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Stuart Little, Page 2

E. B. White

  “I bet they’re not,” said the cat.

  “I bet they are,” said Stuart. “They’re like iron bands.”

  “I bet they’re not,” said the cat.

  Stuart glanced around the room to see what he could do to prove to Snowbell what good stomach muscles he had. He spied the drawn window shade on the east window, with its shade cord and ring, like a trapeze, and it gave him an idea. Climbing to the windowsill he took off his hat and laid down his cane.

  “You can’t do this,” he said to the cat. And he ran and jumped onto the ring, the way acrobats do in a circus, meaning to pull himself up.

  A surprising thing happened. Stuart had taken such a hard jump that it started the shade: with a loud snap the shade flew up clear to the top of the window, dragging Stuart along with it and rolling him up inside, so that he couldn’t budge.

  “Holy mackerel!” said Snowbell, who was almost as surprised as Stuart Little. “I guess that will teach him to show off his muscles.”

  “Help! Let me out!” cried Stuart, who was frightened and bruised inside the rolled-up shade, and who could hardly breathe. But his voice was so weak that nobody heard. Snowbell just chuckled. He was not fond of Stuart and it didn’t bother him at all that Stuart was all wrapped up in a window shade, crying and hurt and unable to get out. Instead of running upstairs and telling Mr. and Mrs. Little about the accident, Snowbell did a very curious thing. He glanced around to see if anybody was looking, then he leapt softly to the window sill, picked up Stuart’s hat and cane in his mouth, carried them to the pantry and laid them down at the entrance to the mousehole.

  When Mrs. Little came down later and found them there, she gave a shrill scream which brought everybody on the run.

  “It’s happened,” she cried.

  “What has?” asked her husband.

  “Stuart’s down the mousehole.”

  V. Rescued

  George was in favor of ripping up the pantry floor. He ran and got his hammer, his screw driver, and an ice pick.

  “I’ll have this old floor up in double-quick time,” he said, inserting his screw driver under the edge of the first board and giving a good vigorous pry.

  “We will not rip up this floor till we have had a good search,” announced Mr. Little. “That’s final, George! You can put that hammer away where you got it.”

  “Oh, all right,” said George. “I see that nobody in this house cares anything about Stuart but me.”

  Mrs. Little began to cry. “My poor dear little son!” she said. “I know he’ll get wedged somewhere.”

  “Just because you can’t travel comfortably in a mousehole doesn’t mean that it isn’t a perfectly suitable place for Stuart,” said Mr. Little. “Just don’t get yourself all worked up.”

  “Maybe we ought to lower some food to him,” suggested George. “That’s what the State Police did when a man got stuck in a cave.” George darted into the kitchen and came running back with a dish of applesauce. “We can pour some of this in, and it will run down to where he is.” George spooned out a bit of the applesauce and started to poke it into the hole.

  “Stop that!” bellowed Mr. Little. “George, will you kindly let me handle this situation? Put that applesauce away immediately!”

  Mr. Little glared fiercely at George.

  “I was just trying to help my own brother,” said George, shaking his head as he carried the sauce back to the kitchen.

  “Let’s all call to Stuart,” suggested Mrs. Little. “It is quite possible that the mousehole branches and twists about, and that he has lost his way.”

  “Very well,” said Mr. Little. “I will count three, then we will all call, then we will all keep perfectly quiet for three seconds, listening for the answer.” He took out his watch.

  Mr. and Mrs. Little and George got down on their hands and knees and put their mouths as close as possible to the mousehole. Then they all called: “Stooooo-art!” And then they all kept perfectly still for three seconds.

  Stuart, from his cramped position inside the rolled-up shade, heard them yelling in the pantry and called back, “Here I am!” But he had such a weak voice and was so far inside the shade that the other members of the family did not hear his answering cry.

  “Again!” said Mr. Little. “One, two, three-Stooooo-art!”

  It was no use. No answer was heard. Mrs. Little went up to her bedroom, lay down, and sobbed. Mr. Little went to the telephone and called up the Bureau of Missing Persons, but when the man asked for a description of Stuart and was told that he was only two inches high, he hung up in disgust. George meantime went down cellar and hunted around to see if he could find the other entrance to the mousehole. He moved a great many trunks, suitcases, flower pots, baskets, boxes, and broken chairs from one end of the cellar to the other in order to get at the section of wall which he thought was likeliest, but found no hole. He did, however, come across an old discarded rowing machine of Mr. Little’s, and becoming interested in this, carried it upstairs with some difficulty and spent the rest of the morning rowing.

  When lunchtime came (everybody had forgotten about breakfast) all three sat down to a lamb stew which Mrs. Little had prepared, but it was a sad meal, each one trying not to stare at the small empty chair which Stuart always occupied, right next to Mrs. Little’s glass of water. No one could eat, so great was the sorrow. George ate a bit of dessert but nothing else. When lunch was over Mrs. Little broke out crying again, and said she thought Stuart must be dead. “Nonsense, nonsense!” growled Mr. Little.

  “If he is dead,” said George, “we ought to pull down the shades all through the house.” And he raced to the windows and began pulling down the shades.

  “George!” shouted Mr. Little in an exasperated tone, “if you don’t stop acting in an idiotic fashion, I will have to punish you.

  We are having enough trouble today without having to cope with your foolishness.”

  But George had already run into the living room and had begun to darken it, to show his respect for the dead. He pulled a cord and out dropped Stuart onto the window sill.

  “Well, for the love of Pete,” said George. “Look who’s here, Mom!”

  “It’s about time somebody pulled down that shade,” remarked Stuart. “That’s all I can say.” He was quite weak and hungry.

  Mrs. Little was so overjoyed to see him that she kept right on crying. Of course, everybody wanted to know how it had happened.

  “It was simply an accident that might happen to anybody,” said Stuart. “As for my hat and cane being found at the entrance to the mousehole, you can draw your own conclusions.”

  VI. A Fair Breeze

  One morning when the wind was from the west, Stuart put on his sailor suit and his sailor hat, took his spyglass down from the shelf, and set out for a walk, full of the joy of life and the fear of dogs. With a rolling gait he sauntered along toward Fifth Avenue, keeping a sharp lookout.

  Whenever he spied a dog through his glass, Stuart would hurry to the nearest doorman, climb his trouserleg, and hide in the tails of his uniform. And once, when no doorman was handy, he had to crawl into a yesterday’s paper and roll himself up in the second section till danger was past.

  At the corner of Fifth Avenue there were several people waiting for the uptown bus, and Stuart joined them. Nobody noticed him, because he wasn’t tall enough to be noticed.

  “I’m not tall enough to be noticed,” thought Stuart, “yet I’m tall enough to want to go to Seventy-second Street.”

  When the bus came into view, all the men waved their canes and brief cases at the driver, and Stuart waved his spyglass. Then, knowing that the step of the bus would be too high for him, Stuart seized hold of the cuff of a gentleman’s pants and was swung aboard without any trouble or inconvenience whatever.

  Stuart never paid any fare on buses, because he wasn’t big enough to carry an ordinary dime. The only time he had ever attempted to carry a dime, he had rolled the coin along like a hoop while he raced alo
ng beside it; but it had got away from him on a hill and had been snatched up by an old woman with no teeth. After that experience Stuart contented himself with the tiny coins which his father made for him out of tin foil. They were handsome little things, although rather hard to see without putting on your spectacles.

  When the conductor came around to collect the fares, Stuart fished in his purse and pulled out a coin no bigger than the eye of a grasshopper.

  “What’s that you’re offering me?” asked the conductor.

  “It’s one of my dimes,” said Stuart.

  “Is it, now?” said the conductor. “Well, I’d have a fine time explaining that to the bus company. Why, you’re no bigger than a dime yourself.”

  “Yes I am,” replied Stuart angrily. “I’m more than twice as big as a dime. A dime only comes up to here on me.” And Stuart pointed to his hip. “Furthermore,” he added, “I didn’t come on this bus to be insulted.”

  “I beg pardon,” said the conductor. “You’ll have to forgive me, for I had no idea that in all the world there was such a small sailor.”

  “Live and learn,” muttered Stuart, tartly, putting his change purse back in his pocket.

  When the bus stopped at Seventy-second

  Street, Stuart jumped out and hurried across to the sailboat pond in Central Park. Over the pond the west wind blew, and into the teeth of the west wind sailed the sloops and schooners, their rails well down, their wet decks gleaming. The owners, boys and grown men, raced around the cement shores hoping to arrive at the other side in time to keep the boats from bumping. Some of the toy boats were not as small as you might think, for when you got close to them you found that their mainmast was taller than a man’s head, and they were beautifully made, with everything shipshape and ready for sea. To Stuart they seemed enormous, and he hoped he would be able to get aboard one of them and sail away to the far corners of the pond. (he was an adventurous little fellow and loved the feel of the breeze in his face and the cry of the gulls overhead and the heave of the great swell under him.)

  As he sat cross-legged on the wall that surrounds the pond, gazing out at the ships through his spyglass, Stuart noticed one boat that seemed to him finer and prouder than any other. Her name was Wasp. She was a big, black schooner flying the American flag. She had a clipper bow, and on her foredeck was mounted a three-inch cannon. She’s the ship for me, thought Stuart. And the next time she sailed in, he ran over to where she was being turned around.

  “Excuse me, sir,” said Stuart to the man who was turning her, “but are you the owner of the schooner Wasp?”

  “I am,” replied the man, surprised to be addressed by a mouse in a sailor suit.

  “I’m looking for a berth in a good ship,” continued Stuart, “and I thought perhaps you might sign me on. I’m strong and I’m quick.”

  “Are you sober?” asked the owner of the Wasp.

  “I do my work,” said Stuart, crisply.

  The man looked sharply at him. He couldn’t help admiring the trim appearance and bold manner of this diminutive seafaring character.

  “Well,” he said at length, pointing the prow of the Wasp out toward the center of the pond, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do with you. You see that big racing sloop out there?”

  “I do,” said Stuart.

  “That’s the Lillian B. Womrath,” said the man, “and I hate her with all my heart.”

  “Then so do I,” cried Stuart, loyally.

  “I hate her because she is always bumping into my boat,” continued the man, “and because her owner is a lazy boy who doesn’t understand sailing and who hardly knows a squall from a squid.”

  “Or a jib from a jibe,” cried Stuart.

  “Or a luff from a leech,” bellowed the man.

  “Or a deck from a dock,” screamed Stuart.

  “Or a mast from a mist,” yelled the man.

  “But hold on, now, no more of this! I’ll tell you what we’ll do. The Lillian B. Womrath has always been able to beat the Wasp sailing, but I believe that if my schooner were properly handled it would be a different story. Nobody knows how I suffer, standing here on shore, helpless, watching the Wasp blunder along, when all she needs is a steady hand on her helm. So, my young friend, I’ll let you sail the Wasp across the pond and back, and if you can beat that detestable sloop I’ll give you a regular job.”

  “Aye, aye, sir!” said Stuart, swinging himself aboard the schooner and taking his place at the wheel. “Ready about!”

  “One moment,” said the man. “Do you mind telling me how you propose to beat the other boat?”

  “I intend to crack on more sail,” said Stuart.

  “Not in my boat, thank you,” replied the man quickly. “I don’t want you capsizing in a squall.”

  “Well, then,” said Stuart, “I’ll catch the sloop broad on, and rake her with fire from my forward gun.”

  “Foul means!” said the man. “I want this to be a boat race, not a naval engagement.”

  “Well, then,” said Stuart cheerfully, “I’ll sail the Wasp straight and true, and let the Lillian B. Womrath go yawing all over the pond.”

  “Bravo!” cried the man, “and good luck go with you!” And so saying, he let go of the Wasp’s prow. A puff of air bellied out the schooner’s headsails and she paid off and filled away on the port tack, heeling gracefully over to the breeze while Stuart twirled her wheel and braced himself against a deck cleat.

  “By the by,” yelled the man, “you haven’t told me your name.”

  “Name is Stuart Little,” called Stuart at the top of his lungs. “I’m the second son of Frederick C. Little, of this city.”

  “Bon voyage, Stuart,” hollered his friend, “take care of yourself and bring the Wasp home safe.”

  “That I will,” shouted Stuart. And he was so proud and happy, he let go of the wheel for a second and did a little dance on the sloping deck, never noticing how narrowly he escaped hitting a tramp steamer that was drifting in his path, with her engines disabled and her decks awash.

  VII. The Sailboat Race

  When the people in Central Park learned that one of the

  toy sailboats was being steered by a mouse in a sailor suit, they all came running. Soon the shores of the pond were so crowded that a policeman was sent from headquarters to announce that everybody would have to stop pushing, but nobody did. People in New York like to push each other. The most excited person of all was the boy who owned the Lillian B. Womrath. He was a fat, sulky boy of twelve, named LeRoy. He wore a blue serge suit and a white necktie stained with orange juice.

  “Come back here!” he called to Stuart. “Come back here and get on my boat. I want you to steer my boat. I will pay you five dollars a week and you can have every Thursday afternoon off and a radio in your room.”

  “I thank you for your kind offer,” replied Stuart, “but I am happy aboard the Wasp— happier than I have ever been before in all my life.” And with that he spun the wheel over smartly and headed his schooner down toward the starting line, where LeRoy was turning his boat around by poking it with a long stick, ready for the start of the race.

  “I’ll be the referee,” said a man in a bright green suit. “Is the Wasp ready?”

  “Ready, sir!” shouted Stuart, touching his hat.

  “Is the Lillian B. Womrath ready?” asked the referee.

  “Sure, I’m ready,” said LeRoy.

  “To the north end of the pond and back again!” shouted the referee. “On your mark, get set, GO!” “Go!” cried the people along the shore. “Go!” cried the owner of the Wasp. “Go!” yelled the policeman.

  And away went the two boats for the north end of the pond, while the seagulls wheeled and cried overhead and the taxicabs tooted and honked from Seventy-second Street and the west wind (which had come halfway across America to get to Central Park) sang and whistled in the rigging and blew spray across the decks, stinging Stuart’s cheeks with tiny fragments of flying peanut shell tossed up from the foamy
deep. “This is the life for me!” Stuart murmured to himself. “What a ship! What a day! What a race!”

  Before the two boats had gone many feet, however, an accident happened on shore. The people were pushing each other harder and harder in their eagerness to see the sport, and although they really didn’t mean to, they pushed the policeman so hard they pushed him right off the concrete wall and into the pond. He hit the water in a sitting position, and got wet clear up to the third button of his jacket. He was soaked.

  This particular policeman was not only a big, heavy man, but he had just eaten a big, heavy meal, and the wave he made went curling outward, cresting and billowing, upsetting all manner of small craft and causing every owner of a boat on the pond to scream with delight and consternation.

  When Stuart saw the great wave approaching he jumped for the rigging, but he was too late. Towering above the Wasp like a mountain, the wave came crashing and piling along the deck, caught Stuart up and swept him over the side and into the water, where everybody supposed he would drown. Stuart had no intention of drowning. He kicked hard with his feet, and thrashed hard with his tail, and in a minute or two he climbed back aboard the schooner, cold and wet but quite unharmed. As he took his place at the helm, he could hear people cheering for him and calling, “Atta mouse, Stuart! Atta mouse!” He looked over and saw that the wave had capsized the Lillian B. Womrath but that she had righted herself and was sailing on her course, close by. And she stayed close alongside till both boats reached the north end of the pond. Here Stuart put the Wasp about and LeRoy turned the Lillian around with his stick, and away the two boats went for the finish line.

  “This race isn’t over yet,” thought Stuart.

  The first warning he had that there was trouble ahead came when he glanced into the Wasp’s cabin and observed that the barometer had fallen sharply. That can mean only one thing at sea—dirty weather. Suddenly a dark cloud swept across the sun, blotting it out and leaving the earth in shadow. Stuart shivered in his wet clothes. He turned up his sailor blouse closer around his neck, and when he spied the Wasp’s owner among the crowd on shore he waved his hat and called out: