O NCE upon a time there lived an old man and an old woman in a little hut on the border of a wood. They tended their cow and horse, and worked in the fields and were busy from morning till night. There were other people living near them who worked in the fields also, but no one had ever dared go into the forest—not even to chop wood. There were no paths, the trees had grown together like a wall, and it was very dark to look at.
After a while a little girl was born to the old woman and the old man. She was the most wonderful baby, and she grew into the most wonderful little girl—all dimples and smiles and love. Whoever looked at her became happy at once, and people came from miles around to see her smile, or touch her fingers. And they named her Little Sunshine.
The mother taught her to bake and sew and spin, so she might be industrious as well as loving. She could work in the fields, too, but whatever bit of work she started it was finished before you could so much as turn around; or else some one would come and help Little Sunshine complete it.
"This will never do," said her mother one day. "Little Sunshine must learn to work alone, or she will grow up a lazy girl. Take this, my child," she said, as she gave Little Sunshine a snarl of flax nearly as large as she was, "and do you go into your own room alone to spin it."
So Little Sunshine laughed merrily and took the flax into her own room, and shut the door fast.
"Whirr, whirr" went her spinning-wheel—"whirr"—but the flax seemed to untangle itself and soon lay in smooth coils of thread upon the floor. Just as it was finished Little Sunshine heard: "Squeak, squeak," and a gray mouse scuttled from a hole in the chimney corner and perched himself upon her distaff.
"What do you want, mouse?" asked Little Sunshine.
"Something good to eat," squeaked the mouse.
"Why, I don't believe I have a thing for you," said Little Sunshine, "unless you like this," and she offered the mouse a bit of the fat with which she greased her wheel.
The mouse nibbled away gratefully, but, all at once, Little Sunshine heard a rap at the door, and a gruff voice called out: "Let me in, let me in!"
She hastened to open the door, and who should walk in but a great, grizzly, brown bear—so tall and fierce that he seemed to fill the whole room!
"I have come to play blind-man's-buff with you, Little Sunshine," said the bear.
Poor Little Sunshine! She was too much afraid to speak, but the gray mouse whispered in her ear: "Do not be afraid; I will help you, Little Sunshine."
So Little Sunshine tied her apron about the bear's eyes to blind him. While she was counting "one, two three," the mouse blew out the fire, so that it was quite dark, and he hung a little string of bells about his neck. He motioned to Little Sunshine to hide in the farthest corner of the room, and then he began dancing about, shaking his bells, while the bear ran after him. This way and that went the nimble mouse: under the chairs, on the top of the spinning-wheel, over the table; and the clumsy bear could not put a paw on him. It grew to be night, but still they were playing their queer game.
"I will catch you yet, Little Sunshine," said the bear, but the mouse only shook his bells the louder and ran faster. At last the bear grew quite dizzy with so much twisting and turning about, and just as the first daylight came in through the windows he pulled the bandage from his eyes and cried out: "Enough, enough, Little Sunshine; you are a better player than I."
The mouse ran up the chimney, and Little Sunshine came, laughing, out of her corner and sat down at her spinning-wheel again. The bear looked at her sunny little face, all smiles and dimples, and he said:
"Will you pull me out of my skin, Little Sunshine?"
"Oh, I could never do that," said Little Sunshine.
"Just try," said the bear, holding out his paw.
Little Sunshine pulled, and pulled, and pulled and off fell the bear-skin, and there stood a splendid prince smiling down at her.
"You are to come home with me," said the prince, "and live in my palace always."
So Little Sunshine said good-bye to her father and mother, and the prince gave them twelve wagonloads of grain and twelve horses, that they might not feel too badly at losing her. The thick, dark forest opened wide into paths to let the prince and Little Sunshine through, and she went away to be the Princess Sunshine.
The first thing she did was to decree that all the tabby-cats in her kingdom should wear little strings of bells about their necks when they played blind-man's-buff with the mice. And every morning she rode through the streets in her gold chariot, that she might show her sunny face to all her subjects and turn their work into play.