5 Dame Mouserink, queen of the mice, and her loyal subjects, get into great trouble. A story by the great E.T.A. Hoffman, from his original "Nutcracker."

Once upon a time, many great kings and very grand princes were assembled at Pirlipat's father's court, and very great doings were afoot. Tournaments, theatricals, and state balls were going on on the grandest scale, and the king, to show that he had no lack of gold and silver, made up his mind to make a good hole in the crown revenues for once, and launch out regardless of expense. Wherefore (having previously ascertained privately from the state head master cook that the court astronomer had indicated a propitious hour for pork-butchering), he resolved to give a grand pudding-and-sausage banquet. He jumped into a state carriage, and personally invited all the kings and the princes--to a basin of soup, merely--that he might enjoy their astonishment at the magnificence of the entertainment. Then he said to the queen, very graciously, "My darling, you know exactly how I like my puddings and sausages."

The queen quite understood what this meant. It meant that she should undertake the important duty of making the puddings and the sausages herself, which was a thing she had done on one or two previous occasions. So the chancellor of the exchequer was ordered to issue out of store the great golden sausage kettle, and the silver casseroles. A great fire of sandalwood was kindled, the queen put on her damask kitchen apron, and soon the most delicious aroma of pudding broth rose steaming out of the kettle. This sweet smell penetrated into the very council chamber. The king could not control himself.

"Excuse me for a few minutes, my lords and gentlemen," he cried, rushed to the kitchen, embraced the queen, stirred in the kettle a little with his golden sceptre, and then went back easier in his mind to the council chamber.

The important moment had now arrived when the fat had to be cut up into little square pieces, and browned on silver spits. The ladies-in-waiting retired, because the queen, from motives of love and duty to her royal consort, thought it proper to perform this important task in solitude. But when the fat began to brown, a delicate little whispering voice made itself audible, saying, "Give me some of that, sister! I want some of it, too; I am a queen as well as yourself; give me some."

The queen knew well who was speaking. It was Dame Mouserink, who had been established in the palace for many years. She claimed relationship to the royal family, and she was queen of the realm of Mousolia herself, and lived with a considerable retinue of her own under the kitchen hearthstone. The queen was a kind-hearted, benevolent woman; and, although she didn't exactly care to recognize Dame Mouserink as a sister and a queen, she was willing, at this festive season, to spare her the tidbits she had a mind to. So she said, "Come out, then, Dame Mouserink; of course you shall taste my browned fat."

So Dame Mouserink came running out as fast as she could, held up her pretty little paws, and took morsel after morsel of the browned fat as the queen held them out to her. But then all Dame Mouserink's uncles, and her cousins, and her aunts, came jumping out too; and her seven sons (who were terrible neer-do-wells) into the bargain; and they all set to at the browned fat, and the queen was too frightened to keep them at bay. Most fortunately the mistress of the robes came in, and drove these importunate visitors away, so that a little of the browned fat was left; and then, when the court mathematician (an ex-senior wrangler of his university) was called in (which he had to be, on purpose), it was found possible, by means of skillfully devised apparatus provided with special micrometer screws, and so forth, to apportion and distribute the fat among the whole of the sausages, etc., under construction.

The kettledrums and the trumpets summoned all the great princes and potentates to the feast. They assembled in their robes of state; some of them on white palfreys, some in crystal coaches. The king received them with much gracious ceremony, and took his seat at the head of the table, with his crown on, and his sceptre in his hand. Even during the serving of the white pudding course, it was observed that he turned pale, and raised his eyes to heaven; sighs heaved his bosom; some terrible inward pain was clearly raging within him. But when the black puddings were handed round, he fell back in his seat, loudly sobbing and groaning.

Everyone rose from the table, and the court physician tried in vain to feel his pulse. Ultimately, after the administration of most powerful remedies--burnt feathers, and the like--His Majesty seemed to recover his senses to some extent, and stammered, scarce audibly, the words: "Too little fat!

The queen cast herself down at his feet in despair, and cried, in a voice broken by sobs, "Oh, my poor unfortunate royal consort! Ah, what tortures you are doomed to endure! But see the culprit here at your feet. Punish her severely! Alas! Dame Mouserink, her uncles, her seven sons, her cousins and her aunts, came and ate up nearly all the fat--and--"

Here the queen fell back insensible.

But the king jumped up, all anger, and cried in a terrible voice, " Mistress of the robes, what is the meaning of this?"

The mistress of the robes told all she knew, and the king resolved to take revenge on Dame Mouserink and her family for eating up the fat which ought to have been in the sausages. The privy council was summoned, and it was resolved that Dame Mouserink should be tried for her life, and all her property confiscated. But as His Majesty was of opinion that she might go on consuming the fat, which was his appanage, the whole matter was referred to the court Clockmaker and Arcanist--whose name was the same as mine--Christian Elias Drosselmeier, and he undertook to expel Dame Mouserink and all her relations from the palace precincts forever, by means of a certain politico-diplomatic procedure. He invented certain ingenious little machines, into which pieces of browned fat were inserted; and he placed these machines down all about the dwelling of Dame Mouserink. Now she herself was much too knowing not to see through Drosselmeier's artifice; but all her remonstrances and warnings to her relations were unavailing. Enticed by the fragrant odour of the browned fat, all her seven sons, and a great many of her uncles, cousins and aunts, walked into Drosselmeier's little machines and were immediately taken prisoners by the fall of a small grating, after which they met with a shameful death in the kitchen.

Dame Mouserink left this scene of horror with her small following. Rage and despair filled her breast. The court rejoiced greatly; the queen was very anxious, because she knew Dame Mouserink's character, and knew well that she would never allow the death of her sons and other relatives to go unavenged. And, in fact, one day when the queen was cooking a fricassee of sheep's lights for the king (a dish to which he was exceedingly partial), Dame Mouserink suddenly made her appearance, and said: "My sons and my uncles, my cousins and my aunts, are now no more. Have a care, lady, lest the queen of the mice bites your little princess in two! Have a care!"

With which she vanished, and was no more seen. But the queen was so frightened that she dropped the fricassee into the fire; so this was the second time Dame Mouserink spoiled one of the king's favorite dishes, at which he was very irate.

But this is enough for tonight; we'll go on with the rest of it another time--said Drosselmeier.

For the rest of this supremely strange tale, see "The Nutcracker" by E.T.A. Hoffmann--the real unabridged, un-retold version-- wherein many more wonders than these are set down. This excerpt comes from the Dover Books edition of The Best Tales of Hoffmann, with an introduction by E. F. Bleiler.