Gypsies it certainly was, as the Councillor soon determined; and he hastily scratched some snow over the door, and retired to the back kitchen with his whole family, in a terrible state of fright and excitement. "What can the boy have fallen into?" he enquired vainly of the Hedgehog-mother, and of Uncle Columbus, in turn. "There are no houses there that I know of.
"But fifty miles is really almost too far to go with nothing but a cup of coffee at the end," said the Hedgehog-mother, "and he never invites us to sleep. We don't, therefore, see so much of him as we otherwise should do." "That must be very trying," replied the Mole-mother, to whom these confidences were being poured out.
The rooms in the Councillor's house had all been gaily decorated with pine branches; the stove sent out a pleasant glow; and the Hedgehog-mother, in her best cap and a stiff black silk dress, stood waiting to welcome her guests in the ante-room.
What do you say to that, my children?" The family clapped their hands joyfully. "I trust you and your family will grace the party?" said the Hedgehog-mother to the old Mole. "On one condition," he replied, "I shall be delighted to do so; and that is that you will allow me to ask the Rats from the Inn. They are touchy people, and do not readily forgive an injury."
She was sitting by the table, with her homespun knitting in her hand; and though she was trying to pay attention to her friend's words, she was arranging her dinner for the next day at the same time, and wondering whether her eldest child could have one more tuck let out of her frock before Christmas time. "It's all very well for the Hedgehog-mother," she thought.
"Come in by all means," said the Hedgehog-mother, graciously. "I am sorry to be obliged to receive you in this humble apartment." "Gypsies!" growled Uncle Columbus, who was brushing the currants and crumbs off his coat with a duster.
The sugar biscuits are all spoilt, for I forgot them in the oven; and my daughter Berta fainted on the top of the stove, and is so seriously singed, she will be unable to appear at the party. Not that we shall be able to have a party now," continued the Hedgehog-mother, weeping, "for Uncle Columbus sat down on the plum cake in mistake for a foot-stool, and Fritz has trodden on the punch bottles.
He staggered in, carrying a large plum cake about twice the size of the one he had unfortunately sat down upon; which he placed upon the coffee table, where the Hedgehog-mother was presiding over a large collection of various cups, mugs, and saucers. "I have only just come back from town, where I went to procure a cake fit for this happy occasion," he whispered.
"Don't be frightened," he said reassuringly. "I have made a little tunnel and come through merely to explain things. I thought perhaps you might be a little alarmed." "Alarmed!" cried the Hedgehog-mother. "It doesn't describe it! Terrified, and distracted, is nearer to the real thing.
"All's well that ends well," he said cheerfully, "and as I heard the Tinker forbidding his sons ever to come near the place again, you will be quite safe in the future." "What has happened to that dreadful boy? Is he still in the hole, or have they got him out?" enquired the Hedgehog-mother anxiously. "Got him out some time ago," said the Mole-father, "and carried him off to the hospital.