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I am, of course, a bird. That is beyond dispute. And though some Americans will call me a house finch, I suppose, until the day they perish from the earth, I should like you to know, at the beginning of things, that I refer to myself as a linnet.
Small difference, you might say. House finch. Linnet.
Perhaps. Still, would you be called a house finch if it were in your power to be known as a linnet? No, I thought not. Nevertheless, let's be good friends -- whatever you may call me -- and, though I did wish you to know my position, I shall not bring this matter up again.
And now to my purpose. I should like to tell you about a delightful company of field mice who once lived in a place called Tottensea Burrows and how it came to happen that they all went away. I can only hope that sounds interesting to you. It was certainly interesting to me. But, of course, it would be, wouldn't it?
I was not fully fledged when I discovered the mice of Tottensea Burrows -- or, rather, when they discovered me. That was before Langston Pickerel came to them and well before they knew who he was. But then Mr. Neversmythe came to Mrs. Pockets in the rain and began asking questions about the Saracen dagger. Still, we can't blame Mr. Neversmythe for the way things turned out. And, technically, we can't even blame Langston Pickerel. Technically, it was poor little unthinking Harrington Doubletooth who brought everything down around their ears!
I do hope this is clear. What I'm trying to say is that none of them had the faintest notion there were pirates about. Even less did they expect to be running for their lives from something MUCH WORSE than pirates. But, in the end, they were pleased about it, you see. Running for their lives, I mean. The mice.
Blast! I seem to be mucking this up. It's entirely possible you haven't the slightest idea what I'm talking about. I must try to repair. Let us make a beginning, then, with the geography of things. "Where, after all, is this Tottensea Burrows?" you might ask. Very well. Here:
If you're the sort of creature who keeps to roads and lanes and that kind of business, here is what you must do to reach Tottensea Burrows. From Dollopsford, go toward Lesser Triffleton. Left at the New Road, past Nubbins-on-Stith and left again. If you find yourself at something called Doxmere at the Stoke, you've gone completely wrong and I can only advise you to retrace your path immediately. Say nothing to anyone. Try again in the morning. Otherwise, straight on, watching for a stone cottage with one or two small structures off to the side and a beech tree and some hollyhocks. Tottensea Burrows is there. In the rear.
If you are winged, of course, it's much simpler. Begin at that field of rye beside the weir below those rocks under that cliff overlooking the stone wall which is berried over in the early autumn. You know the place I mean. Fly straight above that patch of timothy next it, wheel to the left just where nipplewort overtakes the hawkweed and on to the rail fence running through that marsh of watercress and crowfoot. Rest a bit in the crack willow, lift over the wood and, right where the hazels leave off, dive 'twixt the two elms, and stop in the beech tree beyond the slate roof. Tottensea Burrows is there. In the rear. As I said.
And it is still there, of course. Boarded up and abandoned it may be and all its inhabitants happily away to where they belong, but if you were of a mind to do it, you could, with no special equipment and simply by creeping about in the right places, see all kinds of interesting things there, even now. (Careful of your step, of course -- the more especially if you happen to be of the larger bipedal type.)
In the lee of that rock sticking up out of the lyme grass one could still find the mossy green roof of The Bookish Mouse, I expect. And under its eaves could be seen the little row of mullioned windows which enabled the bookshop's customers to browse its volumes in glorious daylight, careless of candles and lanterns, and with both paws free, therefore, to riffle a mousebook's pages if they liked.
And if The Man has not spaded up the dewberries for a patch of runner beans as he so often told The Woman he was about to do, you could, in all likelihood, see the thatched gables of Mrs. Pockets' boardinghouse snugged down in the thicket out there, low and well out of the way of things -- though the swinging sign out front that said THE BRAMBLES was somewhat in need of repainting even then. I can't think how it must look now!
If you went amongst the climber vines -- beyond the clematis, I mean -- the part of Swift Mercantile which you could see above the ground would appear so modest and unimpressive that you would have no conception of the vast and sprawling warehouses below. To see them you would need a bit of special equipment, I'm afraid. A lantern, say, and a pinch bar of the proper size should do very nicely.
Armed with those, then, you could see more than Swift's warehouses. Indeed, if you poked about the wisteria roots, you might get a look at the workshop of Opportune Baggs The Inventor. There should be many things for you to see. He left in great haste, after all, and he couldn't take everything, could he? There would be hammers and saws, of course, but, beyond all that, there might be some interesting tinkering apparatus down there: little squeezers and stretchers, for example, or crimpers and crinklers -- jigglers, even -- and some clever little winders and loopers that he thought up one night when he was in bed and almost asleep.
And you should be prepared to see some things in his workshop that you would have no proper idea what they were: contrivances for making square objects roundish, perhaps, or round objects squarish or both of them odd-shaped. Who knows? I've been down there. I saw some very shrewd devices to hold things together and some even shrewder ones to keep them apart. There were implements for smoothing and others for roughing up. He had an appliance over here to straighten a piece out and one over there to make it crooked! Whatever he thought best, you see. It depended.
If you wanted to try out things, his treadle lathe would turn as freely as ever, I expect, and the bow drill make quite a reasonable hole in whatever scrap of stock he might have left lying about for one to be fooling with. But you mustn't think you could try the Mousewriter, of course. It isn't there.
Down the way and under the hydrangea, you could peep inside The Silver Claw, if you liked. It wouldn't be the same lively place one remembers, you understand. No one would clap you on the back and offer refreshment. There'd be no tales of wonderful deeds, no one to speak of Warburton Nines Who Once Lifted A Cat, say, or Merchanty Swift Who Brought The Cheese Trade Down To Earth Almost Single-Handedly. Nothing like that. The chairs would be up on tables, I expect, and all the lanterns out. Still, with the lantern you brought with you, you could see the dartboard if you wished and what was left of the flowers on the mantel shelf -- dry as sticks, certainly, if they were there at all. The kettle behind the counter would be quiet and still and everything covered with an inch of dust, as they say. (Not an actual inch, of course -- a mouseinch, more like.)
Every one of these places, in fact, would now be as quiet and still as The Silver Claw's kettle and covered with dust in its own right. But there was a time, and not so long ago, when Tottensea Burrows was athrive and bustling with this quite splendid little company of field mice -- all of them honorable, generous, warmhearted and as distinct from one another as snowflakes. You'd like them, I think.
Copyright © 2002 by Dale C. Willard
|1||Grenadine Learns the Language||21|
|2||Tea at The Bookish Mouse||31|
|3||An Evening with the Baggses||39|
|5||A Look at the Drawings||51|
|6||About Merchanty Swift Who Brought The Cheese Trade Down To Earth Almost Single-Handedly||55|
|7||The Not Paying Attention Club||61|
|8||Poker and Cheroots||71|
|9||Something About Me or An Early Mistake in Life and What Came of It||79|
|10||The Flying Mouse||87|
|12||The Suitors of Grenadine Fieldpea||101|
|13||Mrs. Pockets' Difficult Guest||111|
|14||The Silver Claw at Night||121|
|15||Preparations for a Ball||127|
|16||The Tottensea Burrows Midsummer's Night Fancy Dress Cotillion Ball||135|
|17||An Unexpected Caller||141|
|18||What Farnaby Saw by the Rockery||147|
|19||The Turning of the Wheel||153|
|20||Tottensea, Bag and Baggage||161|
|22||How Merchanty Swift Did Business with Pirates||175|
|23||The Hesitation at Lawn's End||181|
|24||What Happened at the Bottom of the Steep Decline||189|
|25||The New Day||195|
Chapter 1: Grenadine Learns the Language
Grenadine Fieldpea used to conjugate field mouse verbs, aloud, while sitting at the breakfast table, swinging her legs under the chair and waiting for her mother to finish boiling the oatmeal. It sounded like this:
I will eat porridge
you will eat porridge
he will eat porridge
we will eat porridge
you will eat porridge
they will eat porridge
I will be eating porridge
you will be eating porridge
And so on.
Grenadine's sisters, Almandine and Incarnadine, would beg their mother to make her stop doing this and, indeed, at some point -- as no one could likely parse an entire field mouse verb before breakfast! -- her mother would be forced to do exactly that, saying something like "Stop conjugating, Grenadine, and eat your porridge. It's getting quite cold. And besides, dear, you've got the future perfect progressive all in a muddle. It's 'I will have been eating' not 'I will have been having eaten.'"
Grenadine was, all her life, a quite linguistic mouse. But when she was little, this characteristic tended toward extremes. At one point, for example, when her interest had turned a little away from conjugating verbs and more toward acquiring vocabulary, she began to run across words in the dictionary that she thought very fine and that needed to be more evident in field mouse usage. She thereupon undertook, herself, a small crusade to this end. The first method she tried was simply to quote the definition of the words to everyone, in turn, giving full particulars, and at the end, an exhortation. Mr. and Mrs. Fieldpea found it pleasant enough to be accosted a few times a day by a small mouse holding a large book who would read out something like:
SIMULTANEOUS adjective: existing or occurring at the same time. See COINCIDENT
followed by "Please use that as soon as possible." Or
SUBSEQUENT adjective: following in time, order, or place. See SUCCEEDING.
"Before lunch, if you can. Thanks."
Almandine found this less pleasant than her parents did and would often say, "Oh, Grenadine, stop!" while Incarnadine, finding it less pleasant still, might respond with something more along the lines of "Go away. See LEAVE."
At length, Grenadine abandoned the first method because it didn't seem to her to be doing any good. Although Mr. Fieldpea would often try to help out at meals with "I shall have some of that gooseberry jam SIMULTANEOUSLY with my toast, please," or "I noticed some STRIATIONS today -- lengthwise, along a stick," and Mrs. Fieldpea would respond with "How PICTURESQUE that must have been," Grenadine's sisters were not being improved in any lexical respect that she could observe. Whatsoever!
Her second method was to ply her chosen word in every conversation one could conceivably work it into -- thus to teach by example. This was sometimes more difficult than others, of course, depending on the word. It was no trouble at all to find ways to use a word like "ingenious." Everything in the Fieldpea burrow simply became ingenious. Its floor was an ingenious floor, its walls were ingenious walls, and it had an ingenious candlestick which held an ingenious candle. But contorting ordinary conversation into something that could accommodate casual references to a word like "proteinaceous," on the other hand, became an awful thing indeed.
For some reason not well understood, Grenadine got quite insistent about this particular word and let it be known that, although she was getting no help whatsoever in her effort to raise PROTEINACEOUS up, they would all of them do well to get on with it as she was not going to permit the DEMISE of attention to this poor word, allowing it, therefore, to be RELEGATED to its customary OBSCURITY -- "demise" and "obscurity" being words from the previous day and "relegate" from one or two days before that.
"Proteinaceous," then, provoked a crisis.
But Grenadine was lucky in mothers, having got one who was wise and loving and who knew a thing or two about words, herself. When the search for protein references began to threaten with tension -- if not tears -- almost every Fieldpea conversation in which Grenadine was involved, her mother said to her, "Try 'pertinacious' dear. It sounds almost as good and it's much easier. It means perversely persistent; stubbornly unyielding or tenacious. See OBSTINATE. Try using it right away, then." And though Grenadine said she couldn't think of a way to work that in, everyone noticed the SUBSEQUENT DEMISE of the vocabulary crusade.
Mr. and Mrs. Fieldpea cheered up a bit when Grenadine turned to poetry. "Ah, sweet poesy," they thought to themselves. Here would be something less technical -- more flowing and generous. But then they remembered that versification can be quite rigorous. Then they remembered, with increasing unease, that, in fact, it absolutely bristles with mechanical aspects. Grenadine found these right away.
The study of meter she liked very much. She could be heard around the burrow explaining metrical things to others: "Ta-TUM ta-TUM ta-TUM. That's iambic, you see, ta-TUM being an iamb. TUM-ta, on the other hand, is a trochee. Whereas an anapest..."
What was additionally trying was that she would point out interesting features of one's meter in conversation. If Almandine were to say to her, "Why are you wearing that old dress?" Grenadine might respond with, "That's two dactyls and a spondee, Almandine!" And if Almandine, in turn, said something back like "Will you stop doing that every time I say something!" Grenadine would probably observe that that line contained a molossus in the first foot.
As bad as Grenadine's meter period was, however, the rhyming period was worse. It started with something like "Grenadine, it's time for tea" being answered by "That is such good news to me," or "It's your turn to clean the room" by "You were told that, dear, by whom?" -- harmless enough, one might think. But I assure you that such a practice, continued indefinitely, is very likely to provoke irritation -- in sisters, for example. Now I think of it, especially in sisters.
I can't find my other sock
was answered by Grenadine's
Have you looked beneath that rock?
Almandine would ask, of course, "What rock?"
Grenadine, searching less for the sock than for some decent rhymes, would reply,
Or, if a rock cannot be found
then try the other way around.
Almandine, then, who, in her childhood, tended more toward literal thinking and less toward the poetical, would turn around!
This would move Grenadine to say,
No, no! Please exercise your wit
If there's no sock
beneath the rock
Perhaps the rock is under it.
"What rock?" Almandine would reply. "There's no rock!"
Grenadine, by now having completely lost interest in the rock, it having served its purpose in the scheme of rhymes, would move on to other aspects of the problem at hand:
If one were careful with one's clothes
one shouldn't lose them, I suppose.
This last couplet would be lost on Almandine, however, who, by this time, would be on her way to the kitchen to ask her mother to make Grenadine stop saying there was a rock when there most certainly WASN'T ONE!
Mrs. Fieldpea became increasingly worried about Grenadine's excesses and their effect on family life. While realizing that her daughter might have some talent in things linguistic and might well, indeed, have a future in the field, the incessant squabbling and chaos which this talent was now causing, conjoined with the social obtuseness -- and blank obstinacy! -- of Grenadine, herself, was distressing to her. She would sometimes discuss the matter with Mr. Fieldpea in the evenings.
"What shall we do about Grenadine, dear?" she might say, over her needlepoint -- the figure of a large crimson radish stitched upon a ground of pale amber.
"Hmm. Grenadine," Mr. Fieldpea would probably reply. But he might say it very slowly while not putting his newspaper down from in front of his face quite as promptly as Mrs. Fieldpea would have liked. She, however, would overlook this, for reasons which I shall presently explain. At length, he would put his newspaper down, of course, and then, with an expression on his face not unlike that of a mouse awakened from a deep sleep, he would blink one or two times, and, with admirable determination, focus his eyes directly upon Mrs. Fieldpea, who -- he would then realize -- was sitting in a chair right there in the room with him! Having focused, he would say, as if he were trying to recall something, "What shall we do about Grenadine?" This would be followed by a brief pause after which he would say, "Yes."
Mrs. Fieldpea, not looking up from the radish, would then notice, pleasantly, that Mr. Fieldpea had joined her on the very same planet which she was now inhabiting. But I must hasten to say that, very far from being irritated by this slight delay in her husband's response, she had learned to be flattered by it. Now, let me see if I can explain that.
Mrs. Fieldpea, you see, knew that her husband was not inclined to think about several things at once, as she was like to do. Mr. Fieldpea thought about one thing at a time. But he thought VERY DEEPLY. And she considered that he did it exceedingly well. In fact, Mrs. Fieldpea thought this inclination to deep thinking somewhat superior to her own. I, personally, am not at all sure that it was superior. But she thought it so and I count that rather splendid -- for her to think that, I mean -- the more so since he had always admired her for her ability to move effortlessly from one necessary line of thought to another.
In any event, Mrs. Fieldpea knew that for Mr. Fieldpea to leave off thinking about what he was reading in his newspaper in order to attend to what she was asking him to think about at that moment required a certain deliberate adjustment of his interior processes. And she felt...well, rather honored that he undertook such an effort for her, if you see what I mean. But it did require a small space of time, that adjustment.
One evening -- after such an adjustment -- Mr. Fieldpea said, "I've been thinking about Grenadine and the others, as a matter of fact. Today, actually."
"Really?" said Mrs. Fieldpea, interested.
"Yes," he continued. "It occurred to me that siblings are very useful to one another. It's as if one were to rattle small stones about in a box until they were all of them quite smooth. Do you think that reasonable?"
"Yes, I believe I do," she said.
He went on. "It's quite wonderful in its effect -- this rattling about -- but it does, at times, set up something of a small racket, you see."
"Hmm. Yes. Of course it would," she said, frowning thoughtfully. "We simply will have a bit of noise, then."
"A bit, yes. But only within reasonable limits," he emphasized, picking up his newspaper. Then he put it back down and added this thought: "So we mustn't give up hope, I think."
"No. Certainly not," said Mrs. Fieldpea, just putting the last crimson stitch in the tip of the radish near the very bottom edge of the lovely amber ground.
And generally they don't. Give up hope, I mean. Field mice.
Neither do they, as parents, moreover, leave all the smoothing to the other small stones. When one day, Mr. Fieldpea said:
"Grenadine, enough of this rhyming business for now!" and his daughter answered with:
"Do you mean a rough amiss timing is this somehow?" (which, if one works it out, was quite remarkable, but very disobedient) -- it cost her some desserts.
Being rhymed at by a small tenacious field mouse will not, of course, cause anyone actual physical harm. Disobedience, however, will cause all manner of harm to that small tenacious field mouse, herself -- and Mr. and Mrs. Fieldpea knew it. All considerations of Grenadine's talent or future had to be put aside until this issue of minding one's parents could be settled. It took a bit of their own tenacity for her mother and father to settle it, but, at length, it was settled. And due to such settling, Grenadine grew up a happier mouse -- easier to live with, and much better liked by her sisters. In fact, as they came of age, the Fieldpea girls were known in Tottensea Burrows not only for being beautiful and accomplished, but also for being practically inseparable.
Copyright © 2002 by Dale C. Willard
Posted June 16, 2004
While it is true that it takes a while for the story to get started, I think the whole idea behind the story is a that we have a long time to enjoy the words. A pleasant afternoon's read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 21, 2002
Linguistic inventiveness is for sure, but no story unfortunately. The inciting incident arrives 3/4 of the way through the book, and then the conflict is typical cliche'. Usually a story has an event happening at the beginning that upsets one's world, and then the reader is carried on a rollercoaster ride until the end. Not here. It's not even clear who the main character is! We get descriptions of thousands of characters that need to be followed, who have no direct relation to the "storyline". The author is just spewing his own linguistic superiority to the masses. Bring a dictionary. Great for insomniacs *yawn*Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 21, 2002