Once upon a time there was a little girl called Lucie, who lived at a farm called Little-town. She was a good little girl–only she was always losing her pocket handkerchiefs!
One day little Lucie came into the farm-yard crying– oh, she did cry so!
“I’ve lost my pocket-handkins! Three handkins and an apron! Have you seen them, Tabby Kitten?”
The Kitten went on washing her white paws; so Lucie asked a speckled hen– “Sally Henny-penny, have you found three pocket-handkins?” But the speckled hen ran into a barn, clucking– “I go barefoot, barefoot, barefoot!”
And then Lucie asked Cock Robin sitting on a twig. Cock Robin looked sideways at Lucie with his bright black eye, and he flew over a fence and away. Lucie climbed upon the fence and looked up at the hill behind Little-town–a hill that goes up-up–into the clouds as though it had no top! And a great way up the hillside she thought she saw some white things spread on the grass.
Lucie scrambled up the hill as fast as her little legs would carry her; she ran along a steep path–up and up–until Little-town was right down below–she could have dropped a pebble down the chimney!
She finally came to a spring, bubbling out from the hillside. Someone had left a tin can upon a stone to catch the water–but the water was already running over, for the can was no bigger than an eggcup! And where the sand on the path was wet–there were footprints of a very small person. Lucie ran on, and on.
The path ended under a big rock. The grass was short and green, and there were clothes-coloured scarves and a heap of tiny clothes pins–but no pocket-handkerchiefs! But there was something else–a door! straight into the hill; and inside it someone was singing—
“Lily-white and clean, oh!
With little frills between, oh!
Smooth and hot–red rusty spot
Never here be seen, oh!”
Lucie, knocked–once– twice, and interrupted the song. A little frightened voice called out
Lucie opened the door: and what do you think there was inside the hill?–a nice clean kitchen with wooden beams–just like any other farm kitchen. Only the ceiling was so low that Lucie’s head nearly touched it; everything was so small! Even the pots and pans.
There was a nice hot smell; and at the table, with an iron in her hand stood a very stout short person staring anxiously at Lucie. Her print dress was tucked up, and she was wearing a large apron over her striped petticoat. Her little black nose went sniffle, sniffle, snuffle, and her eyes went twinkle, twinkle; and underneath her cap–where Lucie had yellow curls–that little person had PRICKLES!
“Who are you?” said Lucie. “Have you seen my pocket-handkins?”
The little person made a bob-curtsey–“Oh, yes; my name is Mrs. Tiggy-winkle; I’m an excellent washer!”
And she took something out of a clothes basket and spread it on the ironing-board.
“What’s that thing?” said Lucie–“that’s not by pocket-handkin?”
“Oh no; that’s a little scarlet waist-coat belonging to Cock Robin!” And she ironed it and folded it and put it on one side. Then she took something else—
“Isn’t that my apron?” said Lucie.
“Oh no; that’s a damask table-cloth belonging to Jenny Wren; look how it’s stained with currant wine! It’s very bad to wash!” said Mrs. Tiggy-winkle.
MRS. Tiggy-Winkle’s nose went sniffle, sniffle, snuffle, and her eyes went twinkle, twinkle; and she fetched another hot iron from the fire.
“There’s one of my pocket-handkins!” cried Lucie–“and there’s my apron!”
Mrs. Tiggy-winkle ironed it and shook out the frills.
“Oh that is lovely!” said Lucie. “And what are those long yellow things with fingers like gloves?”
“Oh, that’s a pair of stockings belonging to Sally Henny-penny –look how she’s worn the heels out with scratching in the yard! She’ll very soon go barefoot!” said Mrs. Tiggy-winkle.
“Oh! there’s another handkersniff–but it isn’t mine; it’s red?”
“Oh no; that one belongs to old Mrs. Rabbit; and it smelled of onions so bad! I’ve had to wash it separately, I can’t get the smell out.”
“There’s another one of mine,” said Lucie. “What are those funny little white things?”
“That’s a pair of mittens belonging to Tabby Kitten; I only have to iron them; she washes them herself.”
“There’s my last pocket-handkin!” said Lucie. “And what are you dipping into the basin of starch?”
“They’re little dicky shirt-fronts belonging to Tom Tits-mouse –very particular!” said Mrs. Tiddy-winkle.
“Now I’ve finished my ironing; I’m going to air some clothes.”
“What are these cute soft fluffy things?” said Lucie.
“Oh those are woolly coats belonging to the little lambs at Skelghyl.”
And she hung up all sorts and sizes of clothes– small brown coats of mice; and one velvety black moleskin waist coat; and a red tail-coat with no tail belonging to Squirrel Nutkin; and a very much shrunk jacket belonging to Peter Rabbit; and finally the basket was empty!
Then Mrs. Tiggy-winkle made tea–a cup for herself and a cup for Lucie. They sat before a fire on a bench and looked sideways at one another. Mrs. Tiggy-winkle’s hand, holding the tea-cup, was very very brown, and very very wrinkly with the soap suds; and all through her dress and her cap, there were hair-pins sticking wrong end out; so that Lucie didn’t like to sit to near her.
When they had finished tea, they tied up the clothes in bundles; and Lucie’s pocket-handkerchiefs were folded up inside her clean apron and fastened with a silver safety-pin. And then they came out and locked the door.
Then Lucie and Mrs. Tiggy-winkle and the bundles of clothes trotted away down the hill! Little animals came out of the fern to meet them all the way down the path; the very firsts that they met was Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny!
And she gave them their nice clean clothes; and all the little animals and birds were so thankful to dear Mrs. Tiggy-winkle.
So much so that at the bottom of the hill when they came to the fence, there was nothing left to carry except Lucie’s one little bundle. Lucie scrambled up the fence with the bundle in her hand; and then she turned to say, “Goodnight,” and to thank the washer-woman– But what a very odd thing! Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle had not waited either for thanks or for the washing bill! She was running running running up the hill–and Where was her white frilled cap? and her shawl? and her dress–and her petticoat?
AND how small she had grown–and how brown –and covered with prickles! Why! Mrs. Tiggy-winkle was nothing but a hedgehog!
* * * * *
(Now some people say that little Lucie had been asleep upon the fence– but then how could she have found three clean pocket-handkins and an apron, pinned with a silver safety pin? And besides–I have seen that door into the back of the hill –and I am very well acquainted with dear Mrs. Tiggy-winkle!)