The Tale of the Littlest Mouse
T HE littlest mouse lived with his father and mother and little brothers in a small round nest in a field. He was very happy, playing in the field all day, and going to sleep—snug and warm at night—in his grassy bed.
Mr. and Mrs. Field Mouse had seen the world, and knew how to bring up their children. They taught them never to go into the streets, where there were cats and dogs and great horses and carts going by, and all sorts of danger.
One day there came to visit them a big, sleek, fat gray mouse—a cousin who lived in a house on a street. The little Field Mice were overawed by his fine ways.
"You would never be contented here if you could once see my house," he said to them. "Such feasts as we have! There is always cheese in the dresser. The maids are careless, and they leave everything around. There is really too much to eat."
The little Field Mice opened their eyes. Very often in their home there was not enough to go around. They knew what it was to go hungry to bed. The idea of any one having too much to eat filled them with envy.
After the cousin had gone, the little mice said to the father and mother: "Why can't we live in a house, and have more than we want to eat? Why can't we be fat, and have a fine gray coat like cousin's?"
But the wise parents said: "Don't be carried away by such tales. Your cousin is proud and makes the most of his good things. He didn't tell you about the cat that lives in the house and has eaten up three of his family. He didn't tell you of the big steel trap lying about nor how his brother got caught in one of the dreadful things. You may not have such good things to eat, nor wear such a fine coat, but it is better to be safe and happy in a small, humble home than to be always afraid in a big, handsome one."
The littlest mouse thought differently. They did not understand, he thought; he wanted to find out for himself. So, that night, after they had been snugly tucked in bed and his father and mother had gone to sleep, he stole softly out across the dark field and into the street to his cousin's house. Trembling with excitement, he gnawed his way into the cellar.
Never had he seen such a place before—so big and so dark. He heard something move near him, and he jumped in fright, but to his joy he saw that it was only his fat, sleek cousin. The littlest mouse explained how he had run away, and that he wanted to see the life his cousin had told him about.
"Well," said the big, gray mouse, "come with me, and I'll show you around, but look out for the cat!"
They started on their journey through the big house, and the littlest mouse opened his eyes in wonder, and said so many times that he wished he, too, might live there.
"You're happier where you are," said the cousin, and the littlest mouse wondered what he meant. At last they reached the dining-room. There had been a fine supper that night, and the careless maids had let it stand until morning. Here was a feast, indeed! There were a pie and cake and crackers and cheese. Five other mice were there enjoying the good things—all of them as sleek and fat as the cousin. The littlest mouse followed their example, and began enjoying himself, too. But just as their fun was at its height, there was a scuffle, a squeal, and a scampering; for a big, gray cat bounded into the room and caught the mouse that was nearest the door.
Wild with fright, the other mice scampered away from the room. They ran to their holes, the big, gray cousin making room for the littlest mouse with him; and there they stayed, not daring to breathe, even, for a long time. At last they ventured out again into the kitchen, and, while the cousin nosed around, the littlest mouse spied a big bit of cheese in a beautiful, shiny box. He made a dive for the tempting bit.
Snap! Click! The littlest mouse was fast. He knew now what a trap was.
"Help! Help!" he cried.
The cousin ran to the rescue.
"Oh, you silly mouse!" he cried; "you will never get out. They'll come in the morning and give you to the cat. Oh, it was just so with your cousin who was caught in the trap last week! Oh, dear! Oh, dear!"
The littlest mouse was wild with fright. He struggled and he wriggled. Something sharp cut his foot, but he hardly felt the pain. If he could only get loose and back to his own home! Would he ever see it again? He twisted in and out. Harder and harder he wriggled until—slowly, inch by inch—he worked himself out and was free again.
"That's because you are such a little fellow," said his cousin. "I never could have got out."
With a hurried good-bye, the little mouse ran as fast as his bruised leg would carry him out of the house and across the fields to his old home. His mother had awakened and missed him. How glad she was to see him! She cared for the poor sore foot; then wrapped him snugly in his little grass bed, where he went to sleep—happy and safe—and determined never to leave home again.