Mrs. Frisby, a brown field mouse, hummed softly to herself as she folded her son Timothy's clothing: a sweater, a jacket, a red scarf. The latter needed mending, she noted, and set it in a separate pile from the others. It was unusual for her to be alone in the house, as she was now. Her children, Martin, Cynthia, Teresa, and Timothy, were harvesting today. There was a great deal to be done. Over the summer Martin, her elder son, had found a mate, a lovely young mouse named Breta. They had moved to a small nest under a rotted sycamore stump in the meadow. Now food for the winter must be gathered for his family, too. And tomorrow Timothy would leave home to go to school. This would be his third year as a student in a school run by the superintelligent Rats of Nimh.
He had learned a great deal there -- so much that Mrs. Frisby had lost track of the subjects he had studied. He could read and write, did math problems, and knew that the earth was round, which was hard for Mrs. Frisby to believe. He knew the constellations and could predict with a good deal of accuracy how long it would take to travel to a place where one had never been before. Thinking of travel made Mrs. Frisby sigh. For the school was a long way off-miles and miles away, in a remote section of the state forest called Thorn Valley. It was so far that Timothy was not able to come home during the school session, which lasted for nine months of the year. Mrs. Frisby missed him terribly.
So I must mend his scarf, she thought, and I will pack his favorite foods in his knapsack, in case he doesn't reach Thorn Valley in time for dinner tomorrow. And I must clean out the cupboard, to make room for the beans that the children will be bringing. With that thought she hurried into herkitchen, which was really one half of a cinder block mired deep in the earth near a large stone in the Fitzgibbons' garden. Mrs. Frisby loved the cinderblock house: It was cozy and warm in winter, and it was safe-ever since the rats had moved it out of the path of Mr. Fitzgibbon's plow. For an instant Mrs. Frisby recalled that terrible spring three years ago, when Timothy had been sick with pneumonia and the cinder-block house in danger of being crushed in the March plowing. The rats had worked all night, moving the house into the lee of the stone, where the dirt remained unturned throughout the year. Mrs. Frisby still felt a debt of gratitude to the rats for saving her house and her son's life.
Today the sunlight fell through the entrance hole into her kitchen in a lovely golden arc. Mrs. Frisby stood in it for a moment, feeling it warm her head and back. Then she reached for a broom and began to sweep some bits of corn husk into a pile. She had almost finished doing this when she heard-from someplace up above her head -- a great to-do.
"Mrs. MOUSE!" rasped a loud voice. "TIMOTHYS MOTHER, come OUT!"
Mrs. Frisby hurried up the entrance hole, broom in hand, and poked her head out cautiously to seewho was there. It was young Jeremy, a crow she had once befriended, and he was hopping up and down in agitation.
"Mrs. FRISBY!" he shouted. "I was so upset I forgot your name!"'
"Goodness, Jeremy," Mrs. Frisby said, "Calm down. And tell me what's wrong."
"I can't take Timothy to school tomorrow!" Jeremy shouted. He looked close to tears. "It's an EMERGENCY! I have to go home right away. My mother is very sick. She flew into a ladder and broke her wing." And with that a large tear slid down the black feathers under Jeremy's eye.
"Now, now," Mrs. Frisby said, keeping her voice calm for Jeremy's benefit.
"My cousin brought the news this morning," Jeremy added. "I went to Mr. Ages and he says that she may not fly for a whole month. And he gave me some powder for her to swallow after dinner."
Secretly Mrs. Frisby was surprised that Jeremy had thought to visit Mr. Ages, the white mouse who served as doctor for the wild animals who lived on the farm. "You did well," she said. "And, of course, you should fly home. Your mother will need your help. "
"But what about Timothy? School starts next week, and I was supposed to fly him to Thorn Valley tomorrow!"
"We will manage," Mrs. Frisby said, although inside she wondered how they would manage. "You must stay with your mother while she needs you."
"Will she die?" Jeremy asked. Another tear slid through his black feathers.
"Of course not!" Mrs. Frisby said, but when she saw Jeremy's stricken expression she tried to make her tone more kindly. 'Just make sure she takes Mr. Ages's powder. Within a month her wing should be as good as new."
"Thank you!" Jeremy said. "Oh, thank you!"
"You're welcome," Mrs. Frisby said dryly, and she ducked her head to avoid the flap of Jeremy's large wings as he heaved himself into the air.
"SEE YOU LATER!" he shrieked from up above her -- loud enough to be heard for a mile around, she thought to herself -- and then he quickly flew away.
Mrs. Frisby retrieved her broom and returned slowly to her kitchen. She sat down in the corner of the room and tried to think. She knew that going to school was the most important thing that had ever happened to Timothy, and that he must continue.
He was not a strong mouse and never would be physically strong, so it was all the more important that he have an education. Then when trouble did come along -- for surely everyone must anticipate at least a small amount of misfortune -- he would be able to reason his way out of it. Timothy knew the way to Thorn Valley -- he had seen the route four times from up on Jeremy's back as they flew over the woods -- but he had never made such a long trip on foot. And this year there was no one who could go with him.(Continues...)