A city mouse who moved to the country to live in the walls of an old house with a lot of country mice began lording it over them from the start. He trimmed his whiskers, put mousseline in his hair, talked with an accent, and told the country mice that they came from the wrong side of the mouse tracks.
“My ancestors were of the French aristocracy,” boasted the city mouse. “Our name still appears on bottles of great French wine: ‘Mise du château,’ which means mice in the château, or castle mice.” Every day the newcomer bragged about his forebears, and when he ran out of ancestors he made some up. “My great-great-great-grandfather was a theater mouse at the Comédie-Française, and he married a cathedral mouse, one of the cathedral mice of Chartres. At their wedding a dessert named in their honor, mousse chocolat, was served to millions of guests.”
Then the city mouse told how his family had come to America in the bridal suite of a great French liner. “My brother is a restaurant mouse at ’21,’ and my sister’s at the Metropolitan,” he said. He went on to tell of other ancestors of the family who had been in such productions as The Chauve Souris and Die Fledermaus and Les Trois Mousquetaires. “Not a mouse in our house was a common house mouse,” he said.
One day, wandering through forbidden walls of the country house, to show his inferiors that he knew his way around, he came upon a treasure in currency which someone had hidden years before between the plaster and the lath. “I wouldn’t eat that stuff,” warned an old country mouse. “It is the root of evil and it will give you greenback bellyache.” But the city mouse did not listen.
“I’m already a mouse of distinction,” said the city mouse, “and this money will make me a millionaire. I’ll be loaded.” So he began to eat the currency, which consisted of bills of large denominations, and he drove off one or two of the young country mice who wanted to help him eat the treasure, saying, “Finders are not their brothers’ keepers.” The city mouse told his country cousins, “Blessed are the rich, for they can pay their way into the kingdom of Heaven,” and he got off a lot of other witticisms, such as “Legal tender is the night” and “Money makes the nightmare go.”
And so he went on living, as he put it, on the fat of the lath. “When I have eaten it all,” he said, “I shall return to the city and live like a king. They say you can’t take it with you, but I’m going to take it with me.”
In a few days and nights the arrogant city mouse with the fancy and fanciful French forebears had eaten all the money, which amounted to an ambassador’s annual salary. Then he tried to leave the walls of the old country house, but he was so loaded with money, and his head was so swelled, that he got caught between the plaster and the lath and could not get out, and his neighbors could not dislodge him, and so he died in the walls, and nobody but the country mice knew that he had been the richest mouse in the world.
MORAL: This is the posture of fortune’s slave: one foot in the gravy, one foot in the grave.