O NE day, as Willy was amusing himself very quietly in the nursery, which did not often happen, for he liked running about much better than sitting still, he heard a noise as if something was scratching against the wall.
"What is that?" said he to Ann, going close up to her, and seeming rather frightened. Ann looked round, and so did Willy; when they saw a little mouse peeping out of a small hole in one corner of the room. "Oh, what a pretty thing it is!" cried Willy; but the instant he spoke the mouse disappeared.
"The sound of your voice frightened him," said Ann; "and he is gone back into the hole."
"Oh, what foolish things mice and birds are," said Willy: "they always fancy you are going to hurt them. Do you think it will not come back again?"
"We must wait and see," said Ann.
But they waited in vain; and though Willy was quite quiet, and kept his eyes fixed upon the hole, no mouse was to be seen. At last Ann said that she would go and fetch a piece of cheese, and lay it close to the hole; and that if the mouse smelt the cheese, he would come back to eat it. So she fetched some cheese, and placed it by the hole; and in a short time the mouse popped out his tiny head, and hearing no noise, he ventured a little farther, and at last came quite out of the hole, and began nibbling the cheese.
"How he likes cheese," whispered Willy: "I wish I could catch him and play with him a little while."
Ann then took up a broom, very gently, and before the mouse could see her, went and stopped up the hole with it. As soon as the mouse heard the noise he left the cheese to run back and hide himself in his hole; and when he found the hole was stopped up he was sadly frightened. He ran round and round the room, to find some place to save himself in; but no other hole could he see.
"Poor little mouse," said Willy, "you need not be so frightened; I shall not hurt you; I only want to play with you for a little while; and then I will let you go back to your hole. Does he live in that hole, Ann?"
"He lives inside the wall," replied Ann, "with a great many other mice; and he has just made that hole to come out at."
"How can such a little tiny thing as that make a hole in the wood?"
"He does it with his teeth," said Ann: "mice can gnaw through almost any thing."
"Do try to catch it, Ann; I cannot."
Ann tried, but could not for a long while either: at last she threw her apron over it, and caught it up in the apron. Then Willy came to look at it; and the poor little animal panted for breath, it was so much frightened and so tired of running.
"I will fetch it the cheese," said Willy; and he ran for the piece of cheese which the mouse had been nibbling; but the mouse would not touch it.
"Poor little thing!" exclaimed Willy; "perhaps he has got a papa and mamma at his home in the wall, and he wants to get back to them." And he stroked the mouse, and said, "We will soon let you go."
Willy and Ann had made such a noise running about the room after the mouse, that Betty the housemaid came to ask whether any thing was the matter.
"Only this little mouse," said Willy, "that we have caught."
"A mouse!" exclaimed Betty: "Oh, mercy on me!" and she began to scream.
"Why, what is the matter with Betty?" said Willy to Ann.
"She is afraid of a mouse," replied Ann, laughing.
"Oh, she is only making fun: how can a great woman like her be afraid of such a bit of a thing as this poor little mouse?"
"It's no fun at all," cried Betty: "I can't bear a mouse: I never could."
"And why do not you like a poor little mouse?"
"Poor little mouse!" cried Betty. "I tell you it is a horrid ugly thing; and I wonder Ann will allow you to go near it. It would bite you, I am sure, if Ann did not hold it so close in her apron."
"If it did," said Ann, "it would not hurt you much, its teeth are so small; but perhaps it might try to nibble your finger a little, to try to get away; so I do not advise you to put it near its mouth."
"I shall fetch the cat," cried Betty, "and she will soon make an end of it."
She was going out of the room, when Willy, who recollected how nearly the sparrow had been eaten up by a cat, flew at Betty, and called out, "You shan't, you shan't, Betty; naughty Betty, I won't have the poor mouse killed."
"Here is a pretty to do, indeed," cried Betty; "my gown all torn with your tantrums, sir: I shall tell your Mamma of this."
Mamma, who heard all the noise and bustle in the nursery, ran up stairs to know what it was; and when she came in, and saw Willy red and crying with passion, and Betty's gown torn, she asked what had happened. Ann told her the whole story. Then Mamma said, "It was certainly wrong of you, Willy, to fall into a passion and tear Betty's gown."
"But she was going to fetch the cat to kill the mouse," sobbed Willy.
"That is some excuse for you; but why did you not desire Betty, civilly, not to bring the cat? I really am quite ashamed of you. And as for you, Betty, if you are so afraid of a poor little mouse, you had better go away."
Betty went away ashamed, when she saw by her mistress's looks that she thought her very silly to be afraid of a mouse.
"Let me look at this poor little creature that has made such a bustle," said Mamma; and Ann opened her apron to show it. The mouse, finding itself free, sprung away, fell upon the floor, but without being hurt; and ran round the room till it found the hole, through which it escaped, and was seen no more.
"Now," said Mamma, "the best thing we can do is to fasten up the hole, that the poor mouse may not come out again; for if he does, there is great danger of his falling into the claws of pussy. Come, Willy," said she, smiling, "dry your tears: I forgive you, because you had not time to think, and that you were in a passion not for yourself, but on account of the poor mouse; but I hope you will have more command over yourself another time. Then you must make some amends to Betty for tearing her gown."
"But was it not very foolish of Betty to be afraid of a mouse?" said Willy.
"I dare say, that when she was a little child, not older than you, Willy, somebody frightened her about a mouse, and told her it would bite her; and so she has thought ever since that a mouse would hurt her, and that the cat ought to kill it. Ann, you see, is not afraid of a mouse: she never listened to such silly stories."
"Indeed but I did, Ma'am," said Ann, "when I was a little girl; but I have learnt to know better since."
"That shows your good sense, Ann," said Mamma; "for it is very difficult, if you have been frightened when a child, to get the better of it afterwards. I have known many grown up ladies afraid of a spider, a black beetle, and an earwig, merely from some foolish stories they had heard about them when children."
"What are all those things, Mamma?" asked Willy: "will you show them to me? I am sure I should not be afraid of them."
"Some day or other I will," replied his Mother. "Now let us go and find a carpenter to mend the hole the mouse has made."
The carpenter soon came, with his tools and a piece of wood; and Willy watched him all the while he was at work.
"Poor little mouse," said Willy, "you cannot come out any more."
"He had better stay at home with his mother," said Mamma; "for he cannot come out without danger of meeting the cat."
"Then it is not foolish of the mouse to be afraid of pussy, Mamma?"
"Not at all, my dear: it is foolish to be afraid when there is no danger, as Betty was; but it is not foolish to be afraid when there is danger. Being afraid makes you take care; and it is wise, not foolish, to take care."
"But some people," said Ann, "are so much frightened when there is danger, that they do not know what they are about. I know a maid-servant who set her cap on fire; and she was so frightened, that instead of taking it off her head to put out the flame, she ran screaming about; and the fire caught her hair, and her face, and she was sadly burnt."
"That was foolish indeed," said Mamma: "fear should have made her think what she should do to put out the flame; running about in that manner only made it burn more: but she suffered sadly for her folly, poor woman."
The carpenter now began hammering nails into the piece of wood which fastened up the hole, and made such a noise that Willy could no longer hear what was said. "Poor moussy," said he to himself, "you can never come out again; no, never!"