The Hermit and the Mouse Maiden
An Armenian Folktale
Retold by Louise Carus, from The Real St. Nicholas
Here is another story celebrating Nicholas as the protector of the very small! —LC
Before Nicholas became the Bishop of Myra, he was a hermit in the desert, living in a cave for many years. As always, he was very modest in his needs. Sometimes pious people brought him herbs and bread, and when they did, he was careful not to waste anything. The desert was so desolate and lonely that even the wild animals had a hard time surviving there.
One day as Nicholas was praying, a little mouse who had lost her way chanced to find him. Seeing how hungry she was, Nicholas scattered some of the bread he had been given on the ground for her. At first the frightened mouse ran back a distance. But the man did not move, and soon the tiny creature was sitting up on her hind legs, wriggling her nose as she sniffed the scent of the food.
Then . . . Ki-TEEK, Ki-TEEK, Ki-TEEK! She streaked forward and carried the bread away to safety. Oh, my! How very good it tasted!
And so it was. Every day Nicholas would leave bread for the mouse, and every day she would come to eat it. Before long, she became accustomed to the man, and the lonely hermit grew accustomed to having her near.
Nicholas even tried to communicate with the mouse, watching closely as she listened and nodded her head. At last, he thought, "I have found someone in the desert to talk with. Praise God for this gift!"
One day, Nicholas realized to his amazement that he could understand the mouse's language.
"If I were a human being," the little creature said, "I would go to the village to find a young man to marry." "Perhaps that would be possible, perhaps not," her friend replied. "I'll ask God to help and we'll see what happens." Then Nicholas prayed from deep within.
When he awoke the next morning, in the corner of his cave where the mouse usually sat, there was a young woman! And a pretty young woman she was, too. There was nothing mousy about her at all.
Nicholas said to her, "Now you see what can be done, by God's grace. And now perhaps your dream can come true. I, myself, will take you to the next village. There we shall soon see."
So, for the first time in many years, Nicholas left his hermitage in the desert. And because the girl was very pretty, in the village they found many admirers. Nicholas would have preferred she marry a good older man, but, as happens everywhere, the girl had her own thoughts and wishes and fell in love with a young man.
"So be it!" agreed Nicholas, entrusting the girl to the young man's care. Then he returned to his cave in the desert./
The marriage of the mouse-girl and the young man went as marriages often do: In the beginning, both were very much in love and happy. But when the novelty wore off, the young man began to complain that his wife had not brought any dowry to the marriage. Soon afterward, he began to beat her and demand she do heavy work beyond her strength. With every hour that passed, the mouse-girl's heart grew heavier still.
At last, one day it was too much for the young woman. She waited until her husband had left the house, and then—Ki-TEEK, Ki-TEEK, Ki-TEEK—she ran as fast as she could back to Nicholas in the desert.
When he saw her, he said sadly, "What should we do now? You can't marry any other man, and you can't stay with me."
"Pray to God that he turns me back into a mouse," she said.
"Yes, I can try that. But what then? Who knows?"
All day and long into the evening, Nicholas prayed intensely. When he awoke the next morning—there sat the mouse in the corner!
"God be praised!" he exclaimed. "Now what should we do?"
"My dear friend, put me in your sack and carry me to where there are many mice. There I'll find a proper husband."
And that's just what Nicholas did: He took her to a deep ravine in the desert where he knew there would be many mice living in the dense sage along the banks of a small creek. Gently he lifted the mouse from his sack and looked into her bright black eyes. Gently she brushed his cheek with her whiskers. Then he set her down on the desert floor.
"Farewell, dear one," she said. "I will never forget you."
"Nor I, you!" he replied. "Blessed be they who know themselves."
Then Ki-TEEK, Ki-TEEK, Ki-TEEK—the little mouse scampered off to the safety of the sage.
Nicholas returned to his desert cave and remained there until the people of Myra called him to become the Bishop. In the meantime, we trust that the mouse found a good husband and lived happily for many years to come.
Ki-TEEK, Ki-TEEK, Ki-TEEK!
Excerpt from The Real St. Nicholas: Tales of Generosity and Hope From Around the World, by Louise Carus, editor and translator, copyright © 2002. Reprinted by permission of Quest Books/The Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton, Illinois.
This delightful collection of thirty St. Nicholas stories includes many folktales that are not well-known. One story may be read each day during Advent or one or two could be selected for St. Nicholas Day. Other information and recipes are also included. Purchase from amazon.com, amazon.ca or amazon.uk.