Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH: Mr Ages


  1. Crumbling: Breaking or falling apart into small pieces; decaying.
  2. Fringe: The outer edge of something.
  3. Relentlessly: Continuing without getting weaker or stopping.
  4. Unfriendly: Not kind, welcoming or helpful; hostile.
  5. Draughts: A type of medicine made from plants.
  6. Paralysed: Unable to move or feel all or part of your body.
  7. Vigorous: Full of energy and physically strong.
  8. Frailness: Weakness, vulnerability.
  9. Stumble: To nearly fall while walking.
  10. Ledge: A narrow horizontal shelf projecting from a wall.

Mr Ages

Mr Ages was a white mouse who lived across the farm and beyond, in a house that was part of a brick wall. The wall lined the basement of what had once been a large farmhouse. The farmhouse itself had burned down so many years ago that nobody could remember what it had looked like nor who had lived there. The basement remained, a great square hole in the ground; and in its crumbling walls, protected from the wind and snow, numerous small creatures lived. In summer there were snakes, dangerous to Mrs Frisby, but there was no need to worry about them in winter.

Just the same, it was a long, hard journey and could be risky unless she was extremely cautious. It was so far, in fact, that Mrs Frisby would not ordinarily have set out so late in the day, for fear that the dark would catch her before she got back. But Timothy obviously could not wait until the next day. So only five minutes after she had announced that she must go, she was gone.

If she had been able to follow her nose, that is, to take the shortest route to where Mr Ages lived, her journey would have been easy enough. But since that would have led her close to the farmhouse and the barn, and since the cat stalked those grounds relentlessly, she had to plot a much more roundabout way, circling the whole wide farmyard and sticking to the fringe of the woods.

She loped along briskly, moving in the easy, horse-like canter mice use when they are trying to cover ground. Her progress was almost completely noiseless; she chose her path where the earth was bare, or where grass grew, and she avoided dead leaves, which would rustle and crackle even under her small weight. Always she kept an eye out for hiding places – logs, roots, stones, things to scurry under if she should meet a larger animal who might be unfriendly. For though the cat was number one, there were other things in the woods that chased mice.

And as she did all this, she worried about Timothy and hoped that Mr Ages would know something that would help him.


It was more than two hours later that she saw she was getting close to the brick wall where he lived. Though her husband had been a great friend of Mr Ages and had visited him often, Mrs Frisby herself had been there only once before, and that had been in summer. Still, she remembered the place clearly. It was an odd sort of clearing in the woods. Long ago, when the old house had been lived in, before it had burned, there must have been a wide lawn around it. Over the years this clearing had grown over with a strange mixture of high, rank grass, tall weeds, berries and wild flowers. In the summer it was a wild and beautiful place, bright with blooms and full of the smell of blackberry blossoms and purple clover. There were harsher plants as well – spiny thistles and poisonous nightshade, and bees droning everywhere.

But in winter it had a bleak and almost ghostly look, for the blossoms and the green leaves were gone, and only the dry skeletons of the weeds stood, hung with stalks and seeds and pods that rattled in the wind. It was from these seeds and others, and from the flowers and roots beneath them, that Mr Ages made the draughts and powders that could sometimes save the sick from dying.

The time she had been here before – that was for Timothy, too, when he was only a baby, scarcely bigger than a marble. He had wandered, while playing with the other children, a little way from them and had been bitten or stung by something poisonous. They did not know what. When the others found him, he lay curled in a ball, paralysed and scarcely able to breathe.

That time her husband Mr Frisby had been alive, and between them, taking turns, they had managed to carry Timothy to Mr Ages’ house. It was a sad and frightening journey, and when they arrived they had been afraid he might already be dead. Mr Ages looked at him, examined his tongue, felt his pulse, and found a small red lump near his neck. ‘Spider,’ he said. ‘Not a black widow, but bad enough.’ He had forced a few drops of milky liquid into Timothy’s mouth and held him upright so that it could trickle down his throat, for Timothy could not swallow. In a few minutes his small muscles had unlocked, and he was able to move his arms and legs. ‘He’ll be all right,’ said Mr Ages, ‘but weak for a few hours.’

The trip back home had been a happy one, and the other children were wide-eyed with joy to see Timothy alive. Yet Mrs Frisby thought that this had been the beginning of his frailness. From that time on he tended to stumble a little when he walked, especially when he was tired; he never grew as big or as vigorous as his brother Martin. But he thought a great deal more, and in that he resembled his father.

Now she reached Mr Ages’ house, a hole in the brick wall where one end of a heavy floor beam had once rested. It was about two feet below the top of the wall, and one reached it by climbing down a sort of rough stairway of broken brick ends. She knocked on his door, made of a piece of shingle. ‘Oh, let him be in, please,’ she thought, but he was not. There was no answer, so she sat down to wait on the narrow ledge of brick in front of his door.

Half an hour passed, the sun sinking lower in the west all the time, before she heard a slight scratching noise up above, and there he came, carrying a cloth sack bulging with some kind of lumpy material. His fur was a soft grey-white, and so glossy he seemed almost to glow. Mrs Frisby had heard that Mr Ages was not truly a white mouse; that is, he had not been born with white fur, but had turned white from old age. Whether this was so or not she did not know. Certainly he seemed very old, and very wise; yet he walked nimbly enough.

‘Oh, Mr Ages, I’m so glad you’ve come,’ she said. ‘I don’t suppose you remember me, Mrs Frisby.’

‘Of course I remember you. And I was sad to hear about poor Mr Frisby. How is your young son -Timothy, was it?’

‘It’s about him I’ve come to see you. He’s taken terribly sick.’

‘Has he? I was afraid he might turn out to be not as strong as the others.’

‘I hoped you might be able to help him.’

‘That may be. Come in, please, so I can put down this sack.’

Mr Ages’ house, somewhat larger than a shoebox but about the same shape, resembled the house of a hermit. It was bare of furniture except for a bit of bedding in one corner, a stool made of a piece of brick, and another piece of brick worn smooth from use as a pestle on which he ground out his medicines. Along one entire wall, arranged neatly in small piles, stood the raw materials he had collected: roots, seeds, dried leaves, pods, strips of bark and shrivelled mushrooms.

To this row he now added the contents of his sack. It held a number of small plants, all of them the same kind, with stringy roots and dark, veined green leaves that looked like mint.

‘Pipsissewa,’ said Mr Ages. ‘Botanically, Chimaphila umbellata. It stays green all winter, and makes a very useful spring tonic. Most people use only the leaves, but I have found the roots even more effective.’ He arranged the plants in an orderly pile. ‘But that’s not what you’re here for. What’s wrong with young Timothy?’

‘He has a very high fever. He’s delirious. I don’t know what to do.’

‘How high?’

‘So high that he feels burning hot to the touch, runs with perspiration, and yet he shivers with cold at the same time.’

‘Keep him wrapped up in a blanket.’

‘I do.’

‘And his pulse?’

‘So fast that you cannot tell one heartbeat from the next.’

‘His tongue?’

‘So coated that it looks purple.’

‘How does he breathe?’

‘He breathes very rapidly, and the air rasps in his chest. He said, at first, that he could not get his breath.’

‘But he does not cough.’


‘He has pneumonia,’ said Mr Ages. ‘I have some medicine that will help him. But the most important thing is to keep him warm. And he must stay in bed.’ He went to the back of his house, and from a ledge formed by a projecting brick he took three packets of medicine, powders neatly wrapped in white paper.

‘Give him one of these tonight. Mix it in water and make him drink it. If he is still delirious, hold his nose and pour it down his throat. Give him the second one tomorrow morning, and the third the next morning.’

Mrs Frisby took the packages. ‘Will he get better?’ she asked, dreading to hear the answer.

‘He will get better this time. His fever will be less on the second day, and gone the third, after he has taken all the medicine. That does not mean he will have recovered; his lungs will still be terribly weak and sensitive. If he gets the least bit cold, or breathes cold air – even a breath or two – the pneumonia will surely come back worse than before. And the second time he may not recover. This will be true for at least three weeks, and more likely a month.’

‘And after that?’

‘Even after that he should be careful, though we may hope by then the weather will be warmer.’

By now the sun was getting low in the west, settling into the high mountains beyond the woods. Mrs Frisby thanked Mr Ages and set out for home as quickly as she could go.

Paul Hoets is a freelance maker who lives in South Korea. If you liked this article and would like to contribute to his empire of dirt, silicon and tech. education, buy him a coffee!