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near the woods somewhere

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Later, Mr. Amos would say he'd always known what Jonathon was after, when they'd moved out of the rats' rosebush into the basement of the old farmhouse. That there'd been only one goal worthy of a young, virile mouse who spent all his days outside, looking for something and refusing to say what it might be.

The truth, though, was that Mr. Amos couldn't have known any such thing...for Jonathon didn't know himself until it had happened.

In the weeks since the move, he'd begun going farther and farther afield in his outings each day. Some days, he took a bag with him, with which to gather herbs or roots Mr. Amos had asked for; other days, of which this was one, he took nothing but a mouse-sized notebook and pencil, gifted to him by the rats. His purpose was map-making. While a map made by the rats would have been his for the asking as well, Jonathan felt that what was of interest to a rat would not necessarily be of interest to a mouse; besides, he greatly enjoyed learning the lay of the land for himself, now that they had settled here.

At any rate, it was a bright, sunny morning, and Jonathon had decided to follow a nearby stream as far as he could by foot. He wouldn't make it to the river, from which the stream surely flowed; but he could make it further than he had so far, and chart where it was shallow enough to be forded, and where it was too deep and strong for a mouse (or even, perhaps, a rat) to dare to cross it alone.

He'd been walking for an hour or so when the the dappled light from above gave way to something brighter and clearer. He looked up and found the trees had been replaced by tall grass; he'd come to the corner of a meadow, through which the stream flowed.

Jonathan glanced this way and that, still as instinctively distrusting of wide open spaces as any normal mouse would have been; seeing nothing particularly dangerous-looking, he took a few steps into the meadow, and then another few, staying always by the bank of the stream.

He'd gone perhaps two feet into the meadow when he heard something:

"You," said a voice from behind him, sounding more perturbed than anything else. "Are you an idiot?"

Jonathan Frisby had been asked many questions in his life, but never this. He turned toward the voice, and found it belonged to a young female mouse about his own apparent age, who was crouched beneath a bush. "Not as far as I know," he said, blinking. "Why do you ask?"

"Well, this meadow is the hawk's territory, and it's the middle of the day," she said, just as dryly as she would later whisper this observation or that one about their neighbors into his ear.

Never had Jonathan moved at such a speed; not even after slipping a sleeping potion into the farm's cat's bowl the week before had he run so quickly. One moment, he was standing in the meadow, letting the sun warm his fur and the burbling water fill his ears; the next, or so it seemed, he was crouched beneath the same bush, not moving or speaking, all but certain death must have followed him into the underbrush.

After several minutes, a shadow passed over the grass, not far from where Jonathan had been standing, It circled, swooped into the tall grass, then rose back in the air with empty talons, proving some other poor fool had had an even narrower escape.

Afterward, the two mice crept cautiously away, until they'd gone far enough that there was no chance of the hawk seeing them from its perch by the meadow.

"I'm a city mouse," Jonathan said, for he felt she expected him to say something about how he'd found himself in such straits, and couldn't tell her the truth (or thought he couldn't--and never would be able to, after this). "I knew about the cat, but the hawk...I never thought of it."

"You should have," said Elizabeth (for that was her name, which had been whispered to him during their tense meeting beneath the bush) rather severely. "You'll be killed, if you aren't careful."

"I will be," Jonathan said. "More careful, I mean."

"Good. How did you get here, from the city?"

Jonathan hadn't meant to make the lie into anything more elaborate, but now he found himself saying, "I'd climbed into a truck that smelled of donuts--do you know what donuts are?--well, they're wonderful--and before I could jump out again, it began to move beneath me, so quickly I didn't dare to jump back out. I wasn't able to escape until it broke down by the side of the road, not too far from here."

"That sounds frightening," she said.

"It was," Jonathan said, omitting all the other parts of this story that were true, which was everything except the fact that he had ridden in a truck, once, and that it had taken him somewhere he would not have wished to go. "But it was weeks ago. I'm adjusting to the country well enough now."

"You do seem to think that," she said, though there was something softer in her voice than there had been earlier. "Would you like me to show you the other dangerous places I know of? You'll live longer if you don't stroll into them."

"I think I'll take you up on that," Jonathan said. "Thank you, very much." Then, without quite meaning to say it, and not knowing how deeply he meant it until he had said it, he added, "I'd like to see you again, very much."

"Yes," said Elizabeth.

"I'd like to court you, I mean."

"Yes, I know," she said, and smiled at him.

For the rest of the day--indeed, the rest of the week, and of the month, and of his life--Jonathan's heart sang, and there was a spring in his step that had not been there before, not even when he and Mr. Amos and the rats had first begun to believe they were free of NIMH.

He wasn't thinking, yet, of marriage or of children, or of whether their children would be more like himself or more like ordinary mice. He had yet to set eyes on the hollow cinder block in Mr. Fitzgibbon's vegetable garden, much less suggest they might live very well there during the harsh winters. He wasn't thinking of how he'd have to choose, some day soon, whether to tell her the truth or continue to allow her to believe the lie. All he was thinking was that he was going to see her again...and that he would like to seem a good deal less foolish, next time.