The Cousins by Carl Ewald

A Story of the House-mouse, the Wood-mouse, the Field-mouse, The Black Rat and the Brown Rat.

1

The house-mouse went about quietly, minding her business.

She lived in the forester's house that lay just on the skirt of the forest, so that there were woods on one side and fields on the other. She had a comfortable home behind the wainscot in the forester's dining-room, right under the window. And the window looked out on the woods; and then down at the bottom of the wall there was a very tiny hole, which the house-mouse was just able to squeeze through, so that she could slip into the woods and home again whenever she pleased.

In this way, the house-mouse had a very enjoyable time; and she had a good time also with regard to the people she lived with. True, the forester was a grumpy sort of man, who could not hear the word "mouse" mentioned without flying into a rage. But he was a very old man and the house was managed by his daughter. She never forgot the house-mouse; and this came of a meeting that once took place between the two. One morning, you must know, the young lady went to the sideboard to get out the sugar for her father's coffee. And there sat the mouse in the sugar-basin. She had forgotten the time and gone to sleep. And there she was!

Of course, she was terribly frightened; and it was worse still when the girl put out her hand over the sugar-basin, as if to catch her:

"So there you are, Mousie!" she said. "I thought it was you that was after my sugar! Apart from that, you're a nice little thing. But you needn't go shaking so terribly in your little grey shoes, for, I assure you, I have not the least intention of doing you any harm. Perhaps you have little children, who would starve if you didn't come home to them. So I'll let you go. But, on the other hand, it will never do for you to go stealing our sugar. So, when you get down to the floor, run straight to your hole. I don't know where it is, but, when I find out, I will put a piece of sugar on the floor outside it, every evening before I go to bed. And then I will look for the hole through which you got into the sideboard and stop it up; and then we shall be friends."

When she had made this speech, which was much handsomer than the speeches which mice are accustomed to hear from human beings, she put the terrified mouse down on the floor. The mouse at once scudded across the room and disappeared in her hole under the wainscoting.

"So that's where you live," said the forester's daughter. "That's all right. Now you will see I shall remember my promise."

In the evening she put a lump of sugar there and she did so every evening before she went to bed. And, every morning, the mouse had fetched the sugar. And, when, one day, she heard a squeaking behind the wainscot, she guessed that the little mouse had now got children; and, from that day, she put two lumps of sugar for her every evening.

The mouse, therefore, could not complain of the people she lived with and no more she did. Add to this that the only cat that the forester's house contained was an enormous old ginger tom who could no longer either see or hear. He had been there in the forester's wife's day. She was dead now. And, as she had been fond of him, he was allowed to live and eat the bread of charity in the forester's house, though he was no longer of the least use. And, as he could not tolerate other and younger cats, there was no other cat in the place, which of course was a great source of joy to the mouse, who often ran right under the old ginger tomcat's nose, without his noticing her.

2

One day, the mouse was sitting outside the hole that led to the wood. It was in the month of August and it was warm and pleasant and she sat basking in the sun with the greatest enjoyment, the more so as she had just given birth to seven blind children, which is no joke, as any mother will tell you. And, as she sat there, the wood-mouse came out of her house under the root of the beech.

"Good-afternoon, cousin," said the house-mouse.

"The same to you, cousin," said the wood-mouse.

"A fine sunny day," said the house-mouse.

"The same to you, cousin," said the wood-mouse.

When they had greeted each other in this fashion, they sat and looked at each other for a little while. The house-mouse moved her big ears to and fro; and the wood-mouse did the same, out of courtesy, but her ears were not nearly so big. On the other hand, she had more hairs in her tail than her cousin, so that pretty well made up for the ears. Then the house-mouse said:

"Life is lovely."

"Do you think so, cousin?" said the wood-mouse.

And she looked as though she were of a very different opinion, but too polite to say so outright.

"Yes, I do, cousin," replied the house-mouse. "I have just got my last seven youngsters off my hands. And every evening the young mistress puts a piece of sugar outside my hole for me. And the forester and the cat are both so old that they positively can't see when I run through the room. And yesterday an old lady arrived whose name is Petronella. And she's as frightened of me as though she were a mouse and I a cat. When she sees me, she screams and gathers up her skirts and jumps on a chair, old as she is. This amuses the young lady who gives me the sugar immensely, so I like doing it. And, for the matter of that, I needn't even trouble to come out. This morning, I was sitting in my hole while they were drinking tea. Then my young mistress cried, 'There's the mouse!' and in a jiffy Aunt Petronella was up on the chair, though I wasn't there at all. I tell you, it's great fun."

"I daresay, cousin," said the wood-mouse. "And I'm very glad indeed that you've such a good time."

"And haven't you just as good a time?" asked the house-mouse. "Living in the green wood and hearing the birds sing all day long? No cat and no mouse-traps?"

"Yes, it's all right about the birds," said the wood-mouse. "And about the cats too. But you mustn't think on that account, cousin, that this is a sort of paradise. I hear very little of the birds down where I live; and I may as well admit that I don't bother my head about them. Besides, there are one or two awkward customers among them, such as the crow, for instance, and the rook and the jackdaw, who all belong to the same family. Not to speak of the stork and the buzzard, for whom a wood-mouse is a mere mouthful."

"Yes, I know," said the house-mouse. "Well, we all have our worries. And, at any rate, you don't have the cat. She's the trickiest of the lot."

"Is she?" said the wood-mouse. "Well, you may be right. But we have the fox out here, you know, who is pretty cunning, in addition to the marten and the polecats, who are the blood-thirstiest animals that you can think of. No, taken all round, believe me, it's not so pleasant to be a wood-mouse. And it's very likely that what is your good fortune is just my misfortune!"

"Why, how can that be, cousin?" asked the house-mouse. "I can't understand it and I should be sorry to think so."

"Well, you see, it's not a thing that you can help," said the wood-mouse. "Heaven forbid! You have always been a first-rate cousin; I don't deny it for a moment. But I expect the reason why you have a good time is that you live with an old gentleman like your forester. The natural consequence is a cat and a sweet young daughter who gives you sugar. Perhaps it would not be so pleasant for you if the forester died and a new one came who was younger. His wife might be too fond of her sugar to care to give you any. His children might set traps for you and torture you. And he might have a young cat, who would get her claws into you and eat you."

"You are very likely right," said the house-mouse. "All the more reason why I should value my good fortune while it lasts. But, all the same, I can't understand how my good fortune can be your misfortune."

THERE SAT THE MOUSE IN THE SUGAR BASIN. THERE SAT THE MOUSE IN THE SUGAR BASIN.

"Oh, it's not so difficult to understand as all that!" said the wood-mouse. "You see, when a forester is very old, he looks after the wood badly. He is no longer able to shoot and, taken all round, he knows nothing about what goes on out of doors. The result is that there is such an immense number of foxes and martens and polecats and buzzards out here that one of us can hardly stir from her hole without risking her life. Now, if a new and young forester were to come, you can easily understand what a change that would make in things."

"Oh yes!" said the house-mouse. "Now I understand! But tell me, cousin, don't you think the new forester would also go for the mice, if he could? It seems to me I have heard the old one say that the mice are the wood's worst enemies. And it must be the wood-mice he means. For I don't know of any harm that I do to the wood."

The wood-mouse set up her tail and shook her little head sorrowfully:

"Cousin," she said, "you have touched me on my very sorest point."

"I am really sorry, cousin," said the house-mouse. "But it appears to me that it was you who began to talk about it."

"So it was, cousin," said the wood-mouse. "And we don't do any good by holding our tongues. You see, cousin, there is a great deal of wickedness in this world; and we have to put up with it. But it's pretty hard when it comes from one's relations."

"That's true, cousin," said the house-mouse. "Are there really any of your relations who do you any harm?"

"Harm?" said the wood-mouse. "I daresay that those of whom I'm thinking don't think of doing me any harm. But they do so for this reason, that they behave themselves in such a way that we have to suffer for it. And, as far as relationship is concerned, they are your relations as well as mine."

"But who are they, cousin?" asked the house-mouse. "Tell me, quickly. I have no notion of whom you're thinking."

"I'm thinking of the field-mouse," said the wood-mouse, with a deep sigh.

The house-mouse was silent for a moment, out of respect for the other's emotion. And presently the wood-mouse began to speak of her own accord:

"The field-mouse is our cousin, cousin, our own first cousin. There's no denying the fact. But I must confess that I think she does the family no credit. She is preposterously greedy. And her absurd gluttony injures all of us. The tale is that the mice have done it. And so they have. But who thinks of asking which mouse it is that has done it? Is it you? No. You mind your own business indoors, in the house. Of course, you nibble at a ham or a loaf or an old cheese or anything that comes your way. That's only reasonable. One has to live; and goodness knows what might be said of the way in which human beings get their food, if the matter were looked into."

"What you say is an absolute fact," said the house-mouse. "I have often thought, when I have been nibbling at a ham, that, if I was a thief, then the forester, whose ham it was, was neither more nor less than a murderer. Well ... and then they have the cat and the mouse-trap and all the rest of their cunning, so they're all right. A poor mouse has to think very hard and to risk her life pretty well every hour of the day if she is to provide herself with food."

"Just so," said the wood-mouse. "It's not you. Then who is it? Is it I? No, I mind my business as you mind yours. Of course, I take nuts and beech-mast and acorns, when they fall; and I admit that I am a regular whale for fir-cones. That fresh fir-seed is about the nicest thing I know. So I gnaw the cones in two and eat the seeds; and then they are gone when the forester wants them to sow firs with. But that is only reasonable. I must live as well as he and there are quite enough firs in the world. And I won't deny I may eat a bit of root once in a way, in the spring, when the roots are quite fresh. But what then? The forester himself is fond of vegetables, so he really need not grudge me a few."

"Certainly not," said the house-mouse. "You are quite right, cousin. You only do what we all do."

"Thank you for that kind word, cousin," said the wood-mouse. "I think it's only fair. Well, just as he has the cat and the mouse-trap for you, if you become too indiscreet, so he has the fox and the crow and the polecat and the marten and the stork and, above all, the owl for me. You can't imagine what a terribly cunning enemy the owl is. One simply can't hear him flying. One can't see him either, for he only comes at night and his colours are dark. And they all see as well at night as an ordinary body does in broad daylight. And he has all these fellows gratis. The cat and the trap he has to buy. But his forest-police he gets for nothing."

"That's true," said the house-mouse.

"Therefore it's not I either," said the wood-mouse. "It's not you and it's not I. Shall I tell you who it is? It's our cousin, the field-mouse. The mice have done it, the story goes. And who are the mice? It's the field-mouse. But he is not the only one who has to be prosecuted and punished. Any one bearing the name of mouse is mercilessly and ruthlessly struck down. People are so stupid. They can see no difference. And I don't know how to teach them any better. It's too bad!"

"But, cousin," said the house-mouse, "you haven't told me yet what the field-mouse does that the rest of us are blamed for. It must be something shocking to upset you so."

"Indeed, the forester is more upset than I am," said the wood-mouse. "And I don't deny that he has every reason to be. You see, just round the corner is a beautiful, green forest-glade. The deer come out here and graze, early in the morning, and they drink from a brook that runs through the glade. It makes a charming picture. I have seen it myself on many a fine summer morning, when I have come home rejoicing at my good luck in escaping the owl and the other ruffians. Well, the forester is particularly fond of the glade, because he uses it for his horses. He makes hay there. And it's the loveliest forest-hay that you can imagine."

"Yes, I know," said the house-mouse. "I saw him carting hay into the barn last year."

"Yes, but there will be no hay this year," said the wood-mouse. "You see, cousin, some time ago the glade began to wither and turn yellow. It became yellower and yellower every day. The keeper came and told the forester. They were out the other day looking at it. Then they discovered that all the grass-roots were eaten up or gnawed through. They were able to roll up the whole grassy surface like a carpet; and they did so. I was sitting at the edge of the wood myself, looking on. The grass was gone and the hay and everything; and the field-mouse had done it."

"Our cousin must be awfully hungry," said the house-mouse. "Or perhaps he has a big family."

"Both," said the wood-mouse. "Both. He is awfully greedy and he always has the house full of children. Well, that doesn't concern us: it's his affair. But, when those silly men mix us up in it, lump us all together with Cousin Field-Mouse and persecute us and kill us for what he has done, I tell you, cousin, then it does concern us!"

"That's true," said the house-mouse.

They sat on; and neither spoke. It was getting on towards evening; and both of them had to go to work when it grew dark. Summer was almost over, so the wood-mouse had begun to collect her winter-stores. She did not lie torpid like the hedgehog or the bat and she could not fly to Africa like the stork and the swallow, so she had to have her store-room filled, if she did not wish to suffer want. She had already collected a good deal of beech-mast. But the nuts were not ripe yet and, if she took them before they were ripe, they were no good to her.

And the house-mouse also chose night for going to the larder. Even though her young mistress did nothing to her, nevertheless she dared not be over-impudent, but always waited until she was certain that she would not be disturbed.

"Yes," said the wood-mouse, "we must start toiling for our daily bread again. At any rate, you are better off than I, cousin, for the present, as you don't have the winter to think about. You're snug indoors, close to the forester's larder."

"I am," said the house-mouse. "And there is almost more in the larder in the winter than in the summer."

"Yes, yes," said the wood-mouse. "Well, good-bye, cousin: if you meet the field-mouse, be sure to tell him what I said. I always stand by my word. And, if you can contrive some means of letting the forester know that there's a difference between mice and mice, so much the better. You are nearer to him than we are."

"Wait a little longer, cousin," said the house-mouse. "After all, it's not dark enough yet for you to work; and I never go to the larder before my young lady has cleared away after supper. I've been thinking of what you were saying about the field-mouse and most of all of what you said about relations doing harm. For, you see, properly speaking, it's just the same indoors."

"You don't say so!" said the wood-mouse. "I should never have thought that the field-mouse had the impudence to come in to you. I must hear more about that. Then it's in the garden that he is?"

"No," said the house-mouse. "It's not the field-mouse at all. I don't know anything about him. I have never even set eyes on him, that I know of. But, as we know, we have another big cousin, called the rat."

"I have heard a little about him," said the wood-mouse. "But I have never seen him. Is he of the same kind as the field-mouse?"

"He is much worse," said the house-mouse. "To begin with, he is so awfully big. I should say he is as big as five fat mice put together. He is quite black, with a long, scaly tail and small ears. He has horrid teeth and a long tongue. And he is greedier than I know how to tell you. He plays just the same part in the house that the field-mouse does among your people. And what happens to you happens to me: I often get blamed for his mean tricks. Just think, one day last year, he bit the odd man in the nose as he lay sleeping one afternoon in the hayloft. He took quite a little bit of flesh, so that the man had to go to the doctor and walk about with a bandage for many days."

"That's horrid," said the wood-mouse. "And it's quite unlike a mouse's nature. We are not beasts of prey, that I do know. Do you really believe he's our cousin?"

"He is indeed," said the house-mouse. "I know it; and there's no mistaking it either, when you see him. He is the perfect image of a mouse, though he is clumsier. But he is a disgrace to the family; and that's a fact. And fancy what happened. I was just outside the larder: I have a little waiting-hole there, where I sit and wait when I come too early and when my young lady is still in the kitchen. And I was sitting there on the evening it happened; I had been sitting there some time, for it looked as though my young lady was never going. I must tell you she was waiting for the odd man, who had ridden off to the doctor with his nose. He was to have his supper when he came home. He arrived at last and, while he sat there eating his food and talking to the young lady about what had happened, she said that those rats were most disgusting animals and ought to be exterminated in every possible way. 'Yes,' she said. 'I can't abide them for the life of me. And then they are so hideous to look at. They look quite wicked. But I must intercede for the dear little mice. I love them. I have a tiny one, whom I know well and am ever so fond of. I caught her one day in the sugar-basin, the little thief!'

"'And didn't you kill her, miss?' asked the man.

"'Why, no!' she said. 'I never thought of such a thing! I let her run away to her hole and now, every evening, I put a lump of sugar outside the hole for her. And, every morning, when I come to the dining-room, it's gone. But you mustn't tell father, Jens.' Jens promised that he would not. But he went on to say that mice and rats were one and the same kind of vermin all together and ought to be exterminated. Then the forester came in and agreed with Jens; and nothing that his daughter said to the contrary was of any use. The forester said that he would see and get a regular rat-catcher out here, who would lay poison for the lot of us. And all this is surely not my fault, but is due to that disgusting rat, who bit Jens in the nose. It is really no joke having a reprobate like that in the family, disgracing one's good name."

"No," said the wood-mouse, "that's what I say. And how are we to inform the human beings of their mistake? I know no way of obtaining speech with them. Well, good-bye, cousin, and au revoir."

"Good-bye, cousin, and au revoir to you," said the house-mouse.

Then the one went out into the wood, to forage for the winter, and the other into her young lady's larder.

3

Some time after, a great, big packing-case of groceries arrived at the forester's house from Copenhagen. Here ought to be enough to last all through the winter, the forester thought. And he belonged to the old school, who laid in their stores once a year at a fixed time and no other, and he had done so from the first year when he and his wife came to live in the forester's house.

Now the packing-case was so big that the young lady and the odd man were at their wits' end to know what to do with it. It could not go into the house, for there was no door wide enough to admit it. It could not remain out in the yard either, for the young lady could not unpack it that day, as she happened to be very busy bottling plums. And, of course, she had to be present herself: there was no question about that. And it was beginning to look like rain. The forester said that it would certainly rain that night. He could feel it in his left shoulder, which was a barometer that never went wrong.

"Can't we tumble it into the barn?" said the odd man. "It can stay there as long as need be, without hurting."

So they tumbled it into the barn. And there it stood, in a corner. It remained there for five days. But, on the very first night, while the rain came pouring down, as the forester's left shoulder had foretold, a shocking thing happened.

Suddenly, then and there, a queer sound began to come from the end of the packing-case that was nearest to the corner of the barn. It was a sort of gnawing and creaking, as though there were an animal inside. And it was soon proved that that was what it was. For, when the gnawing had lasted some time, a great, fat, brown rat came out of the case.

The moment she appeared, a quantity of sugar came pouring over her. The rat did not so much as touch the sugar. She had had enough of that inside the case. She began at once to gnaw a hole in the floor, at a place where the boards were rather rotten, so that it was an easy job. The hole was soon ready and there was plenty of room for a family of rats under the boards. The rat immediately began to collect straw and took it down with her.

When she had finished her work, she stopped and looked the house-mouse straight in the face.

"Who in the name of wonder are you?" asked the house-mouse. "You have mousy ways and, if you were black, I should say you were a rat."

"I am a rat," said the other. "Rats were black in the old days. The fashion now is to be brown. Black rats are quite out of date and are of no use to-day."

"Oh, really!" said the house-mouse, circumspectly. "Well, I live out here in the country, and know nothing of what goes on in the great world beyond. Allow me to introduce myself. I am the house-mouse."

"You needn't tell me that," said the rat. "I have seen many of your sort at Copenhagen. But what are you doing out here on the threshing-floor? I thought you kept to the kitchen and the larder."

"So I do, as a rule," said the house-mouse. "But I am free to go where I please. And I can come through the kitchen-drain without getting wet. For it's raining terribly, let me tell you."

"What of that?" said the rat. "Are you afraid of a little water? The more the better. I can swim like a fish, you know. I once swam across the harbour at Copenhagen; and, as a matter of fact, I don't feel well unless I have a little swim every day. I hope there's a decent gutter here?"

"Ugh, yes, a horrid broad one!" said the mouse. "But I always go round it. I don't set foot in the kitchen-drain either, except when it's dry. To-day, I came to get a bit out of the new case of groceries. I heard my young lady say that it had arrived. And generally there is a bit here and there outside to pick up."

"Certainly it has arrived," said the rat. "I ought to know, seeing that I came with it."

"Did you come with the case?" cried the house-mouse, in surprise.

"I did," said the rat. "I was down at the bottom when they began to pack it. It was half-dark, so they couldn't see me; and, of course, I did not make the slightest sound and did not dare to move, or else they would have discovered me and killed me. So gradually they packed everything on the top of me: sugar and coffee and tea and cinnamon and chocolate and starch and all sorts of groceries, until the case was full up. Then on with the lid and away with us to the station."

"That must have been a nice journey," said the house-mouse, licking her lips.

"It was," said the rat. "In a way. The fare was good enough and ready to hand, as you can see, and no one to share it with and no one to disturb you. But the tiresome side of the business was that I had just been married and was soon to have my babies. So I was particularly frightened lest they should arrive during the journey. However, it went pretty well and we escaped all right, as you see, because the case was not unpacked at once. Well, even if it had been, I daresay I should have managed to jump past them. But it's better as it is. I have fixed up a nice home for myself here, under the floor of the barn, and the youngsters may come as soon as they like. Would you care to see where I live?"

"Thank you," said the mouse. "I should prefer first to see a little of that delicious sugar running about. What a lot of it there is!"

"Eat away," said the rat. "There's plenty of it. I'll stand treat. But I may as well tell you that later on, when I am properly settled, you and I had better keep to our own parts. I mean, of course, it might happen that I should pop across to the larder, when I feel inclined and have occasion to. But I strongly advise you not to come here. And you must be particularly careful to avoid me when I'm hungry. I can't answer for what might happen if I met you."

"Well, you would never eat me!" said the mouse, sitting and licking the sugar. "Goodness me, how delicious this is!"

"Of course, I should eat you," replied the rat. "Up at Copenhagen, one day, we ate a kitten."

"A kitten?"

The mouse was so frightened that she stopped licking altogether.

"Yes, certainly," said the rat. "It was quite simple; and not one of us had the stomach-ache. That fear of the cats is very much overdone. They can do nothing, so long as you eat them while they are small."

The house-mouse stared at her in dismay:

"Cousin," she said, "you're terrible. I'm afraid of you."

"That's very sensible of you," said the rat. "And you mustn't call me cousin. I have never troubled about distant connections; and it would only make it unpleasant if I were to eat you one day. But, for the present, I have had my fill, as I said; so you run no risk."

The house-mouse then visited the rat in her new home, which she thought ever so nice, though a little too large from a mouse's point of view. After that, she said good-bye and went back to her own place. But, during the next few days, she came across to the barn every night and had her share of the good things in the packing-case. The rat gnawed the hole bigger, so that more came rushing out, always on the side turned towards the corner, where no one could suspect it. The floor overflowed with dainties; and they ate away like anything. On the fourth day, the rat had her children, seven fine little ones.

"They look pretty enough to be mice," said the house-mouse.

"Heaven forbid!" said the rat. "If they don't become proper rats soon, I will eat them without hesitation."

That night, the house-mouse took a large piece of cinnamon across with her; for she had heard her young lady say that the case must be opened shortly, so she was able to calculate that the fun would soon be over.

"Aren't you afraid of being discovered?" she asked the rat.

"A rat is never afraid," replied the rat. "If she were afraid, my good girl, she would not be a rat."

"It must be strange to feel like that," said the house-mouse. "A house-mouse is always afraid. If she were not afraid, I expect she would not be a mouse."

"Very likely," said the rat. "But you had better go now. And remember our arrangement that, when the case is gone, it's all over with friendship and relationship and the rest of it."

"All right," said the mouse. "I shall make a point of keeping away. But then you must always remember that it was you who bit the hole in the case and stood treat with all this. If you hadn't come, I should only have licked a bit on the outside, as usual."

"You're a fool!" said the rat. "Good-bye."

4

The next day—it was ten o'clock in the morning: they remembered it many years after at the forester's—the young lady and the odd man came across to the barn to unpack the case. The man rolled it across the threshing-floor; and, as soon as it was outside, they saw what had happened. Everything rolled out helter-skelter and higgledy-piggledy: coffee, tea, cinnamon, spices, sugar-candy, all without end and all mixed up together and spoilt. There was not a bag but had a hole in it.

They thought, at first, that it was the grocer's fault for packing the things badly; and the young lady was so angry with him that he would have been very much hurt if he had heard all the things that she said. But then they discovered the hole in one of the corners and soon saw that some one had been there and wrought havoc.

"There must have been rats here," said the forester's daughter. "There's no question about it: there have been rats here."

"There are no rats left in the place," said the man. "We killed the last a fortnight ago. And all their holes are stopped with broken glass; and we laid poison among their tracks; and every bit of poison is eaten up; so you can be easy in your mind, miss, about the rats. They are done with. But some one has been here, that is sure enough. And I am certain it's that artful mouse whom you spoil by giving her sugar every evening."

"Never!" said the young lady. "My little mouse could not possibly be such an ungrateful wretch as that."

The odd man stuck to his opinion and she stuck to hers. The forester came and, of course, sided with the man. They were all three angry and most of all the forester. For a new case had to be written for and he would have to pay for it. And so he resolved that, this time, the rat-catcher should be sent for in earnest. The odd man suggested a new cat, but that the forester would not hear about, so long as the old one lived.

In the meantime, they rescued what they could and the young lady carried the things into the larder, right past the nose of the mouse, who was sitting in her hole:

"They are speaking harm of you, my dear little Mouse," she said. "And now there's a horrid rat-catcher coming, who will try to hurt you, if he can. But I'm sure it was not you who did it and I will see if I can help you."

As she spoke, she saw a piece of cinnamon which the mouse had left lying outside her hole. She took it up and examined it and, as they had not a scrap of cinnamon in the house, she knew at once that the mouse had been at the case after all. She was so much upset that she cried. For she felt that life was not worth living if she could not even trust her own dear little mouse to whom she had been so kind:

"For shame, for shame!" she cried. "See how deceitful you are. But you shall have no more sugar from me, you can be sure of that."

But the mouse sat in her hole and cried also. First because of the sugar which she was not to get any longer. Next because of the rat-catcher who was to come. And then because of the kind young lady, who was so unjust to her. For, though she had taken the cinnamon, it was not she who had gnawed a hole in the packing-case. And it was too much to expect of an ordinary, plain little mouse that she should say no when a rat invited her to such a feast. But she couldn't talk to her young lady and explain it to her; and so, of course, she would never get any more sugar in future.

Over in the barn, the rat lay snug and warm in her nest. Her young ones grew from day to day. By the time that they had been a month in the world, they were big, greedy rats who did credit to their mamma and scooted about in every direction.

"You were right, miss, there are rats here," said the odd man. "But they are brown ones, who are much worse than the black ones that were here before. I am half-inclined to believe that they came in the packing-case from Copenhagen. I have never been there, but my cousin, who is in service in the town, tells me that there are an awful lot of them."

"It's quite possible," said the forester's daughter. "But I know that my little mouse had something to do with it; so I don't defend her any longer and I don't give her any sugar either."

"That's right," said the odd man. "For rats and mice are one and the same thing; and they are noxious vermin, the whole lot of them. If we let them get the upper hand of us, they would soon eat us out of house and home."

"The rat-catcher is coming on Thursday," said the forester. "Jens must drive to the station to fetch him. And the young man from the School of Forestry, who is to be my assistant, is coming by the same train. I am too old now and can't look after the wood as I ought to."

5

More time passed and it was winter.

All the birds that ever went away had gone. The leaves had fallen from the trees; it had frozen and it had snowed. The wood had been quite white and beautiful and then again sloppy and wretched to look at, for that's what winter is in Denmark. The forester seldom went out into the wood since his assistant had arrived. He generally sat in his warm room, in his old arm-chair, making up his accounts and thinking of the old days when he was young and active and never bothered whether it was warm or cold. He was also very fond of talking about that time. And, although he had talked about it more than once or twice before, they forgave him, because he was so old, and listened to him patiently.

Jens attended to his work, which was not very heavy in the winter. The forester's daughter spent her time between the kitchen and the larder. The rat-catcher had been and gone, after doing his business and receiving his pay. Forty black rats had been drawn from every hole and corner in the barn and threshing-floor, but only two brown ones—and they were quite young still—and no mice. But, as soon as the rat-catcher had gone, the old tom-cat died of sheer old age and laziness. He was buried in the garden with great pomp and ceremony. But, even before he was committed to the grave, Jens brought a young cat over from the keeper's; and there was every reason to hope that she was of a different sort from the old one.

The forester, it was true, said that she was the very image of what the old one was when she was young. And that too may have been right enough, for one can't judge youth by old age. This much, in any case, was certain, that she went hunting. The odd man had said that she must have her morning milk and nothing more before she caught a mouse or a rat. And so it stood. Whenever she showed herself for the first time, after her morning milk, she was asked:

"Where is your mouse or your rat?"

And gradually she grew so used to this that, as soon as she was asked, she ran off and fetched the mouse or the rat, which she had been careful not to eat before. Then, as a reward, she received a scrap of bacon, or something else that was left over from breakfast. But, on days when she had no mouse or rat to show, then she received no bacon either. That was as sure as March in Lent.

The young lady no longer interested herself in the matter, but left it all to the odd man. Whenever she caught sight of the hole in the dining-room wainscot, she sighed and said:

"You naughty, naughty Mouse, to abuse my trust in you so shamefully! I was good to you and gave you sugar every day; and you stole the cinnamon. Now I have been good to you again and taken away the poison which the rat-catcher put outside your hole. What advantage do you propose to take of me this time? But you can, if you like. I don't trouble about you now. I can't help you if the new cat gets hold of you some day: she is quite a different sort of cat from the old one and she will catch you yet, you'll see. It's your own fault."

When she talked like that, as she often did, it was hard for the little mouse to sit inside the wainscot and listen and not to be able to defend herself. She would so much have liked to tell her young lady that she was not quite so bad as she thought. She would so much have liked to have her little lumps of sugar again. For times were shocking, since the rat-catcher had been. She hardly dared eat a thing, for fear lest there should be a hidden poison in it. And she could hardly go anywhere, because of the new cat.

But she could not talk to the young lady. Nor did she dare venture across the barn. She would have liked to talk to her cousin from Copenhagen, but, one day when she went through the kitchen-drain, the new cat was sitting at the other end and was within an ace of eating her. So she had to be content with poor fare and a bad conscience.

5

Then, one morning, the house-mouse went out through the hole to the wood. It was at the time when the cat got her morning milk, so she thought there was a chance of peace and no danger. She ran a good way off over the snow, right to the foot of the big beech, where she knew that Cousin Wood-Mouse had her nest.

Then she squeaked three times in a particular manner which only mice understand and which means that they would like to talk to the individual concerned. And, when she had waited some time, sure enough the wood-mouse appeared:

"Good-morning, cousin," said the wood-mouse. "To what do I owe the honour of this visit? It is ages since I saw you last."

"Good-morning, cousin, and the same to you," said the house-mouse. "One doesn't go out for one's pleasure at this time of year."

"No, indeed, cousin," said the wood-mouse. "I always stay indoors, except just to take a mouthful of fresh air and throw out the shells. Look, here is my dust-heap."

Quite a little pile of nut-and acorn-shells lay outside the mouse-hole. The house-mouse looked at it and sighed:

"What a lot you've eaten already!" she said. "And I daresay you have a great deal more down there in your store-room."

"No, that I haven't!" said the wood-mouse. "I shall be glad if I can get through the rest of the winter on half-rations. If my own child were suffering want, I could not give it so much as a nut. Times are awfully bad."

"So they are," said the house-mouse. "My case is the same as yours. You need not fear, however, that I have come to beg. I have only come to have a chat with you. Can't we go into your place for a little while?"

The wood-mouse reflected a bit. She very much objected to having the other down and letting her see all the beautiful food that lay stored up below. So she shook her head with decision:

"Not so early in the morning, cousin," she said. "In an hour or two you will be welcome, if you dare go out then and risk meeting the cat. But the rooms haven't been done yet. I know how neat and particular you house-mice are, so I should be ashamed to show you my home before it's quite clean and tidy. I should prefer you to wait until the winter's over, when I have had my spring-cleaning."

"Oh, very well!" said the house-mouse. "Then we'll stay here, though it's horribly cold sitting on one's bare tail in the snow. As I said, I only wanted to talk to you a bit. It's about the family. I don't know if you have heard that a cousin of ours has arrived from Copenhagen?"

"No, I haven't," said the wood-mouse. "What's he called? Is he a smart fellow?"

"She's called the brown rat. It's a she," replied the house-mouse. "And she really was very smart at first. She came in the packing-case in which we get our groceries every year from the shop in Copenhagen. It is a great big case, full of the most delicious things you can think of. She had only found her way into it by mistake and so travelled across with it."

"That's what you may call travelling first-class," said the wood-mouse, laughing.

"One may indeed," said the house-mouse. "I should have no objection to travelling round the world in a packing-case like that. However, she was a young bride expecting her babies every day. She therefore at once made herself a home in the barn; and the children arrived four days after."

"Oh, yes!" said the wood-mouse. "There are always plenty of children and there are always more and more coming."

"That is so," said the house-mouse. "But now hear how things went. At first, Cousin Rat was extremely amiable. She treated me to sugar and cinnamon and flour and sugar-candy and so forth during the whole of the four days. You must know that she had gnawed herself out of the case, which stood in the barn waiting to be unpacked. Well, I accepted her invitation and ate away. Wouldn't you have done the same?"

"Certainly," said the wood-mouse. "One must never offend people by declining a kind offer. And when it happens to be a cousin ... and the goods are hers...."

"Well, they weren't exactly," said the house-mouse. "The case really belonged to the forester."

"According to that, nothing is ours," said the wood-mouse. "I work it out differently. I say that the mast and nuts out here are mine. And the larder in the forester's house is yours. And, in the same way, the case in which the rat arrived was hers. But go on and tell me how things went."

"Things went very badly," said the house-mouse. "For four days, we lived on the fat of the land. But, on the fifth, the young mistress and the man started unpacking."

"Oh!" said the wood-mouse. "Then the fun was over, I expect?"

"It was, cousin," said the house-mouse. "But that would have been all. Nothing lasts for ever in this world: not even a chest of groceries from Copenhagen, though it was the biggest I ever saw and simply bursting with good things. But, when they discovered that some one had been at it, they were angry; and we all got blamed for it, you see."

"And it was the rat who did it," said the wood-mouse. "That was really hard on you."

"So it was," said the house-mouse. "They would not believe it was the rats, because they had killed so many of them after the rats had bitten Jens' nose. And so it must be the mice: that went without saying. To judge by what I have heard them talk about since, the young mistress stood up for me as long as she could, but the forester and his man both said that, with mice and rats, it was six of one and half-a-dozen of the other."

"Yes, that's the worst of it," said the wood-mouse. "It's just as with me and the field-mouse. We have to suffer for our relations' misdeeds. Well ... and didn't your mistress find out how things stood?"

"She did not," said the wood-mouse. "Taken all round, things went about as badly as they could with me. You see, I had heard them say that the case was to be unpacked. And then there was some nice cinnamon, which I am so fond of. So, on the last night, I resolved to drag a piece over to my place, so as to have a bit to spare. I did so and managed to get it through the drain all right. But then it was so big that I had a difficulty in dragging it any farther. So I nibbled it into two pieces. One of these I got right down into my hole and the other just up to the hole. But then the door slammed and I was frightened and dropped the cinnamon and ran away."

"Well, you fetched it afterwards, I suppose?" asked the wood-mouse. "You said it was lying outside the hole."

"So it was," said the house-mouse. "But now I'll tell you how badly things went. When I got down into the hole, I fell asleep. I don't know how it is, but cinnamon always makes me so beautifully sleepy. And then I have the most wonderful dreams about bacon and the very nicest things I can think of. So I fell asleep and slept and slept and dreamt beautifully. When I awoke at last, it was broad daylight, as I saw the moment I put my nose outside the hole. The cinnamon was there all right. But the mistress was in the room, so I dared not take it. And, when she went out into the kitchen, she left the door open, a thing she never does as a rule. And, all the time, she was walking up and down. And then they began to unpack the case and she put the things away in the cupboard and the sideboard. And then she suddenly stopped in front of my hole, where the cinnamon was, you know, and then, of course, I was found out. She was very much distressed at my deceit, as she called it, and said that she had done with me and would never give me any more sugar. And, since that day, I have not had a single lump. It's a terrible loss to me."

"So it is," said the wood-mouse. "But what can you do? You can't explain the thing to her, you know."

"No," said the house-mouse. "I can't do that. And now the rat-catcher has been and a new cat has come, who is a regular demon at her business. It's a perfect miracle that I have escaped so far. I half wish I were dead. The good days in the forester's house are over; and they won't come back either. It's hard, when one was looking forward to having a fairly comfortable time in one's old age."

"Oh, you needn't think it's much better out here!" said the wood-mouse. "There's a new young forester come; and he's a terror!"

"I know," said the house-mouse. "He came down with the rat-catcher. Jens fetched them at the station."

"But the rat-catcher went back again," said the wood-mouse. "The young forester stayed here and is still here; and I don't expect he will ever go. He intends to grapple seriously with the mouse-plague, as he calls it, meaning the field-mouse. The mast and acorns are being gathered earlier than usual, so that we may starve to death. He wants to let cats loose in the woods, I heard him say. And owls are to be imported, as if there were not enough of them before! And foxes and martens and buzzards and polecats and ermines are to be preserved for five years. It will be a fine police-force."

"Yes," said the house-mouse, "there are bad times in store for all our family."

They sat for a while and idled, each wrapped in her sad reflections. The house-mouse felt horribly cold, because of her bare tail, and the wood-mouse wished her cousin would go away, so that she might run down to her warm nest.

"Tell me," said the wood-mouse. "How is our cousin from Copenhagen doing over in the barn? Haven't you talked to her?"

"No, I haven't," said the house-mouse. "She was particularly friendly when we had the packing-case: indeed, she even asked me down to see her rooms. But she warned me not to come over there otherwise. She said that I might run the risk of her eating me. She and some other brown rats once ate a kitten, she said. And I could see by the look on her face that it was true."

"Oh dear, oh dear!" said the wood-mouse. "But perhaps the rat-catcher or the new cat has caught her?"

"No," said the house-mouse. "She escaped; and so did most of her children. And they have multiplied in such a way that you simply can't turn for rats, Jens says."

"Then, you'll see, they will forget you all right," said the wood-mouse, "if only you are careful and discreet."

"Jens will forget me, perhaps," said the house-mouse, sadly. "But the mistress will never forget me, because she believes I deceived her. And the new cat has set eyes on my hole and she is on the look-out. Some day, sooner or later, I shall be eaten up."

"Yes, it's awfully sad," said the wood-mouse. "But what can one do...? Hullo, who's coming now?"

The house-mouse turned round and looked in the same direction as the wood-mouse. A black animal came running over the snow.

"I positively believe it is our cousin the black rat," said the house-mouse. "I didn't think there were any of them left. Yes, there's no doubt about it, it's the black rat."

"Good afternoon, cousin," said the wood-mouse and backed down into her hole until only her nose peeped out. "Welcome to the country. This is the first time, so far as I know, that I have had the pleasure of seeing you out here. You don't care much for nature, I believe."

"Give me food! Give me food!" screamed the black rat.

"I'm awfully sorry that you are hungry," said the wood-mouse. "Unfortunately I have just eaten my last nut. As you see, here's the shell. The house-mouse had been downstairs calling on me and can bear witness that there's not a bite or a sup to be found in my place."

She winked at the house-mouse to confirm the truth of her fib. But the house-mouse could not take her eyes off the black rat, who had lain down in the snow and was moaning piteously:

"You're catching cold, cousin," she said kindly. "You had better go back to the barn again. It's warmer there."

"I really don't care what becomes of me," said the rat. "To tell you the truth, it's all the same to me whether I die in one way or another. You say I ought to go back to the barn. That's where I've come from. There's no existing there for those loathsome rats from Copenhagen. They call themselves rats, but I don't believe that they are rats at all. I am sure they're a sort of fish by the way they swim. And the way they eat! And the way they multiply! They have children once a week, I do believe. It's disgusting."

"It certainly is," said the wood-mouse. "Cousin House-Mouse and I were just sitting and talking about it, cousin. But what's to be done, cousin? I am hard pressed by the field-mouse and get the blame for all his villainy. Some time ago, the house-mouse had to put up with harm for your sake, because you bit the odd man in the nose or else ate and drank things. Now one has come who is stronger than you; and so it's your turn. Besides, it seems to me that you are big enough to send the rat home to where she came from."

"Big enough?" said the rat. "Big enough? That great brown brute is bigger than I am! And then there are so many of them! I am the last of my race. When I am dead, there will be no more black rats in this part of the country. And now I am going to die."

"Stop a bit! Cousin!" said the house-mouse. "Let us talk it over first!... Perhaps we can hit upon something or other!..."

But it was too late. The black rat stretched out her four legs and was dead and gone.

"Lord!" said the wood-mouse. "To think that she should go and die like that before our eyes! If you fall to the cat now and I to the owl and if the young forester destroys the field-mouse, then there won't be a single member of all our big family left."

"Yes, there will be: I'm here," said a deep, gruff voice close by.

"Gracious!" said the house-mouse and jumped right into the air. "There's the brown rat!"

And there he was. The brown rat stood and mumbled with his snout and sniffed at the dead black cousin, while keeping an eye upon the wood-mouse, who retreated a little farther still into her hole.

"Good-afternoon, cousin," said the wood-mouse. "Welcome to the country. I hope your outing will agree with you better than our black cousin's did with her. For she fell down and died where she lay."

"Cousin me no cousins!" said the brown rat. "It's awful the way you people out here in the country brag about relationship. What's become of the house-mouse?"

"She's run home," said the wood-mouse. "I believe she was afraid of you, which surprises me, for you look so good and kind."

"Thank you," said the brown rat. "I always appreciate a friendly word. I'm as hungry as the dickens. Have you something or other you can treat me to? I don't care what: I eat anything."

"Very sorry," said the wood-mouse. "Unfortunately, I have eaten up everything and have to starve myself for the remainder of the winter. The house-mouse got a couple of nuts out of me and the black rat the rest of my store. If you had come earlier, there would have been a morsel for you as well, perhaps."

"I think I will pay you a visit in your rooms," said the brown rat. "Or you can come up here for a bit and chat to me. I have never seen you, though we are cousins."

"Oh, we have become cousins now?" said the wood-mouse, laughing. "A little while ago, we were not. But thank you all the same. My hole, unfortunately, is too narrow for you to get through. And I don't feel equal to going out again to-day. I should catch my death of cold. As for my appearance, you have only to think of a pretty little, nice, fat mouse. Then you have me."

"Yes, if only I had you!" said the brown rat. "Then I should eat you straight away. But you are too clever for me."

Then he began to nibble at the dead black rat.

"What's this?" said the wood-mouse. "Are you eating your dead cousin?"

"Yes, I can't help her not being alive!" said the rat.

A little after, the black rat was gone, bones and all. The brown rat sat and licked his lips. Then he ran home to the forester's house.

The wood-mouse sat in her hole and thought it all over:

"Well, bless my soul, after all, what's the objection? The house-mouse will fall to the cat and I to the owl or the fox and the field-mouse to the young forester. Whereas the black rat has remained in the family."