I want to give a hardy welcome to my lovely, sweet, and talented fellow Paper Crane author, Ms. Michelle Franklin! I am stop number three on her “The House Guest” blog tour, a children’s story set in her “Tales from Frewyn” universe and it is the first in the “Frewyn Fables” series. This is my first time hosting an author on their blog tour and I am so honored that I get to be apart of this! Now, lets allow Michelle’s work to speak for herself. Enjoy the excerpt and tour for “The House Guest.”
Frewyn Fables: The House Guest
By Michelle Franklin
When winter comes early to Frewyn and the first snowfall of the year traps a young mouse in her home, fate brings an old mole to her door, but is the young mouse prepared for all the challenges that catering to a fussy house guest can bring?
Excerpt 2 for The House Guest Read-Along
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 and could not want the old woolens that now decorated the old treehouse. 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 hazelnuts, 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 glittering 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 incanescent 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 roused her interests. She dressed in her warmest woolens, donned her bonnet lest she hear her mother’s remonstrances from Lucentia—and mouse mothers had eyes and ears everywhere—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 once she reached the bottom, and then 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 rambling white downs. 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.
The afternoon passed agreeably, spent in the happy throes of shoveling the caved-in tunnel, and with the arrival of gloaming came the curmuring of Miss Sniffle’s stomach. She had cleared the path enough to open the door and resolved on finishing the rest tomorrow, resigning herself to the comforts of a warm fire, rosehip tea, and acorn pancakes.
The hearth was soon lit, the water was boiled, the batter was mixed, but she had not begun to cook the first of the pancakes when she heard a loud thump outside. She glanced out the window to find snow once again in front of her door. She sighed and looked up: the snow from the boughs had been shaken down by the howling gales. “I guess I’ll have to shovel the entire thing again tomorrow,” she sighed to herself, and she returned to the kitchen to resume her work when a knock at the door gave her a start.
A knock at the door? Impossible. Who could it be, in this weather and at this hour? The Rabbits had all gone to bed by this time of the night, and Mr Hedgehog was far too old to roll through more than one snow bank in a day. Who could have burrowed their way to the door in so short a time? Her curiosity overpowered her. She leapt to the door and threw it aside, and there, on the threshold, was the old mole, wearing little more than a red covering, gazing up at her with a toothless grin, her eyes closed under the power of heavy wrinkle and wrines, her face crumpled and creased, her hands working and fidgeting away.
“Hello, deary,” said the mole, her nose twitching. “Lovely evening, isn’t it?”
“Lovely,” said Miss Sniffles, in astonishment. She looked about and observed that all the snow which had lately fallen had now been cleared away. “Did you clear all this snow by yourself?”
“Just a trifle,” said the mole, waving her gnarled hand at her. “I am a bit cold and my nose is a bit wet, but that I do not regard. A mole’s business is to dig, and so dig I shall. My, you are a young and pretty thing, aren’t you?” narrowing her gaze. “My eyes are not what they used to be. A mole’s eyes never are, you know.” Her nose twitched, she sniffed the air, and peering into the hawthorn, she said, “And what is that you have on the range, deary?”
Miss Sniffles shook herself from her reverie and looked back at the range. “Acorn pancakes.”
“Acorn pancakes,” the mole exclaimed, rubbing her hands together. “Why, I haven’t had those since I was a young mole. You wouldn’t mind sharing a pancake or two with an old mole, would you, deary? I’m a terrible long way from home and I’ll need something to keep me for my journey. If you will be so good and share what you’ve got there, I’ll give you my kerchief as a thank you in return. It belonged to my sister Milka, but she’s gone these many years. She had nothing to leave behind, you know, but she gave me this, her most valuable possession, in hopes that it would be of use one day. There have been such terrible rains this year that all the root crop is rotted through, and I haven’t had anything to eat these past few weeks that wasn’t a rotten rutabaga. Rotten carrots will do, but,” and she hesitated as she spoke, “but I must eat what I can find, and with conditions like these, who knows when we’ll see fresh fruits again! Well, I was going to trade my kerchief at the market for food, but as the snows have done the market in and if you’ll share with me,” eyeing her complacently, “I’d much rather give it to you.”
The benevolence of the invitation had been so thoroughly done away by the old mole’s prosings that there was nothing more for Miss Sniffles to do but invite the mole inside and share her supper with her. She prepared a few pancakes and placed them on the table, but the moment that the old mole sniffed the wafting scent of their freshly made meal, the first of the pancakes was gone before the mouse could ask whether the old mole would take any butter with it.
“These are delicious,” the mole declared, slottering with full cheeks. “You must have one.”
Miss Sniffles sat to eat what was left, but the instant she pulled close her chair and took up her utensils, the second pancake was gone.
“What a wonderful cook you are,” cried the mole, brushing the crumbs from the corners of her crinkled mouth. “Never have I tasted a pancake so well done. But, my dear, you ate nothing for yourself. And why didn’t you make more? Two pancakes is hardly enough for a mole and a mouse.”
Miss Sniffles could have said that there was enough for a small mouse who understood the importance of moderation, but she checked herself and let it pass with an “Oh, I suppose I’m not as hungry as I thought,” and gathered the plates from the table. “Can I get you any coffee or maple sugar?”
“No coffee, thank you,” said the mole, wiggling her nose, “but I will take a tannin tea if you have one.”
Miss Sniffles did have one—only one, in fact, and she was ill-disposed to part with it. Her dinner had been devoured for her, and not even her sense of charitableness could augur kindness toward a mole who was determined to eat and drink everything in her stores.
“Ah! I see you have a box of tannin tea on the top of the range there. I will take one cup with a few lumps of sugar. But what’s this? You have only one sachet leaf. Very well, I will boil the water and we will share it.”
Before the mouse could make any remonstrances or offers of anything else, Baba Mole was upon her: she was at the range, she was filling the kettle, she was divesting the tannin powder and asking whether the young mouse were married or in want of a husband—she had grandsons to give away, as many grandmothers do—and when the kettle sounded, the old mole had chosen a husband for her against her will, poured the tea, and had sat again at the table, nibbling on some of the leftover rosehip biscuits that had been tucked away in the cupboard.
“These are lovely, my dear,” she cried, the crumbs blanketing her whiskers. “Are these made with lemon?”
Miss Sniffles gave her a flat look. “Yes,” said she begrudgingly, “they are made with lemon.”
“Delightful! You should have one with your tea. I’m sure they would complement the roasted flavour of the tannin.”
They would complement the tea, which is exactly why Miss Sniffles had got them, but when her hand reached out to the biscuit tin to take one, her fingertips were met with scarcely a crumb. She looked inside the tin and was hardly surprised to find it missing all the biscuits that had been there not two minutes before.
“Delectable,” the mole cried. “But, deary, you did not have any. Are you really not hungry?”
Miss Sniffles sniffed. “No.”
“Well, you should finish your tea before it gets cold.”
Miss Sniffles almost feared putting down her cup, lest the old mole take it and claim it for herself, and she therefore kept it close to her and sipped her tea in a deadly calm, wishing her unwanted guest would go away, while the old mole went on about grandsons and lawyers and saying something about how she would not mind if they were all balding or hideous when they were sure to be good boys who earned an excellent living. A grandmother always has one or two spare good boys.
About the Author:
Michelle Franklin is a small woman of moderate consequence who writes many, many books about giants, romance, and chocolate.