An evening invitation, a nap inside a buttercup, and a journey home on a nightingale’s back.
Mrs Nightingale’s Evening Party
– A Story from Fairy Land –
MRS. NIGHTINGALE was going to give an evening party. She had invited everybody she knew, and among the guests were two little Brownies named Brownears and Peterkin. They were brothers, who lived in the roots of an old gnarled apple-tree in the wood. No apples grew on it now though, and its trunk was covered with moss and lichen, while a big bough of mistletoe grew over its top branches. On fine days the Brownies would climb to the lowest bough to look if they could see over the trees; but they never could, because the tall pines, oaks and larches towered far above their heads.
They had never been to a party before, so they were quite delighted when Mrs. Nightingale sent them an invitation by the owl postman. Of course they accepted it at once, and then went in to put on their best suits. Brownears read the invitation again and again. It ran thus:
“Mrs. Nightingale requests the pleasure of the company of Brownears and Peterkin at a small evening party from 6.30 p.m. to 9 o’clock, at Briar Patch Nest on the common. Mr. Nightingale will sing his new evening song.”
“But how are we to get there?” asked Peterkin, after his brother had read it aloud for the third time.
Brownears looked up. “Gracious! I’m sure I don’t know,” he said. “I never thought of that; of course, we can’t possibly walk.”
“No, of course not; but doesn’t it say on the invitation?”
Brownears looked again. “I can’t see anything,” he said. “Oh yes, I can! Just here it says: ‘Ask the Wind to carry you on fallen beech-leaves as far as the common.’”
“Yes, of course that will be lovely! The Wind passes by there at twenty past six in the evening. First he goes through the wood and by our house, and then he stops at the edge of the common for a rest; we will get off there and walk to Briar Patch Nest. It is not far, and we shall get to the party in time.”
At twenty past six two very impatient little Brownies sat on fallen beech-leaves awaiting the arrival of the Wind.
“I do hope he’ll be quick!” said Brownears.
“Here he comes! Here he comes!” cried Peterkin; and along came the Wind with a rush. Puff—puff—puff—off went the leaves, and they were in mid-air!
“Look out!” screamed Peterkin; “I’m falling!” He gave one last shriek, and over the leaf he went—down—down—and—plump he fell, right into the middle of a buttercup. He felt dazed for a moment, and then, without further thought, curled himself up and went to sleep. He slept there all night.
Early the next morning along came a little boy and girl, gathering flowers.
“Here’s a lovely buttercup, Harry!” cried the little girl, stooping to pick it. “We want a lot of flowers, because it’s mother’s birthday.” So the buttercup was added to the bunch; and still Peterkin slept on—he must have been very tired—so that he did not know what was happening, and was greatly surprised when he awoke to find himself in a small, stuffy little room close to the window. From his position on the edge of the buttercup he could see into the village street. Nothing much was happening there. An old man with a wheelbarrow came staggering by, and two dairy-maids with empty pails stood gossiping. Inside the room a little girl and boy and their mother were having their breakfast.
Standing close to the vase of flowers was a cage, and in the cage a nightingale sitting very mournfully on a bar, looking as if it would never sing again.
Peterkin thought of Mrs. Nightingale’s party.
“I wonder if Brownears went there without me?” he said to himself.
“Mother,” said the little boy, “don’t you like our birthday present?” and he pointed to the nightingale.
“Yes, Harry,” said the mother, “I do; but do you know, I should like it almost better if you let it free. To see the poor thing sittin’ there all huddled up so quite spoils my birthday.”
“Oh, mother!” came from both pairs of lips; “and it did take such a lot of trouble to catch. To let it go now would be a pity.”
“Still, it’s my birthday, and I suppose I shall be allowed to do what I like with my present.”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
The meal proceeded in silence, but after breakfast the woman rose to undo the door of the cage. The children followed in submissive silence.
“Open the window, Harry,” she said, and the little boy obeyed.
The leaf he went—down—down—and—plump he fell, right into the middle of a buttercup…”
All this time Peterkin had been watching their movements with awed countenance, until at last he began to understand that they were setting the poor nightingale free. Then he thought: “If I get on to the back of the nightingale it will carry me right away, and even if I do not get home it will be better than staying here.” And, indeed, the heat of the room was intense. So, just in time, he swung himself on to the lower part of the cage, and then through the iron bars, and up the feathery back of the nightingale. The door opened slowly and the bird, full of joy, flew once around the room, and then, seeing the open window, they were soon in the air.
The nightingale flew on in a straight line for some time, over the village street and across a large meadow, where the purple thistles were in full bloom.
Then the nightingale took a sharp curve round, and went over another meadow where a herd of cows were feeding peacefully.
Peterkin leant forward and scratched the bird a little behind its ear. It turned round and exclaimed:
“Why, good gracious me! I never knew I had a Brownie on my back! If I am not very much mistaken, I think you are Peterkin.”
“Then you must be Mrs. Nightingale,” he said.
“Yes,” she replied; and then gave a funny little cry, and flew on faster than ever.
Then she rose high up into the sky, and after a minute took a great swoop down to earth and alighted on a blackberry bush, motioning Peterkin to get off her back, which he did; and, standing on a leaf that was turning red at the edges, looked down into a nest where lay four dull green eggs. Beside the eggs, perched on another leaf, stood Mr. Nightingale. He had been looking very mournful, but when he saw Mrs. Nightingale he cheered up tremendously, and began pouring out a song of joy. When he had finished there was silence for a minute, and then Peterkin asked:
“Did you have a party, Mrs. Nightingale?”
“Yes; and you know on the invitation I put Mr. Nightingale was going to sing his new evening song. Well, he was in the middle of it when up came a little boy whom I didn’t notice, and before I could fly away a hand closed over me, and I was put in a big dark prison, which I believe Human Beings call a basket; the lid closed over me, and I could only flap my wings and cry out.
“I could breathe quite well, because the air came in at little holes, which were so small I could only poke my beak through.
“The little boy was joined by a little girl, and they began talking about and admiring me. It seemed ages before they turned in at a little wicket-gate, walked up a gravel path, and entered a cottage.
“I was taken into a stuffy little room, and put into a dirty old cage. I was to be a birthday present to their mother, as far as I can make out. I’m glad the woman had the sense to let me free. These are all my adventures; now let me hear yours.”
“Mine are very exciting,” said Peterkin. “Well, Brownears and I took your advice about coming here, and when the Wind came blowing down the green glade in front of our house we were quite ready for him seated on fallen beech-leaves.
“He came with such a rush that I was not prepared for him, and when I was high up in the air he jerked my hand off the leaf, and I fell over. Luckily for me, I tumbled right into a buttercup, and didn’t hurt myself in the least. The buttercup was a very nice soft one, and presently, as I found it impossible to get out, I fell asleep.
“I do not know what happened then, but when I awoke I was in the same room as you, and close to the window. Two children were having their breakfast with their mother, and I soon learnt from their talk that they were going to let you free.
“As it was, I could not possibly escape, but I thought if I could get on to your back you would carry me away. So just as the woman was fiddling with the stick that fastened the little door, I got into the cage somehow and on to your back. I was surprised that you did not discover me before I attracted your attention. Now I must be going home. I wonder where Brownears is? Did he come to your party?”
“No,” answered Mrs. Nightingale. “But what grieves me most is that I shall not be able to give another party until these eggs are hatched. I did hope that I might have a nice time before I began my tedious sitting. But still, get on my back again, and we will go to your home and see if Brownears is there.”
They were soon off again. But as they entered the wood they saw Brownears lying on a bed of moss fast asleep. They woke him at once, and he explained that when the Wind stopped at the edge of the common he got off his leaf and went back to find Peterkin. He did not think of looking in a buttercup, and after going round and round and in and out among the grass he felt so tired that he must lie down on the lovely moss. He had slept on all night until they woke him. Then both the little Brownies got upon Mrs. Nightingale’s back, and she set them down just outside the apple-tree.
Mrs. Nightingale will give another party soon, and will proudly show all the visitors four little baby nightingales. But she will be very careful not to be caught by any children. This time also Brownears and Peterkin will not go to it on leaves, because Mrs. Nightingale will send two sparrows to carry them to the common.
This story was taken from the book:
Lucy M. Scott’s collection of short stories, Dewdrops from Fairyland was originally published in 1912. The stories were written by the author when she was just nine years old, produced sporadically and originally entitled ‘Entirely Unaided’. This beautifully illustrated collection would make for ideal bedtime reading, and is highly recommended for those with a love of fairies and fairy tales
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