Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH: In the Rosebush


  1. eavesdrop – secretly listen to a conversation without the other person knowing
  2. reassuring – giving comfort or confidence to someone
  3. mile – a unit of distance equal to 1.609 kilometers
  4. altogether – in total; when everything is added together
  5. displays – showing emotions openly or showing something to others
  6. recovered – to become healthy again after an illness or injury
  7. unworried – not feeling anxious or concerned
  8. brook – a small stream of water
  9. danger – the possibility of harm or injury
  10. lamely – in a weak or unconvincing way

In the Rosebush

When Mrs Frisby got home, Teresa, Martin and Cynthia were eating supper, as she had told them to do if it got dark before she returned. Coming silently down the tunnel, she could hear them talking in the room below, and she paused a moment to eavesdrop on their conversation, Obviously Cynthia had been worrying, and Teresa was reassuring her.

‘She couldn’t have got back sooner than this, Cynnie. Don’t you remember? The crow said it was a mile to the tree. It might even be farther.’

‘Yes, but crows fly so fast.’

‘But if he went two miles high’ – that was Martin – ‘it would be three miles altogether.’

‘Six,’ said Teresa. ‘Two up, two down, and one to get there and one to get back.’

‘That’s right. No wonder she isn’t back yet.’

‘But what about the owl? You know how owls are.’

‘It was still light when they got there. He couldn’t see.’

‘But it’s dark now,’ said Cynthia. ‘Oh, I wish she’d come back. I’m scared.’

‘Not so loud,’ Teresa said. ‘Timothy will hear.’

‘I’m home,’ called Mrs Frisby, hurrying the rest of the way down.

And now it appeared that they had all been worried, for they ran to her, and even Martin, who ordinarily avoided such displays, threw his arms around her.

‘Oh Mother,’ cried Cynthia, near tears. ‘I was so worried.’

‘Poor Cynthia. It’s all right.’

‘How high did you fly?’ asked Martin, recovering quickly.

‘High enough so the trees looked like bushes, the garden like a postcard, and the river like a snake.’

‘Did you see the owl? What did he say?’

‘I saw him. Later, I’ll tell you about it. First I want to see Timothy. How is he? Why didn’t you move his bed out here?’

Teresa said: ‘I wanted to, but he said he’d rather stay in the bedroom. I think he’s feeling worse again.’

But when Mrs Frisby went to see him, she found him sitting up, and his forehead felt not at all feverish.

‘I’m all right,’ he said. ‘I stayed in here because I wanted to think about something.’

‘Think about what?’

‘About Moving Day.’

‘Moving Day! But why? What about it?’

Had he, after all, overheard her talking to the others? Heard about her flight to the owl? But no, he was explaining.

‘I haven’t been outdoors since I got sick, so I don’t know what it’s like. I mean the weather. But today, this afternoon, I noticed something.’

‘What was that?’

‘A smell in the air, a warm, wet smell. If you sniff you can still smell it, though it’s not so strong now.’

Mrs Frisby had noticed this, of course, both indoors and out.

‘It’s the smell of the frost melting,’ Timothy went on. ‘I remember it from last year. And after that, it wasn’t long until we moved. Mother, when are we going to move this year?’

‘Oh, not for a long time yet.’ Mrs Frisby tried to sound as casual as she could. ‘It’s still much too cold, too early to think about it.’

‘I have to think about it,’ said Timothy. He sounded serious, but calm and unworried. ‘Because if it comes too soon, I don’t know if I can go. I tried walking a little bit today, in here, when the others were outside.’

‘Timothy, you’re supposed to stay in bed! You’ll make yourself sick again.’

‘I know, I know. But I had to find out. And I didn’t walk much. I couldn’t. I only went a few steps, and I got so dizzy I had to lie down again.’

‘Of course you did. You haven’t really recovered yet.’

‘I suppose I haven’t. That’s why I wanted to think.’

‘Timothy, you must not worry about it. That will only make you worse.’

I’m not worried at all. I thought I would be, but I’m not – or maybe I think I should be, but I can’t. What I really think about is how nice it is there, in the summer beside the brook, and it’s true, I want to go. But I’m not scared. I was afraid you might be, or that you might think I was. That’s really what I wanted to tell you. I’m just going to wait and see what happens. So you shouldn’t worry about it, either.’

Mrs Frisby realized that he had somehow switched their positions. He had seen the danger he was in – guessed, somehow, that Moving Day was near, and that he was very likely to die. And yet here he was -reassuring her. She wanted to tell him about the owl and the rats, tell him that something still might be done. But she decided she had better not; she did not really know if they would help. It would be better to wait until she had seen them.

So instead she said, rather lamely: ‘Timothy, don’t think about it any more. When the time comes, we’ll see how you are and then decide what to do.’

The next morning at daybreak she went to see the rats. She had never been in the rosebush before, never even really close to it, and now, the nearer she got, the more nervous she became. No one had ever told her – nor, as far as she knew, told any of the other animals -to keep away from it. It was just something one knew. The rats on Mr Fitzgibbon’s farm kept to themselves. One did not prowl in their domain.

She had, before coming out of the garden, looked around carefully to be sure Dragon was nowhere in sight. But even Dragon, though he would chase a rat up to the edge of the bush, would not follow him into it.

The thorns, of course, helped to discourage trespassers. Mrs Frisby had never realized until that moment standing next to it, how very big the bush was, how dense, how incredibly thorny. It was bigger than the tractor shed, and its branches were so densely intertwined that as small as she was, Mrs Frisby could find no easy way to crawl into it, though she walked all the way around it looking. She remembered approximately where she had seen the rats go in, and she studied that part of the bush carefully. How had they done it?

Then she saw that on one branch, close to the ground, the thorns had been scraped off, and about a half-inch of it – just big enough for a handhold – was worn smooth. She put her hand on this and pushed timidly. The branch yielded easily, rather like a swinging door, and behind it she saw a trail, a sort of tunnel through the bush, wide enough so that she could walk into it without touching thorns on either side. When she went forward, she released the branch, and it swung back silently into place behind her. She was inside the bush, and it was dark.

She walked forward, peering into the dimness and following the small trail which wound in a curving course towards the centre of the bush, its earthen floor packed firm by the pressure of small feet. Then, straight ahead of her she saw the entrance.

She had expected – what? A round hole in the earth, most likely, but certainly nothing like what she saw. First, a sizeable clearing – about five feet across – had been cut from the centre of the bush. Branches overhead had been cleared away, too, not quite to the top of the bush but almost, so that the sunlight filtered through easily, and soft moss grew on the ground. In the middle of this bright green cave rose a small mound, eight inches tall, in the end of which was an arched entrance neatly lined with stone, like a small doorway without any door. Behind the entrance a tunnel, its floor also lined with stones, led backwards and downwards.

Beside the entranceway, looking at her with dark, unblinking eyes, stood the biggest rat she had ever seen.

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!