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Mr and Mrs Mouse - Harper's

 

Once upon a time there lived a Mr. and Mrs. Mouse. They were sometimes almost tempted to be sorry that they did live, for they were often very short of anything to eat, and it happened once or twice that they were very nearly eaten up by cats, or hunted by dogs, all of which made them very unhappy. They had changed their house over and over again, till they were quite sick of such a wandering life. At last Mr. Mouse said to his wife one day, "My dear, I have made up my mind not to settle down anywhere till I have thoroughly examined the place to see if it will suit, for I am tired of having to change every week like this."

"Very well, dear," said his wife, "I quite agree with you. I am as tired of this moving as you can be. Do you know, I am getting quite thin from all this worry of dogs and cats. I feel quite loose in my coat, and I feel so dreadfully nervous of traps every time I venture out at night into the kitchen."

"Poor little thing!" said Mr. Mouse; "but I think I know of a place that may suit us. The old lady that lives up stairs in her bedroom is a kind old woman, I have heard cook say. Don't you think we might look behind the wainscot of her room, and see if it would suit?"

So they agreed to go up stairs that very night and pay a visit to the old lady's room. The old lady was a great invalid, and hardly ever left her room. Mr. and Mrs. Mouse inspected the whole room carefully, she looking after their lodgings, and he seeing what chances there were of food, and what kinds of it, for Mr. Mouse was rather dainty in his eating, if he were not hard up for food, as they had been a good deal lately. They found everything perfection. As to lodgings, Mrs. Mouse found a hole which delighted her extremely. It was obscurely hid in the wainscot under the wardrobe, where nobody could possibly see them going in and out—just to her liking. With a little nibbling of the wood here and there inside the hole, she thought it would make the most delightful house anybody ever had. There were no nasty draughts to give her colds, and if they wanted a little amusement during the day, there was the whole length of the wardrobe to race along under; for, to tell the truth, Mr. and Mrs. Mouse were both quite young yet, and enjoyed a good scamper immensely. She also found that there had been no other mice for a very long time, if there ever had been. She was very glad of this, as she by no means approved of a lot of other mice being there to interfere with her and her husband. Mr. Mouse was equally pleased with what he found.

The old lady who lived in the room was constantly having all kinds of invalid messes, arrowroot, gruel, etc. There would have been quite enough to eat from what she left alone; but besides all her eatables, there was a large cage full of birds, that spattered their seed about in all directions, and Mr. and Mrs. Mouse were very fond of bird seed. Then there were always bread-crumbs about, and lumps of sugar; in fact, both Mr. and Mrs. Mouse agreed in thinking that there had never been a place so thoroughly fitted for them in every way. So, after examining the room in every corner, and being quite satisfied, they both scampered off down stairs again, and, avoiding the cat, got safely home.

Next day they set about moving, or rather next night, for they did nothing all day but pack up their trunks and rest themselves before the night came on. They worked very hard, and were all but settled in their new home when the morning came.

Then Mrs. Mouse turned her husband out while she arranged the inside of her house. She took great pains about their bedroom, which she filled up with some rose leaves from a "pot-pourri" vase on the landing outside, which made a deliciously soft bed to lie upon. At each corner, to make the posts of the bed, she stuck a clove or bit of cinnamon, and to make the curtains over the top and at the sides she robbed a spider's web, which looked lovely. When she had finished all her arrangements she called Mr. Mouse in, and when she heard his little squeaks and screams of delight, she was fully satisfied. In the mean time he had brushed the floor just outside with his tail till it was quite clean, and on it he had spread their first meal in their new house. And what a good breakfast it was! Bird seed of several kinds, bread-crumbs, a little bit of arrowroot, some lumps of sugar, and as dessert he had with great courage stolen a little piece of chocolate from the old lady's bedside. They were very jolly in their new house; they had never felt so secure anywhere before, and hoped they might now live in peace. After living there some time they found out that the old lady was very fond of all kinds of animals, and the idea of anything being killed was dreadfully painful to her. She was not aware that a cat was kept below stairs, or she would not have allowed it, for she was very fond of mice. Mr. and Mrs. Mouse knew they were perfectly safe with her, but they were not at all as sure of her maid, who looked very cross and grumpy. So things went on for some time very happily, and Mrs. Mouse began to look about for a good place to put her babies in, for she had fifteen of them. She found a large bottle under the wardrobe at one end, and so she told her husband she would put them there. It was not very nice of Mr. Mouse, but he disliked those babies. He thought them hideous, nasty little things, without any hair at all on their bodies, and he thought them horrid for the perpetual squeaking they kept up. He also said that he thought Mrs. Mouse might very well have been satisfied with half the number; but he only said that once, for his wife fired up in a moment, and said he was most unkind, and that he ought to be proud of such a family, for some lady mice had so little pride that they only had six or seven.

"Nobody can say that of me," said Mrs. Mouse, holding up her nose in the air; and poor Mr. Mouse gave in utterly, and only ventured an occasional snort every now and then, when one of the fifteen babies squeaked more shrilly than usual.

Mrs. Mouse put her babies in the bottle, and they grew up into fine big mice, nearly as big as their father. But these young mice were very noisy; they tore about, and squeaked even in broad daylight, so that the cross maid looked crosser, and at last told her mistress.

"Them mice are not to be borne, mum, and I'll set a trap."

The old lady said she would not have a trap set, and the dear little things killed, so for some days the mice continued to squeak and scamper as much as ever. But the maid, thinking matters were going too far, got the trap, without saying anything to her mistress, and putting some toasted cheese in it, set it under the wardrobe.

Vainly did Mr. and Mrs. Mouse say to their children, in the most solemn tones, "Don't go near that cage; I don't quite know what it is, but I'm sure it is dangerous." The young ones did not mind them. They thought they would only go and look at it, and then the toasted cheese smelled so very good, it could do no harm just to try and taste it; and so five of them were caught, and next morning were given to the cat.

All the other brothers and sisters went into deep mourning, and could be seen wiping their eyes with their tails a great many times during the following days. Then one or two of them thought change of air would be the best thing for them, so they went down stairs for a short time, and when they came back, to Mr. Mouse's disgust, they each brought back a wife or a husband.

Mr. Mouse was quite angry at such an addition to a family already too large, he thought; so that evening, instead of staying quietly at home, and watching the young ones run races, he was so disturbed in his mind that he went out for a walk.

The moonlight was coming in through the window and making a long line of light on the floor as Mr. Mouse slowly walked out from under the wardrobe. He stood for some time looking about him, thinking in which direction should he first go. His bright little eyes twinkled in the moonlight as he looked this way and that, and having made up his mind to go first to the bird-cage and see how the provisions were there, he sat down on the floor and scratched his ear slowly with his hind-foot. The birds were all asleep on their perches; but to Mr. Mouse's indignation he found that his children, not satisfied with taking all the seed that fell outside, had all but emptied the box in the cage.

"Young scamps," said Mr. Mouse, "they will be getting us into mischief if they eat up everything like this."

From the bird-cage he went on to the old lady's bed, and after running about there for some time, went to sleep under her pillow. He found it so comfortable and warm that next night he went back to the bed, but before going to sleep under the pillow he thought he would like to see what the old lady's night-cap tasted like. He nibbled and nibbled until he had made a large hole; and then, finding it so amusing and nice, he crept under the clothes, and ate several large round holes in her night-gown. But alas for poor Mr. Mouse! The old lady in her sleep happened to roll over on her side: there was a faint squeak, rather muffled by the bedclothes, and Mr. Mouse's days on this earth were over.

Next morning the old lady said to her maid, "Brown, I wish you would look at my cap; there was something tickling and pressing my head last night, and also my leg." Brown looked, and was horrified at the big hole she found on her mistress's cap; but she was speechless when on looking into the bed she found Mr. Mouse's dead body, and two more holes in her mistress's night-gown. She wanted to get a dog or a cat, and any amount of traps; but the old lady was so sorry for the mouse she had killed that she made the excuse that perhaps he was the only one left, and that they would wait a little longer and see. Brown gave in, as she could not help it, and looked crosser than ever on account of the mice.

Now the young Mrs. Mice were searching for homes for their babies, which had come. They could find no place at all, until one day one of them found a hole in the back of the wardrobe, and calling her sister, they both with great caution crept in and found just what they wanted. One of them took possession of the old lady's bonnet, one of the old-fashioned big ones, all quilted with satin inside; and the other the muff to match the bonnet. There could not have been more comfortable nests for their babies, when the linings were removed and had all been properly cut up into shreds, than the old lady's muff and bonnet made; so the two young mammas were in high delight, and tucked their babies in that night, feeling they had been wiser and luckier than any Mrs. Mouse ever had been in getting such a bed for their little ones.

A few days after a young lady came running into the room. She was a very pretty young lady, and she seemed to bring sunshine and happiness into the room with her. "Oh, grandmamma!" she cried, "you must put on your things and come out. I have brought the carriage for you; the sun is shining so brightly; the wind is from the south, and it is quite summer. It will do you so much good to get some fresh air."

"Oh, little one, I could not," said grandmamma; "I have not been out for months, and I don't know where my things are. I don't think I can go out to-day. It does me almost as much good to see your bright face."

"You must come out, grandmamma; it's no use making excuses," said the young lady; and so the old lady gave in, as everybody did to this sunshiny little woman.

As soon as the two young Mrs. Mice heard the doors of the wardrobe opened, they scampered away as fast as they could. The bonnet was taken out, and then the muff, and you can think what a scene there was when the nasty hairless little mice tumbled out, and they found how utterly destroyed both bonnet and muff were.

That was the last of the Mouse family. The old lady moved into another room the next day. Her old room was cleared of furniture, the mouse-holes stopped up, a cat put in at night, and a bull-terrier by day, and traps of all kinds. Every mouse was killed, and not a single one from any other part of the house had courage to go into that room after such a tragedy.