Saturday, 11 February 2017

The House Mouse and the Fell Mouse

Once upon a time there was a house mouse and a fell mouse and they met at the treeline; there sat the fell mouse in a hazel grove, picking nuts.

“Blessed labour!” said the house mouse. “Should I meet kin-folk here, so far out in the country?”

“Apparently so,” said the fell mouse.

“You gather nuts to take home,” said the house mouse.

“I must, I suppose, if we are to have any to live on during the winter,” said the fell mouse.

“The store is big and the nuts are full this year, so they will fill a hungry body,” said the house mouse.

“I suppose so,” said the fell mouse, and she spoke of how well she lived and thrived.

The house mouse said that she was better off; but the fell mouse insisted, and said there was no place better than in the woods and mountains, and she was best off. The house mouse said that she was best off, and this they could not agree on. Finally they promised that they should visit one another at Christmas, so each could see and taste who was the better off.

The house mouse was the first to go visiting at Christmas. She went through woods and deep valleys, for though the fell mouse had moved down for the winter, the way was still both hard and long; it was difficult and the snow was deep and loose, so that she grew both weary and hungry before she arrived. “Now it will be good to have some food,” she thought when she arrived.

The fell mouse had gathered things together nicely: there were nut kernals and fern roots and other kinds of roots, and much else that was good and grew in the woods and mark, and she had it in a hole deep down in the earth, so that it would not freeze, and close by was a spring that was open all winter, so that she could drink as much water as she wanted.

There was enough of everything, and they ate both well and good, but the house mouse thought that it was nothing more than emergency provisions.

“You can live on this,” she said, “but it is nothing special, is it? Now, if you would be so kind, come to me, and taste how we fare,” she invited.

Yes, she would, and it was not long before she came. Then the house mouse had gathered all the Christmas fare that the woman of the house had spilled while she was tipsy at Christmas time: there were crumbs of cheese and bits of butter and suet, and flatbread crumbs and sour-cream bread, and much else that was good. In the spill-bowl beneath the tap of the cask, she had drink enough, and the whole parlour was full of all kinds of good food. They ate sell, and there was hardly any end, for the mountain mouse, for such food had she never tasted. And so she grew thirsty, for the food was both fatty and strong, she said, and now she had to take a drink.

“It is not far to the beer; here shall we drink,” said the house mouse, and sprang up on to the edge of the spill bowl, and drank herself satisfied; but she drank no more than that, for she knew the Christmas beer, and knew it was strong. But the fell mouse thought it a wonderful drink; she had never tasted anything other than water, and took one slurp after the last; but she could not handle strong drink; so she grew drunk before she came down from the bowl, and then she was so giddy-headed and light-footed that she began to run and spring from one beer cask and up on the next, and to dance and tumble on the shelves between cups and mugs, and chatter and squeak, as if she were both drunk and mad, and drunk she was, too.

“You must not carry on as if you came down from the mountain today,” said the house mouse; “don’t make such a fuss and create such trouble; we have a terribly strict bailiff here,” she said.

The fell mouse said that she respected neither bailiff nor rascal.

But the cat sat by the trapdoor to the cellar, listening to the talk and noise. Suddenly the woman would go down and tap herself a bowl of beer, and she opened the trapdoor so the cat fell down into the cellar, and caught its claw in the fell mouse; and she changed her tune. The house mouse ran into her hole and sat safely, watching the fell mouse, who began her fast as soon as she felt the cat’s claw.

“Oh my dear bailiff, oh my dear bailiff, be gracious and spare my life, and I shall tell you a tale,” she said.

“Let me hear it,” said the cat.

“Once upon a time, there were two small mice,” said the fell mouse, squeaking so slowly and pathetically, trying to draw out time for as long as she could.

“And they were not alone,” said the cat, interrupting shortly.

“And we had a steak we would roast for ourselves.”

“And you did not go hungry,” said the cat.

“And we set it out on the roof, so that it might cool a little,” said the fell mouse.

“And you did not burn yourselves,” said the cat.

“And the fox and the crow came and took and ate it,” said the fell mouse.

“And I will eat you!” said the cat.

But then the woman banged the trapdoor again, so that the cat jumped and let go. And whoosh! the fell mouse was in the house mouse’s hole. From there was a way out into the snow, and the fell mouse was not slow in starting for home.

“You call this being well off, and say that you live well?” she said to the house mouse. “God help me enjoy less, then, instead of a big farm and such a hawk for a bailiff! I barely came from it with my life!”

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