Dart the Dormouse
Somewhere very high up on the animal cuteness scale, probably between fluffy kittens and baby bunnies, come dormice. It’s their big, dark eyes on their tiny furry bodies that does it.
They are rarely seen because they sleep for half the year. When they are awake, they come out at night when almost everyone else is asleep.
If you ever spot a dormouse you are blessed with good fortune.
The dormouse in our story is named Dart. You might know that ‘to dart’ is to run or travel very quickly. But Dart, like most dormice, didn’t like to do anything in a hurry if he could help it.
If he was ever startled by a clumsy bird or sniffed by an inquisitive dog, Dart could move speedily to escape danger. But he would always need a nap to recover.
The one thing Dart enjoyed almost as much as sleeping was eating. He did this very slowly indeed so he could enjoy every mouthful.
Like most dormice, he liked to feast on berries, nuts, flowers and fruit. But what he liked to eat most of all were…books.
He first nibbled on the pages of a book in the greenhouse near the field in which he was born. It was a gardening book and tasted to him like floral petals.
After eating his fill, Dart felt sleepy. Of course he did. He curled up in a cosy nest of leaves, with his furry tail wrapped around his body, and fell into a deep slumber.
Dart suddenly found himself surrounded by baskets of juicy fruit in a field of colourful flowers that was fenced off by brambles covered in the ripest berries. With food at every turn, this was dormouse paradise.
Dart had been transported to another realm…a world that existed within the pages of the book from which he had fed. He could taste each of the plump berries he picked. He could feel the shiny skin of the apples as he slid down the mound of fruit, like it was some sort of helter-skelter ride. He could smell the perfume of every last flower that filled the air.
Dart was asleep and yet this was not a dream. How could this be? At first, it was too much for his little brain to work out. He was even more confused when he awoke and found himself holding a blackberry almost as big as his body. How had that got there?
One day soon after, Dart was going back for second helpings of the book when he heard a human shouting out: “Marjie! We’ve got rats in the greenhouse! One has chewed through my Monty Don!”
The human held up the book to the light to inspect it. Dart suddenly realised he was shouting about him. “I’m not a rat! I’ll have you know I’m adorably cute!” said Dart, although all the human could hear was a high-pitched: “Squeak, squeak, squeak”.
Spotting Dart, the human raised the book above his head. He cared not for cuteness and was about to squash the dormouse. “I’ll finish you off sunshine,” the human uttered.
This is when the little mouse lived up to his name. Dart was gone in a flash. When the book came crashing down to the floor in the human’s angry grip, Dart was already half way to the house. When the human lifted the book, he was disappointed to see he had missed his intended target and that the rodent had fled. Worse still for the silly man, as he stood there with a dopey look on his face, his book fell apart in his hand.
Dart carried on scurrying at speed. Fear had made him run in the wrong direction. Rather than find the field, he was faced by the house. He saw a drainpipe and shot up it. He hurried along the gutter and saw an open window. In he climbed.
What greeted him was quite a sight. There were walls and walls of books, from floor to ceiling. And as we have already discovered, Dart does enjoy the pages of a good book. He was now pleased he had taken a wrong turn. This was far better than his humble field of grass.
The room was dark and dusty. There were cobwebs hanging from every corner. It was an old library that had not been cared for in many a year.
Dart popped on to a middle shelf of books. His whiskers twitched as he sniffed the spine of one of them. He got a distinct scent of the salty sea. Dash started to chew through the pages. The book was entitled “Treasure Island”.
Once his belly was full, Dart curled up behind a stack of books and took his post-meal nap. He suddenly found himself on a ship, with big waves lapping up its side. “Tie yourself to the mast, young Jim,” came the cry. “We don’t want you being swept overboard.” A tall bearded man with a wooden leg and triangular black hat was shouting these instructions to Dart, who wrapped his tail around the mast just as a giant wave came crashing over the deck of the ship.
Dart felt the full force of the water. He could taste the salt. He could sense the adventure. He looked down to see a tiny sword attached to a leather belt around his waist. He reached up and felt a hat on his head. Dart was on a pirate ship in search of treasure and he was one of the crew.
It had happened again. Dart had been transported to another realm within the pages of the book from which he had fed. In this stormy world, he was Young Jim.
He rode out the storm with the pirates until the sky turned blue and the sea became calm. There was still enough of a breeze to fill the ship sails and make the pirates’ famous Jolly Roger flag flutter upon high.
There was a shout from the crow’s nest: “Land A-hoy!” On the horizon was a small island. “We have made it, young Jim,” said the Pirate captain, unfurling a treasure map. “Now we have to find where the treasure is buried.” He pointed to a cross on the map. “X marks the spot, my boy. X marks the spot!”
Dart was surprised, when they made it to land, to see a massive cross on the beach that was marked out by stones. ‘That was a bit too easy,’ thought Dart. The pirates started digging up the sand until they were waist deep in a hole. There was a thud as one of them struck something with his spade. It was a treasure chest.
When one of the pirates opened the chest, thousands of green beetles came cascading out and scurried all over him. Within seconds he was covered. He screamed as he ran off to dive into the sea. The other pirates were chased by yet more beetles until they, too, were sent screaming in panic. All except Dart, who was left alone, completely untouched.
Much as he liked the swashbuckling, adventurous side of being a pirate, Dart did not like their greed for treasure. He knew they would waste it on selfish pleasures until all their wealth had gone. Then they would embark on another voyage to find more treasure, but never serving any great purpose in the world. He was glad they had been chased away.
Once the last bug had disappeared, Dart looked inside the treasure chest and saw another map. It was also marked with a cross, next to a cave in the rocks. On it were the words: “Survived the bugs? Then here lie the goods!”
Dart found the cave and started to burrow into the sand where the map indicated. There was no X marked by rocks this time. That had been done to set a trap and a test for the pirates – a test they had spectacularly failed.
Soon, Dart unearthed a wooden crate. He prized it open to find hundreds of gold coins. They dazzled in the sunlight. He stood atop the pile of coins with his sword raised high in triumph.
Unlike his former shipmates, the determined dormouse did not waste the treasure on himself. Instead, he set out to share the wealth. Dart returned to his village, climbed atop a wall and sprinkled the coins to the poor villagers below, changing their lives for the better forever.
They cheered their hero will all their worth. The noise became louder and louder as the cheers carried across the land until…Dart was suddenly back on the shelf in the library, nestled by the book entitled “Treasure Island”. In his tiny grasp was a shiny gold coin.
Just like when he had eaten the garden book and found a giant berry in his paws when he awoke, he was not sure quite what had happened to him or how the coin came to be in his possession in this world. But he was starting to work it out. This had to be an enchanted house and garden. Eating through the pages of books in this mysterious place was enough to take him to the world within the pages.
There was only one way he could find out if his theory was correct and that was to eat through the pages of another book and see where it carried him. But first he needed a nap. Dormouse do like their sleep, you know.
The next day, Dart sniffed out a new book to chomp on…one that smelled of chestnuts roasting on an open fire, mixed with a scent of pine trees. He liked it. The pages tasted even better. You know what comes next? Dart has to doze after a tasty treat.
Once asleep, he was again transported to another realm. He was in the world within the pages of the book from which he had fed. The story was entitled “A Visit from St. Nicholas”. The opening line of the book read: “’Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.”
But that opening line was now wrong. Dart was a mouse and he was most definitely stirring. He was poking his head out of a Christmas stocking that had been hung by the fire with care. He could see a little girl sleeping all snug in her bed. He could see a Christmas tree twinkling away in the corner of the room.
Dart heard a sound from above. You would almost call it a clatter. There were noises on the roof that animal hooves might make. Then came a mighty thud and a flurry of soot from the fireplace. Santa Claus had landed with his sack-full of toys.
Dart saw Santa had a beard as white as the snow, rosy red cheeks, a cheery grin and a round belly, that wobbled as he moved like a bowlful of jelly. He was dressed in fur, from his head to his foot. Dart instantly liked him.
Santa put toys in the stockings and, as he did so, caught sight of the dormouse poking his head out of one of them.
“Hello little one,” said Santa in a hushed voice, so as not to wake the sleeping girl. “This is for you.” He handed Dart a tiny gift box, which was quickly opened. Inside was a piece of cheese and the most minute and delicate bauble. ‘So this is Christmas?’ thought Dart. ‘I love it!’
And with that, Santa laid a finger on the side of his nose and magically up the chimney he rose. As he sped off into the night sky, Dart could hear Santa exclaim: “Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!”
Dart woke on the bookshelf. The bauble was in his paws. He had already eaten the cheese. He knew once and for all there was magic at play in this house. He knew that many more adventures lay within the pages of the countless number of books in that enchanted room. What pages would he chomp through next?