The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse
by Beatrix Potter
To Aesop In The Shadows
Johnny Town-mouse was born in a cupboard.
Timmy Willie was born in a garden. Timmy
Willie was a little country mouse who went to town by mistake in a hamper.
The gardener sent vegetables to town once a week by carrier; he packed
them in a big hamper.
The gardener left the hamper by the garden
gate, so that the carrier could pick it up when he passed. Timmy Willie
crept in through a hole in the wicker-work, and after eating some peas
– Timmy Willie fell fast asleep.
He awoke in a fright, while the hamper
was being lifted into the carrier's cart. Then there was a jolting, and
a clattering of horse's feet; other packages were thrown in; for miles
and miles – jolt – jolt – jolt! and Timmy Willie trembled amongst the jumbled
At last the cart stopped at a house, where
the hamper was taken out, carried in, and set down. The cook gave the carrier
sixpence; the back door banged, and the cart rumbled away. But there was
no quiet; there seemed to be hundreds of carts passing. Dogs barked; boys
whistled in the street; the cook laughed, the parlour maid ran up and down-stairs;
and a canary sang like a steam engine.
Timmy Willie, who had lived all his life
in a garden, was almost frightened to death. Presently the cook opened
the hamper and began to unpack the vegetables. Out sprang the terrified
Up jumped the cook on a chair, exclaiming
"A mouse! a mouse! Call the cat! Fetch me the poker, Sarah!" Timmy Willie
did not wait for Sarah with the poker; he rushed along the skirting board
till he came to a little hole, and in he popped.
He dropped half a foot, and crashed into
the middle of a mouse dinner party, breaking three glasses. – "Who in the
world is this?" inquired Johnny Town-mouse. But after the first exclamation
of surprise he instantly recovered his manners.
With the utmost politeness he introduced
Timmy Willie to nine other mice, all with long tails and white neckties.
Timmy Willie's own tail was insignificant. Johnny Town-mouse and his friends
noticed it; but they were too well bred to make personal remarks; only
one of them asked Timmy Willie if he had ever been in a trap?
The dinner was of eight courses; not much
of anything, but truly elegant. All the dishes were unknown to Timmy Willie,
who would have been a little afraid of tasting them; only he was very hungry,
and very anxious to behave with company manners. The continual noise upstairs
made him so nervous, that he dropped a plate. "Never mind, they don't belong
to us," said Johnny.
"Why don't those youngsters come back with
the dessert?" It should be explained that two young mice, who were waiting
on the others, went skirmishing upstairs to the kitchen between courses.
Several times they had come tumbling in, squeaking and laughing; Timmy
Willie learnt with horror that they were being chased by the cat. His appetite
failed, he felt faint. "Try some jelly?" said Johnny Town-mouse.
"No? Would you rather go to bed? I will
show you a most comfortable sofa pillow."
The sofa pillow had a hole in it. Johnny
Town-mouse quite honestly recommended it as the best bed, kept exclusively
for visitors. But the sofa smelt of cat. Timmy Willie preferred to spend
a miserable night under the fender.
It was just the same next day. An excellent
breakfast was provided – for mice accustomed to eat bacon; but Timmy Willie
had been reared on roots and salad. Johnny Town-mouse and his friends racketted
about under the floors, and came boldly out all over the house in the evening.
One particularly loud crash had been caused by Sarah tumbling downstairs
with the tea-tray; there were crumbs and sugar and smears of jam to be
collected, in spite of the cat.
Timmy Willie longed to be at home in his
peaceful nest in a sunny bank. The food disagreed with him; the noise prevented
him from sleeping. In a few days he grew so thin that Johnny Town-mouse
noticed it, and questioned him. He listened to Timmy Willie's story and
inquired about the garden. "It sounds rather a dull place? What do you
do when it rains?"
"When it rains, I sit in my little sandy
burrow and shell corn and seeds from my Autumn store. I peep out at the
throstles and blackbirds on the lawn, and my friend Cock Robin. And when
the sun comes out again, you should see my garden and the flowers – roses
and pinks and pansies – no noise except the birds and bees, and the lambs
in the meadows."
"There goes that cat again!" exclaimed
Johnny Town-mouse. When they had taken refuge in the coal-cellar he resumed
the conversation; "I confess I am a little disappointed; we have endeavoured
to entertain you, Timothy William."
"Oh yes, yes, you have been most kind;
but I do feel so ill," said Timmy Willie.
"It may be that your teeth and digestion
are unaccustomed to our food; perhaps it might be wiser for you to return
in the hamper."
"Oh? Oh!" cried Timmy Willie.
"Why of course for the matter of that we
could have sent you back last week," said Johnny rather huffily – "did
you not know that the hamper goes back empty on Saturdays?"
So Timmy Willie said good-bye to his new
friends, and hid in the hamper with a crumb of cake and a withered cabbage
leaf; and after much jolting, he was set down safely in his own garden.
Sometimes on Saturdays he went to look
at the hamper lying by the gate, but he knew better than to get in again.
And nobody got out, though Johnny Town-mouse had half promised a visit.
The winter passed; the sun came out again;
Timmy Willie sat by his burrow warming his little fur coat and sniffing
the smell of violets and spring grass. He had nearly forgotten his visit
to town. When up the sandy path all spick and span with a brown leather
bag came Johnny Town-mouse!
Timmy Willie received him with open arms.
"You have come at the best of all the year, we will have herb pudding and
sit in the sun."
"H'm'm! it is a little damp," said Johnny
Town-mouse, who was carrying his tail under his arm, out of the mud.
"What is that fearful noise?" he started
"That?" said Timmy Willie, "that is only
a cow; I will beg a little milk, they are quite harmless, unless they happen
to lie down upon you. How are all our friends?"
Johnny's account was rather middling. He
explained why he was paying his visit so early in the season; the family
had gone to the sea-side for Easter; the cook was doing spring cleaning,
on board wages, with particular instructions to clear out the mice. There
were four kittens, and the cat had killed the canary.
"They say we did it; but I know better,"
said Johnny Town-mouse. "Whatever is that fearful racket?"
"That is only the lawn-mower; I will fetch
some of the grass clippings presently to make your bed. I am sure you had
better settle in the country, Johnny."
"H'm'm – we shall see by Tuesday week;
the hamper is stopped while they are at the sea-side."
"I am sure you will never want to live
in town again," said Timmy Willie.
But he did. He went back in the very next
hamper of vegetables; he said it was too quiet!!
One place suits one person, another place
suits another person. For my part I prefer to live in the country, like
This text and illustrations are from Beatrix
Potter's The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse,
New York, Frederick Warne & Co., Inc. (1918).