Mr. Johnson and the Selfish Moleby Kayla Conrad, illustrated by Zach Franzen
There once was a man who lived in the country; his name was Mr. Johnson.
Mr. Johnson’s house was a humble abode made all of white bricks and nestled comfortably at the edge of a tangled greenwood forest. The roof sloped to a high peak under the cover of the trees and clumps of spongy moss clung to the weathered eaves. The rain in that country was often and plentiful, and the moss would hungrily soak up the water, sending it dripping in a steady rhythm onto the clapboard porch below. During the day, the sun would shine brightly on the ivy leaves that encased the two square windows facing the small meadow in front; during the night an inviting glow of firelight would spill out those same windows and trickle around the cracks in the doorframe. At the side of the house leaned a haphazard row of faded bee houses, whence came an underlying buzz that lent a merry atmosphere to the place during the spring and summer months. In the aforementioned meadow at the front of this happy cottage was a large garden, beautifully tended and filled with the choicest vegetables and flowers that were the delight of all who had the good fortune to look upon them.
Very few people, however, visited that homey cottage. It was not that Mr. Johnson was not a hospitable sort of fellow: far from it. Mr. Johnson was a kind old soul, one of the last of that generation of people who cared more about others than they do about themselves. Mr. Johnson was a tall, lean sort, with a crown of white hair and eyes so blue they seemed to cap a fountain of mirth and wisdom beneath their glassy surface. Once every month Mr. Johnson would travel into the nearby village to sell his produce and catch up on the happenings of the outside world. Oftentimes – if he heard of some poor soul in the area who was sick or in need – he would forget all about his own worries and hurry to their aid.
As much as Mr. Johnson cared for his fellow humans, the creatures he truly loved best were the animals. Nothing could bring his old heart more joy than a cup of stiff tea and an early morning visit with his friends from the forest.
Of all his myriads of furry, scaly, and feathery friends, two were dearest of all: Elbert the brown lop-eared rabbit and Henry the small grey mouse. Elbert was a serious and thoughtful creature who loved to sit at Mr. Johnson’s side as he labored in his garden. Though they often brought him great confusion, Elbert would ponder the deeper things of the world. He had that kind of dark round eye that could melt a heart with one disconsolate look or warm a heart with a single glance of adoration. Henry, contrarily, was a feisty little mouse with hard shining eyes set like two tiny beads on either side of his nose. Untamable whiskers stretched in all directions like so much fishing line; his nose was constantly twitching and sniffing the air, causing his whiskers to weave and wave in a wild fashion that was much akin to his penchant for mischief.
While many people would not like to have wild creatures living freely in their house, Mr. Johnson did not mind at all. Elbert lived in a corner under the table where Mr. Johnson had provided him with a comfortable box house. Henry had made his own home in the walls of Mr. Johnson’s house, which he accessed through a hole in the wall behind the wood stove. The three of them lived together quiet peaceably and comfortably considering their very different natures.
One day in late spring – when the world was settling into a steady rhythm after the excitement that always accompanied the arrival of warmth and new life – Mr. Johnson pulled on his boots, slapped a wide-brimmed hat on his head and meandered out to his beloved garden with the intention of hoeing his patch of blossoming pea plants. Elbert bounded at his side, the light from the morning sun warming his dark fur and casting a sheen on his velveteen ears.
When the pair reached the garden, Mr. Johnson stopped dead in his tracks at the gate, two small puffs of dust dashing away from his boots. “Well, I’ll be,” he said, and leaned against the garden fence.
Elbert, who had stopped behind him to scratch at his long floppy ear while watching the particles of dust dancing in the shafts of sunlight filtering through the trees, stopped and asked, “What is it, Mr. Johnson?”
Mr. Johnson propped his hoe up next to him and scratched at a tuft of white hair peeking from under his hat brim. “It appears we may have some trouble, Elbert.”
Elbert peered around the back of Mr. Johnson’s leg and gasped at the sight. “Why, whatever could have done that?”
Stretched directly before them was the pea patch that yesterday had been so lush and green with the youthfulness of springtime. Now it was a minefield of dark brown humps of overturned earth; only a few sadly wilted plants still clung to life.
Mr. Johnson remained silent for a moment; then he opened the gate with a creak and walked over to the peas. He knelt down and took a pinch of the damp earth, rubbing it between his gnarled fingers.
Elbert cocked his head. “Well?” he asked.
“Elbert, my friend, there are many creatures in this world that are bent on harming and destroying beauty. Or at the very least, there are those that think of nothing other than their own well-being: selfishness can bear quite a cost.” He carefully righted a crooked plant and began to pack the soil around it. “Come, we may still be able to save some of them.”
Elbert proceeded to help Mr. Johnson salvage what peas they could; but all the while he thought about what Mr. Johnson had said, wondering what exactly he had meant, and what sort of evil creature would raze the garden of a kindly old man with no apparent reason for doing so.
They finished the job and the rest of their day passed as many days had already passed that spring, going about their business while quietly enjoying one another’s company under the golden beams of the sun.
The next morning Elbert and Mr. Johnson went out to the garden to set about their daily chores, this time accompanied by Henry as well. Once again, the pea patch was ravaged and pocked with dark lumps like a face covered with the pox.
Henry clambered up the fence and perched with his dainty tail curled above his head. His nose twitched with fury. “How rude!” he shrilled.
Elbert looked up at Mr. Johnson and saw him smile sadly. “I fear we may need to take action if we are to save the last of our poor crops,” said Mr. Johnson.
“Action?” asked Elbert, clearly confused.
“Yes; I hate to be driven to such a course, but I feel that I must get out my traps and see if we can’t catch our midnight visitor off his guard tonight.”
Henry nodded his head in agreement. “Wrong deeds must have a consequence,” he asserted with confidence. He then turned and scampered down the post nose first and disappeared into the tall grass.
Elbert sat still and watched Mr. Johnson’s tall form shrinking as he walked to the house and thought his shoulders seemed more stooped than usual.
Soon the meadow was filled with the echoing clangs and clunks of Mr. Johnson’s search in the little attic of his house. The occasional fleeting glimpse of white hair or blue button-down shirt could be seen through the triangular pane of glass on the west end of the attic as he sorted through boxes and bins of various sorts. It had been many a season since Mr. Johnson had been forced to use his traps.
The sun was already sinking into his greenwood bower when at last Mr. Johnson triumphantly brought forth the slightly rusted and much dulled trap from a box in the back of the attic. He held it out in front of him and fingered the wire cage gently with his calloused index. He sighed, glancing out the window. Becoming suddenly aware of the time, he quickly scrounged up some bait from his kitchen and made his way back to the garden.
Elbert and Henry rejoined him and the three of them carefully selected a choice location to place their trap.
Elbert glanced up at Mr. Johnson, causing his ears to flop back over his head. “This won’t hurt the intruder, will it?” he asked in grave concern.
Mr. Johnson smiled again, immediately erasing the worried furrow upon Elbert’s furry brow. “No, no, of course not!” he chuckled. “Never fear, little one.” He reached down to the trap and demonstrated the closing mechanism. “See? Safe as safe can be.” He straightened up with a hand on his back and dusted the dirt off his hands. “Now, we must all go into the house. If we stay here I fear we may frighten him away entirely and defeat the purpose of our trap.”
So the three of them – the old man, the lop-eared rabbit and the grey mouse – retired to their areas in the house. They attempted to sleep that night, but the anxiety and anticipation regarding what might await them in the morning kept them awake far into the night.
It seemed that they had just fallen asleep, in fact, when an earsplitting squeal shattered the stillness of the night air.
Elbert jumped out of his house and stood in terror on the wood floor, his ears standing straight up as Henry tumbled out of his hole in the wall rubbing his sleep bleared eyes.
“What was that?!” he asked.
Mr. Johnson entered from his bedroom in time to hear Henry’s question. “I believe our trap has been a success!” And without further discussion, Mr. Johnson threw open the front door and exited.
Henry and Elbert exchanged a hurried glance before starting out after their friend – scurrying and bounding, respectively.
Outside, it was that pale shade of mystical grey that envelops the world just before the sun bursts forth in his morning glory and sets the world on fire anew. The meadow grass was still graced with great droplets of dew that clustered on the ends of blades, forcing them to bow to the rising sun. Henry and Elbert shook their paws in an attempt to rid them of the chill moisture even as they raced across the meadow.
The cries grew louder as they drew nearer and began to form slightly more intelligible
words.”Aaaaaahhhh hhhhuuuulllppppppppp!” A few steps closer. “Huuuuulp meeee!” Closer yet and they could hear the great hiccupping sobs that punctuated the intermittent cries.
As the trap site came into their field of vision the cries and sobbing abruptly ceased; mainly because they too, were now in sight of the trapped creature.
“Stay away!” The demands of the creature had shifted on his seeing the looming form of a large man. “Come closer and I’ll bite!” From the shadows, the sudden flash of elongated orange teeth confirmed their suspicions: it was indeed a mole.
Mr. Johnson crouched down on his haunches a few feet from the trap but still too close for the liking of the mole, who slunk even further back into the recesses of the trap. “Now, now, Mr. Mole,” soothed Mr. Johnson. “No one here has any intention of causing you harm.” Blue eyes gleamed down at the mole. “Though I can’t say the same of you, now can I?”
The mole’s tensed body relaxed ever so slightly. “What do you mean by that?”
“Why, my vegetable garden of course!” said Mr. Johnson, encompassing the area under outstretched arms. “You destroyed half of my crop with your burrows.”
The mole’s dirty nose became visible as he stuck it through the bars of the trap, surveying the damage in the dim light. “Oh,” he said simply. “Oh my. Was it truly my burrows that caused all this?” The sheepish mole looked down at his clawed hands. “I never intended to cause such a stir; I was only trying to enlarge my home to impress the other moles with my successes.”
“Now, I don’t believe that you intended me any harm any more than I intend you harm, Mr. Mole,” Mr. Johnson went on, laying a hand on the top of the trap. “I know how easy it is to get all wrapped up in your own plans and life and such; but I also know how dangerous that can become, both to you and to those around you. When you start acting and living only for yourself and cease to care about the well-being of other creatures, you may unintentionally cause them harm.”
The mole’s nose twitched in remorse. “I never meant harm,” he said quietly.
“I believe you,” said Mr. Johnson. He reached down and opened the door on the trap. “Which is why I am choosing to let you go. I can see you are sorry for what you have done, and I trust you’ll not do such a thing again.”
Henry, still shaking the dew from his paws, protested. “But he must be punished; you can’t just let him go!”
Elbert shot the mouse a reprimanding look and shushed him.
The mole emerged from the trap and looked up at Mr. Johnson. “I never will again! I promise! You are right, sir, that I have not been thinking about other creatures, and I can see that I was wrong to believe in my own importance. I am indeed sorry and I beg you to forgive me.”
Mr. Johnson smiled at the earthy creature. “You were forgiven long ago, my friend.”
“Thank you, sir! I will make it right, just you wait and see!”
And with that, the mole disappeared into the waning darkness as the three denizens of the meadow looked on. Elbert and Henry each harbored his own doubts as to whether Mr. Johnson had made the right decision in not punishing the selfish mole, but neither said another word on the subject for the rest of the day. Mr. Johnson seemed to be back to his happy, peaceful self, which was all that really mattered to his two furry friends anyway.
The next day, however, harbored a surprise of its own; for lo and behold, when the three of them again returned to the garden they found it restored to its former beauty and perfectly arranged in rows that were also freshly irrigated by trenches between them.
How could such a miracle have occurred in so short a time?
The answer was a weary and mud splattered rodent who sat waiting at the gate. He stood as they drew near and gave them a great sweeping bow. “Welcome,” he said. “To a place that is as restored by my labors as my heart has been by your kindness.”
The three of them praised the mole’s efforts and lavished him with their gratitude, so much so that Mr. Mole declared his desire to stay with them and help work the land. Of course, Mr. Johnson was more than willing to welcome the mole into his growing family.
And so the four of them lived together from that day forward: Mr. Johnson in his little white cottage along with Elbert the rabbit and Henry the mouse scratching about in his hole in the wall – and, of course, there was Mr. Mole, who didn’t dig any more holes.