Of Mice and Lilies


This story, as with all the very best and greatest stories, begins with an impossibility.

After all, I am telling this story, and I have seen a great many impossibilities in my time. It comes of being a dreamer, and of thinking like a writer. All writers deal in impossibilities, of course. It’s how we make our living.

I shall not, dearest reader, go to the trouble to explain just how a mouse might fall in love with a lily. Indeed, such an impossibility will be a hard thing to convince anyone of, except to say that the mouse—a most rascally, clever fellow by the name of Wignilian Finch—had a mind of his own and a tendency to want everything he was quite sure he couldn’t have.

On the particular morning I am thinking of, Wignilian was in a place no self-respecting mouse ought to be. His brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins were scurrying about the floor and walls of the grain silo, just as any decent mouse might, but Wignilian had eaten his fill of grain for the morning, and as he was an exceptionally lazy mouse and didn’t like to scuttle when he didn’t have to, he had wandered off. Now, he was poking his nose about the reeds and rushes, the slimy mud and sticky algae of the mill pond, and what he could have wanted there in the first place, I couldn’t tell you.

He was looking—I suppose—for something grand and wonderful to steal away and hide beneath his nest in the grain silo. He rather liked such things, mainly because he enjoyed bragging about them to his smaller cousins and refusing to allow them even one peek, lest they should spoil his prize. He had found nothing of interest among the reeds, and as they had laughed at him for the grain dust in his fur, he had wandered on. At last, on the stone wall beside the creaking, dripping mill wheel, he caught sight of a lily floating gently in the center of the pond.

The lily was quite the loveliest, whitest, most charming treasure that Wignilian had ever laid eyes on, and right away he began to ponder how he might have it for himself. He had no boat, of course, and as mice are not known to be champion swimmers—particularly in ponds that harbor a great deal of pike and trout—he found himself quite without an idea. But, besides being rather lazy, Wignilian was also stubborn. He sat himself down on the edge of that mossy stone wall, propped his chin in his paws, twitched his muddy little nose, and began to think.

He thought for quite a long time. All day, I believe, but not a single brilliant scheme occurred to him. The lily floated peacefully far out of reach, looking whiter and more beautiful with each passing minute. Wignilian could not stand it. He chewed his paws, he chewed his tail, he even bit the end clean off one of his fine, sharp claws, but he could not find a solution.

At last, when the sun was sinking beneath the woods, a great, scaly, ugly pike came swimming right to the base of the wall, poked his hooked jaws and large head out of the water, and inquired, as pleasantly as any pike can, what could possibly be the matter? Now Wignilian knew better than to talk to a pike. He really did. But just at that moment, he was so distressed about the lily that he told the big fish all about it.

The pike listened and nodded sympathetically, and I do believe he even summoned a tear or two for the little mouse’s plight. Wignilian was touched. He ventured a step nearer, and a step nearer, so as to be sure every last word of his sad tale could be heard. At last the pike shook his head and said, in a voice quite trembling with emotion, “Intolerable. There must be a way—” Then the pike grinned, a monstrous, toothy grin. “Of course! I have an idea. Hop down onto my head, and I’ll bring you right over to it. You’re such a little mouse that it wouldn’t be any trouble at all!” And he continued to grin that terrible, wicked grin that I am sure he thought was most friendly and inviting.

I am sorry to say that for all his cleverness, Wignilian almost fell for it. He took two steps forward without so much as a thought, and it wasn’t until he saw those sharp, shiny white teeth that he began to wonder if the pike might have some other purpose for his kindness. He took another tentative step forward, twitching his little nose and wondering. The pike, seeing that Wignilian was hesitating, unhooked his great jaws and sprang upward with a mighty splash, snapping at him with all his might.

Wignilian squeaked with fright and made a dash for safety. He was spry, for all his laziness, and all the pike got for his trouble was a single whisker and half of poor Wignilian’s tail. It wasn’t quite the prize the pike was hoping for, but it was far more than Wignilian would have liked to give. He scuttled away, trembling from his nose to his tiny paws, and I dare say he never gave one more thought to that lily. And I am quite sure that he never once dared go anywhere near the old mill pond again, not even when his Great Uncle Cornelius Fellbottom gave a party on the wall to welcome the first of the merfolk to their pond.

But that, dear reader, is another story.

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