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Father Hedgehog And His Neighbours
by [?]


The care of a large family is no light matter, as everybody knows. And that year I had an unusually large family. No less than seven young urchins for Mrs. Hedgehog and myself to take care of and start in life; and there was not a prickly parent on this side of the brook, or within three fields beyond, who had more than four.

My father’s brother had six one year, I know. It was the summer that I myself was born. I can remember hearing my father and mother talk about it before I could see. As these six cousins were discussed in a tone of interest and respect which seemed to bear somewhat disparagingly on me and my brother and sisters (there were only four of us), I was rather glad to learn that they also had been born blind. My father used to go and see them, and report their progress to my mother on his return.

“They can see to-day.”

“They have curled themselves up. Every one of them. Six beautiful little balls; as round as crab-apples and as safe as burrs!”

I tried to curl myself up, but I could only get my coat a little way over my nose. I cried with vexation. But one should not lose heart too easily. With patience and perseverance most things can be brought about, and I could soon both see and curl myself into a ball. It was about this time that my father hurried home one day, tossing the leaves at least three inches over his head as he bustled along.

“What in the hedge do you think has happened to the six?” said he.

“Oh, don’t tell me!” cried my mother; “I am so nervous.” (Which she was, and rather foolish as well, which used to irritate my father, who was hasty tempered, as I am myself.)

“They’ve been taken by gipsies and flitted,” said he.

“What do you mean by flitted?” inquired my mother.

“A string is tied round a hind-leg of each, and they are tethered in the grass behind the tent, just as the donkey is tethered. So they will remain till they grow fat, and then they will be cooked.”

“Will the donkey be cooked when he is fat?” asked my mother.

“I smell valerian,” said my father; on which she put out her nose, and he ran at it with his prickles. He always did this when he was annoyed with any member of his family; and though we knew what was coming, we are all so fond of valerian, we could never resist the temptation to sniff, just on the chance of there being some about.

I had long wanted to see my cousins, and I now begged my father to let me go with him the next time he went to visit them. But he was rather cross that morning, and he ran at me with his back up.

“So you want to gad about and be kidnapped and flitted too, do you? Just let me–“

But when I saw him coming, I rolled myself up as tight as a wood-louse, and as my ears were inside I really did not hear what else he said. But I was not a whit the less resolved to see my cousins.

One day my father bustled home.

“Upon my whine,” said he, “they live on the fat of the land. Scraps of all kinds, apples, and a dish of bread and milk under their very noses. I sat inside a gorse bush on the bank, and watched them till my mouth watered.”

The next day he reported–

“They’ve cooked one–in clay. There are only five now.”

And the next day–

“They’ve cooked another. Now there are only four.”

“There won’t be a cousin left if I wait much longer,” thought I.

On the morrow there were only three.

My mother began to cry. “My poor dear nephews and nieces!” said she (though she had never seen them). “What a world this is!”