sniffed the air. The smells of the spices made him daydream about
the land that they had come from. A land Horatio felt strangely drawn
to, as if it was sending out a message to him. Often Horatio dreamt
about going to this place.
Somehow, he felt that he was destined to journey there and that big
things awaited him; what sort of big things he did not know, but he
felt sure that it was his fate to live in this far away country.
Horatio, I must tell you, was a mouse; but not just an ordinary mouse,
Horatio was an extraordinary mouse. You see, Horatio could speak and
understand the human language. It was this fact that gave Horatio
the conviction that he was fated to be great. How; he did not know,
but great all the same, one day.
The sun licked around Horatio's
face and made him close his eyes. It was exhausting watching those
men work so hard. He fell fast asleep. Suddenly Horatio was wide awake
- the bell had sounded for lunch. Lunch meant crumbs for Horatio,
or at least it would mean lunch, if any of the sailors were tempted
to come and sit and eat their sandwiches on the waterfront. Anxiously
Horatio watched as two were coming his way. Horatio washed his whiskers,
straightened his jacket and waited.
The sailors wandered over near to where Horatio sat and settled themselves
down on some large upturned baked bean tins. Soon they were eating
away and talking happily in the sun. Horatio crept nearer. He hid
under some grass and waited.
His mouth watered - cheese
- lovely; all he had to do was be patient.
He was just about to doze
off again, when he heard one of the men say something about the ship
alongside them. "Yes mate, I know this place well. Went there
once - deep and dark it is. They do say that the jungle is 'haunted.
I 'eard tell about a race of golden monkeys, lost race or something,
been hunted for years. There's talk about a lost king too. Imagine
that. Yes this, 'ere particular country is very strange. Wouldn't
go again, not if you paid me, funny country it is".
On and on he talked, but
Horatio didn't listen anymore. He lay back under the clump of grass
and daydreamed. He did not hear the lunch time bell ring again for
the men to return to work and he forgot to sniff for crumbs, all afternoon
he lay there dreaming.
Later, when the sun was beginning to lower over the horizon, the ship
was readying to sail. Its siren sounded. Horatio awoke with a start.
With a sudden realisation, Horatio now knew why he could speak the
human language. He knew why fate had picked him out. He, yes he and
he alone, was the chosen one - he was destined to be this king. He
was so excited at his idea that he hadnt realised that the ship
was about to leave. Horatio shouted at the top of his voice: "Don't
go, I'm coming, don't go."
So, quickly gathering up all the crumbs left by the two men, he put
them in his big red handkerchief and ran across the wharf to the ship.
Whilst everyone was busy and looking the other way Horatio crept into
a sack of grain. With a swoosh he was suddenly lifted into the air.
Gulping with fright, Horatio found himself being lowered into a dark
cavern. It was the hold. He jumped out of the grain sack just before
it landed and hid behind some boxes of fruit. Up above him he heard
voices calling out that all was ready to lower the hatches, and Horatio
found himself shut in for the journey. It was a bit dark, but a chink
of sunlight came through the top and helped him see.
Hungry now, he found grain spilt from a torn sack and collected water
that trickled down a pipe that leaked into a tin left behind by some
seaman. Life was good for Horatio. He settled down to enjoy the journey
and to dream of the kingdom waiting there for him at the end of the
The weeks went by and although Horatio was fairly happy, it is to
be confessed that he did have a twinge or two of regret - also, alas,
a twinge or two of sea sickness. Our hero lay on his comfortable bed
of sacks and groaned a lot as the sea heaved beneath him and wondered
whether he had made a mistake. He was impatient to get to the new
land. He wanted to see what his new kingdom looked like.
Finally the ship arrived
at its destination and it was decidedly warmer in the hold. The hatches
were opened and men swarmed into them to start the unloading. Horatio
gathered together his bits and pieces and tied them up in his big
red handkerchief, tidied his hair and brushed down his jacket. Then
pushing his shoulders back with determination he climbed out of the
The men were rushing hither and thither, carrying crates up out of
the hold and putting them on the deck ready to be hoisted by cranes
and swung over the side onto the dockside. Horatio was sunning himself,
out of sight of the men, when it struck him that he could not understand
one word these sailors and dockers were saying. He was surprised.
It had not occurred to him that there was any other language than
He was pondering what to
do when a cry went up - and here Horatio's heart gave a lurch, he
did not know the language but he knew what the men were calling -
it was 'MICE, MICE'. He was clever enough to know that only mice produce
that tone of voice in men and anyway he decided that he would not
bother to find out if he was right or wrong, but that he would get
off the ship as quickly as he could. Horatio watched the gangplank
and as soon as he saw that it was clear of men, he raced down it and
kept running until he was many miles inland.
In fact he ran for about
four hours and by then it was nightfall. He saw that he was in the
jungle, so he found a broken tree, curled up in a hole and fell fast
asleep. His last thought before closing his eyes was 'I must
a mile from where Horatio had slept was a small village. It was only
a handfull of huts, but lots of children and dogs played happily together
in the sun.
Horatio lay in the shade
all day and listened to the children talk, but at night he crept out
and gathered food that had been dropped by the children. He crept
nearer the huts to listen to the grown ups talk. You see Horatio was
determined to learn this new human language and learn it he did. I
told you that he was a very unusual mouse. He learnt also about the
jungle and how to keep alive in this dangerous place. When he had
learnt all he needed, he gathered up as much food as he could carry
in his big red handkerchief, found a stick and tied the handkerchief
on the end of it and started forth to claim his kingdom.
Days went by until Horatio felt that he had come as far into the jungle
for his plan to work. So, selecting a broken log to sit on, he sunned
himself and waited for his subjects to come by. First a timid buck
came by. She jumped in fright at the sight of Horatio, but when he
explained about being the new king, she just sighed and said: "Oh
dear, what does it matter? I still get all the worry in the jungle
and you don't look as if you could save me from anyone at all. Oh
dear, dear, dear," with that she ambled away,
What a spineless thing she is, thought Horatio, 'doesn't
she know that I can speak the human language? Well, she is of no consequence.
loomed over Horatio. He blinked, standing over him was a huge
giraffe - her eyelashes almost swept him off the log as she bent
down to look at him. Horatio told her about being king and speaking
the human language but she looked disdainfully at him and sniffed,
Then gazing down at him with scorn, she spoke:"Humans
are low people, almost as low as, as
" here she paused,
"as mice." Then she sniffed again and went away, leaving
Horatio with an open mouth.
Horatio was feeling a bit
downhearted about the lack of interest in his offer to be king so,
as it was hot and the log was very, very comfortable, he fell asleep
again. But not for long. He was awakened by such a shaking - thump,
thump, thump - his log bounced up and down. Horatio clung on fast
to a twig and tried to remember whether earthquakes were very frequent
in the jungle; he held on with all his might. Suddenly all was still.
Horatio peeped out from
under a bit of bark. There he saw a whole herd of elephants - well,
if not a whole herd, at least four or five. Horatio brushed himself
down, cleared his throat; then standing on the highest bit of the
log, he put on his best kingly manner and said: "Ahem, my people,
He wasn't prepared for
the reaction that followed. The nearest elephant gave a squeak and
said to her friend,
"I knew I didn't feel well today, I hear voices, dreadful voices
-oh dear, I feel faint," she waved her trunk in the air and turned
quite pale. Her friends clucked in sympathy.
Horatio cleared his throat
once again and started his speech: "My subjects, I want to tell
you that I shall be a very good king, I shall be fair; I shall be
kind but strict; I shall be wise but open to suggestions; I shall
love my people and
" he got no further, another elephant
started shrieking: "I can hear voices too. Something has happened
to us, we are being bewitched," she waved her trunk in the air
too and also turned to goggle.
The first elephant said:
"We must keep calm, we must try and act with dignity."
" Eek, I can hear
it still, it's horrible," another Elephant groaned.
Horatio was furious. He danced up and down on the log and called out
to them: "Here I am," shrieked Horatio "here you idiots,
on the log. Listen you stupid elephants, I'm your new king, your new
king - here on the log, look you lumps of
" he got no further,
for suddenly one of the elephants saw him, jumped about a yard in
the air, gave a piercing scream and then rushed off.
The others didn't wait
to find out what she had seen. They took to their heels and followed
her. They did not stop till they were at least fifty miles away, where
they lay panting and telling each other about the monster they had
seen - such terror, such horror, and what was that voice saying? Something
about being king? Oh dear, they had had a narrow escape.
Horatio was very cross, these animals did not deserve him, they did
not deserve such a good king as himself. In fact it was only his duty
that made him stay on and try again.
But as the day went by
he was more and more disappointed. Not one single animal was interested,
except the snake but he had looked at Horatio with very greedy eyes
- so greedy in fact, that Horatio thought it better to disappear down
a deep hole in the log until the snake grew tired of waiting and went
away. After he had gone, Horatio thought that it was very wrong of
a future subject to look at his king that way.
Horatio was about to give
up when he heard a chuckle near him. He peered around and saw a hyena
sitting there laughing his head off. When Horatio enquired whether
he could share the joke, the hyena rolled onto the ground, held his
sides with laughter and between laughs he said:
"So, you're going
to be the new king, ha ha, ho ho ho."
Horatio was annoyed, "Yes
I am." he said.
The hyena laughed even
louder, Horatio was even crosser. "What's so funny about that?"
The hyena rolled around
and in between laughs he said: "Have you told the king lion yet?"
"King lion? Why, noooo
"This is going to
be funny" said the hyena, 'Oh my my, ha ha, ho ho, I can't wait
to tell him." So laughing louder than ever, he ran off into the
Horatio sat on the log and thought that the animals in the jungle
were ungrateful. 'They don't deserve me,' he thought 'they only want...'
Horatio quailed - from the jungle came a mighty roar. Turning quite
white with fear Horatio tried to make himself invisible. Then out
of the jungle came the mighty lion.
"Where is he? Where
is this upstart that thinks he can be king? Where is this cheeky mouse
who dares to try and take my throne from me? Come out, come out, come
here at once."
With knees knocking and teeth chattering, Horatio crawled out of his
hole. With as much bravery as he could muster, he stood on the highest
part of the log and with an even squeakier voice than usual, he said:
"You mean m.m.mmm...me?"
"Yes you," roared
the lion. Then he stopped roaring and came up to Horatio, looking
at him very intently. He said, in a very sarcastic voice: "I
hear that you fancy yourself as king. Now tell me, why should you
feel that you are qualified for that post, tell me that, eh?"
Horatio was relieved that
the king lion was going to be so kind and reasonable. He stood straighter
and taller, then with confidence he began:
"It's like this your er, er lionship, I can speak the language
of men, the human language."
The lion waited for Horatio to say more, then when he saw that Horatio
was finished he was flabbergasted.
"Is that all?"
he asked Horatio.
"All? All?" protested
Horatio. "Can you speak it? No, you can't, none of you can, so
that makes me cleverer than all of you, so... he suddenly stopped
and Horatio started shaking for king lion was slowly turning purple
with rage, his whole body was drawing up to its full height.
"Cleverer? Why you,
you upstart, how dare you? Why with one swipe of my paw I could send
you to the moon, then what good would your human language do you there,
eh? Tell me that, eh?" He lifted his huge paw and pointed, "Go,
go," he said "Go, before I knock you back to where you came
Horatio went, tail between
his legs. He felt that perhaps it wasn't quite the right time to claim
his throne; in fact, he did not stop running until the sound of the
lion's roars could not be heard.
It was many hours later
when Horatio stopped running. He was very tired and just could not
go on, so when he saw a stream he thankfully lay down and drank deeply
from the spring water. Then he crept under a rock by the edge of the
water and fell fast asleep, he was exceedingly tired.
When Horatio awoke, he saw that the stream lay at the foot of some
big mountains. Here the jungle was not so dense and all down the side
of the mountain were rocks, like steps all the way up. Horatio thought
he might was climb to find out where he was.
Hours later, exhausted
he reached a ledge nearly at the top and here Horatio spied a cave,
still some way above him. 'I'll make my home there' thought Horatio.
This will probably safe from lions. He was very sad - his situation
wasn't good. All the animals had rejected him and he felt so full
of misery; he would have made a good king; he would havs been wise
and fair. He sighed, he didn't know what a king did when he wasn't
wanted as king.
There was a soft
tug on his arm. Thinking it was the lion that had caught up
with him, he jumped in fright and turning round to meet his
doom, he saw a small golden monkey standing by his side. The
monkey was looking at him with astonishment and wonder.
"My goodness," said Horatio "how beautiful you
Then he was amazed,
for on hearing his words the monkey started crying.
said Horatio, "What is the matter? I said you were beautiful.
I didnt say you were ugly.
With that the monkey cried
all the more, Horatio was bewildered.
"You see, that's the
trouble," wailed the monkey, "it's because we are so beautiful
that we are hunted so."
Horatio, horrified anyone could harm such a beautiful creature.
"Yes, we are all nearly
finished now; there is only a few of us left, It's our fur - we are
hunted for our golden fur - we don't know what to do. Wont you
The monkey wailed on and
on, puddles of tears were pooling at his feet. "This won't do,
Goldie. (Hed decided to call him Goldie because he was certain
Goldie would become his new best friend). "We must think of something
to save you all, perhaps..." he got no further for from behind
the rocks there came such screaming and crying.
"They are coming, they are here. The hunters are coming, hurry
everybody, fly. " A voice shouted out. Out of the spaces behind
the rocks came the rest of the golden monkeys friends and cousins.
Horatio was horrified -
how could humans do this? He liked humans, or he used too. Quickly
he looked about him, then he remembered the cave he had chosen for
his home. Not stopping to think, he yelled to Goldie to round up all
his friends and to follow him.
In their blind panic, they
did as they were told and Horatio led them further up the mountain
side. The monkeys were faster than Horiatio and his new friend Goldie
carried him as he pointed the way. Behind them, the hunters, seeing
what had happened, gave chase.
Up and up they went, until at last the cave was reached. Telling all
the monkeys to go as far back into the cave as they could, Horatio
told them that he could speak the human language, so he would creep
out and hide to find out what the humans were going to do.
Goldie kept watch by the
entrance while Horatio wriggled down to the path that the human people
would take to reach the cave. He got as close as he could and listened
hard. The hunters openly discussed how they would catch the stupid
monkeys and how much they would make for each skin. Horatio was horrified.
He had to save the monkeys.
When Horatio returned, he was greeted by the news that they had found
another way out of the cave. It led up to the top of the mountain
and the younger ones were eager to start at once. Horatio stopped
them. His heart was heavy with sorrow - he had sad news to tell. In
silence the monkeys heard how Horatio had listened to the humans laughing
about the way the monkeys had gone into the cave. They knew about
the other tunnel that led up to the top, so they were going to blast
the entrance this end, then wait the other end with nets. The monkeys
were frightened and furious. Some even accused Horatio of being in
league with the hunters, but Goldie came to his defence and said that
it was just bad luck; anyway he had saved them from rushing up through
the other tunnel.
But what to do? That was
the question. It was unthinkable to go up the other tunnel that only
led to their doom, so they sat and waited for Horatio to tell them
what to do next. There were new noises outside. Then voices were heard
and laughter. All the hunters were happy, thinking that they had the
monkeys in the nets already. Their laughter sounded so cruel to Horatio.
"Quick, hurry," said Horatio "get back down the cave
as far as you can go, then lie flat behind any rock you can find.
Hurry, they are going to blast now. Everybody get down.
All rushed down the slope of the back of the cave and lay still with
trembling hearts as they waited for the dynamite to explode. There
was a huge bang. Rocks went flying through the air, dust swirled around
the cave and everyone was covered. It got into their eyes and their
throats but they never moved. Horatio signalled to everyone to keep
as still as ... well mice.
At last the rumbles died
away, the dust settled, all was still - so still that Horatio could
feel their fear. He thought he knew what had happened; the hunters
had used too much dynamite in their eagerness to get the monkeys,
so now, horrors, both exits were blocked and there wasn't a way out.
All was still, so still that Horatio could feel the fear and hatred
of the monkeys for him. He tried to speak, but his mouth felt dry
with shame. He had led the monkeys here to die. In his great eagerness
to be king, he had led these poor monkeys to their deaths.
He crept further down into the back of the tunnel. Down, down he went,
until he could go no further. He huddled against the rock wall and
put his head in his hands and wept.
Suddenly he felt an arm
going around him, and a soft voice said: "Don't cry Horatio,
don't cry, You did your best, Anyway I prefer to die here with you
than die in the hunters nets. Hush, hush, hush, don't cry, we
So saying, Goldie, for
yes it was Goldie, stood right next to Horatio and held his hand,
Horatio stopped crying; if his friend, Goldie, could be so brave,
then he must be also. So, wiping his nose with his big red handkerchief
and blowing hard to clear all the tears, he stood up straight. Smiling
with all the courage he could muster, he said quietly: "Thank
you my friend,"
Standing close together
waiting for the end, Goldie's teeth started to chatter with cold so
he wrapped his arms around his body, but still he shivered. He asked
"Are yyyou cccold too?"
Horatio was puzzled. He felt such a draught coming through the rocks
that he felt all up and down the wall. Then giving such a whoop of
joy that Goldie nearly jumped out of his skin, he caught hold of Goldie
and said: "It's a crack, a crack in the wall. Quick Goldie, help
me scrape a hole big enough to squeeze through, I'm going to explore."
So the two friends scratched and scraped. Finally there was room for
Horatio to squeeze through. He couldnt believe what he saw on
the other side. Popping his head out again, he excitedly told Goldie
that on that side of the wall was a tunnel and he was going to see
how far it went. Goldie must stay put by the crack to guide him back
to the right spot; he must not move at all, but wait till Horatio
returned, Goldie agreed to do this. So with a quick wave of his hand
Horatio disappeared. Goldie called to the others to wait with him.
He knew they would need to know that at least there was a chance of
The mouse has gone
to find a way out. We must wait.
The others muttered that they thought the mouse had run away, but
Goldie told them. sniff the air. Its fresh, the mouse
will find a way for us. He has to.
It must have been about
half an hour later that Horatio returned and Goldie and the rest were
very glad to see him. Anxiously they waited to find out what Horatio
"I've found it, I've
found a way out.'"
Horatio was so excited
he could hardly keep his feet on the ground and he danced up and down
with delight. He stood on a piece of rock and waited for the hubbub
to die down. When there was silence, he looked at all the faces watching
him and waiting to hear about this miracle. "My friends, I led
you here to this cave and I thought that I was saving your lives.
The hunters think we have all been buried alive in this cave; that
is good my friends because I you will never have to fear the hunters
All the monkeys started chattering at once, but Horatio held up his
hand for silence,
"Beyond this mountain, down through the tunnel behind this wall,
lies a valley. A valley sweet with green grass and trees, theres
fresh water that streams run through a golden sunny valley. It is
surrounded by high mountains and this tunnel is the only entrance,
so, you see, we will be safe. My friends, I will lead you to this
valley but before I do so, I would like to ask you all a question.
I want you all to vote on it. The question is this my friends: Will
you let me be your king?"
The monkeys were silent.
Suddenly one of them, a very wise old monkey, stepped forward, "If
we say no, will you leave us here in this cave to die?"
Horatio was horrified.
"Leave you here? Uh
no, no." he said, "If you don't choose me as your king I
will still lead you out, but I shall be lost, for it was to be king
that fate sent me over the waters. If I am not king, I do not know
what to do."
The same wise monkey spoke
"Listen my fellow
monkeys, Horatio mouse is kind and clever. If he had not known how
to speak the language of the hunters we would have been dead by now.
He is also very unselfish; he would still lead us out of this mountain,
even if we did not want him as our king. I,for one, cannot reject
him. I vote for 'yes, Horatio as our king.
One by one the monkeys
voted until all had finished, There was a small silence then an almighty
roar, Goldie gave a whoop of joy and then called for three cheers
for their new king. All had voted 'yes' and all looked at Horatio
with love and pride. The cheers rang out again and again, but Horatio
stopped them at last, He told them that there was lots of work to
do before they reached their new home. Rock had to be moved to make
the tunnel big enough for all the monkeys to get through.
"To work, to work
my people, then you will see your own golden valley."
Oh how hard they worked! If they got tired, Horatio told them about
the lovely valley ahead. So all kept up their courage and worked until
at daybreak they finally reached the end of the tunnel.
There was a rush to see
this wonderful place. Young monkeys jumped up and down with happiness
and everyone stood and gazed at the most beautiful valley in the world.
All Horatio had told them was true: trees were full of fruit, the
water in the streams was sweet to drink and, what was the most important
thing of all, they were safe, safe for ever and ever.
Tears of joy flowed with
cries of joy, Horatio had brought them to a ' kingdom like no other
kingdom in the world', forevermore all monkeys will love and honour
their king Horatio.
Time went by and homes were built. Also a lovely palace for Horatio,
big enough for his friend, Goldie, to live there too - for every king
must have a friend. The wise old monkey he made Prime Minister and
he in his turn picked other wise monkeys to be in his Cabinet so that
they could make wise laws.
All were happy. Al1 the
monkeys agreed that Horatio was the best king that any country could
have. As for Horatio, he was just the king he said he would be; he
was wise, fair and good. He even started a school so all the young
ones could learn of the world he had seen.
Life went on, everyone was happy and settled until one day a small
monkey came running to the palace to say that he had seen some dragons
..., but that's another tale.
2006 Joanna North/Illustrations Carol Duffet.
Joanna North has told these Mouse King stories over the years
to many children around the world and children everywhere always
want to hear more. She has just died at the age of 95 and wanted to share
her stories of Horatio with kids on the web. If you tell this
story to a child, dont forget who wrote it.
Contact via the Submissions
She has also written about
Growing Old on TV