Frewyn Fables: Part 2
The Sniffles were prudent in removing to Lucentia before the winter began, leaving their fair daughter to be mistress of the hawthorn on Broadwood Lane. Upon their leave, they made her a generous present of the family portraits, their finest set of painted porcelain, and left her the best of the carpets, as where they were going they were certain to be met with the very finest satins and silks that the richest country on the Northern Continent had to offer. Miss Sniffles could very well do without silks and satins and finery of any distinction; all her happiness was in sitting by a warm fire, her embroidery in one hand, her needle in the other, and with a slice of sweet bread soaked in honey on the small working table beside. She spent her days in a cheerful reverie, venturing to the nearby markets to see if there were anything fresh giving away, fetching excellent prices for chestnuts and filberts, saying hello to all the young hedgehogs and rabbits in her way, and glorying in all the quiet cheerfulness that a solitary dinner, a steaming cup of apple cinnamon tea, and the pages of a languishing romance could provide. It was all affability and easy enjoyment, and Miss Sniffles had nothing to do but to visit her acquaintances, read the copious letters sent from her mother reminding her to close the curtains when leaving the house, finish her tatting, fashion a new besom, and festoon the laundry line for the coming season.
Her only concern at present was the heavy snows which often accompanied the beginning of a Frewyn winter: her front door, frightfully low to the ground as it was, posed a danger to her, for if the snows should fall overnight as they often did, she should be forced to use the door in the attic and lower herself down from the basket hanging from one of the low boughs. Her fears, however, were soon realized: two weeks after her parents’ leave, she awakened one morning to discover the ground covered over with a blanket of glitter snows, and as beautiful and numinous as the prospect was, she could see nothing but white everywhere she looked. The roads which ran through Farmer MacDaede’s oat fields were indiscernible, and the colourful brocades of the market stalls that usually adorned the horizon were nowhere to be found. Only the sun and the snow were distinguishable, and even more alarming than the state of the roads was the sight of everyone endeavouring to clear them. The Rabbit family were descried burrowing through the lanes, bumping into one another as they scurried every which way under the blindness of the white shimmering dust; Mr Hedgehog was seen scampering out of his window and rolling himself into a ball before hitting the ground and racing off, his spines digging into the snows and carving a formidable path; and the Squirrels, the prodigious and officious and obnoxious Squirrels, were observed leaping from home to home, from bough to bough, taking no trouble at all to help clear the roads and laughing at the Chipmunks for trying to pull Mr Hedgehog from the bank he had got himself stuck into.
As desirous as she was to open her front door again and to swat the Squirrels down from the hawthorn boughs with her besom, Miss Sniffles was not in a humour to move. It was frightfully cold, the fire in the hearth long gone out, no tea left on the sideboard beside her bed, and her only activity for the day was to fling herself into the basket beyond the window with her shovel in hand and work tirelessly until her door should be cleared. It was an unpleasant consideration, one that made her turn over in her bed and hide beneath the blankets, until the idea of acorn pancakes as a reward for a hard day’s work sought to rouse her. She dressed in her warmest woolens, donned her bonnet lest she hear her mother’s remonstrances from Lucentia, took the shovel from the storeroom, and leapt out of her window and into the basket, allowing her weight to carry her down the length of the hawthorn. She said hello to her passing neighbours and began shoveling, declining all help from Mr Hedgehog, who came to inquire about his hat, and accepting the help of the young Rabbits, who would burrow their way to her door regardless of her protestations against such assistance. She watched the Rabbits at their task, until her eye caught in the prospect of two creatures she had never before seen on Broadwood Lane: two moles, one seemingly rather old and crumbling, and the other somewhat young, were scuttling through the high banks, the younger at the aid of the elder and doing his utmost to keep her from plummeting into the rolling drifts. He stopped and looked up, remarking Miss Sniffles momentarily, and then hastened on as though unwilling to acknowledge that he had seen her. She waved to the moles, hoping to receive some sort of cordial reply, but there was no return of the sentiment, nor was there even any indication that they had seen her waving. She sighed and watched them go, and when the Rabbits had finished burrowing to her door, she thanked them for the tunnel they had inconveniently made and proceeded to shave off the canopy while hoping it would not collapse and cover the door again.