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FairyCaravan

Cover of an edition of The Fairy Caravan.

The Fairy Caravan is a children's book by the English author and illustrator Beatrix Potter. It was first published in 1929 in the United States. Although Beatrix Potter established her copyright in England at the time, she believed the story would not appeal to her audience there. Consequently the first British edition was not published until 1952.

On a walk in her beloved Lake District one day, Beatrix Potter saw hoof prints that were smaller than those made by horses and shaped differently from those of deer or sheep. She imagined tiny horses ridden by fairies, and the idea grew into The Fairy Caravan. Potter wrote the story for her own enjoyment and for a thirteen-year-old American boy named Henry P. Coolidge who had visited her at her farm with his mother Gail in 1927. Since it was not intended for publication, Potter wrote the story using local idioms and actual locations. She also included characters based on herself, her friends, and her pets.

Like the Peter Rabbit series of books, The Fairy Caravan features anthropomorphic animals. It is, however, written for older children in the style of a chapter book. The framing story concerns a guinea pig named Tuppenny and the circus he joins which is owned by a dog and a pony. The majority of the 23 chapters are about the circus and the adventures of its members. Some chapters, however, are unrelated or loosely-connected short stories presented as tales being told by the animals.

Plot

Tuppenny

Gruppe von Meerschweinchen

Guinea pigs.

Two types of guinea pigs live in the town of Marmalade in the Land of Green Ginger. Most are the common garden guinea pigs with short hair, and they envy the long hair and whiskers of the Abyssinian Cavies. One day, two merchant rats named Messrs Ratton and Scratch come to the Marmalade market to advertise their new expensive hair elixir. A group of short-haired guinea pigs[1] decide to chip in to buy a small bottle and try it on their friend Tuppenny whose hair is thin and patchy. Nothing happens at first, then Tuppenny develops a fever overnight. Messrs Ratton and Scratch assure everyone that the elixir is safe, but they pack up and leave during the night. The next morning, Tuppenny's hair begins to grow at an alarming rate. It grows faster than Mrs. Tuppenny can cut it, and it keeps growing for several days. The little guinea pigs in the neighborhood taunt Tuppenny. Mrs. Tuppenny gets tired of cutting her husband's hair and begins to pull it out. Tuppenny decides to run away.[2]

The Traveling Circus

Rene the long-haired Satin Peruvian Guinea pig

A long-haired guinea pig which looks like Beatrix Potter's illustration of Tuppenny.

After a long and terrifying journey, Tuppenny, whose hair has finally stopped growing, comes across a small encampment. There is a small two-wheeled tilt cart, a four-wheeled caravan with the words "ALEXANDER AND WILLIAM'S CIRCUS" painted on the side, and a campfire with animals around it. A small white West Highland terrier begins to bark at Tuppenny. Tuppenny begins to run away, but he trips over his own hair and falls down. The terrier and a small black pig approach him. They are unsure what sort of animal he is. Tuppenny tells them he is a guinea pig. The black pig, who is called Paddy Pig, tells Sandy the terrier to carry Tuppenny to the fire to dry and warm him. Old Jenny Ferret in a brown stuff dress and a cap offers Tuppenny tea and food. Others around the campfire include a sleepy dormouse,[3] a starling named Iky Shepster, and Pony Billy, a small shaggy pony. Everyone admires Tuppenny's hair. They invite Tuppenny to join the circus. Touched by their kindness, Tuppenny agrees to stay.

Moving Camp

Haselmaus

A dormouse.

Tuppenny goes to sleep in a hamper in the tilt cart and is jolted awake in the middle of the night. He is told they are moving camp. He wakes in the morning to find they are encamped near an old stone quarry. Everyone gathers for breakfast except for Sandy who has gone shopping. Xarifa, the sweet old dormouse, takes charge of the shy Tuppenny. After breakfast, she begins to comb Tuppenny's tangled hair. The brushing becomes a pleasant daily routine for the two. To prevent herself from falling asleep, Xarifa tells Tuppenny stories and answers his questions about the circus. She explains that the circus usually moves in the night to avoid the Big Folk, although the Big Folk cannot see them even during daytime because they all carry fern seed[4] in their pockets. She says they can plait a packet of fern seed into Tuppenny's hair. Xarifa then tells Tuppenny about the adventure Pony Billy had when his fern seed packet was lost.

Pony Billy in the Pound

It is a snowy winter and the caravan is stuck in a snowdrift. Everyone manages to take shelter in a barn except for Pony Billy who is too big to squeeze through the bars of a low window. After a few days, Pony Billy decides to go off on his own to stay with the gypsies' donkey. As he walks down the main road, he begins to hear voices. Believing himself invisible because of the fern seed packet in his mane, Pony Billy keeps walking. Unbeknownst to him, however, the mischievous Inky Shepster had stolen his fern seed packet as he was leaving. Two policemen seize Pony Billy and, thinking that he is a lost pony belonging to someone in the village, take him to the pound. The constable gives him some hay then locks up the enclosure. Pony Billy tramps around and neighs loudly but no one answers him. On the second day, a flock of starlings flies over and Inky Shepster stops by to laugh at Pony Billy. The bird then flies back and tells Sandy about it. Sandy takes some fern seed and sets out at night to rescue Pony Billy. He stops at the village smithy and asks the blacksmith's yellow terrier to come along and help pick the lock. In the morning, the constable finds the enclosure open and empty.

The Misses Pussycats' Shop

Sandy is shopping in the market town while everyone else is having breakfast at the encampment in the quarry. He stops at the milliner's to buy some material for Tuppenny's costume. Miss Louisa Pussycat greets Sandy but her sister Miss Matilda, who is suffering from an abscess in her mouth caused by a fishbone stuck between her wisdom teeth, does not come out. Sandy tells Louisa that they are considering dressing up the new member of the circus as the Sultan of Zanzibar, with his long hair rolled up on top of his head. They will need some bright and fancy material, a hatpin to put through the hair, and some hairpins. With Louisa's help, Sandy picks out a scarlet, gold, and chocolate colored handkerchief, a green sash ribbon, and a hatpin with a shiny glass knob. Louisa calls out to her sister in the back room and Matilda brings out the hairpins. Matilda's face is badly swollen. Sandy volunteers to pull out the fishbone. Matilda threatens to scratch if anyone tries to touch her. Louisa makes her sister wear gloves then tells her to open her mouth wide. She then quickly wedges a spoon between Matilda's jaws. Sandy uses sugar tongs to pull out the fishbone. Louisa offers Sandy some free ribbon as a thank-you gift.

Little Mouse

(This is a story Xarifa tells Tuppenny while she is sewing the costume for him.) Little Mouse is invited to a wedding, but she does not have a gown to wear. The wedding is tomorrow, and the shops are already closed. As she is wondering what to wear, a caterpillar comes to her door with a backpack full of sewing material to sell. She buys fine spotty muslins from him. She cuts out a mob cap and tippet, but she has no thread to sew with. Fortunately, a spider comes to the door with reels and bobbins of thread for sale. Little Mouse buys white thread and sews her cap and tippet. Then a moth comes to sell apple-green silk mixed with gold and silver. Little Mouse buys silk for the gown and also gold cord and tassels for trim. Once she is all dressed, she says "How can I dance? How can I dance with the fair maids of France, with my little bare feet?" The wind blows and whispers, and the fairies bring her a pair of lady's slippers. Little Mouse dances happily at the wedding. (Xarifa explains that the fair maids of France and the lady's slippers are both flowers.)

Springtime in Birds' Place

It is now spring. Xarifa and Tuppenny are listening to birds sing sweetly all around them. Xarifa begins to tell Tuppenny about Birds' Place, an old garden in Hertfordshire where she was born. She says it had once been the garden of an old manor house. Though the house was gone and the garden was unattended, it was still full of flowers and bushes and berries. Fences kept out the village children and cats, so the garden was a paradise of birds and butterflies. Xarifa fondly recalls the beautiful garden and says she was born in a nest there with her little dormouse sister and brother. Tuppenny asks her about her siblings, but Xarifa does not answer. She soon falls asleep, and Tuppenny is called away by Jenny Ferret to help set up for tea. Pony Williams tells Tuppenny not to ask Xarifa about her sister and brother because of something painful in her past.

The Pigmy Elephant

A decorated elephant with a howdah on its back

An early 19th century painting of an elephant with a howdah on its back.

Paddy Pig plays several parts in the circus; the Learned Pig that can read, the dancing Irish Pig, the Clown, and the main attraction – the Pigmy Elephant. He wears false tusks made from white sticks, a trunk fashioned out of a black stocking stuffed with moss, and black calico trousers that cover his thin legs. On his back is a howdah made of a tin tea caddy, and "Princess Xarifa" rides inside carrying a doll's parasol and wearing a dress and shawl, with a lace handkerchief across her nose. Tuppenny rides in front of the howdah in his gorgeous costume as the Sultan of Zanzibar. The Pigmy Elephant fools most audiences. One day, however, four little pigs notice that Paddy Pig has forgotten to uncurl his tail. The pigs demand their money back. Sandy, who leads the "elephant" around by a string, loses his temper at the misbehaving pigs. He bites them and chases them out, and the Pigmy Elephant is quickly led into the back. While Jenny Ferret performs in a chain and muzzle impersonating a polecat and scaring the rabbits, Paddy Pig sheds his costume. He then comes out as himself to dance a jig while Sandy fiddles. Even the four little pigs are satisfied with the balance of the program.

By Wilfin Beck

The circus company prepares to cross a mountain stream called Wilfin Beck. Wilfin is normally a little brook, but it has become flooded with spring rain. Paddy Pig, who pulls the tilt cart, dislikes water. He wants to go back and cross the stream at Pool Bridge. Pony Billy and Sandy refuse to make the detour, so the company marches on toward the ford. They find the current too strong, however, and decide to pitch camp and wait for the water to go down. Everyone is content to rest and wait except for Paddy Pig. He wanders away after dinner and disappears. Xarifa having fallen asleep, Tuppenny begins to talk to the local sheep. Some rambunctious lambs get into trouble playing and are scolded by Tibbie Woolstockit, the eldest ewe. The noise wakens Xarifa. She hears Tibbie mention the names Daisy and Double while warning the lambs. Xarifa asks who Daisy and Double are, and Tibbie tells her the following story.

Daisy and Double, twin lambs of Tibbie's great-grandmother, were playing in the spring when Wilfin was overflowing. They tumbled into the stream and were carried away beyond another meadow. They washed up on a sandy shore and began to bleat for their mother. Someone in a woolly shawl pulled over the ears appeared above the steep bank. The one in the shawl bleated in a deep voice and told the lambs to come up, but Daisy and Double knew it was not their mother. Then the creature reached down and tried to catch Daisy with his stick. It was a fox. Fortunately, the shepherd and his collie arrived. The dog chased the fox away and the shepherd carried Daisy and Double back to their mother.

The Sheep

Quite Nice Sheep Photo

Herdwick sheep.

Jenny Ferret rings the bell for tea. One of the sheep recalls that Southern sheep wear bells. She wonders why their Mistress Heelis[5] does not put bells on them. An older ewe tells her that it is because they, the Northern Herdwick sheep,[6] range freely on mountainside where the sound of bells will be lost in strong winds. Bells and collars will also get caught on rocks and snags. Belle Lingcropper recalls the time when she got stuck in a crag. She was feeding up and up the high ledges when a rock gave way. She could not turn back. She survived on the ledge for thirty days before a shepherd finally saw her from below. He came back the following day, and on the second day brought two others with him. The shepherds climbed up, then one of them came down on a rope and swung on to the ledge to rescue Belle. The sheep all marvel at the risks their shepherds take.

Ruth Twinter tells them about the time when she and her three sisters were buried by a blizzard. Fortunately they were in a pocket, a warm frozen vault against a rocky ridge, but it was 23 days before sheepdogs found them. The story reminds Sandy of a dog that got stuck in a blizzard on a crag ledge. It cried for several days, and its master was ready to shoot it to put it out of its misery. The master went home to get the gun and, on the way back, met the dog in the road. The sheep continue to chat about dogs, foxes, and about climbing up to the craggy summit. The Herdwick sheep live wild and free as they have done for centuries. They are a breed proud of their ancient heritage.

Habbitrot

(Habbitrot the sheep tells the story of the spinning woman she is named after.) A beautiful girl named Bonny Annot is about to marry a rich and handsome man. Bonny Annot is lazy, however, and has not spun any flax and wool for the blankets and sheets she needs before her wedding day. Her mother makes her spin all day, but the girl does not make much progress. Tired and stiff, she sneaks out and goes to Pringle Wood to meet her love. In the wood, she hears a humming sound and finds a little old woman spinning beneath a mossy stump. The ugly old woman, who calls herself Habbitrot, asks Bonny Annot why she looks so tired. Bonny Annot explains her situation and begins to cry. The woman knows Bonny Annot is lazy but kind and true. She tells the girl to bring the flax and wool to her. The next morning, Bonny Annot takes bags of flax and wool to Habbitrot. She returns to Pringle Wood later and brings back the yarn spun by the old woman. The yarn is of such high quality that Bonny Annot becomes famous as a fine spinner. She worries that her future husband will keep her spinning forever.

On Bonny Annot's wedding day, the little old woman comes to the door. Bonny Annot welcomes her warmly and serves her at the feast. Bonny Annot's young brother asks Habbitrot why she has such an ugly mouth with a flabby lip. Habbitrot tells the boy it is from spinning. She then shows him how she wets her finger on the lip to help twist the thread. Her thumb is broad and flat. The bridegroom says "Oh ho! So that comes of spinning?" He then kisses Bonny Annot's pretty lips and beautiful fingers. The brother asks Habbitrot why her back is bent, eyes bleared, and foot flat. Habbitrot tells him that they are all caused by spinning. The bridegroom declares that, when they have flax and wool to spin, he will not have his wife spin but instead send for Habbitrot.[7]

Across the Ford

As the sun sets, there is still no sign of Paddy Pig. Tuppenny thinks he heard a pig squeal earlier in Pringle Wood on the other side of the stream. The following morning, with the flood having gone down, Pony Billy decides to cross the ford. He takes the caravan first then returns for the tilt cart. Since Paddy Pig is not there to pull the tilt cart, they leave it near the stream and take the caravan through Pringle Wood. Although Pringle Wood is just a little hill of oaks, it is a difficult and confusing trek. The hill is steep, and they seem to go round in circles at times. Red oak apples come showering down on them, and Tuppenny is tempted to eat one. But Pony Billy forbids anyone to eat anything found in the wood. After four hours, they finally come out to the meadow on the other side. Pony Billy takes the caravan across the meadow and down the lane into Codlin Croft Farm. Although the camp will be too close to the Big Folk, Pony Billy will not go further before finding Paddy Pig. Xarifa and Tuppenny are shut up for their safety.

Codlin Croft Orchard

Charles, the dominant cock at Codlin Croft, invites the circus company into the orchard. Pony Billy and Sandy decide to go in as far as possible to stay away from Mr. Hodgson and his farmyard. Sandy then barks around to disperse the curious poultry so they can pitch camp. After they are settled, Pony Billy and Sandy discuss what to do about Paddy Pig. Pony Billy says he saw trotter marks in Pringle Wood, so he will go back and look for Paddy Pig there. He borrows several things from the farm dogs at the stable, including a saddle and bridle, a chest strap, and some food. With a packet of fern seed in his mane, he sets out on his quest. Sandy returns to the camp and finds Charles and his hens chatting with Jenny Ferret and others. Charles tells them about the time when the hens foolishly got all excited and dirty in the ash pit because they found Mrs. Hodgson's lost brooch which they thought was worth a hundred pounds. He then tells Sandy to ask the hens for the tale of the Demerara sugar.[8]

Demerara Sugar

(This is what Charles' hens say happened when they were young.) The first snow falls during the night before Christmas Eve. In the morning, the young hens find the ground covered in the white stuff they have never seen. They think it must be the Demerara sugar the farmer's parrot keeps talking about. The farmer, who had neglected to bring the hen hut in before winter, comes out with a horse and cart. As he tows the hut along on its rickety wheels, the door flings open and some of the hens escape. Three of them fly back to where the hen hut used to be, and the farmer goes home without them. The three hens decide to have a Christmas picnic. It begins to snow, and they think it may be bread and butter coming down to go with the sugar for tea. They find themselves getting wet, however, so they go into the wood and roost on a branch of a spruce tree.

Soon the sun sets. On the snowy slope beside the wood, there is a small spruce whose branches shine with icicles and frost. It looks like a little Christmas tree covered in fairy lights. Small creatures begin to gather. Rabbits, squirrels, mice, and more begin to dance in a circle around the tree while a hedgehog plays the bagpipes. Then suddenly, the animals run off and the lights go out. John Stoat-Ferret, a disagreeable musky creature, approaches. He sees the hens and tries to shake them off the tree. Then he begins to circle around, spinning faster and faster to try to make them dizzy. The hens watch him. They are getting giddy and are about to fall off when John Stoat-Ferret suddenly stops. He is scared off by two boys, the farmer's young sons, coming home from caroling. The boys hear the hens and bring them back to their father.

Pony Billy's Search

Pony Billy stops at the smithy and asks Mettle the yellow terrier to remove his horseshoes and put them on backwards. Then he walks carefully to Pringle Wood, always leaving backward horseshoe marks so he will not be followed. He enters the silent wood and goes through briars and brambles calling for Paddy Pig. He goes round and round, and on the seventh round, he finally spots a wren fussing around an old hollow tree. He peeks through cobwebs and finds Paddy Pig inside. Pony Billy tells Paddy Pig to come out, but Paddy Pig says he cannot break through the ropes. Pony Billy tells him there are no ropes. Paddy Pig then says he is ill from eating tartlets. Pony Billy thinks he must have eaten toadstools. He sticks his head into the hollow and bites on to Paddy Pig's collar to pull him out. After giving him some potatoes to eat, Pony Billy carries his sick friend on his back and heads back toward camp.

The Effect of Toadstool Tartlets

Everyone is happy to see Pony Billy come back with Paddy Pig. Paddy Pig, however, is too sick to notice the enthusiastic reception. His friends wrap him in a shawl and tend to him. Paddy Pig says he crossed the stream by walking over a plank. The plank, which Pony Billy thinks must have been a fallen tree, washed away and Paddy Pig was stranded on the other side. Paddy Pig is shivering badly, and he seems to be hallucinating. He is too ill to sleep outdoors, so Charles the cock tells them to set him up in the empty stall in the stable. Paddy Pig's condition worsens in the night. Cheesebox, the smithy cat who had come down with Mettles to see the circus, volunteers to sit up with Paddy Pig. She suggests they send for Mrs. Scales' cat Mary Ellen who has a prescription for sick pigs. Although weary, Pony Billy goes out again. His first stop, while he is still wearing the backward shoes, is to get the tilt cart. Then he goes back to the smithy to have his shoes restored before going to fetch the cat.

Fairy Horseshoes

The smithy is crowded with dogs and horses. Mettle is busy fixing the foreshoe for Cuddy Simpson, the gypsies' donkey. While Pony Billy waits his turn, he hears dogs and horses talk of the good old days. They do not like paved roads and the motorcars the Big Folks ride nowadays. Mettle says that even Mistress Heelis rides a car now, and that was how she lost her clog. She left her clogs on the footboard of the car when she returned home one day. The following morning, the clogs went out with the car. When the car returned in the afternoon, there was only one clog. The lost clog came home eventually, but it had seen some fun. This is the story Mettle tells of the clog's adventure.

The clogs were enjoying the ride when they saw Joshy Campbell's dinner box and big umbrella sitting on the side of the road. The clogs shouted "Who-op!" and bounced up. The right-foot clog bounced out of the car and ran back to the umbrella. Then the umbrella, the dinner box, and the clog all ran down the road. They ran for a mile or two then went into the wood. They followed the track for a long time and came to a magical place with a shining floor that cast a pool of light up into the sky. There were hundreds of shoes dancing on the floor: Cinderella's glass slipper was dancing with a cavalier boot, and Goody Two Shoes' red slippers were dancing with each other, while other shoes danced all around them. The clog, the umbrella, and the dinner box joined the dance. There were buckled shoes, high heels, and all sorts of other shoes – but most were horseshoes that had belonged to the brave horses in the good old days.

Mettle bangs on the anvil rhythmically as he tells the tale. He shouts and barks, and everyone beings to sing songs about the good old days, brave horses, and fox hunting.

The Woods by Moonlight

Clearing in the woods behind Graythwaite Hall - geograph.org.uk - 203363

Woods around Graythwaite Hall in the Lake District which served as the setting for the woods in the chapter.

It is night by the time Pony Billy leaves the smithy and goes to fetch Mary Ellen. He trots for miles through the moonlit woods. He is joined by three friendly roe deer for a while. They canter playfully together for miles, passing by rabbits and Oakmen.[9] They come out to a clearing and the deer leave him. Pony Billy goes on till he finds the farm house. The house is dark and silent. He goes to the back door. Inside the kitchen, Mary Ellen sits purring in front of the open hearth. Pony Billy knocks lightly on the door. Mary Ellen comes over and peeks through a crack. Pony Billy tells her about Paddy Pig. Mary Ellen is willing to help, but the door is locked. She manages to squeeze out of a broken pane in the pantry, only to realize that she has forgotten her herbs. She squeezes back into the pantry to fetch the medicine, all the while purring and talking sweetly. She comes back out again then makes Pony Billy, who is getting impatient, stop at the stick house for her boots before heading back to Codlin Croft. They reach the farm without incident, and Pony Billy finally manages to have supper and rest.

Mary Ellen

Mary Ellen, a fat tabby with an overly purry manner, fusses over Paddy Pig and drives him crazy. She ministers herbal tea which makes him sick. Paddy Pig kicks and squeals in protest. He exhausts himself and finally falls asleep, but he keeps kicking off his blanket. Mary Ellen and Cheesebox struggle to keep him covered. The cats sit up all night gossiping about other cats. This is the story Cheesebox tells Mary Ellen about Miss Louisa Pussycat and her mouse seminary.

Cheesebox met Louisa while shopping one night. Louisa invited her over for tea, and on their way to her house, spoke about the mouse seminary she started. Louisa was educating her mice by rewarding good habits and admonishing bad ones, and also by occasionally weeding out bad pupils by eating them for supper. She had taught them to handle groceries, dust, and do other chores. Her pupils were at that moment sorting out two pounds of rice that had accidentally gotten mixed into the sugar bin. As the cats approached Louisa's house, they saw lights inside and heard the mice laughing and running around. Louisa opened the door in a hurry, upset at her students. As the cats entered, the mice scurried into mouse holes. Louisa and Cheesebox found the fire lit with toffee cooking in a pan. Louisa threatened to bake the whole seminary in a pasty. That was the end of Louisa's mouse seminary.

Iky Shepster's Play

Paddy Pig is still sick and feverish the following day, so Sandy suggests consulting the veterinary retriever. Pony Billy goes out to fetch him. In the mean time, the farm animals are clamoring for a show. Under the circumstances, Sandy and Jenny Ferret will need to make excuses for the missing performers, especially the Pigmy Elephant, and come up with an act. Iky Shepster flies around announcing a performance which will be given free as repayment for the farm's hospitality.

Old Mother Hubbard 1843 Summerly

1843 illustration for Old Mother Hubbard and her dog.

The free show attracts a large audience. The stage is set in front of the caravan door, and Iky Shepster directs and announces from the roof. It is a "dramatic sketch" based on the nursery rhyme Old Mother Hubbard, with Jenny Ferret and Sandy in the roles of Mother Hubbard and her dog. Iky Shepster recites the rhyme. Charles the cock upsets Sandy by commenting between scenes that he has heard it before. When the sketch is over, however, Charles applauds loudly with approval along with the rest of the audience. Iky Shepster asks Charles for a performance. Charles obliges with "This is the cock that crowed in the morn." Iky Shepster, who is known for making spoons and other things disappear, closes the show with his conjuring tricks.

The farm animals, finally satisfied, disperse and leave the camp in peace. Xarifa begs to be let out of her cage. The farm cat, however, is still watching the camp. Jenny Ferret tells Xarifa that even the mice that came down hoping to see the show, including four from Hill Top Farm,[10] are still in hiding. Xarifa asks to see the mice. Jenny Ferret talks to Sandy, and Sandy carries all the mice in a meal bag from their hiding place to the caravan. Jenny Ferret then prepares tea, cake, and other treats for a mouse party. She lets Xarifa out of her cage and Tuppenny out of the hamper. The mice have a great party, singing, dancing, and laughing all night long.

The Veterinary Retriever

Conseil Tenu par les Rats

Belling the Cat, 1868 illustration by Gustave Doré.

While the mice are making merry, Paddy Pig continues to suffer from fever and tiresome cats. The cats eventually decide to take turns sitting up, and Cheesebox curls up on the hay stack. In the silence, the cats begin to hear pattering footsteps and scratching noise. A great number of rats are gathering in the loft for a committee meeting. The Chair Squeaker asks for the first business. One of the rats implores the assembly to do something about the cat Cheessebox who has decimated the population of stable rats. A young rat from the village suggests putting a bell on the cat. All the rats vote for the proposal, but the wise Chair Squeaker asks "who is going to bell the cat?"[11] Cheesebox stands on her hind legs and peeks through the crack in the loft floor. The rats quickly scurry away. Cheesebox jumps down into the stall and finds Mary Ellen shaking with laughter. A cat fight ensues. Paddy Pig wakes and screams with rage. Fortunately, Sandy arrives with Pony Billy and the veterinary retriever. After ascertaining that Paddy Pig does not have measles, the retriever administers castor oil. Paddy Pig begs Pony Billy to send away the cats. Pony Billy thanks the cats and tactfully sends Cheesebox after the rats in the granary. He then takes Mary Ellen back to her farm. Paddy Pig recovers overnight and enjoys a hearty breakfast in the morning.

Cuckoo Brow Lane

With Paddy Pig recovered, the circus company prepares to leave Codlin Croft. Xarifa asks Pony Billy to give the visiting mice a ride to Cuckoo Brow so they can meet her friend Belinda Woodmouse. Since Paddy Pig is still weak, Pony Billy asks Cuddy Simpson the donkey to pull the tilt cart. The company travels down Cuckoo Brow Lane which skirts the bottom of the hill behind Codlin Croft. Paddy Pig fiddles in the cart, the visitor mice fiddle opposite him, and birds join the concert. As they cross the stream, they ask a bird to tell others that there will be a circus show in the evening. The company then stops to rest for a while and wait for some sheep and lambs to pass. Xarifa and Tuppenny are allowed to get down to play on the sunny bank. Belinda Woodmouse appears, and Xarifa introduces her to Tuppenny and the mice.

The Fairy in the Oak

(This is a story Xarifa tells Tuppenny and the mice.) All the finest trees in the forest have guardian fairies living in them. The fairy in the old oak tree has lived there for hundreds of years. When the last leaf falls off in November, the fairy goes to sleep for the winter in the heart of the tree. While she is asleep, the surveyor comes to measure the enormous tree. In January, men arrive with tools to cut down the fairy's oak. The little fairy cries in pain as the men work for many days to cut the tree. When the oak finally falls, it causes an accident and lames a horse. The men saw the head and arms off the oak tree then go home, leaving the trunk on the side of the road. The fairy stays beside the trunk. She scares a farmer's horse and upsets the cart. The next day, there is more trouble when the wagoners try to take the log. They finally manage to cart the log away with the fairy sitting on top. When they approach the sawmill, the fairy leaves her oak and flies away into the woods. She wanders all winter unable to settle down. Spring comes, but there are no new oak leaves so the fairy cannot make a new dress for herself. She is sitting on a treetop in her tattered brown clothes when she hears a strange sound from the river. It is the sound of hammers and saws on oak wood. It somehow makes the fairy feel glad. She goes toward the sound and finds men building a new bridge to the farm with timbers from her oak. The fairy, finally happy again, makes her home in the bridge. She now guards and protects the school children and farm horses that cross the bridge.

By the time Xarifa finishes her story, the sheep have gone. The circus company moves on. But the author says she can still trace the pony's tiny footsteps and hear the noise and music of the Fairy Caravan.

Footnotes

  1. One of the guinea pigs is named "Henry P." in honor of the boy Henry P. Coolidge to whom the book is dedicated.
  2. Tuppenny's story is based on a little sketch Potter wrote during a rainy week in 1903 while she and her brother Bertram were vacationing is Hastings. In the original version of the story, Tuppenny is treated by a barber whose new hair wash causes the hair to grow uncontrollably. Poor Tuppeny sells himself to a traveling showman. A book based on the original story, The Tale of Tuppenny, was published in 1973 by Frederick Warne & Co. with illustrations by Marie Angel.
  3. A dormouse spends six months out of the year hibernating. It is also nocturnal and therefore sleeps during the day. The most famous literary sleepy dormouse appears in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.
  4. It was once believed that the fern had invisible seed, and that a person would become invisible if he could collect and carry the seeds. Other literary references to the widely-held superstition include the following from William Shakespeare: "We have the receipt of the fern seed, we walk invisible." (Henry IV, Part 1, Act II, Scene i)
  5. Mrs. William Heelis was Beatrix Potter's married name. Potter married Heelis, a local solicitor who had assisted her in acquiring property in the Lake District, in 1913.
  6. Beatrix Potter was a prize-winning breeder of Herdwick sheep. Shortly before her death in 1943, she was elected as the first female president of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders' Association.
  7. The story of Habbitrot is based on a Scottish fairy tale. Similar folktales can be found in other European countries. A German variant, "The Three Spinners", is included in the anthology Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales) by the Brothers Grimm.
  8. A type of brown sugar originally from sugar cane in the Dutch colony of Demerara.
  9. Male dwarf fairies who are said to guard oak groves.
  10. Hill Top farm was Beatrix Potter's home. She purchased and improved the property with earnings from her books.
  11. The episode, of course, is based on the popular fable "Belling the Cat", also known as "The Mice in Council".

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