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Old-Fashioned Fairy Book, The

TIMID AGNES.

ONCE there lived a poor girl whose wicked aunt treated her very cruelly. One morning, the aunt set out for a day of shopping and visiting to the neighboring town, after whipping her niece soundly (as she was in the habit of doing for exercise, every morning), and shutting up the poor girl in the garret, where a barrel of white sand had been spilt upon the floor.

"Pick up every grain of this sand before bedtime, or I will imprison you in the dark closet for a week," said the aunt as she went away.

The poor child cried so that she could not see the tiny particles; and as she sat, crying and picking up what she could feel, she heard a little scratching under the lid of the old wedding-chest in the corner. Presently, a pretty blue mouse with topaz eyes ran down the side of the chest, and came up to her. Now, if[238] there was anything poor Agnes feared more than death, it was a mouse. The very sight of one had always made her shudder and scream and clutch at her petticoats, and climb up on chairs or tables or anything convenient.

So when she saw her visitor she gave a cry of terror, and climbed nimbly up to the top of a broken chest of drawers in the corner of the garret.

"Don't mind me," said the mouse, politely.

"I beg your pardon, but I'm so awfully afraid of you," said Agnes, shuddering to her toes. "I think I could endure you if it were not for your horrid tail! But you really make me creep all over, don't you see?"

"If you would only take that apron off your head, and exercise a little self-control," said the mouse, with a shade of impatience in its manner, "you would soon see that I am a very superior kind of a mouse. Come, Miss Agnes, I have watched you very often at your work here, and I have a great desire to be of service to you. But there is really no talking reason to a person hunched up on top of a chest of drawers with a pink apron over her head; is there, now?"

Agnes, hearing the mouse talk so pleasantly, made a desperate effort to come down from her perch and converse with the little creature.

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After a while the blue mouse's eloquence proved sufficient to induce her[240] to follow it near a crack in the wall, and to peep between the boards, as directed.

There she saw a secret room, full of beautiful things—clothes and jewels—scattered on the floor.

"All these shall be yours, fair Agnes," said the mouse, "if you will carry me in your pocket for a day."

Agnes trembled with horror so that she could hardly bring herself to say, "Thank you kindly, good Mr. Blue Mouse, but I hardly need anything new in the way of clothes, going out as little as I do. O—o—oh!" she exclaimed, catching her breath, as the mouse seemed to scuttle toward her.

"Do not fear! I am entirely too proud to obtrude my company where it is so little desired. Farewell, Miss Agnes; I leave you. But before I go, allow me to arrange this little difficulty for you."

The gallant little mouse whisked his tail (that hateful tail!), twice over the pile of sand, and at once, every grain of the shining heap, and all that lay scattered over the garret floor, flew back into the barrel.

"Thank you, kind Mr. Blue Mouse," cried the grateful Agnes; but no answer came. Her benefactor was[241] nowhere to be seen. She looked in vain for the crack in the wall he had led her to; it was no longer in view.

When the wicked aunt found that Agnes had completed her task, she flew into a violent rage, and determined to rid herself forever of the girl. So, taking her again into the garret, she bound her hand-and-foot, tied a handkerchief across her mouth to still her cries, and, opening the old wedding-chest in the corner, thrust poor Agnes bodily into it, closing the lid with a vicious bang, and locking it with the great iron key.

Shutting Agnes into the Chest.

"Lie there till doomsday, you tiresome thing!" said the wicked aunt, going down-stairs to eat her supper.

Poor Agnes thought she must soon die of suffocation, but just then she heard a scratching noise; four little feet scuttled over her face, and a long smooth tail whisked by her ear.

"Ugh!" groaned poor Agnes. "It's a mouse shut up here with me! Oh! why didn't she kill me, outright?"

Then little teeth began gnawing at her bandages and at the ropes that bound her, and in a few moments she was free.

"I am here, Miss Agnes; though, indeed, I won't[242] touch you again!" said the familiar voice of the Blue Mouse. "But if you would only trust me, and carry me in your pocket, how much I could do for you!"

At last Agnes consented to grant his wish and, trembling in every limb, she let the mouse run into her pocket. Without a moment's delay, the bottom of the chest gave way, and Agnes felt herself sinking, sinking. When she recovered her wits, which in that moment of terror seemed fairly to forsake her, there she was in a beautiful garden, filled with ladies and gentlemen walking two and two in a grand procession along a bowery path strewn with roses and carnations. Fountains played in the sunshine, birds sang on the boughs. It was a scene so gay and beautiful, that Agnes clapped her hands for joy.

"How happy I am here!" she cried.

"And happy you shall always be here," said a voice behind her.

Agnes, turning, saw a young gentleman dressed in a blue court costume with topaz buttons, and wearing in his cap a long smooth plume of blue, caught by a brilliant brooch of the same gems.

He explained to her that he was none other than the mouse she had so much feared. Condemned from[243] childhood to remain a mouse until some fair maiden should, of her own free will, allow him to run into her pocket, the unfortunate prince had only now been released from his long imprisonment. This garden belonged to his own palace, and the ladies and gentlemen coming to meet him were his friends and courtiers.

Agnes, shedding tears of penitence over the blindness of her former prejudice, bestowed her hand upon the prince, and was happy evermore.


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