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Tommy and the Wishing-Stone
By THORNTON W. BURGESS, Harrison Cady
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Tommy and the Wishing-Stone
Tommy scuffed his bare, brown feet in the grass and didn't even notice how cooling and refreshing to his bare toes the green blades were. Usually he just loved to feel them, but this afternoon he just didn't want to find anything pleasant or nice in the things he was accustomed to. A scowl, a deep, dark, heavy scowl, had chased all merriment from his round, freckled face. It seemed as if the very freckles were trying to hide from it. Tommy didn't care. He said so. He said so right out loud. He didn't care if all the world knew it. He wanted the world to know it. It was a horrid old world anyway, this world which made a fellow go hunt up and drive home a lot of pesky cows just when all the other fellows were over at the swimming-hole. It always was that way whenever there was anything interesting or particular to do, or any fun going on. Yes, it was a horrid old world, this world in which Tommy lived, and he was quite willing that everybody should know it.
The truth was, Tommy was deep, very deep, in the sulks. He was so deep in them that he couldn't see jolly round Mr. Sun smiling down on him. He couldn't see anything lovely in the beautiful, broad, Green Meadows with the shadows of the clouds chasing one another across them. He couldn't hear the music of the birds and the bees. He couldn't even hear the Merry Little Breezes whispering secrets as they danced around him. He couldn't see and hear because—well, because he wouldn't see and hear. That is always the way with people who go way down deep in the sulks.
Presently he came to a great big stone. Tommy stopped and scowled at it just as he had been scowling at everybody and everything. He scowled at it as if he thought it had no business to be there. Yet all the time he was glad that it was there. It was just the right size to sit on and make himself happy by being perfectly miserable. You know, some people actually find pleasure in thinking how miserable they are. The more miserable they can make themselves feel, the sooner they begin to pity themselves, and when they begin to pity themselves they seem to find what Uncle Jason calls a "melancholy pleasure." It was that way with Tommy. Because no one else seemed to pity him, he wanted to pity himself, and to do that right he must first make himself feel the most miserable he possibly could. So he sat down on the big stone, waved his stick for a few moments and then threw it away, put his chin in his two hands and his two elbows on his two knees, and began by scowling down at his bare, brown toes.
"There's never anything to do around here, and when there is, a fellow can't do it," he grumbled. "Other fellows don't have to weed the garden, and bring in wood, and drive the cows, and when they do it, it ain't just when they want to have some fun. What's vacation for, if it ain't to have a good time in? And how's a fellow going to do it when he has to work all the time—anyway when he has to work just when he don't want to?" He was trying to be truthful.
"Fellows who live in town have something going on all the time, while out here there's nothing but fields, and woods, and sky, and—and cows that haven't sense enough to come home themselves when it's time. There's never anything exciting or int'resting 'round here. I wish—"
He suddenly became aware of two very small bright eyes watching him from a little opening in the grass. He scowled at them harder than ever, and moved ever so little. The eyes disappeared, but a minute later they were back again, full of curiosity, a little doubtful, a little fearful, but tremendously interested. They were the eyes of Danny Meadow Mouse. Tommy knew them right away. Of course he did. Hadn't he chased Danny with sticks and stones time and again? But he didn't think of this now. He was too full of his own troubles to remember that others had troubles too.
Somehow Danny's twinkling little eyes seemed to mock him. How unjust things were!
"You don't have to work!" he exploded so suddenly and fiercely that Danny gave a frightened squeak and took to his heels. "You don't have anything to do but play all day and have a good time. I wish I was a meadow-mouse!"
Right then and there something happened, Tommy didn't know how it happened, but it just did. Instead of a bare-legged, freckle-faced, sulky boy sitting on the big stone, he suddenly found himself a little, chunky, blunt-headed, furry animal with four ridiculously short stubby legs, and he was scampering after Danny Meadow Mouse along a private little path through the meadow-grass. He was a meadow-mouse himself! His wish had come true!
Tommy felt very happy. He had forgotten that he ever was a boy. He raced along the private little path just as if he had always been accustomed to just such private little paths. It might be very hot out in the sun, but down there among the sheltering grass stems it was delightfully cool and comfortable. He tried to shout for very joy, but what he really did do was to squeak. It was a thin, sharp little squeak. It was answered right away from in front of him, and Tommy didn't like the sound of it. Being a meadow-mouse now, he understood the speech of meadow-mice, and he knew that Danny Meadow Mouse was demanding to know who was running in his private little path. Tommy suspected by the angry sound of Danny's voice that he meant to fight.
Tommy hesitated. Then he stopped. He didn't want to fight. You see, he knew that he had no business on that path without an invitation from the owner. If it had been his own path he would have been eager to fight. But it wasn't, and so he thought it best to avoid trouble. He turned and scampered back a little way to a tiny branch path. He followed this until it also branched, and then took the new path. But none of these paths really belonged to him. He wanted some of his very own. Now the only way to have a private path of your very own in the Green Meadows is to make it, unless you are big enough and strong enough to take one away from some one else.
So Tommy set to work to make a path of his own, and he did it by cutting the grass one stem at a time. The very tender ones he ate. The rest he carried to an old board he had discovered, and under this he made a nest, using the finest, softest grasses for the inside. Of course it was work. As a matter of fact, had he, as a boy, had to work one-tenth as much or as hard as he now had to work as a meadow-mouse, he would have felt sure that he was the most abused boy who ever lived. But, being a meadow-mouse, he didn't think anything about it, and scurried back and forth as fast as ever he could, just stopping now and then to rest. He knew that he must work for everything he had—that without work he would have nothing. And somehow this all seemed perfectly right. He was busy, and in keeping busy he kept happy.
Presently, as he sat down to rest a minute, a Merry Little Breeze came hurrying along, and brought with it just the faintest kind of a sound. It made his heart jump. Every little unexpected sound made his heart jump. He listened with all his might. There it was again! Something was stealing very, very softly through the grass. He felt sure it was danger of some kind. Then he did a foolish thing—he ran. You see, he was so frightened that he felt that he just couldn't sit still a second longer, so he ran. The instant he moved, something big and terrible sprang at him, and two great paws with sharp claws spread out all but landed on him. He gave a frightened squeak, and darted under an old fence-post that lay half hidden in the tall grass.
"What's the matter with you?" demanded a voice. Tommy found that he had company. It was another meadow-mouse.
"I—I've had such a narrow escape!" panted Tommy. "A terrible creature with awful claws almost caught me!"
The stranger peeped out to see. "Pooh!" said he, "that was only a cat. Cats don't know much. If you keep your ears and eyes open, it's easy enough to fool cats. But they are a terrible nuisance just the same, because they are always prowling around when you least expect them. I hate cats! It is bad enough to have to watch out all the time for enemies who live on the Green Meadows, without having to be always looking to see if a cat is about. A cat hasn't any excuse at all. It has all it wants to eat without trying to catch us. It hunts just out of love of cruelty. Now Reddy Fox has some excuse; he has to eat. Too bad he's so fond of meadow-mice. Speaking of Reddy, have you seen him lately?"
Tommy shook his head. "I guess it's safe enough to go out now," continued the stranger. "I know where there is a dandy lot of corn; let's go get some."
Tommy was quite willing. The stranger led the way. First he looked this way and that way, and listened for any sound of danger. Tommy did likewise. But the way seemed clear, and away they scampered. Right away Tommy was happy again. He had forgotten his recent fright. That is the way with little people of the Green Meadows. But he didn't forget to keep his ears and his eyes wide open for new dangers. They reached the corn safely, and then such a feast as they did have! It seemed to Tommy that never had he tasted anything half so good. Right in the midst of the feast, the stranger gave a faint little squeak and darted under a pile of old cornstalks. Tommy didn't stop to ask questions, but followed right at his heels. A big, black shadow swept over them and then passed on. Tommy peeped out. There was a great bird with huge, broad wings sailing back and forth over the meadows.
"It's old Whitetail, the Marsh Hawk. He didn't get us that time!" chuckled the stranger, and crept back to the delicious corn. In two minutes, they were having as good a time as before, just as if they hadn't had a narrow escape. When they had eaten all they could hold, the stranger went back to his old fence-post-and Tommy returned to his own private paths and the snug nest he had built under the old board. He was sleepy, and he curled up for a good long nap.
When he awoke, the first stars were beginning to twinkle down at him from the sky, and black shadows lay over the Green Meadows. He found that he could see quite as well as in the light of day, and, because he was already hungry again, he started out to look for something to eat. Something inside warned him that he must watch out for danger now just as sharply as before, though the black shadows seemed to promise safety. Just what he was to watch out for he didn't know, but still every few steps he stopped to look and listen. He found that this was visiting time among the meadow-mice, and he made a great many friends. There was a great deal of scurrying back and forth along private little paths, and a great deal of squeaking. At least, that is what Tommy would have called it if he had still been a boy, but as it was, he understood it perfectly, for it was meadow-mouse language. Suddenly there was not a sound to be heard, not a single squeak or the sound of scurrying feet. Tommy sat perfectly still and held his breath. He didn't know why, but something inside told him to, and he did. Then something passed over him. It was like a great shadow, and it was just as silent as a shadow. But Tommy knew that it wasn't a shadow, for out of it two great, round, fierce, yellow eyes glared down and struck such terror to his heart that it almost stopped beating. But they didn't see him, and he gave a tiny sigh of relief as he watched the grim living shadow sail on. While he watched, there was a frightened little squeak, two legs with great curved claws dropped down from the shadow, plunged into the grass, and when they came up again they held a little limp form. A little mouse had moved when he shouldn't have, and Hooty the Owl had caught a dinner.
A dozen times that night Tommy sat quite frozen with fear while Hooty passed, but after each time he joined with his fellows in merrymaking just as if there was no such thing as this terrible feathered hunter with the silent wings, only each one was ready to hide at the first sign of danger. When he grew tired of playing and eating, he returned to his snug nest under the old board to sleep. He was still asleep there the next morning when, without any warning, the old board was lifted. In great fright Tommy ran out of his nest, and at once there was a great shout from a huge giant, who struck at him with a stick and then chased him, throwing sticks and stones, none of which hit him, but which frightened him terribly. He dodged down a little path and ran for his life, while behind him he heard the giant (it was just a boy) shouting and laughing as he poked about in the grass trying to find poor Tommy, and Tommy wondered what he could be laughing about, and what fun there could be in frightening a poor little meadow-mouse almost to death.
Later that very same morning, while he was hard at work cutting a new path, he heard footsteps behind him, and turned to see a big, black bird stalking along the little path. He didn't wait for closer acquaintance, but dived into the thick grass, and, as he did so, the big, black bird made a lunge at him, but missed him. It was his first meeting with Blacky the Crow, and he had learned of one more enemy to watch out for.
But most of all he feared Reddy Fox. He never could be quite sure when Reddy was about. Sometimes it would be in broad daylight, and sometimes in the stilly night. The worst of it was, Reddy seemed to know all about the ways of meadow-mice, and would lie perfectly still beside a little path until an unsuspecting mouse came along. Then there would be a sudden spring, a little squeak cut short right in the middle, and there would be one less happy little worker and playmate. So Tommy learned to look and listen before he started for any place, and then to scurry as fast as ever he could.
Twice Mr. Gopher-snake almost caught him, and once he got away from Billy Mink by squeezing into a hole between some roots too small for Billy to get in. It was a very exciting life, very exciting indeed. He couldn't understand why, when all he wanted was to be allowed to mind his own business and work and play in peace, he must be forever running or hiding for his life. He loved the sweet meadow-grasses and the warm sunshine. He loved to hear the bees humming and the birds singing. He thought the Green Meadows the most beautiful place in all the great world, and he was very happy when he wasn't frightened; but there was hardly an hour of the day or night that he didn't have at least one terrible fright.
Still, it was good to be alive and explore new places. There was a big rock in front of him right now. He wondered if there was anything to eat on top of it. Sometimes he found the very nicest seeds in the cracks of big rocks. This one looked as if it would not be very hard to scramble up on. He felt almost sure that he would find some treasure up there. He looked this way and that way to make sure no one was watching. Then he scrambled up on the big rock.
For a few minutes, Tommy stared out over the Green Meadows. They were very beautiful. It seemed to him that they never had been so beautiful, or the songs of the birds so sweet, or the Merry Little Breezes, the children of Old Mother West Wind, so soft and caressing. He couldn't understand it all, for he wasn't a meadow-mouse—just a barefooted boy sitting on a big stone that was just made to sit on. As he looked down, he became aware of two very small bright eyes watching him from a little opening in the grass. He knew them right away. Of course he did. They were the eyes of Danny Meadow Mouse. They were filled with curiosity, a little doubtful, a little fearful, but tremendously interested. Tommy smiled, and felt in his pocket for some cracker-crumbs. Danny ran away at the first move, but Tommy scattered the crumbs where he could find them, as he was sure to come back.
Tommy stood up and stretched. Then he turned and looked curiously at the stone on which he had been sitting. "I believe it's a real wishing-stone," said he. Then he laughed aloud. "I'm glad I'm not a meadow-mouse, but just a boy!" he cried. "I guess those cows are wondering what has become of me." He started toward the pasture, and now there was no frown darkening his freckled face. It was clear and good to see, and he whistled as he tramped along. Once he stopped and grinned sheepishly as his blue eyes drank in the beauty of the Green Meadows and beyond them the Green Forest. "And I said there was nothing interesting or exciting going on here! Why, it's the most exciting place I ever heard of, only I didn't know it before!" he muttered. "Gee, I am glad I'm not a meadow-mouse, and if ever I throw sticks or stones at one again, I—well, I hope I turn into one!"
And though Danny Meadow Mouse, timidly nibbling at the cracker-crumbs, didn't know it, he had one less enemy to be afraid of!
Excerpted from Tommy and the Wishing-Stone by THORNTON W. BURGESS, Harrison Cady. Copyright © 2011 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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