Written by Arthur Scott Bailey
When Mrs. Field Mouse moved from her home in Farmer Green’s meadow to the more fashionable neighborhood near the gristmill, she had no idea that anyone would care to live in the little old house that she had left.
So she was much surprised, the following summer, when she heard that a new family was occupying her former home.
“If it’s a small family they’ll get along well enough,” she remarked to Aunt Polly Woodchuck, who had told her the news.
“Small!” Aunt Polly exclaimed, lifting both her hands (with the black mitts on them) high in the air. “They say it’s a dreadful big family—at least two hundred of ’em, so I’ve been told.”
Well, for a moment Mrs. Field Mouse couldn’t say a word, she was so astonished. Then she managed to gasp:
“What’s their name?”
“I declare, I can’t just remember,” said Aunt Polly Woodchuck. “But it’s a name that rhymes with apple tree—though that’s not quite it…. They’re a very musical family, I understand. My nephew, Billy Woodchuck, passed right by their door only yesterday; and he says he heard music and the sound of dancing from inside the house.”
“Two hundred of them dancing in that little house!” cried Mrs. Field Mouse. “Why, it’s positively dangerous! I should think they’d trample one another.
And Aunt Polly Woodchuck agreed, before she went off towards her home under the hill, that there were strange goings-on over there in the meadow.
Later she sent her nephew Billy to tell Mrs. Field Mouse that on her way home she had remembered the name of the big family. It was Bumblebee.
“They must be an odd lot,” Mrs. Field Mouse remarked to her husband. “Farmer Green’s meadow is becoming more unfashionable than ever. And I shall never regret having moved away from there.”
So that was Buster Bumblebee’s first home—the old house in the meadow. It was true that the Bumblebee family numbered at least two hundred souls. Nobody knew what the exact count might have been; for in the daytime all the members of the family were bustling about, never staying in one place long enough to be counted. And at night they were all too drowsy to bother their heads over anything but sleep.
It was true, too, that the Bumblebee family filled their house almost to overflowing—especially when they began to store away great quantities of honey in it. But they never seemed to mind being crowded. And if any of them wanted more room he had only to go out of doors and get it.
Buster Bumblebee’s mother was the head of the whole family. Everybody always spoke of her as “the Queen.” And she never had to lift her hand, because there were other members of the family that were both ready and eager to do everything for her. She was really quite a fine lady.
And it was generally understood that her son Buster favored his mother. Certainly he was—like her—very handsome, in his suit of black and yellow velvet. Like his mother, too, he never did a stroke of work. And although everybody said that Buster Bumblebee was a drone, he never seemed to mind it in the least.
If the summers in Pleasant Valley had been longer perhaps the honey-makers in Buster Bumblebee’s home would have taken a holiday now and then. But they knew that every day that passed brought cold weather that much the nearer. So they never once stopped working—except to sleep at night. And, like Farmer Green himself, they felt that they must not waste any of the precious daylight by lying abed late in the morning. They wanted to be up and in the clover field as soon as it was light.
Now, with Rusty Wren living right beneath his bedroom window to wake him at dawn, Farmer Green had no trouble in getting up in good season. But the Bumblebee family were in no such luck. Even if Rusty Wren had lived near them in the meadow they could scarcely have heard his dawn song, because their home was beneath the surface of the ground, in the old house that had once belonged to Mrs. Field Mouse.
If they could have found an alarm clock somewhere it would have been easy for them to rise as early in the morning as they wished. But lacking a clock of that kind—or any other—they had to find a different way of waking themselves.
That was why the workers chose one of their number to be a trumpeter. And it was her duty to get up bright and early, at three or four o’clock, and trumpet loudly to rouse all the other workers.
How the trumpeter herself managed to awake is something that never bothered anybody else. It was her business not to oversleep. And she knew that it would be very unpleasant for her if she failed even once to do her duty.
Now, it was all well enough for the workers to have the morning silence broken by the blare of trumpeting. They were eager to get up and begin their day’s work. But Buster Bumblebee did not like that arrangement in the least. He preferred a good, long night’s sleep. And since he never did any work he thought it was a shame that he should be rudely awakened in such a fashion.
At home, however, he did not mention his grievance to anyone. But he talked the matter over with a number of his friends—outside the family. And one and all agreed that something ought to be done to put a stop to the trumpeter’s noise.
“Why don’t you have a pleasant talk with her?” Chirpy Cricket suggested. “Perhaps she would be willing to trumpet a little more softly if she knew that she was disturbing you.”
That plan did not quite suit Buster Bumblebee.
“It would be hard to have a pleasant talk with the trumpeter,” he said. “She’s quite likely to lose her temper. And she might sting me if she became angry enough.”
“Then you must first put her in a good humor,” Chirpy Cricket told him cheerfully. “Begin by saying what a good trumpeter she is and tell her that her hat is very becoming.”
Still Buster Bumblebee was a bit doubtful of the outcome of the scheme. But at last he agreed to give it a trial. “Though I must say I feel quite nervous,” he added. And all Chirpy Cricket’s sprightly jokes failed to make Buster smile.
Yes! At last Buster Bumblebee was worried. Every time he looked at the trumpeter she seemed in a more peppery temper than ever. Beside her, some of the other workers appeared positively pleasant. But the trumpeter wore a frown. And what was still worse, she wore no hat.
How, then, was Buster to follow Chirpy Cricket’s advice and tell her what a becoming hat she was wearing?
“I’ll have to think of some other way of making her feel happy—since she’s bareheaded,” said Buster.
Now, without thinking what he was doing he had spoken his thought right out loud. And since he was quite near the trumpeter and staring directly at her, it was no wonder that she heard what he said.
“Don’t be impertinent, young man!” the trumpeter snapped, growing somewhat red in the face. “I’m sure it’s no affair of yours whether I wear a hat or whether I don’t. And if you want to make me happy, I’ll tell you the best way in the world.”
“Oh! Will you?” cried Buster Bumblebee hopefully. And in his eagerness he drew even nearer to the trumpeter, who actually smiled at him. But there was something in her smile that sent a shiver up and down Buster’s back. It was not at all a pleasant smile.
“If you want to make me happy all you need to do is to keep out of my sight,” said the trumpeter rudely. “You’re just a lazy, good-for-nothing drone. And for my part, I don’t see why you’re allowed to stay in our house. If I had my way you would be driven out into the world to fend for yourself…. And I know others who say the same.”
Upon hearing that disagreeable speech Buster Bumblebee jumped back quickly. He was not angry—but merely disappointed, for he had expected something quite different.
“You—er—you trumpet beautifully,” he stammered, remembering that that was another remark which Chirpy Cricket had suggested as being likely to put the trumpeter into a pleasant frame of mind.
At that the rude creature laughed most scornfully.
“I’d like to know how you can say that,” she sneered. “You’re so lazy and such a sleepy-head that you never hear me when I wake the household. In fact, I don’t believe you would ever wake up enough to crawl out of bed if you didn’t get hungry—and goodness knows you do love to eat.”
“No such thing!” cried Buster Bumblebee.
And happening just at that moment to spy an unusually tempting clover-top close beside him, he lighted upon it and began to suck up its sweet juices.
The trumpeter at once screamed joyfully and pointed a finger straight at him.
“There you go!” she cried. “You have to stop and eat even while you’re talking with a lady! Why, you eat and sleep so much that you don’t know what you’re doing or saying half the time.”
One might naturally think that such a remark would have angered Buster. But he was not one to lose his temper easily.
And he merely looked at the trumpeter sadly and said: “Don’t speak to me like that! I’m a queen’s son. I’m a gentleman.”
Buster Bumblebee’s announcement that he was a queen’s son—and a gentleman—seemed to amuse the trumpeter hugely. She held her sides and laughed uproariously.
“That’s nothing!” she said at last. “I’m one myself!”
“One what?” Buster asked her quickly. “You’re certainly no gentleman—for you just referred to yourself as a lady not two minutes ago. And neither can you be anybody’s son, I should think.”
“I mean I’m a queen’s daughter—though maybe you did not know it,” the trumpeter replied.
And Buster Bumblebee answered in a dazed fashion that he had had no idea she was of royal blood, like himself.
“It’s true,” the trumpeter assured him. “You’d have never guessed it; but I’m your own sister.”
Well, Buster Bumblebee was so surprised that he almost fell off the clover-head on which he was sitting. It was really a sad blow to be told that that disagreeable, vixenish trumpeter, who awakened the workers each morning, was so closely related to him. But it was no more than he might have expected, living as he did in a family of more than two hundred souls.
“It’s—it’s hard to believe,” he gasped, shaking his head slowly.
“It certainly is,” said the trumpeter. “I don’t understand how my own brother can be so lazy as you are.”
“It’s not that I’m lazy—it’s the way my mother brought me up,” Buster protested.
“Our mother, you mean,” the trumpeter corrected him. “Maybe you’re right…. After all, you’d only be in everybody’s way if you tried to work—you’re so awkward and clumsy. So maybe it’s just as well for you to play the gentleman—though you must find it a dull life.”
“It suits me,” said Buster. “But I do wish you could manage to rouse the workers in the morning without disturbing me.” He was bolder, now that he knew he was talking to his own sister.
The trumpeter pondered for a little time before replying.
“It’s my duty to trumpet loudly,” she said at last. “The summer is none too long. And there’s a great deal of honey to be made before fall…. Have you thought of stuffing your ears with cotton?” she inquired.
“Why, no!” said Buster Bumblebee. “That’s a fine plan, I’m sure. And I’ll follow it this very night.”
So he thanked his new-found sister and said good-by, for he wanted to look for some cotton at once.
“Goodness me!” the trumpeter exclaimed as soon as Buster had left her. “Here I’ve wasted a precious quarter of an hour when I should have been working.” Thereupon she began gathering nectar as fast as she could, and forgot all about Buster Bumblebee and his trouble.
When he left the trumpeter in the clover field, Buster was feeling quite cheerful. Although Chirpy Cricket’s advice had been of little use to him, Buster’s talk with the trumpeter had ended pleasantly enough.
And now he expected that he would be able to sleep as late as he pleased—with the help of a little bit of cotton.
Buster flew fast, as he left the fragrant clover behind him, to hunt for the cotton that he needed. But he soon paused in his rapid flight and sat down on a sprig of honeysuckle, to think.
He was puzzled. He hadn’t the slightest idea where he could find any cotton. So what was the use of hurrying, if he didn’t know where he was going?
As Buster sat on the sprig of wild honeysuckle, wondering where to look for a bit of cotton with which to stuff his ears, a bird fluttered down and perched upon the same stone wall to which the honeysuckle clung. The name of the newcomer was Jasper Jay. And Buster Bumblebee was glad to see him, because he wanted help from somebody and he didn’t care who it was.
“Where could a person get a small piece of cotton?” he asked Jasper Jay.
And Jasper—who would gladly have made a lunch of Buster, had he not been afraid of getting stung—promptly replied with another question:
“What do you intend to do with cotton?” He was a very curious fellow, this Jasper Jay.
Buster Bumblebee had no objection to explaining everything to him. And then—and only then—was Jasper willing to tell what he knew.
“Cotton—” said he—”cotton grows in fields. I know that much. And what’s more, I know it doesn’t grow in Pleasant Valley, for I live here the whole year round and I have never seen any.”
That was bad news for Buster.
“What do you advise me to do?” he inquired anxiously.
“Ask my cousin, Mr. Crow,” said Jasper Jay instantly. “He’s a great traveller. Spends his winters in the South, he does. And no doubt he can help you.”
“Where can I find Mr. Crow?” Buster Bumblebee asked.
“I don’t know of any better place to look than the cornfield,” Jasper Jay told him.
Luckily Buster knew where the cornfield was. So he started off at once to find Mr. Crow.
And sure enough! as soon as Buster reached the edge of the cornfield, there was the old gentleman, sitting on the topmost rail of the fence and looking as if he had just enjoyed an excellent meal.
As soon as he saw that Buster Bumblebee wanted to talk with him, old Mr. Crow was willing enough to listen, for he always liked to know about other people’s affairs. He kept nodding his head with a wise air while Buster explained to him how he wished to find some cotton, with which to stuff his ears every night, so that he might not be disturbed when the trumpeter aroused the household at three or four o’clock each morning.
“That’s a splendid plan,” said old Mr. Crow when Buster had finished. “An excellent plan—but you may as well forget it, because there’s no cotton growing in these parts. Cotton grows in the South, more than a thousand miles away. Next winter when I go to the South I might be able to find some for you, and bring it back with me in the spring. But that wouldn’t help you now.”
Buster Bumblebee was quite discouraged. And since he didn’t know what to do, he asked Mr. Crow what he would suggest.
“Why don’t you set back the hands of the family clock?” the old gentleman asked. “If you make the clock three or four hours slow the trumpeter won’t trumpet until six or seven or eight o’clock. And I’m sure that’s late enough for anybody to get up.”
Buster shook his head mournfully.
“We haven’t any clock at our house,” he explained.
“Then——” said old Mr. Crow, “then, if you want more sleep, why don’t you go to bed earlier? If you went to bed three or four hours before sunset you wouldn’t mind getting up at dawn.”
“Hurrah!” Buster shouted. “That’s just what I’ll do! And I’m certainly much obliged to you, Mr. Crow, for helping me.”
“Don’t mention it,” said the old gentleman, looking greatly pleased with himself.
“I won’t tell anybody,” Buster promised.
“Oh, I didn’t mean that, exactly,” Mr. Crow told him hastily. “If you want to inform your friends how clever I am, I have no objection, of course.”
Then Buster went off, thinking what a kind person old Mr. Crow was. And that very afternoon, long before sunset, he curled himself up in an out-of-the-way corner of the house and went to sleep. Everybody was so busy hurrying in and out in order to finish the day’s work that no one noticed or disturbed him. And when the trumpeter sounded the rising call the next morning Buster Bumblebee was actually the first one in the house to open his eyes and jump up and hasten out to get his breakfast.
All of which only went to prove that old Mr. Crow knew a thing or two—and maybe even more.