, you are lucky if a hedgehog decides to live nearby.
The story is told of a young dog named Skippy who had a surprise meeting with a hedgehog one day. Whether it was the hedgehog who was surprised or Skippy, I cannot say. Either way, Skippy ran in circles, barking the little squeaky bark that every dog named Skippy has. The hedgehog did what hedgehogs do. He rolled into a ball and planned to stay there as long as Skippy was around. Skippy had never seen a hedgehog, but he had seen a ball. You could almost read Skippy’s mind as he circled the ball, wondering if this ball would be as much fun as his ball at home. Somebody told me the hedgehog teased Skippy, whispering to him, “Come on; play with me; it will be fun!”, but I don’t believe that part of the story. Anyway, Skippy gave the ball a hard bump with his nose and was last seen running toward home, yelping like he had been shocked.
There is another story about a hedgehog who had eaten almost all the bugs in the farmer’s garden, so he decided to move to the next county. When he found a new garden, he was tired from his travels and asked a family of snakes if he could sleep in their burrow until he was rested. (Hedgehogs aren’t afraid of snakes. If a snake figures out how to avoid the hedgehog’s spines and bites him, the hedgehog will just eat the snake…hedgehogs are immune to snake venom.) The next day, the snake asked him to leave because he and all his family had had a terrible time trying to sleep when they were constantly being stuck by the hedgehog’s spines. The hedgehog replied that he had found the burrow quite comfortable and he had no trouble sleeping peacefully, so he thought if anyone should leave the burrow, it should be the snakes.
There dwelt ‘neath the roots
Of a fine elm tree,
A peaceful old hedgehog
With children three.
And as long as they all
Would their mother obey,
No hedgehogs so happy
Or merry as they.
It chanced late one eve,
When daylight was flown,
And night o’er the earth
Her mantle had thrown,
Her family thus
The hedgehog addressed,
Before she absented
Herself from the nest:
“It grieves me, my dears,
Thus from you to roam,
But I hope soon to bring you
A good supper home;
Stir not from this place
While I wander for food;
There are traps in the field,
And dogs in the wood.”
They promised their mother
Obedience to pay,
And with one parting look
She was soon on her way;
But was scarce out of sight,
Ere Bustle began
To propose to his brothers
The following plan:
“Come hither, Dear Bob
And you, my dear Bristle,
Let us go through the hedge
That’s close by yon thistle:
I cannot, with, patience
Behold you submit
To remain in this hole,
For none of us fit.
“For my part, I long
The fair world to see;
Its parks and its pastures
Are pleasures to me.
A nice walk we will have
By old Roger’s farm;
Depend upon me,
There can be no harm.”
The hedgehogs sat listening
To all Bustle said,
But promptly refused
From their home to be led;
And advised, with affection,
Their ill-behaved brother
To remember the promise
They had given their mother
No heed to these words
Naughty Bustle would pay,
And lest he should hear
What they further might say,
To his ears his front paws
He stoutly did clap,
Then rushed from the hole,
Spite of dog or of trap.
The silvery moon
Now began to appear,
High through the sky
Her mild course to steer;
The clouds fled away,
And the stars shone most bright,
And the wind it was hushed
On this sweet summer’s night.
Bustle, who a fine taste
For nature possessed,
Rejoiced in his firmness
In leaving the nest:
But while he was gazing
On pleasures so fine,
It was awkward to fast
For so long a time.
A few worms and insects
Were all he could find,
But to this vulgar fare
He no ways inclined;
“From whence did my mother
Us with pig-nuts supply?
‘Twas sure by the brook
That must be close by.”
With all possible haste
Through the wood he repaired,
On pig-nuts the finest
With joy Bustle stared.
When all on a sudden
A noise met his ear,
And his strong and stout limbs
Were shaking with fear.
He tried to run swift,
But his creeping slow pace
Was never intended
To shine in the chase:
When on in full speed
Came a white, furious dog,
With teeth to eat up
This willful hedgehog.
By one chance alone
His life he might keep,
‘Twas to roll himself up
As he did in his sleep;
So, promptly concealing
Feet, face, and all,
Bustle waited his foe,
In the shape of a ball
The contest began!
Growler gave a smart shake
Which made Master Hedgehog
Tremble and quake.
The dog worried and scratched
In rear, flank, and front,
While Bustle did naught
But prick, nestle, and grunt.
At last fairly tired
Of his fruitless attack,
Growler, wounded, and beaten,
Hurried off back;
The poor little hedgehog
Was half dead with fright,
And lamented most sorely
His excursion that night.
The moon was now hid,
The sky clouded o’er,
And Bustle could see
Nature’s beauties no more.
The pig-nuts untasted,
Remained near the brook,
Alas! upon them
He dared not venture a look.
‘Twere better to live
On slugs and on snails,
Than encounter that dog
And his terrible nails;
To put up with food
Without sauce or relish,
Than apart from his friends
With hunger to perish.
Faint, weak, and trembling,
Bustle sought for the path
Which should lead to that home
He had left in such wrath.
“Ah, me! if I ever
Again reach our nest,
What joy to repose
On my dear mother’s breast!”