Charlotte Mary Yonge.

A storehouse of stories : storehouse the first online

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was overjoyed at the sight. He almost forgot the pain of his
foot, and soon buried himself withinside the cake ; whilst I,
who had pretty well satisfied my hunger before, only ate a
few of the crumbs, and then went to take a survey of the
adjoining apartment. I crept softly under the door of the
closet into a room, as large as that which I had before been
in, though not so elegantly furnished; for, instead of being
covered with a carpet, there was only a small one round the
bed ; and near the fire was a cradle, with a cleanly-looking
woman sitting by it, rocking it with her foot, whilst at the
same time she was combing the head of a little boy about
four years old. In the middle of the room stood a table,
covered with a great deal of litter ; and in one corner was
the little girl whom I had before seen with her mamma, cr}'-
ing and sobbing as if her heart would break. As I made not
the least noise at my entrance, no one observed me for some
time ; so creeping under one of the beds, I heard the follow-
ing discourse : —

' It does not signify, miss,' said the woman, who I found
was the children's nurse, ' I never will put up with such be-
haviour : you know that I always do everj'thing for you when
you speak prettily ; but to be ordered to dress you in such a
manner, is what I never will submit to : and you shall go
undressed all day before I will dress you, unless you ask me
as you ought to do.' Nancy made no reply, but only con-
tinued crying. 'Aye ! you may cry and sob as much as you
please,' said the nurse ; ' I do not care for that : I shall not
dress you for crying and roaring, but for being good and
speaking with civility.' Just as she said these words the door
opened, and in came the lady whom I before saw, and whose



LIFE OF A MOUSE. 271

name I afterwards found was Artless. As soon as she en-
tered, the nurse addressed her, saying, ' Pray, madam, is it
by your desire that Miss Nancy behaves so rudely, and bids
me dress her directly, and change the buckles in her shoes,
or else she will slap my face? Indeed she did give me a
slaj) upon my hand ; so I told her that I would not dress her
at all ; for really, madam, I thought you would not wish me
to do it whilst she behaved so; and I took the liberty of
putting her to stand in the corner.' ' I do not think,' replied
Mrs. Artless, ' that she deserves to stand in the room at all,
or in the house either, if she behaves in that manner: if she
does not speak civilly when she wants to be assisted, let her
go widiout help, and see what will become of her then. I
am quite ashamed of you, Nancy ! I could not have thought
you would behave so; but since you have, I promise that
you shall not be dressed to-day, or have any assistance given
you, unless you speak in a ver^- different manner.'

Whilst Mrs. Artless was talking, nurse went out of the
room. Mrs. Artless then took her seat by the cradle, and
looking into it, found the child awake, and I saw her take
out a fine little girl, about five months old : she then con-
tinued her discourse, saying, ' Look here, Nancy, look at this
little baby, see how unable it is to help itself; were we to
neglect attending to it, what do you think would become of
\\.% Suppose I were now to put your sister upon the floor,
and there leave her, tell me what do you think she could do,
or what would become of her ? ' Nancy sobbed out that she
would die. 'And pray, my dear,' continued Mrs. Artless,
' if we were to leave you to yourself, what would become of
you ] It is true, you talk and run about better than Polly ;
but not a bit better could you provide for, or take care of
yourself. Could you buy or dress your own victuals ? could
you light your own fire ? could you clean your own house,
or open and shut the doors and windows % could you make
your own clothes, or e\en ])Ut them on without some assist-
ance when made % And who do you think will do anything
for you if you are not good, and do not speak civilly ? Not
I, I promise you; neither shall nurse, nor any of the servants;
for though I pay them wages to help to do any business for



272 STOREHOUSE OF STORIES.

me, I never want them to do anything unless they are de-
sired in a pretty manner. Should you like, if when I want
you to pick up my scissors, or do any little job, I were to
say, "Pick up my scissors this moment, or I will slap your
face % " Should you not think that it sounded very cross
and disagreeable % ' ' Yes, madam,' replied Nancy. ' Then
why,' rejoined Mrs. Artless, ' should you speak cross to any-
body, particularly to servants and poor people 1 for to be-
have so to them is not only cross, but insolent and proud :
it is as if you thought that because they are rather poorer,
they are not so good as yourself, whereas I assure you
poverty makes no difference in the merit of people ; for
those only are deserving of respect who are truly good ; and
a beggar who is virtuous is far better than a prince who is
wicked.' I was prevented from hearing any more of this very
just discourse by the little boy's opening the door and letting
in a cat, which, though it was the first that I had ever seen
in my life, I was certain was the same destructive animal to
our race which I had frequently heard my mother describe.
I therefore made all possible haste back to the closet, and
warning Brighteyes of our dangers, we instantly returned by
the same way which we came, to our two brothers, whom we
found waiting for us, and wondering at our long absence.
We related to them the dainty cheer which we had met with,
and agreed to conduct them thither in the evening. Accord-
ingly, as soon as it grew towards dusk we climbed up the wall,
and all four together attacked the plum-cake, which no one
had touched since we left it ; but scarcely had we all seated
ourselves round it than on a sudden the closet-door opened,
and a woman entered. Away we all scampered as fast as
possible, but poor Brighteyes, who could not move quite so
fast on account of his sore toe, and who likewise having ad-
vanced farther into the cake, was discovered before he could
reach the crack by which we entered. The woman, who had
a knife in her hand, struck at him with it, at the same time
exclaiming, ' Bless me, nurse, here is a mouse in the closet I'
Happily, she missed her aim, and he only received a small
wound on the tip of his tail. This interruption sadly alarmed
us, and it was above an hour before we could have courage



LIFE OF A MOUSE.



to venture back, when finding evetything quiet, except Mrs.
Nurse's singing to her child, we again crept out, and once
more surrounded the cake. We continued without any
further alarm till we were perfectly satisfied, and then retired
to a little distance behind the wainscot, determined there to
sleep, and to breakfast on the cake the next day.

Early in the morning I waked, and calling my brothers,
we all marched forward, and soon arrived at the delightful
cake, where we highly enjoyed ourselves without the least
disturbance, till our appetites were fully satisfied. We then
retired, took a little run round some other parts of the house,
but met with nothing worth relating. At noon we again
made our way into the closet, intending to dine on the dish
on which we breakfasted ; but, to our no small mortification, the
delicious dainty was removed. This you may be sure was a
sad disappointment; yet, as we were not extremely hungry,
we had time to look about for more. We were not long in
finding it; for upon the same shelf from which the cake was
removed, there was a round tin box, the lid of which was
not quite close shut down; into this we all crept, and were
highly regaled with some nice lumps of sugar. But it would
be endless to enumerate all the various repasts which we
met with in this closet, sometimes terrified by the entrance
of people, and sometimes comfortably enjoying ourselves
without alarm: it is sufficient to inform you, that, unmindful
of our mother's advice, we continued to live upon the contents
of the same cupboard for above a week; when, one evening
as we were as usual hastening to find our suppers, Softdown,
who happened to be first, ran eagerly to a piece of cheese, which
he saw hanging before him. ' Come along,' said he, ' here
is some nice cheese, it smells most delightfully good I ' Just
as he spoke these words, before any of us came up to him,
a little wooden door on a sudden dropped down, and hid
him and the cheese from our sight.

It is impossible to describe our consternation and surprise
upon this occasion, which was greatly increased when we
advanced near the place, at seeing him (through some little
wire bars) confined in a small box, without any visible way
for him to get out, and hearing him in the most moving
* 1'



274 STOREHOUSE OE S7 OKIES.



accents beg us to assist him in procuring his hberty. We all
ran round and round his place of confinement several times;
but not the least crack or opening could we discover, except
through the bars, which being of iron, it was impossible for
us to break or bend. At length we determined to try to
gnaw through the wood-work close at the edge, which being
already some litde distance from one of the bars, we hoped,
by making the opening a little wider, he would escape:
accordingly we all began, he on the inside, and we all on the
out, and by our diligence had made some very considerable
progress, when we were interrupted by the entrance of Mrs.
Nurse with the child in her arms.

Upon the sight of her, though much grieved to leave our
brother in his distress, yet fearing instant death would be the
fate of all of us if we stayed, to preserve our own existence,
we retired as quick as possible, but not without her seeing
some of us, for we heard her say to herself, or to the babe
in her anns. ' I declare, this closet swarms with mice, they
spoil everything one puts here.' Then taking up the box in
which was poor Softdown (and which I afterwards learned
Avas called a trap) she carried it into the room. I crept
softly after her, to see what would be the fate of my beloved
brother. But what words can express my horror, when I saw
her holding it in one hand close to the candle, whilst in the
other she held the child, singing to her with the utmost
composure, and bidding her to look at the mousy! mousy!

What were the actions or sensations of poor Softdo«Ti at
that dreadful moment I know not ; but my own anguish, which it
is impossible to describe, was still augmented ever}' moment
by seeing her shake the trap almost topsy-turvy, then blow
through the trap at one end, at which times I saw the dear
creature's tail come out between the wires on the contrary
side, as he was striving, I suppose, to retreat from her. At
length, after she had thus tortured him for some time, she set
the trap on the table so close to a large fire, that I am sure
he must have been much incommoded by the heat, and
began to undress her cliild.

Then hearing somebody go by the door, she cried out, 'Who
is there ] is it you Betty ] if it is, I wish you would come



LIFE OF A MOUSE. 275



and take down the mouse-trap, for I have caught a mouse.'
Betty instantly obeyed her call, and desired to know what
she wanted. ' I want you to take down the mouse-trap,' she
replied, ' for I cannot leave the child. I am glad that I have
got it, I am sure, for the closet swarms so, there is no such
thing as bearing it. They devour every thing : I declare
they have eaten up a whole pound of sugar, which cost me
elevenpence, sugar is now so monstrously dear! indeed the
man made a favour to let me have it for that; only, he said,
as our family were good customers, and I was but a servant,
he would take no more. And enough too I thought it was,
to have only a penny back in change out of a whole shilling
for one pound of sugar; and then to think of the poison
mice to have it all; but I will break their filthy necks. Do,
Betty, pray take the trap down, and return with it as soon
as you can, and I will set it again; for I dare say I shall
catch another before I go to bed, for I heard some more
rustling among the things.' ' O lauk!' replied Betty, 'you do
not think that I will take down the trap, do you ? I would
not touch it for twenty pounds. I am always frightened, and
ready to die at the sight of a mouse. Once, when I was a
girl, I had one thrown in my face, and ever since I have
always been scared out of my wits at them ; and if ever I
see one running loose, as I did one night in the closet below
stairs, where the candles are kept, I scream as if I was being
killed.' ' Why then,' answered Nurse, ' I think you behave
like a great fool; for what harm could a mouse do to you V
'O la! I hate them,' returned she, and then ran away with-
out the trap. Greatly was I rejoiced at her departure, as I
hoped that, by some means, Softdown might still be
able to make his escape. But, alas ! no such good fortune
attended him. Some person again passing the door. Nurse
once more called out, 'Who is there? John, is it you?'
'Yes,' replied a man's voice. 'Then do you step in, will
you, for a moment?' rejoined Mrs. Nurse; and instantly
entered a man whom I had never before seen. ' What do
you want, Nurse?' said he. 'I only want to get rid of a
mouse,' returned she; 'and, do you know, Betty is such a
fool that she is afraid of taking it, and I want the trap to

T 2



276 STOREHOUSE OF STORIES.

set it again, for they swarm here hke bees in a hive: one can
have no peace for them ; they devour and spoil everything ; I
say sometimes, that I beheve they will eat me up at last.' While
she was saying this, John took the trap in his hand, held it
up once more to the candle, then taking a piece of thread
out of a paper that lay bound round with a dirty blue rib-
band upon the table, he shook the trap about till he got my
brother's tail through the wires, when, catching hold of it, he
tied the thread tight round it, and dragged him by it to the
door of tlie trap, which he opened, and took him out, sus-
pending the weight of his body upon his tail.

Softdown, who, till the thread was tied, had patiently con-
tmued perfectly quiet, could no longer support the pain
without dismal cries and anguish : he squeaked as loud as
his little throat would let him, exerting at the same time the
utmost of his strength to disengage himself But in such a
position, with his head downward, in vain were all his efforts
to procure relief ; and the barbarous monster who held him
discovered not the smallest emotions of pity for his sufferings.
Oh! how at that moment did I abhor my own existence, and
wish that I could be endowed with size and strength suffi-
cient at once both to rescue him and severely punish his
tormentors. But my wish was ineffectual, and I had the in-
expressible affliction of seeing the inhuman wretch hold him
down upon the hearth, whilst, without remorse, he crushed
him beneath his foot, and then carelessly kicked him into the
ashes, saying, ' There ! the cat will smell it out when she
comes up.' My very blood runs cold within me at the re-
collection of seeing Softdown's blood as it spirted from be-
neath the monster's foot; whilst the craunch of his bones
almost petrified me with horror. At length, however, re-
collecting the impossibility of restoring my beloved brother
to life, and the danger of my own situation, I, with trembling
feet and palpitating heart, crept softly back to my remaining
two brothers, who were impatiently expecting me behind the
closet. There I related to them the hoiTid scene which had
passed before my eyes, whilst the anguish it caused in their
gentle bosoms far exceeds my power to describe.

After having mingled our lamentations for some time, I



LIFE OF A MOUSE.



thus addressed them: *We have this night, my brothers,
tasted the severest affliction in the cruel death of our dear
brother, companion, and friend; let us not, however, only
mourn his loss, but also gather wisdom from our misfortune,
and return to that duty which we have hitherto neglected.
Recollect, my dear friends, what were the last words which
our good mother spoke to us at parting. She charged us,
upon no account, for no temptation whatever, to return fre-
quently to the same place ; if we did, she forewarned us that
death and ruin would certainly await us. But in what
manner have we obeyed this her kind advice ? We have not
even so much as once recollected it since she left us ; or, if
we thought of it for a moment, we foolishly despised it as
unnecessary. Now, therefore, we sincerely feel the conse-
quence of our disobedience ; and, though our sufferings are
most distressing, yet we must confess that we amply deserve
them. Let us therefore, my brothers, instantly fly from a
place which has already cost us the life of our beloved Soft-
down, lest we should all likewise fall a sacrifice to our dis-
obedience.' — And here the writer cannot help observing how
just were the reflections of the mouse on the crime which
they had been guilty of; and begs every reader Avill be
careful to remember the fatal consequence that attended
their disobedience of their mother's advice, since they may
be assured that equal, if not the same, misfortune will always
attend those who refuse to pay attention to the advice of
their parents. But, to return to the history.

To this proposal (continued the mouse) my brothers
readily agreed, and we directly descended to the place we
were in when we discovered the crack that led us to the
room in which we feasted on bird-seed. Here we deter-
mined to wait, and when the family were all quiet in bed to
go forth in search of pro\ision, as we began to be rather
hungry, not having eaten anything a long while. Accord-
ingly we stayed till after the clock struck twelve, when peep-
ing out we saw that the room was empty : we then ventured
forth, and found several seeds, though not enough to afford
a very ample meal for three of us.

After we had cleared the room we again returned to our



278 STOREHOUSE OF STORIES.

hiding-place, where we continued till after the family had
finished their breakfast ; they all then went to take a walk
in the garden, and we stepped out to pick up the crumbs
which had fallen from the table. Whilst we were thus em-
ployed, at a distance from our place of retreat, we were
alarmed by the entrance of two boys, who appeared to be
about twelve or thirteen years of age. We directly ran to-
wards the crack ; but, alas ! we were not quick enough to
escape their observation, for, seeing us, they both at once
exclaimed, ' Some mice ! some mice ! ' and at the same time
took off their hats and threw at us. Longtail happily eluded
the blow, and safely got home, but poor Brighteyes and my-
self were less fortunate ; and though we for a considerable
time by our quickness prevented their catching us, at length,
being much disabled by a blow that one of them gave me
with a book which he threw at me, I was unable any longer
to run, and hobbling very slowly across the room he picked
me up. At the same moment Brighteyes was so entangled
in a handkerchief which the other boy tossed over him that
he likewise was taken prisoner. Our little hearts now beat
quick with fear of those tortures we expected to receive, nor
were our apprehensions lessened by hearing the boys consult
what they should do with us. 'I,' said one, 'will throw
mine into the pond, and see how he will swim out again.'
' And I,' said the other, ' will keep mine and tame it.' ' But
where will you keep it?' inquired his companion. 'Oh,'
replied he, ' I will keep it under a little pan till I can get a
house made for it.' He then, holding me by the skin at the
back of my neck, ran with me into the kitchen to fetch a
pan. Here I was not only threatened with death by three
or four of the servants, who all blamed Master Peter for
keeping me, but likewise two or three cats came round him,
rubbing themselves backward and fonvard against his legs,
and then standing upon their hind feet to endeavour to make
themselves high enough to reach me. At last, taking a pan
in his hand, he returned to his brother with one of the cats
following him. Immediately upon our entrance the boy
exclaimed, ' Oh, now I know what 1 will do : I will tie a
piece of string to its tail and teach the cat to jump for it.'



LIFE OF A MOUSE. -^19



No sooner did this thought present itself than it was put into
practice, and I again was obliged to sustain the shocking
sight of a brother put to the torUire. I, in the meantime, was
placed upon the table, with a pan put over me in which
there was a crack, so that I could see as well as hear all that
passed ; and from this place it was that I beheld my beloved
Brighteyes suspended at one end of a string by his tail, one
while swinging backward and forward, at another pulled
up and down, then suffered to feel his feet on the ground,
and again suddenly snatched up as the cat advanced, then
twisted round and round as fast as possible at the full length
of the string : in short, it is impossible to describe all his
sufferings of body, or my anguish of mind. At length a
most dreadful conclusion was put to them by the entrance of
a gentleman booted and spurred, with a whip in his hand.
'What in die world, Charles!' said he, as he came in, 'are
you about ? What have you got there ? ' ' Only a mouse,
sir,' replied the boy. ' He is teaching the cat to jump, sir,'
said Peter, ' that is all.'

Brighteyes then gave a fresh squeak from the violence of
his pain. The gentleman then turning hastily round, ex-
claimed eagerly, ' What, is it alive V ' Yes, sir,' said the boy.
'And how can you, you wicked, naughty, cruel boy,' replied
the gentleman, ' take delight in thus torturing a little creature
that never did you any injury? Put it down this moment,'
said he, at the same time giving him a severe stroke with his
horsewhip across that hand by which he held my brother.
' Let it go directly,' and again repeated the blow : the boy let
go the string, and Brighteyes fell to the ground, and was in-
stantly snapped up by the cat, who growling, ran away with
him in her mouth, and I suppose put a conclusion to his
miseries and life together, as I never from that moment have
heard any account of him.

As soon as he was thus taken out of the room, the gentle-
man sat down, and taking hold of his son's hand thus
addressed him : ' Charles, I had a much better opinion of
you than to suppose you were capable of so much cruelty.
What right, I desire to know, have you to torment any living
creature ? If it is only because you are larger, and so have



2?6 STOREHOUSE OF STORIES.

It in your power, I beg you will consider how you would like
that eilher myself, or some great giant as much larger than
you as you are bigger than the mouse, should hurt and tor-
ment you % And I promise you the smallest creature can
feel as acutely as you ; nay, the smaller they are, the more
susceptible are they of pain, and the sooner they are hurt :
a less toiich will kill a fly than a man, consequently a less
wound will cause it pain ; and the mouse which you have
now been swinging by the tail over the cat's mouth, has not,
you may assure yourself, suffered less torment or fright than
you would have done, had you been suspended by your leg
either over water, which would drown you, or over stones,
where, if you fell, you must certainly be dashed to pieces.
And yet you could take delight in thus torturing and dis-
tressing a poor inoffensive animal. Fie upon it, Charles ! fie
upon it ! I thought you had been a better boy, and not such
a cruel, naughty, wicked fellow.' 'Wicked!' repeated the
boy, ' I do not think that I have been at all wicked.' ' But
I think you have been extremely so,' replied his father;
'every action that is cruel, and gives pain to any living
creature, is wicked, and is a sure sign of a bad heart. I
never knew a man who was cruel to animals, kind and com-
passionate towards his fellow-creatures : he might not perhaps
treat them in the same shocking manner, because the laws of
the land would severely punish him if he did ; but if he is
restrained from bad actions by no higher motive than fear of
present punishment, his goodness cannot be very great. A
good man, Charles, always takes delight in conferring happi-
ness on all around him; nor would he offer the smallest
injury to the meanest insect that was capable of feeling.' ' I
am sure,' said the boy, ' I have often seen you kill wasps,
and spiders too ; and it was but last week that you bought a
mousetrap yourself to catch mice in, although you are so
angry now with me.' ' And pray,' resumed his father, ' did



Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeA storehouse of stories : storehouse the first → online text (page 25 of 43)