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Wild Mice
by [?]

One of the prettiest and most abundant of our native mice is the deer mouse, also called the white-footed mouse; a very beautiful creature, nocturnal in his habits, with large ears, and large, fine eyes full of a wild, harmless look. He is daintily marked, with white feet and a white belly. When disturbed by day he is very easily captured, having none of the cunning or viciousness of the common Old World mouse. He is found in both fields and woods.

It is he who, high in the hollow trunk of some tree, lays by a store of beech-nuts for winter use. Every nut is carefully shelled, and the cavity that serves as storehouse lined with grass and leaves. The wood-chopper frequently squanders this precious store. I have seen half a peck taken from one tree, as clean and white as if put up by the most delicate hands,–as they were. How long it must have taken the little creature to collect this quantity, to hull them one by one, and convey them up to his fifth-story chamber!

But the deer mice do not always carry their supplies home in this manner; they often hide them in the nearest convenient place. I have known them to carry a pint or more of hickory nuts and deposit them in a pair of boots standing in the chamber of an outhouse. Near the chestnut-trees they will fill little pocket-like depressions in the ground with chestnuts; in a grain-field they carry the grain under stones; under some cover beneath cherry-trees they collect great numbers of cherry-pits. Hence, when cold weather comes, instead of staying at home like the chipmunk, they gad about hither and thither looking up their supplies. One may see their tracks on the snow everywhere in the woods and fields and by the roadside. The advantage of this way of living is that it leads to activity, and probably to sociability.

One summer, a boy who lives in Dutchess County, across the Hudson from my house, caught four of these mice in a wire trap, two males and two females. The boy said that when he picked up the trap the two males fell dead, from fright he thought. One of the females died in October, but the other lived and began hibernating early in November. He took it to his teacher in New York, who kept it through the winter. She made a pocket for it in a woolen sock, but it was not suited with it, for in January it woke up and made itself a neat little blanket from the wool which it nibbled from the sock. In this it rolled itself and went to sleep again. A week or two later I was at the school, and the teacher showed me her sleeping mouse. It was rolled up in a ball, with its tail wrapped about its head. I held it in the palm of my hand. It seemed almost as cold as a dead mouse, and I could not see it breathe. It was carefully put back in its blanket.

Not long after this, a small house-mouse was put in the box with it. “It was the tiniest little mouse,” says Miss Burt, “you ever saw. It cuddled in with the hibernator, who got up at once and took care of this baby. The baby struck out independently and burrowed in the sand, and stole some of the wool and feathers from hibernator to line his own nest. But the jumping mouse went in with him, enlarged the nest, and cuddled down to him. They were great friends. But the baby smelled dreadfully, as all house-mice do, and I took him out. Then the hibernator curled up again and went into winter quarters.

“When the warm weather came on, she uncurled and ate and drank. She preferred pecan nuts and shredded-wheat biscuit, and ate corn. I tried to tame her. I took a strong feather and played with her. At first she resisted and was frightened, but after a while she ‘stood it,’ and would even eat and clean herself while I scratched her with this feather. But she was always terribly frightened, when coming out of her day’s sleep, if I began to play with her. After being thoroughly waked up, she did not mind it. She would let me smooth her with my finger, and she would smell of my finger and go on eating, keeping an eye out. Three times she had a perfect fit of fright, lying on her back, and kicking and trembling violently. On these occasions she made a scuttling noise or cry, and I thought each time she would die, so I grew more and more cautious about meddling with her. There was one interesting thing about it,–she rose from these fits and ate heartily, and cleaned herself with great unconcern. I was tempted to believe that she shammed dying.