The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
A Pencil Sketch from Nature

by A Mother
Volume 7, 1896, pgs. 737-741

It is not his little earthly frame that I want to put before you, though surely no fairer setting could be conceived than that which Nature has bestowed on this light, bright, innocent spirit. Dainty home for a most dainty soul! Those clear eyes, deep, thoughtful, grey, or light, laughing blue, according to changing moods or feelings, are never empty! The little soul sits at its windows all day long, gazing out at the fair earth, the loved faces, and the changing scenes of its young life; and the windows are so transparent you can watch it smile or sigh.

The little rosy mouth speaks with its every movement, without the help of the sweet voice with its adorable baby imperfections of utterance. The skin is clear and fair as transparent china; and the face is set in a halo of light, delicate curls of the finest, softest hair, which Nature has twisted round her own dainty fingers.

Dear little baby Harold! I have "used up all the adjectives," yet I have not made you see him clearly!

But wait! he is coming! He shall show you his own sweet self in his own fashion. He is only a baby still in point of age; not yet three years have passed over the sunny little head; but in wit, in imagination, in sense of humour, and in sympathy, perhaps he can even teach us something.

"Come in, little one! Did I hear your little voice? Ah! that's what you always ask, isn't it: 'What shall we do?' Well, shall it be a story to-day?" Knock-a-tock at my forehead comes the softest of little fists. "Is 'ou in?" coos the sweetest of baby voices. "Yes, we are at home," squeak the stories.

"Who is that?"

"Oh, that is Silverlocks, I think."

"No, I don't want Silverlocks; who elk is in?"

"Oh, I'm at home, baby, do have me!"

"Who are you?"

"Oh, I'm Brother Fox!"

"Yes, I will have you; I like you, Brother Fox."

So Brother Fox, the favoured one, comes forth, and this is how his little story goes:

"Once on a time Brother Fox was going through a wood, and looking up he saw Sister Crow perched upon a bough above him. 'Good Morning, Sister Crow; have you seen Brother Rabbit go by this way?'

"'Oh yes, I saw him pass by just now.'

"'Which way did he go Sister Crow?'

"'What do you want with him, Brother Fox!'

"'Sweet little dear! I want to kiss him!'

At this point the little listener's baby mouth curves with the most delicious of unwilling smiles, which he vainly tries to repress; for one of his small jokes is to try to get through the funny parts without laughing; (as he once remarked himself, after a ripple of smiles had swept all the gravity out of his little face: 'I tried not to laugh, but'--with a final complete breakdown--'I couldn't help it!') 'That wasn't twue,' he comments, with the archest of expressions.

The story proceeds:

"'Oh then, Brother Fox, I'll tell you the way; turn to the right and then to the left, and keep straight on, and you'll come to his hole.' So Brother Fox went a little further, and he saw Sister Magpie perched on a bough. 'Good morning, Sister Magpie, have you seen Brother Rabbit go by this way?"

"'Oh yes, I saw him trot by with his baby bunny just now.'

"'Which way did he go, Sister Magpie?'

"'What do you want with him, Brother Fox?'

"'Sweet little dear! I want to kiss him!'

('That wasn't twue,' says the little laughing voice in my ear, as before.)

"'Oh then, Brother Fox, I'll tell you the way; turn to the right, and then to the left, and keep straight on, and you'll come to his hole.'

"So Brother Fox went on a little further, and he saw Brother Squirrel up in a beech-tree. 'Good morning, Brother Squirrel, come down and have a talk.'

"'No thank you, Brother Fox, I'd rather stay in my tree.'

"'Oh, but I've got a pocketful of nuts, Brother Squirrel, for you to crack.'

"'I don't believe you've got a pocket, Brother Fox.'

"'Well, well, I must go on. Have you seen Brother Rabbit go by this way?'

"'Yes, he went by only a few minutes ago.'

"'Which way did he go, Brother Squirrel?'

"'What do you want with him, Brother Fox?'

"'Sweet little dear! I want to kiss him!'

('That wasn't twue,' comes the little refrain.)

"'Very well, Brother Fox, turn to the right, and then to the left, and keep straight on, and you'll come to his hole.'

"So Brother Fox went on, and by-and-by he came to Brother Rabbit's hole; and he sniffed down it and could smell Brother Rabbit quite well, but he was too big to get in. Looking up he saw Brother Weasel sitting close by.

"'There's a rabbit down this hole, Brother Weasel; would you like to have him?'

"'Oh yes, Brother Fox, I would. Is there really?'

"'Then you shall, Brother Weasel, if you do as I tell you. See! you go down this hole, and frighten him out, and I'll stand at the other hold and catch him and keep him for you.'

"'Oh will you, Brother Fox; that is kind.'

"So Brother Weasel went down the hole, and Brother Fox waited at the other end of the burrow.

"In a moment out popped Brother Rabbit in a terrible fright. Snap! snap! And he was gone down Brother Fox's throat!

"Presently up came Brother Weasel. 'Well, Brother Fox, where's my rabbit?'

"'Do you want him, Brother Weasel?'

"'Yes, I do, Brother Fox; give him to me.'

"'Come and find him,' said Brother Fox.

"Snap! snap! And the head of Brother Weasel went to find the rabbit down Brother Fox's throat! His body lay on the ground, for Brother Fox never ate weasels, and he only swallowed the head to get rid of Brother Weasel."

Why is this little story such a favorite, I wonder? I fancy because it combines two things which, as one may gather from the example of all the dear old favorite fairy tales of our childhood, have a special charm and fascination for the mind of a child; namely, the endowment of animals with the power of speech and a personality of their own; and the repetition, with trifling variations, of the same idea again and again, which always soothes the little brain with a pleasant sense of familiarity and expectedness whilst the grain of novelty makes it amusing and interesting.

The tragedy of this little episode of the woods can be borne in the telling, and when lightened by Brother Fox's little joke about the kissing. But if it comes to acting out such a piece with toy creatures, it will be a different matter, as we shall see. Have we never felt the realism of the drama to render unendurable a story which we might have borne to read with a certain amount of philosophy?

"What shall we do now?"

"Come, little Harold, get me your farm and we will play."

"Where is the wolf? Ah, here he is." (Limping on his pin leg stuck in with black sealing wax, he is truly terrible. He was meant for nothing more awful than an old horse grazing; but certainly, with his round, bent back, his bushy tail and his fierce look, he was better cut out for a dangerous wolf.)

"Now, this is the field where all the baa-lambs and the moo-cows live; this green moss is the grass. Close by is a dark wood,--more moss for this,--and just at the edge of it is the house of the wolf." (The farm-house does duty; it is hollow and the wolf can get inside.)

"The wolf keeps Mrs. Moo-cow for his servant, in a cap and apron; she can get inside too.

"Now once on a time a little white baa-lamb got out of the field to play by itself in the lane. See! here it comes! And it wandered on till it came to a dreadful wood, where it lost its way. See! it can't find its field at all. Poor little baa!

"Presently it came to a nice little house at the edge of the wood. 'I will knock at the door,' thought the poor little lamb, 'and ask for some food and shelter, for I'm all tired out, and so hungry and cold.'

"So he went up to the door and knocked like this, so gently, with his little white head. And Mrs. Moo-cow looked out of the window and put her horn through her cap in her hurry" . . .

But . . . What is this? A little soft white hand has snatched up the poor benighted baa and popped him safely into his field again! The thought of the coming tragedy was not to be borne, and a Deus ex machinà [unexpected plot device; lit. "God from the machine"] has swooped upon my proposed victim, and brought my drama to an untimely end.

The little play is acted out; the curly head is resting on my breast, and the blue eyes watch me contentedly as I put the animals back into their box. The little white baa is the last, for he is nestling so happily in a soft, warm baby-hand; but at length he goes to bed to,--at a suitable distance from the dreadful wolf,--and baby Harold returns, with a little sigh of satisfaction, to every-day affairs.

"Yes, he is ready for his tea,--when I have kissed him just a little more!"

This is only a little sketch; there is no moral.

If we must find one to satisfy our readers, I can only suggest that an hour of perfect sympathy between a mother and her little child is scarcely an hour wasted,--even if it is only over the fate of a toy baa-lamb! Perhaps--I do not know--the sympathy with a sweet, fresh child-spirit may be as useful and soul-refreshing to the mother as it is helpful and comforting to the child. Certainly it is a link between them which will last when many an apparently more important one is ready to snap.

Proofread by LNL, Aug 2020