Childrens stories

Fables for Children
by Jan Luthman

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The Meadow

MILLIE The Harvest Mouse
A Short Fable by Jan Luthman
 
Millie was a harvest mouse. Her proper name was Millicent, but that was just for special occasions. Most of the time she was called Millie.

Millie lived with her mother in a nest right in the middle of the meadow, in amongst the tall grass and great big ox-eye daisies. They'd built their nest together, weaving it out of grass and the stems and leaves of flowers they'd found in the meadow, and had fixed it carefully to the strongest stalks so it wouldn't blow away, not even in the fiercest gales. The nest was round, like a ball, with just one little door at the side, sheltered from the rain and snow and winds. Millie and her mother had lined the inside of their nest with the softest thistledown, so it was dry and snug and warm in the winter.

Millie and her mother didn't have much money, but they were content. Millie may not have had the latest and greatest toys, and her dresses may have been a little old and worn, but she really didn't mind; she was happy at home

In fact, everything in Millie's life would have been fine if it hadn't been for Matilda.

Matilda was also a mouse, but a different kind of mouse from Millie: she was a House Mouse. A house mouse is bigger than a harvest mouse, so Matilda could push Millie around. Millie didn't mind that too much: what really upset her was that Matilda was very unkind. For Matilda was rich, and always had the best and latest dresses, and loved flaunting them in front of all her classmates, and taunting Millie about her plain clothes and worn shoes.

One Friday, Matilda was particularly nasty. A rich uncle had given her a great big box of expensive sweets, and Matilda was letting some of her classmates have one each. But she only gave sweets to those she thought would say how wonderful she was.

When Matilda saw Millie come into the classroom, she sighed loudly.

"Oh, how boring," Said Matilda wearily, "Here comes that dreadfully dreary little harvest mouse."

The other mice who were gathered around Matilda tittered nervously. They didn't really like her ve much, but were a little bit afraid of her because she was so big and bossy.

"Millie's so mean," Matilda closed the lid on her box of sweets, "I bet she's never given any of you such nice expensive sweets."

Millie hung her head and said nothing: she wasn't mean. She would have given all she had to anyone if she thought it would help, and would have loved to be able to give presents to everybody. But she didn't have lots of expensive things: all she had was a kind heart. Millie walked quietly away: there was nothing she could say.

Jonathan had overheard what Matilda had said, and slid gently up to Millie.

"Don't listen to her," He said comfortingly, "She's horrid. We all like you ve much." Millie gulped.

"Thank you, Jonathan,"She answered,"You're a very kind and thoughtful snail."

Jonathan blushed, and his feelers wobbled a little.

"Will you be coming to the school party at the end of term?" He asked.

Millie nodded unhappily.

"Yes," She answered in a small voice.

"I'll be wearing my best braces," Said Jonathan proudly, "They're blue." Suddenly, Millie burst into tears.

"I haven't got a best anything," She cried, " All I've got is my school clothes, and they're not pretty at all, they're just boring."

Jonathan was very upset; he hated it when anyone was unhappy.

"But you're not boring," He said reassuringly, and that's what really matters. Not what you're wearing."

Millie sniffed, and smiled a rather damp and watery sort of smile. She thought Jonathan was such a nice snail.

"I suppose so," She said, but she didn't really sound convinced.

They came to the school gates. Jonathan turned to Millie.

" are you going to visit Old Mrs Spider tomorrow?" He asked.

"Mmmmmmm " Nodded Millie, "She's nice; I like her."

Every Saturday, Millie hopped across to Old Mrs Spider's house to help her with her housework.

"She's an old lady," Millie's mother had explained to her, and doesn't have any family to look after her."

Not having any family seemed a very sad thing to Millie, so she was happy to keep Old Mrs Spider company and help look after some of her things. Besides, she liked going there. Old Mrs Spider told such interesting tales about when she'd been young, all those years ago, and the wonderful parties and dances she'd been to, and the beautiful dresses she and her friends had worn. Millie loved to sit and day-dream over their morning cup of chocolate, while Old Mrs Spider reminisced about the olden days.

The next morning, Millie was sitting at Old Mrs Spider's kitchen table, quietly polishing a silver candlestick and listening as the old lady prattled on about anything and everything.

"Oh, my Goodness," Said Old Mrs Spider suddenly, "How the time has flown. It's time for elevenses already."

Millie said nothing: her thoughts were far away.

"You're very quiet this moming,"Observed Old Mrs Spider,opening a tin of biscuits, "Something on your mind?"

"Just thinking." Said Millie absently, and carried on polishing.

Old Mrs Spider eyed her young companion over her spectacles. She was a kindly old lady, and sensed that something was troubling Millie.

"Got anything special planned for the holidays?" she asked by way of conversation. "The school's having a party at the end of term," Said Millie.

"Will you be going?"

"I suppose so."

"You suppose so?" Old Mrs Spider sounded surprised, "Don't you want to go?"

All of a sudden, Millie found herself telling Old Mrs Spider all about Matilda, and how spiteful she could be, and how the party would be no fun at all because Matilda would be there in a beautiful new dress and would tease Millie in front of all the other children.

Old Mrs Spider put the tin of biscuits down on the kitchen table with a thump.

"Come," She beckoned, "there's something I'd like to show you."

Old Mrs Spider led the way to a small doorway, tucked away in a corner of the kitchen. They went through into a small room, where Millie had never been before. It smelt musty, and everything in it was covered in dust. In the far corner stood an enormous wardrobe: it looked really, really old. Long, long ago it had stood on four great big wooden feet, but one of the feet had got lost and now the wardrobe balanced on just three. It had large wooden doors that were curved like an old-fashioned shop window and, in one of the doors, was a huge and ancient key. Old Mrs Spider took hold of the key, turned it firmly, and pulled the doors open: they creaked loudly, as if complaining at being disturbed.

"Take a peek inside," She said to Millie.

Millie looked inside. There, hanging on racks, were rows and rows of the most beautiful dresses she'd ever seen. Green ones, gold ones, blue ones, white ones, silver ones all the colours of the rainbow and more. The dresses were woven of a material so light and fine that they seemed to shiver and glow, even in the gloom of the dusty old room.

"Ooohhh," Breathed Millie. The dresses were so pretty they'd quite taken her breath away.

"Do you like them?" asked Old Mrs Spider.

"Ooohh," Said Millie again, "They're so beautiful."

Old Mrs Spider smiled happily.

"They're my old party dresses," She said.

"Your old party dresses?"

Old Mrs Spider nodded.

"I wore them when I was young," She said.

Millie was lost for words. Although she'd heard Old Mrs Spider tell her tales a hundred times, it was still hard to imagine her actually being young, and going to parties.

"I made them all myself," Said Old Mrs Spider proudly.

"But ... how?"

Old Mrs Spider smiled.

"We spiders don't just spin webs, you know."

Millie reached out and felt the sleeve of one of the dresses: it was so soft and lovely.

"I'd like to make one for you," Said Old Mrs Spider.

"For me?"

"a reward, my dear," Replied Old Mrs Spider, "For all your kindness and help."

Millie was overwhelmed: she couldn't think of anything to say.

Old Mrs Spider closed the door of the wardrobe gently.

"Come," She took Millie by the hand, "Let's finish our elevenses."

One evening a few weeks later, just a couple of nights before the school party, there was a knock on Millie's front door.

Millie's mother looked up from her armchair next to the fire.

"I wonder who that could be?" She asked.

"I'll get it," Called Millie, and went to open the front door.

There, holding a large brown paper parcel, stood Old Mrs Spider.

"Hello, my dear," She held out the parcel to Millie, "I've brought you a little present." Millie's eyes widened in surprise: she hardly ever had presents.

"Why, thank you,"She said,"Thank you very much indeed."

Millie's mother came across the room.

"Come in, Mrs Spider," She invited, "The kettle's hot."

Millie held up the large brown paper parcel.

"Look!" She said, "Old Mrs Spider brought me this."

"What a lovely surprise!" Millie's mother exclaimed, "What on earth could it be?" "Can I open it and see?" asked Millie, her eyes bright with excitement.

"Of course," Said Millie's mother and Old Mrs Spider together.

Millie put the parcel on the table and, almost shaking with anticipation, began to unwrap it. She longed desperately to find out what was inside, and it seemed to take forever for her trembling fingers to undo all the wrappings. At last, she reached the final layer and there, neatly folded, lay a party dress. But it wasn't just any old party dress.

Millie held it up for her mother to see.

"Why, my dear," She exclaimed, "It's absolutely beautiful."

and, indeed, it was.

Pale blue, like the sky of spring, and so fine and delicate it seemed to float on the air like the morning mist in the meadow, the dress was set with sequins that twinkled in the firelight like dewdrops in the early sunlight.

Millie was so overcome, she almost wanted to cry

"Oh," She sighed, "I've never ever had anything so lovely."

Old Mrs Spider beamed with pleasure.

"I'm so happy you like it," She smiled.

"Thank you, thank you," Said Millie, quite pink with pleasure.

Old Mrs Spider shuffled her feet shyly.

"I enjoyed weaving it," She said, "Reminded me of when I used to make my own." She turned for the door.

"I hope you have a marvellous party," She said to Millie.

and, with that, Old Mrs Spider vanished into the night.

It was the night of the party. Millie was really nervous: never before had she worn a dress like the one she had on now. Wide-eyed, she gazed around the room, ; at all the guests; at the table full of cakes; at all the decorations hanging from the walls. She wondered if anyone would speak to her. Suddenly, a voice behind her exclaimed.

Millie turned, and there stood Jonathan, beaming, his shell polished and gleaming, and his two feelers glowing pinkly where he'd given them an extra special scrub.

"Millie! " Exclaimed Jonathan again, his thumbs hooked into a brand new pair of magnificently blue braces. "You look fabulous!"

and all of a sudden, that's exactly how Millie felt. Fabulous.

"Thank you, Jonathan," She smiled and took his hand, "Let's go and meet the others."

Across the room, Matilda was sounding forth to a huddle of her cronies.

"Ooh, look," Said one of them, "There's Millie."

"Oh, what a bore," Said Matilda, deliberately not looking.

"I really think you should look," Insisted Matilda's companion, "She's not boring at all."

Matilda sighed loudly and looked up, then stared, open-mouthed, unable to believe her eyes. Could the vision in shining blue really be Millie? How could that boring, drab little harvest mouse have turned into that gorgeous creature? Matilda decided to investigate. She marched up to where Millie stood, arm in arm with Jonathan, laughing and chatting with friends.

Millie watched as Matilda strode across the room.

"Hello Matilda," Millie smiled.

Matilda scowled: it really was Millie, and she really did look wonderful.

"Hello yourself," She said impily.

Matilda was livid: her own party dress now looked drab in comparison, and all the other mice who'd been gathered around her now seemed to like Millie much more than her. She felt sooo jealous she wanted to scream.

Matilda stamped her foot and swished her long tail in fury then flounced off across the room to the table where all the cakes were.

"Why, Matilda," Called one of the teachers, "Whatever's wrong with you? You look so grumpy."

Matilda pretended not to hear: she just swished her tail even more angrily. In fact, she swished it so angrily, she knocked a plate of cakes clean off the table. They rolled all over the floor.

"Oh, Matilda," Exclaimed the teacher, "That was clumsy. You'll just have to pick them all up again."

"Shan't," Said Matilda rudely.

All the other mice gasped. There was a moment's silence.

"Well," Replied the teacher at last, "If you don't, I'm afraid you'll have to leave the party."

Matilda just got ruder and ruder.

"Shan't! shan't!! shan't!!!" She chanted, and ran off across the room to the door.

She stopped at the door, and turned to face eve one.

"Don't like your silly party anyway," She called.

With a final swish of her tail, she swept out of the room and slammed the door behind her.

There was a thump, then, from behind the door, they heard Matilda give the most tremendous squeak. Everybody ran to see what had happened.

"0w! Ow!! Ooo !!! " They heard Matilda squeal.

Matilda had slammed the door on her tail, and now it was stuck. All that the other children could see was the end of Matilda's tail, twitching as she tried to tug it free from the other side of the door. It looked so funny, they all started to laugh.

"Oh, poor Matilda," Gasped Millie, "That must be so sore."

She ran across the room and pushed open the door.

With a final yank, Matilda pulled her tail free and ran off into the night. Millie and all the other children stood still, listening to the sound of Matilda wailing as she ran off home across the meadow in the dark.

Millie felt rather so for her.

"Poor Matilda," She said sympathetically, "Shutting her tail in the door must have really hurt."

"Don't you wory about her," Said Jonathan, "She'll be quite alright in the morning. Do her good to be laughed at for a change."

Jonathan held out his hand.

"Come along," He said, "Let's go back. It's your turn to be the loveliest mouse in the meadow."

and, for the rest of the evening, that is exactly what Millic was: the loveliest mouse in the meadow. It was the most wonderful party she could ever remember. She danced and talked and laughed all evening, and felt so happy she thought she really might burst.

Far away, on the other side of the meadow, a light was on in the window of Old Mrs Spider's house. Inside, Old Mrs Spider rocked quietly and comfortably in her armchair beside the fire, listening to the distant sound of the school party. She was glad she'd remembered how to weave her special magic into that new blue dress: she knew Millie would be having a wonderful time.

Old Mrs Spider smiled contentedly. It was nice when there was a happy ending.

The End
Come back soon!

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