FAR away in the forest was the Kingdom of Mouseland. There was a great city, where every Mouse had his little house, with doors and windows, tables and chairs, books for the grown-up Mice, and toys for the children; there were little shops, where the Mice bought clothes and food, and everything they wanted; there was a little church where they went on Sunday, and a reverend little Mouse in a little lawn surplice to preach to them; there was a little palace, and in this palace lived the little Mouse King.
Now it happened that a caravan passed through the Kingdom of the Mice. Not that the men of the caravan knew what a wonderful kingdom they were in. They thought it was just like any other part of the forest, and if they did happen to pass a Mouse fortress, or farmyard, they thought them nothing but heaps of earth. Just so if you were to fly up in a balloon, and look down on your own house from the air, it would seem like a little doll's-house, not fit for a child to live in. This caravan, as I have said, was passing through Mouseland, and encamped in part of it once to spend the night. One of the Camels was very sick, and as the owner of the Camel thought it was sure to die, he left it behind when the caravan went away.
But the Camel did not die; he very soon got as well as ever he was. And when he got well he also got hungry; so he strode all over Mouseland, eating up the crops of the Mice, and treading their houses down, until at last he came to the Mouse King's park. He ate a great many trees in the Mouse King's park, and the Keeper went in a hurry and flurry to tell the King.
"O King," said he, "a mountain several miles high has walked into your park, and is eating everything up."
"We must make an example of this mountain," said the King, "or the whole earth may be moving next. Sandy," said he to his Prime Minister, who was a Fox, "go and fetch that mountain to me."
So Sandy the Prime Minister went to seek the mountain that was eating the King's park. Next morning, back he came, leading the Camel by his nose-string.
When the Camel saw how little the King of the Mice seemed to be, he began to grunt and gurgle, and sniffed with his funny mouth. You know a Camel has a mouth which looks as though it had two slits in it, of the shape of a cross; and when he wants to show his contempt for anything he pokes out his mouth like a four-leaved clover, and makes you feel very small. "Hullo," said the Camel, "is this your King? I thought it was the Lion who sent for me. I would never have come for a speck like this." Then he turned round, and walked out of court, and began to eat everything he came across.
The King was very angry, but what could he do? He had to swallow the insult, and make the best of it. However, he determined to watch his chance of revenge; and soon he got it. For after a few days, the Camel's nose-string became entangled in a creeper, and he could not get away, do what he would. Then Sandy the Fox came by, and saw him in this plight. Imagine his joy to see his enemy at his mercy! Off he ran, and soon brought the King to that place. Then the King said--
"O Camel, you despised my words, and see the result. Your sin has found you out."
"O mighty King," said the Camel, quite humble now, "indeed I confess my fault, and I pray you to forgive me. If you will only save me, I will be your faithful servant."
The Mouse King was not of a spiteful nature, and as soon as he heard the Camel ask forgiveness his heart grew soft. He climbed up the creeper, and gnawed through the Camel's nose-string, and set the Camel free.
The Camel, I am glad to say, kept his word; and he became a servant of the Mouse King. He was so big and strong that he could carry loads which would have needed thousands of Mice to carry; and by his help the King made very strong walls and forts around his city, so that he had no fear of enemies. When there was nothing else to do, the Camel even blacked the Mouse King's boots, rather than be idle.
So things went on for a long time. But one day some Woodcutters came into the forest. These men lived all together in a village of their own, and they used to build houses of wood. When anybody wanted a house, he told the Woodcutters, and they used to leave their village and go into the woods. Then they cut down the trees, and sawed them into planks, and shaped them into the parts of a house. When the house was finished, they put numbers on all the parts, and took it to pieces again, and put it on a raft; and the raft floated down the great river to the place where the house had been ordered. Then they put up the house in a very short time, because you see it was all ready made, and only had to be put together.
These Woodcutters, then, came and settled for a while near the borders of Mouseland; and in the course of their wanderings they found the stray Camel. They promptly seized him, and carried him off.
When Sandy told the King what had happened, the Mouse King was very angry indeed. He sent a detachment of his bodyguard, armed cap-à-pie, to fetch the Woodcutters into his presence. The bodyguard captured two of them, and led them back bound. Then the King demanded his Camel.
"Pooh, silly little Mouse," said the Woodcutters. "If you want it, you must fetch it."
"I will," said the King of the Mice. "Tell your chief, whoever he is, that I hereby declare war upon him."
The Woodcutters laughed, and went away.
Then the Mouse King gathered together all his subjects, millions and millions of sturdy Mice; and they set out for the village of the Woodcutters. The Woodcutters had by this time finished their job, and they had been paid a good round sum of money for it; and the money was carefully put away, with all the other money they had, in a treasury.
Now the Mice were not able to meet big Woodcutters in the field, but they had their own tactics. Night and day they burrowed under the earth. First they made for the treasury; and though the treasury had stone walls, they got up easily through the floor, where no danger was expected, and one by one they carried off every coin from the treasury, until it was as bare as the palm of your hand. Then they got underneath all the houses of the village; and thousands and millions of Mice were busy all day and all night in carrying out little baskets of earth from beneath the foundations. Thus it happened, that very soon the Woodcutters' village was standing on a thin shell of earth, and underneath it was a great hole.
Now was the time to strike the blow. The layer of earth was so thin, that the least shock would destroy it. So the Mouse King wrote a letter to the Woodcutter Chief, asking once more for his Camel, and in the letter he hid a little packet of snuff. He put the letter in the post, and waited.
Next day, as the Woodcutter Chief was sitting in his house, the postman came to the door--Rat-tat. The footman brought in a letter, and the Woodcutter Chief opened it. He read it through, and laughed. Then he waved it in the air, and said, "Let them come." As he waved the letter in the air, all the snuff fell out of it upon his nose. The Woodcutter gave a terrific sneeze, Tishoo! Tishoo! The thin shell of earth could not stand the shock; it trembled, and crumbled, and fell in, and all the Woodcutters fell in too, and all their village, and nothing was left of them but a big hole.
Then the Mouse King and his army went back to Mouseland; and though they never got the old Camel back (for he was swallowed up along with the Woodcutters), yet no one ever molested Mouseland again.