One day, while rowing her leaky old punt on the Quincunx lake, Maria determines to explore the small island and its ruin, known as Mistress Masham's Repose. Family history has it that a seventeenth-century duchess, one of Maria's ancestors, had constructed this little temple so that she could take a quiet cup of tea with some of her illustrious houseguests: Alexander Pope, Joseph Addison, and, perhaps, Jonathan Swift himself, whose satire, Gulliver's Travels (1726) provides the basis for White's story.
Pretending to be a pirate, Maria rows to the island, hacks through the undergrowth, and, to her surprise, emerges onto a carefully tended lawn. To her further amazement, she finds that the temple is not a ruin at all, but a shipshape, tidy building. Following a tiny pathway, Maria quickly discovers seven inch high doorways cut into the bases of the pillars of the Repose. But, most thrillingly, she discovers, in a cradle made of half a walnut shell, a tiny, perfectly formed, living baby! She picks up the cradle and, in a flash, is assaulted by the infant's five-inch-high, spear-toting mother, who pokes her smartly in the ankle with a pin-sized harpoon. Maria quickly scoops her up, too, and returns to her lonely room in the palace, bearing her new "pets" home in triumph, like any good pirate bears his booty.
It is not long before two things happen to change forever both Maria's life and the lives of the tiny residents of the Repose. First,...
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