Once on a time there was a fell-mouse and a town-mouse, and they met on a hill brae, where the fell-mouse sat in a hazel thicket and plucked nuts.
'God help you, sister,' said the town-mouse. 'Do I meet my kinsfolk here so far out in the country?'
'Yes! so it is;' said the fell-mouse.
'You gather these nuts and carry them to your house?' said the town-mouse.
'Yes; I must do it,' said the fell-mouse, 'if we are to have anything to live on.'
'The husks are long and the kernels full this year,' said the town-mouse; 'so I dare say they will help to fill out a starveling body.'
'You are quite right,' said the fell-mouse, and then she told her how well and happily she lived. But the town-mouse thought she was better off, and the fell-mouse would not give in, but said there was no place so good as wood and fell, and as for herself, she had far the best of it.
Still the town-mouse said she was sure she had the best of it, and they could not agree at all. So, at last, they promised to pay one another a visit at Yule, that they might taste and see which lived best. The town-mouse was the one that had to pay the first visit, and she went through woods and deep dales, for though the fell-mouse had come down to the lowlands for the winter, the road was both long and heavy. It was up-hill work, and the snow was both deep and soft, so that she was both weary and hungry by the time she got to her journey's end.
'Now I shall be glad to get some food,' she said, when she got there. As for the fell-mouse, she had scraped together all sorts of good things. There were kernels of nuts, and liquorish-root and other roots, and much else that grows in wood and field. All this she had in a hole deep under ground where it would not freeze, and close by was a spring which was open all the winter, so that she could drink as much water as she chose. There was plenty of what was to be had, and they fed both well and good; but the town-mouse thought it was not more than sorry fare.
'One can keep life together with this,' she said; 'but it isn't choice, not at all. But now you must be so kind as come to me, and taste what we have in town.'
Well, the fell-mouse was willing, and it was not long before she came. Then the town-mouse had gathered together something of all the Christmas fare which the mistress of the house had dropped as she went about, when she had taken a drop too much at Yule. There were bits of cheese, and odds and ends of butter and tallow, and cheesecakes and tipsycake, and much else that was nice. In the jar under the ale-tap she had drink enough, and the whole room was full of all kinds of dainties. They fed and lived well, and there was no end to the fell-mouse's greediness. Such fare she had never tasted. At last, she got thirsty, for the food was both strong and rich, and now she must have a drink of water.
'It is not far off to the ale,' said the town-mouse; 'that's the drink for us;' and with that she jumped up on the edge of the jar, and drank her thirst out, but she drank no more than she could carry, for she knew the Yule ale and how strong it was. But as for the fell-mouse, she thought it famous drink, for she had never tasted anything but water, and now she took sip after sip; but she was no judge of strong drink, and so the end was she got drunk, for she tumbled down and got wild in her head, and felt her feet tingle, till she began to run and to jump about from one beer-barrel to the other, and to dance and cut capers on the shelves among the cups and jugs, and to whistle and whine, just as though she were tipsy and silly; and tipsy she was, there was no gainsaying it.
'You mustn't behave as though you had just come from the hills,' said the town-mouse. 'Don't make such a noise, and don't lead us such a life; we have a hard master here.'
But the fell-mouse said: 'She cared not a pin for man or master!'
But all this while the cat sat up on the trap-door above the cellar, and listened and spied both to their talk and pranks. Just then, the goody came down to draw a mug of ale, and as she lifted the trap-door, the cat stole into the cellar and fixed her claws into the fell-mouse. Then there was another dance. The town-mouse crept into her hole, and sat safe looking on, but the fell-mouse got sober all at once as soon as she felt the cat's claws.
'Oh, my dear master, my dear master; be merciful and spare my life, and I'll tell you a story.' That was what she said.
'Out with it then,' said the cat.
'Once on a time there were two small mice,' said the fell-mouse; and she squeaked so pitifully and slowly, for she wanted to drag the story out as long as she could.
'Then they were not alone,' said the cat, both sharply and drily.
'And so we had a steak we were going to cook.'
'Then you were not starved,' said the cat.
'So we put it up on the roof that it might cool itself well,' said the fell-mouse.
'Then you didn't burn your tongues,' said the cat.
'So, then the fox and the crow came and gobbled it up,' said the fell-mouse.
'And so I'll gobble you up,' said the cat.
But just then the goody slammed to the trap-door again, so that the cat got afraid and loosed her hold, and--pop--the fell-mouse was away in the town-mouse's hole, and from it there was a way out into the snow, and the fell-mouse was not slow in setting off home.
'This you call living well, and you say that you live best?' she said to the town-mouse. 'Heaven help me to a better mind, for with such a big house, and such a hawk for a master I could scarce get off with my life.