The next few days passed peacefully enough. Order was restored to Mrs. Gessler’s house. Her cats came out of hiding and approached the cage with great interest. They stuck their paws inside and batted playfully at the two mice, but Mrs. Gessler wouldn’t allow them to maul or eat Sir Isaac or Edith or scare them so badly that they would lose their wits and not ever regain them.
Finally the day arrived when Mrs. Gessler glanced up from her sewing and saw Bougainvillea Dankhurst coming up the lane. She was carrying a bundle in the crook of her arm, which, of course, would be her new baby. Mrs. Gessler welcomed her warmly.
After admiring the new baby, a pink and rosy-cheeked girl-child, Mrs. Gessler took Bougainvillea into the kitchen, where the cage containing the two mice still sat in plain view on the table. Bougainvillea stuck her fingers through the tiny bars of the cage, laughing when the mice tickled her with their noses.
“You keep mice as pets?” she asked.
“You could say that,” Mrs. Gessler said, “but, strictly speaking, it’s not the absolute truth.”
“They’re very cute,” Bougainvillea said. She held the baby up to see the mice, but, of course, the baby was too young to see them or to know what they were.
Mrs. Gessler gave Bougainvillea a piece of cake and a cup of tea. They were having a very pleasant conversation until Bougainvillea asked where the children were.
“I’m afraid I’ve got a bit of a shock for you,” Mrs. Gessler said.
“They’re not dead, are they?” Bougainvillea asked.
“Oh, my, no!” Mrs. Gessler said. “Nothing of the sort.” She glanced meaningfully at the two mice in the cage.
“You don’t mean?” Bougainvillea said.
“I’m afraid I had no other choice, dear.”
“How could you do such a despicable thing?”
“I might ask you how you came to have two such despicable children!”
Bougainvillea looked at the cage, then at Mrs. Gessler, and laughed most heartily. “I would have done it myself a long time ago if I had known how!”
“That’s what I told them.”
“Can you turn them back?”
“Well, that’s a little bit of a problem, I’m afraid,” Mrs. Gessler said. “I haven’t been able to remember that part of the spell.”
“But it’ll come to me. I know it will.”
“So I brought two children and am going home with two mice!”
“Just feed them little pieces of bread and cheese and a little water now and then. They’re very happy with that.”
After Bougainvillea left to go home, carrying the cage in one hand and her new baby on the other arm, she came to see that it all made perfect sense. Sir Isaac and Edith were really terrible children and she had never been able to control them on her own. She loved them, of course, and would never have done anything to harm them, but now that they were tiny and confined to a cage and required very little care, she saw what a blessing it was.
The new baby, who she named Saint Margaret, was what she really cared about. Her wild days were over. No longer would she allow wayfaring men to lift up her skirts and have their way with her. Since there were to be no more children, she was perfectly contented with Saint Margaret alone. She saw herself growing old with the lovely and beatific girl tending to her needs through to the end of her days. Sir Isaac and Edith didn’t fit into the picture at all.
She could have kept them as pets always, but she began to feel sorry for them living in the tiny cage. That seemed far crueler than anything else that had been done to them. She took the cage out into the woods not far from where Mrs. Gessler lived and set it on the ground and opened its door. She hurried off then, lest she should change her mind or begin to feel sorry that she would never see them again.
Finding they had no limit to how far they could go was a delightful revelation to Sir Isaac and Edith. They ran and jumped and chased each other. They found that the fallen leaves provided the best playing environment they could ever imagine, as they could completely hide themselves whenever they felt like it and jump out and scare the wits out of each other when least expected. It was the most fun they had ever had. They played until they were exhausted and then made themselves a bed of leaves underneath a tree.
The night was not so delightful, however. An owl was after them to eat them for its dinner and, since they had never seen an owl before, they didn’t know how to escape, but they learned very fast. They discovered the owl was rather stupid and easily distracted. While they ran in opposite directions, the owl couldn’t seem to make up its mind which of them to pursue, so it gave up and flew away to its perch in a nearby tree. There were other terrors in the night, including empty bellies (they hadn’t learned yet how to look for food), frightening sounds, and a sudden rainstorm that soaked their bed to a soggy mess.
When morning came, they knew they had to find a better place to live or they wouldn’t last another night. They set off toward the rising sun because it seemed the most hopeful direction and by noontime they came upon a huge old barn that looked promising.
They entered the barn and made themselves at home, eating delicious grain and sleeping on straw. Most of all, they felt safe. When they awoke, they discovered the barn contained a huge population of mice, a veritable mouse city. They were welcomed into the fold because there was plenty of space for everybody and lots of food to eat.
Sir Isaac was content to eat and sleep and play with his newly acquired mouse friends, but Edith had other things on her mind. She couldn’t forget the way that old Mrs. Gessler had treated them and had turned them into mice without asking their permission. She wouldn’t be able to settle down and enjoy her life of ease in the barn until she had exacted revenge.
She gathered a bunch of the mice together, a thousand or so, and persuaded them to go with her to Mrs. Gessler’s house. The mice considered it a great adventure, an opportunity for fun, and willingly assented. With Edith as their general, the mice waited out in front of Mrs. Gessler’s house until the time was right.
When Mrs. Gessler opened her door to sweep the dirt out, the thousand mice rushed her all at once. They were all over her, in her hair and her clothing, before she knew what was happening. They bit her and clung to her and buried their claws in her flesh. She was so surprised and so frightened that her heart stopped and she died on the spot.
The mice nibbled away at Mrs. Gessler, along with all sorts of birds and animals of the forest, until the flesh was eaten away and all that remained were rags and bones. The mice, Edith and Sir Isaac especially, loved running in and out of the grinning mouth and the eyeholes. The skull, with all the brain matter gone, afforded an excellent opportunity for hide and seek.
Sir Isaac and Edith were happy living in the barn—for them it was a sort of mouse heaven—but their lives were all too brief. When they were on another adventure, they died in a rush of water that carried them away and dumped them into the river, along with other of their mouse friends. It was a quick death and, except for the moment of terror they experienced, a relatively painless one.
Bougainvillea Dankhurst could never have known what happened to her children, Sir Isaac and Edith, but throughout her long life she never again saw a mouse that she was carried away on a wave of bittersweet memories.