"Perfect," shouted the chipmunk, "I could not have done better myself."
Felice, who was walking in the woods, looked up in surprise as she heard his high-pitched voice. She was just in time to see him run over to congratulate the bushy gray squirrel who had made an enormous leap from the oak branch to the redwood.
The big squirrel, whom everyone called Greytail, bowed in a mocking manner to the impertinent small brown animal with the yellow stripes, but he thought to himself, "I'd like to see you do it, young fellow! Some day you may find yourself in such a fix you'll need all your friends to help you out." However, he said nothing aloud, for like everyone else in the woods, he knew that Cheeky, the chipmunk, bragged about his smartness, although strangely enough, no one had ever seen him do anything very clever.
Suddenly from the low bough above her, Greytail noticed Felice, and for a moment it seemed that he was ready to make another jump to get as far away as possible. Then with a startled look he stared, for he recognized Felice as the little girl he had seen in the dell with the fairies. She was standing very still, one hand full of redwood cones she had been gathering under the tall tree. Until then it had never occurred to her that the little forest creatures could speak, or that if they did, she might be able to hear them. (By now I am sure you have realized that Felice was a very fortunate little girl who had seen and learned things which many people never know.)
Very quietly, a tiny field mouse came up to her, and in the smallest voice you could imagine, squeaked, "Please, don't think too badly of Cheeky. He 's still very young and doesn't know much yet; but we do wish he 'd mind his own business." Mrs. Mouse sighed a little, and then went on: "He pokes his nose into all our affairs, so we try to keep out of his way. He tells everyone when I 'm building a new nest, and oh! how he gossips when Greytail calls on the pretty lady squirrel over there."
Then she looked up at Felice and asked, "Who are you? You look too big to get into any of our little houses." The little girl smiled and explained that she lived in a big house outside the woods and was just visiting in the forest with her friends. "You can hear them laughing," she added.
"Oh!" exclaimed Mrs. Mouse nervously. "I hope they won't come over here. They are so noisy."
Meanwhile Greytail, who had been listening to Felice and Mrs. Mouse, decided that he would join them, so he ran down the redwood trunk and sat down close by. He curled his beautiful plumed tail up around his back and looked at Felice with bright eyes. Her own dark eyes turned to him with a friendly gaze, as she thought, "My, he's very handsome."
"Mousey told me your name," she remarked, trying to make her voice as small and gentle as possible so that it would not startle the little people. A few lizards ran by without waiting to see what was going on, and the dry leaves at the foot of the tree rustled as they passed through.
"I already know your name," said Greytail to Felice. "I was in the fairy dell when Bandy took off his long green cap to you."
"Why, I didn't see you, where were you?" she asked.
"Oh, up in a tree where I could see everything. I never thought then that I 'd ever be talking to you here," the squirrel added.
"Do you like cones?" Felice held out to Greytail the handful she had gathered.
"I like nuts and acorns better," he replied, "but cones are good if one is very hungry. Did you know that the redwoods are the largest of the evergreen trees and they have the smallest cones? Yes," he went on with a funny little smile, "size is very deceptive. For instance, sometimes the biggest talkers say the least."
Felice and Mrs. Mouse looked across at each other as if they both knew that Greytail was thinking of Cheeky.
While the squirrel, who seemed to be a very wise animal, had been speaking, other mice had come up and were running around sniffing here and there, but not daring to come too close. Felice asked Mrs. Mouse what they wanted.
"They can smell the food you have," she answered.
"Why, I have nothing to eat here," said the little girl, very surprised.
"Oh, yes, you have, and I will show you where it is," replied Mrs. Mouse and she very bravely climbed onto Felice 's lap and peeped into the pocket of her cotton pinafore. Then right into the pocket she went, coming out with some big crumbs of bread. Felice's astonished stare made the mice and Greytail burst out laughing - in their own way of course.
"Why, I had quite forgotten I had a sandwich in my pocket - but all of you knew it!" exclaimed the little girl.
"That is not strange to us," spoke up Greytail. "We have a very keen sense of smell which helps us find our food."
Felice thought to herself, "I never imagined that such tiny bits of food could be of use to anyone." She promised her little friends that she would never again waste even the smallest piece of food, and told them that in the winter she would put out food for the birds in her garden.
"Be sure you hang it where cats can't jump on the birds," reminded Greytail.
"All right," she agreed, "and before I go I'll empty all the scraps from the picnic basket for you."
The mice wrinkled up their pointed noses with delight, while the squirrel gently waved his tail in thanks. Felice told Mrs. Mouse that she would soon come back to see them.
"All right, Felice," the squirrel and mouse both spoke together, "we'll be ready for you."
"But how will you be sure I am coming?" she asked.
Oh, that will be easy," laughed the animals. "Cheeky never misses anything, you know."
It was not very long before Felice came back to the redwood, bringing with her a big bag of food scraps - pieces of fat, which the birds loved, and bread for the furry animals. She sat down and at once a faint scuffling sound beside her announced Mrs. Mouse.
"Oh, my!" thought Felice, "she has brought all her relatives with her; well, anyhow I have plenty for them."
A funny little whistle came from up in the tree, and Greytail arrived, followed by some of his friends, while a flock of birds were already waiting on the branches.
Felice spread out part of the food, keeping some back for late- comers, and the little animals and birds started eating. Only the faint noise of nibbling could be heard for a few minutes. Then a thin wild scream startled them. The animals stopped eating, for they all realized that Cheeky was in great trouble close by. The little girl jumped to her feet spilling the rest of the food, and asked excitedly, "Where is he?"
"Over there," called Greytail, who was already halfway to the chipmunk.
Felice and the rest were along in a moment, and her astonished eyes saw Cheeky, suspended in a loop of heavy string drawn tightly around his body, at the top of a thin willow branch about a foot above the ground. There he hung, throwing his hind end and tail madly around in a terrific effort to free himself. Felice felt very sorry for the little fellow, who kept on making his thin, high cry, but Greytail sharply told him to be quiet, that they would help him.
The little girl leaned forward at once, her hands already outstretched to loosen the loop, but the squirrel nipped at her ankle. She paused in amazement, but immediately Greytail motioned her to stoop down so that he could whisper right in her ear.
"I 'm sorry I bit you, Felice, but I had to stop you quickly. Please don't help Cheeky," he went on in a low voice. "We all know that you could free him at once, but then you see he would think it was too easy and wouldn't learn his lesson. We must make him realize how foolish he was and how serious it could have been."
So, Felice, understanding that he was right, stepped back to let them take over the job of liberating Cheeky. Greytail stood on his hind legs and began to chew on the cord around the crying chipmunk. Several of the mice, with their sharp teeth cut through the thin tough willow stalk close to the ground, so that it fell down. Then it was easier for the squirrel to gnaw through the cord. Suddenly it gave way and the chipmunk lay gasping, but free!
"Now, Cheeky," said Greytall in a very stern voice, "what were you doing to get into that trap? You've been warned many times about that kind of thing."
Cheeky managed to get out a few words, saying that he had seen the loop as he was coming to Felice's feast, and decided he'd make a leap right through it. But he had missed his aim, so that when he touched the cord it had tightened around him while the branch had sprung up at the same time.
"O-o-o-h! I've got an awful tummy-ache," he wailed.
"Well, you're lucky that a tummy-ache is all that's wrong with you," grumbled Greytail, who was really annoyed at the silly young chipmunk. "We'll take you home and bring you your food until you are able to go out for yourself."
The squirrels helped to carry Cheeky away, while Felice called goodbye to him, but he felt too wretched to answer. Mrs. Mouse ran up to the little girl.
"Don't worry about Cheeky," she told her. "He'll be all right in a few days - and perhaps wiser, too. Be sure to come and sec us again." She wriggled her long thin tail, since she couldn't shake hands with her friend, then slipped off through the pine needles to follow Greytail.
Felice stood for a few moments till there were no more sounds of tiny feet moving, then very thoughtfully turned to walk home.