Charlotte Mary Yonge.

A storehouse of stories : storehouse the first online

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you ever see me torment as well as kill them % Or did I
ever keep them in pain one moment longer than necessar}-?
I am. not condemning people for killing vermin and animals,
provided they do it expeditiously, and put them to death
with as little pain as possible ; but it is putting them to need-



LIFE OF A MOUSE. 2S1

less torment and misery that I say is wicked. Had you de-
stroyed the mouse with one blow, or rather given it to some-
body else to destroy it (for I should not think a tender-
hearted boy would delight in such operations himself), I
would not have condemned you; but to keep it hanging the
whole weight of its body upon its tail, to swing it about, and
by that to hold it terrifying over the cat's jaws, and to take
pleasure in hearing it squeak, and seeing it struggle for
liberty, is such unmanly, such detestable cruelty, as calls for
my utmost indignation and abhorrence. But, since you
think pain so very trifling an evil, try, Charles, how you like
that,' said he, giving him at the same time some severe strokes
with his horsewhip. The boy then cried and called out, ' I
do not like it at all; I do not like it at all.' ' Neither did the
mouse,' replied his father, 'like at all to be tied to a string,
and swung about by his tail ; he did not like it, and told
you so in a language which you perfectly well understood ;
but you would not attend to his cries ; you thought it pleasure
to hear it squeak, because you were bigger, and did not feel
its torture. I am now bigger than you, and do not feel your
pain, I therefore shall not yet leave off, as I hope it will
teach you not to torment anything another time.' Just as
he said these words, the boy, endeavouring to avoid the
whip, ran against the table on which I was placed, and hap-
pily threw down the pan that confined me. I instantly
seized the opportunity, jumped down, and once more escaped
to the little hole by which I first entered. There I found
my only brother waiting for me, and was again under the
dreadful necessity of paining his tender heart with the recital
of the sufferings which I had been witness to in our dear
Brighteyes, as well as the imminent danger I myself had
been exposed to. 'And surely,' said I, 'we have again
drawn this evil upon ourselves by our disobedience to our
mother's advice ; she doubtless intended that we should not
continue in the same house long together; whereas, from the
day of her leaving us, we have never been in any other but
this, which has occasioned us such heavy affliction. There-
fore upon no account let us continue another night under
this roof; but as soon as the evening begins to grow dark



282 STOREHOUSE OF STORIES.



enough to conceal us from the observation of anyone, we
will set off, and seek a lodging in some other place ; and
should any misfortune befall us on our passage, we shall at
least have the consolation of thinking that we were doing
our duty by following the advice of our parent.' ' It is true,'
said my brother, ' we have been greatly to blame ; for the
future we will be more careful of our conduct; but do, my
dear Nimble,' continued he, ' endeavour to compose your-
self, and take a little rest after the pain and fatigue which
you have gone through, otherwise you may be sick ; and
what will become of me if any mischief should befall you?
1 shall then have no brother to converse with, no friend to
advise me what to do.' Here he stopped, overpowered with
his grief for the loss of our two murdered brothers, and with
his tender solicitude for my welfare. I endeavoured all in
my power to comfort him, and said I hoped that I should
soon recover from the bruises I had received both from the
boy's hat and book, as well as the pinches in my neck with
his finger and thumb, by which he held me, and promised
to compose myself This promise I fulfilled by endeavour-
ing to sleep ; but the scene that I had so lately been witness
to was too fresh in my imagination to suffer me to close my
eyes : however, I kept for some time quiet.

The rest of the day we spent in almost total silence, having
no spirits for conversation, our hearts being almost broken
with anguish. When it grew toward evening we agreed to
find our way out of that detested house, and seek for some
other habitation which might be more propitious. But we
found more difficulty in this undertaking than we were at all
aware of; for though we could with tolerable ease go from
room to room within the house, still, when we attempted to
quit it, we found it every way surrounded with so thick a
brick wall that it was impossible for us to make our way
through it : we therefore ran round and round it several
times, searching for some little crevice through which we
might escape, but all to no purpose, not the least crack could
we discover : and we might have continued there till this
time had we not at length, after the family were in bed, re-
sohed to venture through one of the apartments into the



LIFE OF A MOUSE.



hall, and so creep out under the house-door. But the dan-
gers we exposed ourselves to in this expedition were many
and great ; we knew that traps were set for us about the
house, and where they might chance to be placed we could
not tell. I had Hkewise been eye-witness to no less than
four cats, who might, for aught we knew to the contrary, at
that hour of darkness, be prowling in search of some of our
unhappy species.

But, in spite of every difficulty and hazard, we determined
to venture rather than continue in opposition to our mother's
commands ; and, to reward our obedience, we escaped with
trembling hearts unobserved, at least unmolested, by any
one. And now, for the first time since our birth, we found
ourselves exposed to the inclemency of the weather. The
night was very dark and tempestuous; the rain poured down
in torrents; and the wind blew so exceedingly high that low
upon the ground as we were, it was with difficulty that we
could keep our legs: added to which, every step wc took we
were in water up to our stomachs. In this wretched con-
dition we knew not which way to turn ourselves, or where to
seek for shelter. The spattering of the rain, the howling of
the wind, together with the rattling and shaking of the trees,
all contributed to make such a noise as rendered it im-
possible for us to hear whether any danger was approaching
us or not.

In this truly melancholy situation we waded on for a con-
siderable time, till at length we reached a small house, and
very easily gained admittance through a pretty large hole on
one side of the door. Most heartily did we rejoice at find-
ing ourselves once more under shelter from the cold and
rain, and for some time only busied ourselves in drying our
hair, which was as thoroughly wet as if we had been served
as the boy threatened my brother Brighteyes, and we had
really been drawn through a pond. After we had done this,
and had a little rested ourselves, we began to look about in
search of food, but we could find nothing except a few
crumbs of bread and cheese in a man's coat pocket, and a
jjjece of tallow-candle stuck on the top of a tinder-box.
This, however, though not such delicate eating as we had



284 STOREHOUSE OF STORIES.

been used to, yet served to satisfy our present hunger; and
we had just finished the candle when we were greatly alarmed
by the sight of a human hand (for we mice can see a little
in the dark) feeling about the very chair on which we stood.
We jumped down in an instant, and hid ourselves in a little
hole behind a black trunk that stood in one corner of the
room.

We then heard very distinctly a man say, ' Betty, did you
put the candle by the bed-side ]' ' Yes, that I am very sure
I did,' replied a female voice. ' I thought so,' answered the
man ; 'but I am sure it is not here now. Tom! Tom! Tom!'
continued he. ' What, father % ' replied a boy, starting up,
' what is the matter? ' ' Why, do you know anything of the
candle ] I cannot find it, my dear, and I want it sadly, for
I fancy it is time we should be up and be jogging. Dost
know anything of it, my lad?' 'Not I, truly, father,'
said the boy; ' I only know that I saw mother stick it in the
box-lid last night, and put it upon the chair which she set by
the bedside, after you had put your clothes upon the back of
it ; I know I saw her put it there, so it must be there now,
I fancy.' ' A¥ell, I cannot find it,' replied the father; ' so
we must e'en get up in the dark, for I am sure it must be
time.' The father and son then both dressed themselves,
and the man, taking a shilling out of his pocket, laid it upon
the chair, saying at the same time, ' There, Betty, I have left
a shilling for you ; take care it does not go after the candle,
for where that is I cannot tell any more than the carp at the
bottom of the squire's fish-pond.' He then unlocked the
door and went away, accompanied by his son.

After their departure we again came out and took another
walk round the room, and found our way into a little cup-
board, which we had not before observed. Here we dis-
covered half a loaf of bread, a piece of cold pudding, a lump
of salt butter, some soft sugar in a basin, and a fine large
slice of bacon. On these dainties we feasted very amply,
and agreed that we should again hide ourselves behind the
black trunk all day, and at night, when the family were in
bed, return to take another meal on the plent}- of nice pro-
vision which we so happily discovered. Accordingly, we



LIFE OF A MOUSE. 285

crept back just as the woman went to fill her tea-kettle at a
pump, which stood between her house and the next neigh-
bour's. When she returned she put it upon the fire she had
just lit, and taking a pair of bellows in her hand, sat down
to blow it.

While she was so employed a young gentleman, about ten
years of age, very genteelly dressed, entered the room, and
in a familiar manner asked her how she did. ' I am very
well, thank you, my dear,' replied she : ' and pray. Master
George, how does your mamma and papa do, and all your
brothers and sisters % ' ' They are all very well, thank you,'
returned the boy: 'and I am come to bring you a slice of
cake, which my grandpapa gave me yesterday.' Then throw-
ing his arms round her neck, he Avent on saying, ' Oh ! my
dear, dear Betty Flood, how I do love you ! I would do
anything in the world to serve you. I shall save all my
Christmas-boxes to give to you ; and when I am a man I
Avill give you a great deal of money. I wish you were a lady,
and not so poor.' ' I am much obliged to you, my dear,'
said she, ' tor your kind good-wishes ; but, indeed, love, I
am very well contented with my station: I have a good hus-
band, and three good children, and that is more than many
a lady can say; and riches. Master George, unless people
are good, and those one lives with are kind and obliging,
will never make anybody happy. What comfort, now, do
you think a body could ever have at Squire Stately's 1 I
declare, if I was put to my choice, I would rather a thousand
times be as I am. To be sure, they are very rich; but what
of that 1 they cannot eat gold, neither can gold ease their
hearts when they are bursting almost with pride and ill-
nature. They say, indeed, that Madame Stately would be
kind enough if they would let her rest, but what with the
squire's drinking and swearing, and the young gentleman's
extravagance, and her daughter's pride and quarrelling, she
is is almost tired out of her life. And so, Master George, I
say I had rather be poor Betty Flood, with honest Abraham
for my husband, than the finest lady in the land, if I must
live at such a rate. To be sure, nobody can deny but that
money is very desirable, and peoj)le that are rich can do



286 STOREHOUSE OF STORIES.

many agreeable things which we poor ones cannot ; but yet,
for all that, money does not make people happy. Happiness,
Master George, depends greatly upon people's own tempers
and dispositions: a person who is fretful and cross will never
be happy, though he should be made king of all England ;
and a person who is contented and good-humoured will
never be wretched, though he should be as poor as a beggar.
So never fret yourself, love, because Betty Flood is poor ;
for though I am poor, I am honest ; and whilst my husband
and I are happy enough to be blessed with health, and the
use of our limbs, we can work for our living; and though we
have no great plenty, still we have sufficient to support us.
So pray, dear, eat your cake yourself, for I would not take
it from you for ever so much.' They then disputed for
some time who should have it : at last George scuffled away
from her, and put it into the closet, and then, nodding his
head at her, ran away, saying he must go to school that
moment.

Betty Flood then ate her breakfast; and we heard her say
something about the nasty mice, but what we could not make
out, as she muttered softly to herself She then came to the
trunk behind which we lay, and taking out of it a roll of new
linen, sat down to needle-work. At twelve o'clock her
husband and son returned ; so moving her table out of the
way, she made room for them at the fire, and, fetching the
frying-pan, dressed some rashers of the nice bacon we had
before tasted in the cupboard. The boy, in the meantime,
spread a cloth on the table, and placed the bread and cold
pudding on it hkewise: then, returning to the closet for their
plates, he cried out, ' Lawk ! father, here is a nice hunch of
plum-cake; can you tell how it came?' 'Not I, indeed,
Tom,' replied his father; 'I can tell no more than the carp
at the bottom of the squire's fish-pond.' 'Oh, I will tell
you,' said Mrs. Flood; ' I know how it came. Do you know
that dear child. Master George Kendall, brought it for me:
he called as he went to school this morning. I told him I
would not have it; but the dear little soul popped it into the
cupboard, and ran away without it. Bless his little heart!
I do think he is the sweetest child that was ever born. You



LIFE OF A MOUSE. 287

may laugh at me for saying so; but I am sure I should have
thought the same if I had not nursed him myself ' Indeed,'
replied her husband, ' I do not laugh at you for saying so,
for I think so too, and so must every one who knows him ;
for when young gentlemen behave as he does, everj'body
must love and admire them. There is nothing I would not
do to help and serve that child, or any of his family ; they
always are so kind, and speak as civilly to us poor folk as if
we were the first lords or ladies in the land. I am sure, if it
were needful, I would go through fire and water for their
sakes, and so would every man in the parish, I dare say.
But I wonder who would do as much to help Squire Stately
or any of his family, if it was not that I should think it my
duty (and an honest man ought always to do that, whether
he likes it or not); but I say, if it was not that it would be
my duty to help my fellow-creature, I would scarcely be at
the trouble of stepping over the threshold to serve them,
they are such a set of cross, good-for-nothing gentry. I de-
clare, it was but as we came home to dinner now, that we
saw Master Sam throwing sticks and stones at Dame Frugal's
ducks, for the sake of seeing them waddle; and then, when
they got to the pond, he sent his dog in after them to bark
and frighten them out of their wits. And as I came by,
nothing would serve him but throwing a great dab of mud
all over the sleeve of my coat. So I said, " Why, Master
Sam, you need not have done that; I did nothing to offend
you ; and however amusing you may think it to insult poor
people, I assure you it is very wicked, and what no good
person in the world would be guilty of" He then set up a
great rude laugh, and I walked on and said no more. But if
all gentlefolk w^ere to behave like that family, I had rather be
poor as I am, than have all their riches, if that would make
me act like them.* ' Very true, Abraham,' replied his wife,
' that is what I say, and what I told Master George this
morning; for to be poor, if people do not become so through
their own extravagance, is no disgrace to any body; but to
be haughty, cruel, cross, mischievous, is a disgrace to all who
are so, let their rank be as exalted as it may.'

Here the conversation was interrupted by the entrance of



288 STOREHOUSE OF STORIES

a man, who begged Mr. Flood to assist him in unloading his
cart of flour, as his man was gone out, and he could not do
it by himself ' Well, I will come and help you with all my
heart,' said Flood; 'and so shall Tom too: will you, my lad?
I cannot live without help myself; and if I do not assist
others, I am sure I shall not deserve any when I want it.'
So saying, he left his house; and his wife, after cleaning and
putting in their proper places those things which had been
used at dinner, again sat down to her sewing.

Soon after the clock had struck six, the man and his son
returned; and, sitting round the fire, they passed the evening
in social conversation, till they went to bed, which was a
little after eight; and they convinced me, by their talk and
behaviour, that happiness in this world depends far more
upon the temper and disposition of the heart, than upon any
external possessions ; and that virtue, and a desire to be
useful to others, afford far greater satisfaction and peace of
mind than any riches and grandeur can possibly supply
without such necessary qualifications. After they were all
fallen asleep, we crept out ; and, leaving the candle un-
molested, which was again placed on the tinder-box by the
bed-side, we hastened into the closet, where we regaled
heartily, and devoured that part of the plum-cake which
Tom had very generously left for his sister Polly, who we
found was expected home the next day.

We then retired to our safe retreat, and thought we might
venture to stay for one more night's provisions without run-
ning any danger from our too frequent return to the same
place. But in the morning we found our scheme frustrated;
for, on the woman's going to the closet to get her breakfast,
she observed the robbery which we had committed, and
exclaimed, 'Some teazing mice have found their way into
the closet: I will borrow neighbour Savewell's trap tonight,
and catch some of the little toads, that I will ! ' After hearing
this, it would have been madness to make any further at-
tempts; we therefore agreed to watch for an opportunity,
and escape on the very first tlmt offered. Accordingly, about
noon, when Mrs. Flood was busily employed in making some
pancakes, we slipped by her unobserved, and crept out at



LIFE OF A MOUSE. 289

the same hole by which we first entered. But no sooner
were we in the ojien road, tlian we repented our haste, and
wished that we had continued where we were till the dark-
ness of the night might have better concealed us from the
observation of any one. We crept as close to the wall of the
house (as far as it reached, which was but a few paces) as
we possibly could, and then stepped into a little ditch, which
we were soon obliged to leave again, as the water ran in
some parts of it almost up to the edge.

At length we reached a little cottage, which we were just
entering, when a cat that was sleeping, unnoticed by us,
upon a chair, jumped down, and would certainly have de-
stroyed me (who happened to go first) had she not at the
same moment tried to catch my brother, and by that means
missed her aim, and so given us both an opportunity to
escape, which we did by scrambling behind a brick that a
child had been playing with by the side of the door. For-
tunately, the brick lay too close to the house for the cat to
get her paw behind it, so as to be able to reach us ; though
to avoid it we were obliged to use the greatest precaution,
as she could thrust it in a little way, so that if we had gone
one inch too near either end, she would certainly have
dragged us out by her talons. In this dreadful situation
did we spend some hours, incessantly moving from one end
of the brick to the other; for the moment she had, by the
entrance of her paw at one end, driven us to the other, she
stepped over, and again made us retreat. Think with what
dreadful terror our little hearts must have been oppressed,
to see our mortal enemy so closely watching us, expecting
every moment when she shook the brick with her two fore-
paws in searching, and with her mouth endeavoured to lift
it up, that she would be so far able to effect her purpose, as
to make it impossible for us to escape her jaws. But,
happily for us, it had somehow or other got so wedged that
.she could not move it to any distance ; though it kept mo-
mentarily increasing our terrors, by shaking as she strove to
turn it.

From this state of horror, however, we were at length
delivered by a little boy of about two years old, who came
* u



290 STOREHOUSE OF STORIES.



out of tlie house, and taking the cat up round its body vvitla
both hands, tottered away with it, and sliut the door.

Finding ourselves thus unexpectedly once more at liberty,
we determined to make use of it, by seeking some safer
retreat, at least, till night should hide us from public view.
Terrified almost out of our senses, we crept from behind the
brick, and after running a few yards, slipped under the fold-
ing doors of a barn and soon concealed ourselves amidst a
vast quantity of threshed corn. This appeared to us the
most desirable retreat that we had yet found ; not only as it
afforded such immense plenty of food, but also as we could
so easily hide ourselves from the observation of any one :
beside, as it did not appear to be a dwelling-house, we
could in security reside free from any danger of traps or the
cruelty of man. We therefore congratulated each other, not
more on account of the wonderful escape which we had
had, than upon our good fortune in coming to a spot so
blessed with peace and plenty.

After we were a little recovered from the fatigue of mind,
as well as of body, which we had lately gone through, we
regaled very heartily upon the corn that surrounded us, and
then fell into a charming sleep, from which we were awak-
ened the next morning by the sound of human voices. We
very distinctly heard that of a boy saying, ' Let us mix all
the threshed corn with the rest that is not threshed, and
that will make a fine fuss and set John and Simon a swear-
ing like troopers when they come and find all their labour
lost, and that they must do all their work over again.' 'And
do you think there is anything so agreeable in giving people
trouble and hearing them swear,' replied another voice, 'that
you can wish to do it % For my part, I think it is so wicked
a thing that I hate to hear any body guilty of it, much less
would I be the cause of making them commit so great a sin ;
and as for giving them all their trouble over again, so far
would it be from affording me any pleasure, that on the
contrary it would give me great pain ; for however you may
think of it, Will, I assure you it always gives me much
uneasiness to see people labouring and working hard. I
always think how much I should dislike to be obliged to do



LIFE OF A MOUSE. 29 r



SO myself, and therefore very sincerely pity those who must.
On no account, therefore, will I do anything to add to their
labour, or that shall give them unnecessary work.'

' Pooh ! ' answered Will, ' you are wonderfully wise ; I, for
my part, hate such superabundant wisdom; I like to see
folk fret, and stew, and scold, as our maids did last week when
I cut the line and let all the sheets, and gowns, and petti-
coats, and frocks, and shirts, and aprons, and caps, and what
not, fall plump into the dirt. Oh ! how I did laugh ! and how
they did mutter and scold ! And do you know that just as
the wash-ladies were wiping their coddled hands, and com-
forted themselves with the thought of their work being all
over, and were going to sip their tea by the fireside, I put
them all to the scout, and they were obliged to wash every
rag over again. I shall never forget how cross they looked ;
nay, I verily believe Susan cried about it, and how I did
laugh ! '

'And pray,' rejoined the other boy, 'should you have
laughed equally hearty if, after you had been at school all
day, and had with much difficulty just got through all your
writing and different exercises, and were going to play,
should you laugh, I say, if somebody was to run away with
them all, and your master oblige you to do them all over
again ? Tell me, Will, should you laugh, or cry and look
cross % And even that would not be half so bad for you as



Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeA storehouse of stories : storehouse the first → online text (page 26 of 43)