Gretchen was a goose girl. She lived in a tiny cottage with a red roof, all amidst the fields, and woods, and hills, and every day she took a big stick and drove her geese across the common to the pond on the other side.
One summer morning her mother said she might take a holiday, and go and visit her Auntie Jeanne. So Gretchen dressed herself in her best clothes, and set out to the village. She spent a happy time with her auntie, and after tea started for home.
Just on the edge of the common she met her geese.
When they saw her they began to cackle in great excitement, and caught hold of her skirts. Gretchen drove them off with her umbrella. But they only waddled on a little way, then looked back to see what she was doing.
“I believe they want me to follow them!” cried Gretchen.
As soon as the geese saw her coming they began to run, and Gretchen ran after. On and on they went, over the common, across the fields, until they came to a little shady dell in a wood. And here Gretchen stopped, and clapped her hands with delight, for on the mossy ground was spread the most delicious tea she had ever seen. All around sat a number of little brown rabbits. Peter Bunny spied Gretchen first.
“Look, mother!” he cried. “There's a little servant girl!”
“So there is!” exclaimed Mrs. Bunny, staring at Gretchen. “What wages do you ask, my dear?”
Gretchen thought this great fun. “If you please,” she said, “I should be quite satisfied with some of those lovely cakes.”
“As many as you like,” said Mrs. Bunny. “Now go and fetch the tea.”
The geese had vanished, so Gretchen filled the tea pot from the little kettle on the fire, and Peter Bunny carried dishes of cakes. Then they all sat down, and Gretchen had as many cakes as she could eat. When tea was over, Mrs. Bunny told Gretchen to go and play with the children until bedtime.
“What's that?” asked Peter, presently, pointing to the umbrella, and Gretchen showed him how it opened and shut.
“I know!” he cried. “We'll go for a sail in the air.”
“Hurrah!” cried all the other rabbits, and they dragged Gretchen and the umbrella on to the common.
She opened the umbrella wide, Peter caught hold of her skirts, and the other rabbits joined on behind, holding on to each other's tails. “One, two, three—go!” cried Peter, and the whole party went soaring into the air. It was a delicious feeling. Higher and higher they went, until at last they were right above the clouds.
“Oh!” cried Gretchen, suddenly, “the umbrella's shutting up! Oh! whatever shall we do?” Sure enough the umbrella was no longer puffed out like a balloon, but hanging loosely round the handle, and the next moment it began to fall.
“We're tumbling into the sea!” cried the rabbit at the bottom of the chain, and there was a loud splash.
Splash, splash, splash! One by one all the bunnies fell in until only Peter and Gretchen were left. All of a sudden the umbrella flew out of her hands, and she awoke to find herself sitting by the side of the pond, while her geese were splashing in for their evening swim. On the ground in front of her lay the umbrella, but Peter and the rest of the rabbits had completely disappeared.
“I hope they're not drowned,” she said, as she got up and peered into the pond. But the water was so clear she could look right to the bottom, and no sign of a bunny rabbit could she see.
“It must have been a dream,” she said, as she smoothed out her dress.
“But those cakes were lovely. So was the journey through the air.” She picked up her umbrella and opened it, but it wouldn't lift her an inch off the ground. So she scampered home to find mother standing in the doorway looking for her, but when she told her story, mother laughed.