In the Village

The Hanging of the Mouse

Early, early in the morning even before five o’clock, the
mouse was brought out, but already there were large crowds.
Some of the animals had not gone to bed the night before, but
had stayed up later and later; at first because of a vague feeling
of celebration, and then, after deciding several times that they
might as well wander about the town for an hour or more, to
conclude the night by arriving at the square in time for the
hanging became only sensible. These animals hiccuped a little
and had an air of cynical lassitude. Those who had got up out
of bed to come also appeared weary and silent, but not so bored.
     The mouse was led in by two enormous brown beetles in the
traditional picturesque armor of an earlier day. They came on
to the square through the small black door and marched
between the lines of soldiers standing at attention: straight
ahead, to the right, around two sides of the hollow square, to the
left, and out into the middle where the gallows stood. Before
each turn the beetle on the right glanced quickly at the beetle
on the left; their traditional long, long antennae swerved
sharply in the direction they were to turn and they did it to
perfection. The mouse, of course, who had had no military
training and who, at the moment, was crying so hard he could
scarcely see where he was going, rather spoiled the precision
and snap of the beetles. At each corner he fell slightly forward,
and when he was jerked in the right direction his feet became
tangled together. The beetles, however, without even looking
at him, each time lifted him quickly into the air for a second
until his feet were untangled.
     At that hour in the morning the mouse’s gray clothes were
almost indistinguishable from the light. But his whimpering
could be heard, and the end of his nose was rose-red from
crying so much. The crowd of small animals tipped back their
heads and sniffed with pleasure.
      A raccoon, wearing the traditional black mask, was the execu-
toner. He was very fastidious and did everything just so. One
of his young sons, also wearing a black mask, waited on him with
a small basin and a pitcher of water. First, he washed his hands
and rinsed them carefully; then he washed the rope and rinsed
it. At the last minute he again washed his hands and drew on
a pair of elegant black kid gloves.
    A large praying mantis was in charge of the religious end of
the ceremonies. He hurried up on the stage after the mouse
and his escorts, but once there a fit of nerves seemed to seize
him. He glided to the left a few steps, to the right a few steps,
lifted his arms gracefully, but could not seem to begin; and it
was quite apparent that he would have liked nothing better
than to have jumped quickly down and left the whole affair.
When his arms were stretched to Heaven his large eyes flashed
toward the crowd, and when he looked up, his body was twitch-
ing and he moved about in a really pathetic way. He seemed to
feel ill at ease with the low characters around him: the beetles,
the hangmen, and the criminal mouse. At last he made a great
effort to pull himself together and, approaching the mouse, said
a few words in a high, incomprehensible voice. The mouse
jumped from nervousness, and cried harder than ever.
    At this point the spectators would all undoubtedly have burst
out laughing, but just then the King’s messenger appeared on
the balcony above the small black door the mouse and his guards
had lately come through. He was a very large, overweight bull-
frog, also dressed in the traditional costume and carrying the
traditional long scroll that dragged for several feet on the
ground and had the real speech, on a little slip of paper, pasted
inside it. The scroll and the white plume on his hat made him
look comically like something in a nursery tale, but his voice was
impressive enough to awe the crowd into polite attention. It
was a deep base: “Glug! Glug! Berrr-up!” No one could under-
stand a word of the mouse’s death sentence.
     With the help of some pushes and pinches from the beetles,
the executioner got the mouse into position. The rope was tied
exquisitely behind one of his little round ears. The mouse
raised a hand and wiped his nose with it, and most of the crowd
interpreted this gesture as a farewell wave and spoke of it for
weeks afterwards. The hangman’s young son, at a signal from
his father, sprang the trap.
     “Squee-eek! Squee-eek!” went the mouse.
     His whiskers rowed hopelessly round and round in the air a
few times and his feet flew up and curled into little balls like
young fern-plants.

     The praying mantis, with an hysterical fling of his long limbs,
had disappeared in the crowd. It was all so touching that a cat,
who had brought her child in her mouth, shed several large
tears. They rolled down on to the child’s back and he began to
squirm and shriek, so that the mother thought that the sight of
the hanging had perhaps been too much for him, but an
excellent moral lesson, nevertheless.