The Admiral’s Caravan/Chapter VII

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Chapter VII. The Song in the Dell.

“I’m sorry he’s gone,” said Dorothy to herself, gazing with longing eyes after the Harlequin. “He wasn’t much to talk to, but he was awful beautiful to look at”; and, having relieved her mind by this remark, she was just starting to take another walk through the shop when she suddenly caught sight of a small door in one corner. It wasn’t much larger than a rat-hole, but it was big enough for her to go through, and that, of course, was the important thing; and as she never could bear to go by strange doorways until she knew where they led to, she immediately ran through this one, and, quite to her surprise, found herself outside the toy-shop.

There was a steep bank here sloping down from the wall of the shop, and Dorothy was much interested at discovering that it was completely overgrown with little green rocking-chairs. They were growing about in great confusion, and once or twice, when her frock happened to brush against them, quite an avalanche of them went clattering down the bank and broke up at the bottom into curious little bits of wood like jackstraws. This made climbing down the bank very exciting, but she got safely to the bottom at last, and was just starting off for another journey of discovery when she came suddenly upon the toy farm-house standing quite by itself in the open country. None of the family was present except the Farmer, who was standing in front of the house, staring at it in a bewildered way as if he had never laid eyes on it before. He was a plain-featured man, with a curious little hat something like the lid of a coffee-pot, and with a great number of large yellow buttons arranged on the front of his coat like a row of cream-tarts; and, after the manner of all toy-farmers, he was buried to the ankles in a round piece of wood to keep him from falling over.

Now Dorothy had always particularly wanted to see the inside of a toy farm-house, and, as this seemed to be an excellent opportunity, she walked up to the Farmer and said, very politely, “Can I see your house?”

“I should think you could if you looked at it,” said the Farmer, staring first at her and then at the house, as if he were greatly surprised at the question; “I can see it easily enough.”

“But I mean, can I go over it?” said Dorothy, rather confused by this answer.

The Farmer rubbed his nose and looked thoughtfully at the roof of the house for a moment and then said, rather sulkily, “Yes, I suppose you can, but you must agree not to knock off the chimbleys.”

“Dear me,” said Dorothy, beginning to laugh, “that isn’t what I mean at all. I mean, can I go through it?”

The Farmer, after turning over this proposition in his mind with great deliberation, got down on his hands and knees and took a long look through the little door in the front of the house, and then getting upon his feet again, said, very seriously, “I don’t see anything to prevent it; there’s another door at the back,”—and walked gravely away. He did this in a very peculiar way, by a sort of sidelong roll on his round wooden block like a barrel being worked along on one end; and, as Dorothy stood watching this performance with great interest, he presently fell over one of the little rocking-chairs, and coming down heavily on his back, rolled away on the edge of his block and the rim of his little round hat without making the slightest attempt to get on his feet again.

“I shall look precisely like a elephant with a pagoda on his back,” said Dorothy, as she got down on her hands and knees and crawled through the little door into the house, “but I’m going to see what it’s like while I have the chance. All hollow, right up to the roof, just as I expected,” she exclaimed. “I s’pose that’s so the fam’ly can stand up when they come inside.” But there was nothing in the house but a lot of old umbrellas tied up in bundles and marked “dangerous,” and as she didn’t think these were very interesting, and as, moreover, her head by this time was out of the door at the back, she crawled through without stopping and scrambled up on to her feet again.

“Oh, lovely!” cried Dorothy, clapping her hands in a rapture of delight; for she found herself in a beautiful wood—not a make-believe affair like the toy-farm, but a real wood with soft grass and pads of dark-green moss growing underfoot, and with ferns and forest flowers springing up on all sides. The wind was rustling pleasantly in the trees, and the sunlight, shining down through the dancing leaves, made little patches of light that chased each other about on the grass, and, as Dorothy walked along, she felt happier than she had at any time since losing the Blue Admiral Inn. To be sure, it wasn’t the easiest matter in the world to get along, for as the trees and the bushes and the blades of grass were all of the natural size and Dorothy was no bigger than a wren, she fell over a good many twigs and other small obstacles, and tumbled down a great many times. Then, too, she found it rather trying to her nerves, at first, to meet with rabbits as big as horses, to come suddenly upon quails whistling like steam-engines, and to be chattered at by squirrels a head taller than she herself was; but she was a very wise little child about such matters, and she said to herself, “Why, of course, they’re only their usual sizes, you know, and they’re sure to be the same scary things they always are,”—and then she stamped her foot at them and said “Shoo!” very boldly, and, after laughing to see the great creatures whisk about and dash into the thicket, she walked along quite contentedly.

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She found it rather trying to her nerves, at first, to meet with rabbits as big as horses—
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—to be chattered at by squirrels a head taller than she herself was

Presently she heard a voice singing. It seemed to come from a thick part of the wood at one side of the path; and, after hesitating a moment, Dorothy stole into the bushes, and, creeping cautiously along until she was quite near the sound, crouched down in the thicket to listen.

It was a very small voice, and it was singing this song:

I know a way
Of hearing what the larks and linnets say.
The larks tell of the sunshine and the sky;
The linnets from the hedges make reply,
And boast of hidden nests with mocking lay.

I know a way
Of keeping near the rabbits at their play.
They tell me of the cool and shady nooks
Where waterfalls disturb the placid brooks
That I may go and frolic in the spray.

I know a way
Of catching dewdrops on a night in May,
And threading them upon a spear of green,
That through their sides translucent may be seen
The sparkling hue that emeralds display.

I know a way
Of trapping sunbeams as they nimbly play
At hide-and-seek with meadow-grass and flowers,
And holding them in store for dreary hours
When winds are chill and all the sky is gray.

I know a way
Of stealing fragrance from the new-mown hay
And storing it in flasks of petals made,
To scent the air when all the flowers fade
And leave the woodland world to sad decay.

I know a way
Of coaxing snowflakes in their flight to stay
So still awhile, that, as they hang in air,
I weave them into frosty lace, to wear
About my head upon a sultry day.

Dorothy, crouching down in the thicket, listened to this little song with great delight; but she was extremely sentimental where poetry was concerned, and it happened that when she heard this last verse she clasped her hands in a burst of rapture and exclaimed in quite a loud voice, “Oh, delicious!” This was very unfortunate, for the song stopped short the instant she spoke, and for a moment everything was perfectly silent; then the little voice spoke up again, and said, “Who is that?”

“It’s I,” said Dorothy.

“It’s two eyes, if it comes to that,” said the little voice; “I can see them through the bushes. Are you a rabbit?”

“No,” said Dorothy, laughing softly to herself, “I’m a child.”

“Oh!” exclaimed the voice. It was a very little Oh; in fact, it sounded to Dorothy as if it might be about the size of a cherry-stone, and she said to herself, “I verily believe it’s a fairy, and she certainly can’t be a bit bigger than my thumb—my regular thumb, I mean,” she added, holding up her hand and looking at the size of it with great contempt.

Then the little voice spoke up again and said, “And how big are you?”

“I’m about three inches tall,” said Dorothy; and she was so excited by this time at the prospect of seeing a real live fairy for the first time in her life, that she felt as if a lot of flies were running up and down on the back of her neck.

“Dear me!” exclaimed the little voice, expressing great astonishment in its small way. “Why, there’s hardly enough of you to put in a corner.”

Dorothy reflected for a moment and then called out, “But, you know, that depends altogether on the size of the corner.”

“Oh, no, it doesn’t!” said the little voice, very confidently. “All corners are the same size if you only get close enough to ’em.”

“Dear me!” said Dorothy to herself, “how very intelligent she is! I must have a look at her”; and, pushing the leaves gently aside, she cautiously peeped out.

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Pushing the leaves gently aside, she cautiously peeped out

It was a charming little dell, carpeted with fine moss, and with strange-looking wild flowers and tall nodding grasses growing about the sides of it; but, to Dorothy’s astonishment, the fairy proved to be an extremely small field-mouse, sitting up like a little pug-dog and gazing attentively at the thicket: “and I think”—the Mouse went on, as if it were tired of waiting for an answer to its last remark—“I think a child should be six inches tall, at least.”

This was so ridiculous that Dorothy had to put her hand over her mouth to keep from screaming with laughter. “Why,” she exclaimed, “I used to be”—and here she had to stop and count up on her fingers as if she were doing a sum—“I used to be eight times as big as that, myself.”

“Tut, tut!—” said the Mouse, and the “tuts” sounded like beads dropping into a pill-box—“tut, tut! Don’t tell me such rubbish!”

“Oh, you needn’t tut me,” said Dorothy. “It’s the exact truth.”

“Then I don’t understand it,” said the Mouse, shaking its head in a puzzled way. “I always thought children grew the other way.”

“Well, you see,—” said Dorothy, in her old-fashioned way,—“you see, I’ve been very much reduced.” (She thought afterward that this sounded rather as if she had lost all her property, but it was the only thing she could think of to say at the time.)

“I don’t see it at all,” said the Mouse, fretfully, “and what’s more, I don’t see you, in fact, I don’t think you ought to be hiding in the bushes and chattering at me in this way.”

This seemed to Dorothy to be a very personal remark, and she answered, rather indignantly, “And why not, I should like to know?”

“Because,”—said the Mouse in a very superior manner,—“because little children should be seen and not heard.”

“Hoity-toity!” said Dorothy, very sharply. (I don’t think she had the slightest idea of what this meant, but she had read somewhere in a book that it was an expression used when other persons gave themselves airs, and she thought she would try the effect of it on the Mouse.) But, to her great disappointment, the Mouse made no reply of any kind, and after picking a leaf and holding it up to its eyes for a moment, as if it were having a cry in its small way, the poor little creature turned about and ran into the thicket at the further side of the dell.

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The mouse laments

Dorothy was greatly distressed at this, and, jumping out of the bushes into the dell, she began calling, “Mousie! Mousie! Come back! I didn’t mean it, dear. It was only an esperiment.” But there was no answer, and, stooping down at the place where the Mouse had disappeared, she looked into the thicket. There was nothing there but a very small squirrel eating a nut; and, after staring at her for a moment in great astonishment, he threw the nut in her face and scampered off into the bushes.

“Nice manners, upon my word!” said Dorothy, in great indignation at this treatment, and then, standing up, she gazed about the dell rather disconsolately; but there was no living thing in sight except a fat butterfly lazily swinging up and down on a blade of grass. Dorothy touched him with her finger to see if he were awake, but the Butterfly gave himself an impatient shake, and said, fretfully, “Oh, don’t,” and, after waiting a moment, to be sure that was all he had to say, she walked mournfully away through the wood.