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This is a Tribute to my Mama Joanne North who made it to 95 years old. (Jan 25th) I am so proud of her making it to 95 against so many odds. She lived through the world war 2, survived being a widow way too soon in her life, survived ill health, a feeling of insecurity and survived overcoming British shyness that stopped her from being the most wonderful talented actress of our time. She is a Mother a Grandmama and a friend and she has lived, traveled, explored and embraced life and is still very much here to tell her tales.
Sadly she past February 13th 2015
I was a sickly child and bed bound a lot of the time with bad Asthma, I would not have made it through the attacks if it has not her storytelling that helped me to calm my breathing. She is a wonderful storyteller and a wonderful woman whom I am proud to call my mother. Today she is bed bound but will still challenge you on a crossword puzzle.
I wish I could have been with you on your day dear Mama, may the Gods give me the wings I need to come and see you soon, I do not want you leaving this earth without us sharing the past joys one more time and me holding you in my arms once more telling you how much I love respect and miss you.
H 0 R A T I 0 M 0 U S E
This wonderful story was written by my Mama Joanne North who is now 94 almost 95 and it has been read around the world. Share it with your children and bring out the inner child within you. We never know what we can achieve until we embrace our possibilities and dreams.
Narrated by Jan Berney of BC Canada
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The mouse that would be king…
By• Joanna North
||The day was hot, almost too hot. Even the birds were too lazy to fly. Down in the docks, men were loading up a ship for the captain to catch the evening tide. The men worked slowly in the baking heat. Horatio lay back in the cool shade of a barrel and watched the men at work. He had been watching this particular ship for three days and had seen the men unload such wonderful cargo – spices, tobacco and huge sacks of ripe corn and barley. His very favorite food.|
He 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 hadn’t 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 voyage.
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 hold.
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 English.
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… yawn, explore’.
About 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.’
A shadow 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, ahem…”
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?” he asked,
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 jungle.
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 from, go.”
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 are.”
Then he was amazed, for on hearing his words the monkey started crying.
“Why,” said Horatio, “What is the matter? I said you were beautiful. I didn’t 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.”
“Hunted?” asked 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. Won’t you help us?”
The monkey wailed on and on, puddles of tears were pooling at his feet. “This won’t do, Goldie. (He’d 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 monkey’s 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 are together.”
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 Horatio:
“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 couldn’t 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 escape.
“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. It’s 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 had found.
“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 again.”
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, there’s 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 again.
“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, don’t forget who wrote it. Contact via the Submissions link
She has also written about Growing Old on TV
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