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Agnes Taylor Ketchum

Adventures of a Mouse Family

I N the darkest corner of a cellar, under a hogshead, mamma mouse had made her nest. There, on little bits of cotton, paper, rags, and a thousand other things, reposed her eight little children. The little mice, born yesterday, are no larger than a nut; their eyes are not yet opened, and they have not a single hair on their backs, only pink skin. Mamma mouse thinks them most beautiful; her eyes shine with pleasure when she looks at them. She nurses and counts them every instant, for if she would lose one of them it would be a great grief to her.

The little mice grew very fast, for they received good attention. At the end of a week they were covered with plenty of gray hair, and on the thirteenth day of their lives, they opened their eyes for the first time. It was a day of happiness to mamma mouse, and she ran quickly to the kitchen safe to hunt some cheese for them. The mice found the cheese so good for them, that they did not want any more milk, and every day mamma mouse trotted from the kitchen to the cellar looking for things for the little mice to eat.

One morning, mamma mouse took her children out of the nest, to walk in the cellar, and when they had finished their walk, she assembled them around her, sat upon her hind legs, and spoke thus:

"My dear children, you have now reached your sixteenth day. Up to the present time, I have always taken care of you like a good mother. I have nourished you with milk, and when your teeth grew strong, you know nuts, biscuits and carrots were never wanting. But you have become reasonable mice, and it is time that you take care of yourselves.

"Remember, first you must be kind to one another. Never forget that the life of a mouse is full of danger, every hour of the day. Keep your eyes and ears open. Come here, now I will show you how the cook catches foolish little mice. Do you see this little house, with five little rooms in it, filled with good things? It is a mouse trap. If you enter it, you will be strangled."

At these words, the mice were very much frightened. Mamma mouse could scarcely quiet them. But after awhile, she was able to continue.

"Roasted cheese smells very good, and no doubt you are very fond of it; but here, in this cellar, never touch it, for it is poisoned.

"Now, if by chance you should meet a large animal, with yellow eyes and beautiful whiskers, run as fast as you can; it is a cat, who will eat you greedily. It is he, who ate your poor father.

"I have more to say, but will wait until to-morrow. To-day, as I am very tired, I will only show you how to get your food; follow me."

Saying this, mamma mouse jumped on a hogshead, from there to a beam, and then stopped.

"You see this hole?" she said. "It is an entrance to a mouse passage which leads to the kitchen step. This passage was made by your great-great-grandfathers and grandmothers, long before you were born."

The little mice followed their mother with great difficulty, for the passage was dark and full of turns. At last they arrived. How good everything smelled in there.

"Behold the ham, eat that," cried mamma mouse. "It is good for little mice; plenty of meat, cakes and sugar."

"It is delicious," said the little mice, licking their jaws. "We will come often and breakfast here."

Soon a little cry was heard, "weet, weet," coming from the bottom of the closet. Mamma mouse ran to the bottom of the closet, climbed upon a loaf of bread, and what did she see? One of her dear little children, who had fallen into a pot of milk. She called her, climbed upon the handle of the pot, and came near falling in herself in trying to aid her poor child. But all in vain. In a few moments the little mouse had ceased to live, and her body was lying in the bottom of the pot. Mamma mouse, with tears in her eyes, descended into the cellar.

"I am much distressed," said she. "I dare not let you run alone, for I have only taken you out once, and already I have lost one of my children."

"Oh! never fear," said the little mice, "we will be very careful."

"Well," said mamma mouse, "let the misfortune of day serve you as a warning."

So the next morning behold them running, climbing; now here, now there; to the right, to the left, to see and to smell everything. Among other new things they found a row of empty bottles.

"What is here?" said a little mouse, putting her head at the top of one of them. "Oh! no, it is dark in there, I will not go in." "What a funny thing," said a little mouse, climbing up a lantern.

"Ah! ah! I believe there is something good down there, but there is an opening at the top large enough to let me in." In she went.

"It is excellent," cried she to the others, gnawing away at a piece of candle. "Come, my brothers, for I cannot carry you any."

But the others saw it was not so easy to get out as it was to enter, and would not go down. Sure enough, when the little mouse tried to get out, her paws slipped against the glass, and notwithstanding all her efforts to get out, she remained a prisoner.

"A piece of lard," cried another mouse.

"Here, come from all sides in this iron house," answered a little mouse.

"Stop! stop!" cried the oldest mouse. "Perhaps it is a trap."

"It is possible," said another. "Let us go home to our mother."

The end of the day was very sorrowful for mamma mouse. The loss of her two children made her sad for many days. The following day the little mice wished to take a new walk. The sun was shining through the cellar windows, and the rays came over to the nest, under the hogshead.

"It is delicious out there," cried the little mice; "let us go and take a walk."

No sooner said than done. Behold them strolling along down the garden walk. Bronzie, the cat, is sleeping on the bank; she is awakened by a slight noise, she sees something stirring under the grass, she puts up her eyes, all her body trembles, she springs. What has she caught? One of the little mice. Some scamper back, but one little sister, half dead with fright, runs straight along, looking neither to the right nor to the left. She crosses the garden, stops a moment to take a breath, and then runs again. She crosses one field, then another. Behold her arrived at the entrance to a forest. There all is still. No sound but the leaves stirred by the wind, or the song of the birds. Nevertheless, our little mouse is not reassured. She believes always that the animal with the yellow eyes and beautiful whiskers is still pursuing her. She stopped finally at the roots of a tree, crept under, and fatigued with her long journey, fell asleep.

The sun was high in the heavens when she awoke. She was astonished to find herself in the forest. Little by little, she remembered all that had happened to her the day before, and all trembling she crept out of the hole at the roots of the tree. She found several green leaves, which served as her breakfast, and all the time she had nothing else to eat. Then one morning she found herself driven by hunger to a wheat field, and began to nibble at some grains of wheat. Suddenly, a little noise was heard above her, and at the same time something heavy fell on her head. She got up all numbed, and what did she see? A little brown mouse, which ran away as quickly as possible, and at the same time she saw descending from the wheat, a mouse somewhat larger than the one that fell on her head.

"Disobedient child," said she, "have I not forbidden you to leave the nest? See, now, you have frightened this little house mouse. Go back quickly, and do not come down any more. I am truly sorry that you have been so frightened," she said, turning to the gray mouse. "I hope you are not hurt. Oh! what care these children give me. But this little incident has given me the pleasure of making your acquaintance. You have probably come to pass several days in the country? Are you with your parents?"

"No," said the little mouse, "I left my mother several days ago; but I dare not return, for there are great dangers around the house."

"You know," said the brown mouse, "that we are of the same family. You are a house mouse, and I a field mouse, and I live up there, with my children, in a little round nest, which you see at the top of the wheat. I have woven wheat foliage and finished it with dried leaves. I assure you we are very happy here, and I would willingly invite you to go up with me, but you are so much larger, that I am afraid the wheat would not hold you. It seems to me that you have not been well nourished, for you are very thin. Show me your teeth, they seem to be very long." The gray mouse, much astonished, nevertheless opened her mouth. "Ah!" said the field mouse, "you have not had good care, for your teeth have grown too long. Has your mother never told you, that it is necessary for mice to gnaw often at hard food, in order to wear them off? But, perhaps, having left her so young, she did not have time to instruct you in those things. But where shall we go to-day?"

"I will go back and hide in my hole at the root of the tree," said the gray mouse.

"Impossible," said the field mouse; "how can you pass these beautiful summer days in a hole? Come walk with me; I will show you all that a mouse can eat in these fields."

Saying this, she called her children, and they all came running down the wheat sheaf. Altogether they took a charming walk. In the middle of the night our young mouse returned to her house at the root of the tree enchanted with the goodness of her cousins. The autumn was a beautiful season for the mouse. Acorns, nuts, pears, peaches, were never wanting; but when winter came, and the ground was covered with snow, our poor mouse could find nothing to eat. Then she decided to return to the cellar; she quitted the forest, crossed the fields covered with snow, and arrived shivering at the cellar window. But the windows were boarded up, and with great difficulty she made her way into the cellar, where she heard from all sides, "wi, wi, wi."

"Why do you make so much noise?" asked she of a young mouse who passed her.

"Do you not know," was the answer, "that the master and mistress of the house are away, and we are having a great feast? Come with me; see all the cheese we have for supper. Look at all the good things."

A large number of mice arrived soon after, some bringing raisins, some biscuits, some carrots. They formed in a circle around the cheese and were only waiting for the old mouse, who lived under the hogshead, before beginning their repast. Soon she came, holding between her teeth a piece of ham.

"Mamma, mamma," cried the little mouse throwing herself upon the old mouse; but the mamma did not answer.

"Mamma, do you not know me? I am your child, the sister of the one that fell in the pot of milk."

"How," said the mother, "is it you indeed? I should never have known you. Where have you been?"

The young mouse told all that had happened to her and the mamma was so happy that she could not scold her for running away.