"They say he was born with his eyes open," whispered Uncle Alfred.
Despereaux stared hard at his uncle.
"Impossible," said Aunt Florence. "No mouse, no matter how small or obscenely large-eared, is ever born with his eyes open. It simply isn't done."
"His pa, Lester, says he's not well," said Uncle Alfred.
He said nothing in defense of himself. How could he? Everything his aunt and uncle said was true. He was ridiculously small. His ears were obscenely large. He had been born with his eyes open. And he was sickly. He coughed and sneezed so often that he carried a handkerchief in one paw at all times. He ran temperatures. He fainted at loud noises. Most alarming of all, he showed no interest in the things a mouse should show interest in.
He did not think constantly of food. He was not intent on tracking down every crumb. While his larger, older siblings ate, Despereaux stood with his head cocked to one side, holding very still.
"Do you hear that sweet, sweet sound?" he said.
"I hear the sound of cake crumbs falling out of people's mouths and hitting the floor," said his brother Toulèse. "That's what I hear."
"No . . . ," said Despereaux. "It's something else. It sounds like . . . um . . . honey."
"You might have big ears," said Toulèse, "but they're not attached right to your brain. You don't hear honey. You smell honey. When there's honey to smell. Which there isn't."
"Son!" barked Despereaux's father. "Snap to it. Get your head out of the clouds and hunt for crumbs."
"Please," said his mother, "look for the crumbs. Eat them to make your mama happy. You are such the skinny mouse. You are a disappointment to your mama."
"Sorry," said Despereaux. He lowered his head and sniffed the castle floor.
But, reader, he was not smelling.
He was listening, with his big ears, to the sweet sound that no other mouse seemed to hear.
once upon a time
DESPEREAUX'S SIBLINGS tried to educate him in the ways of being a mouse. His brother Furlough took him on a tour of the castle to demonstrate the art of scurrying.
"Move side to side," instructed Furlough, scrabbling across the waxed castle floor. "Look over your shoulder all the time, first to the right, then to the left. Don't stop for anything."
But Despereaux wasn't listening to Furlough. He was staring at the light pouring in through the stained-glass windows of the castle. He stood on his hind legs and held his handkerchief over his heart and stared up, up, up into the brilliant light.
"Furlough," he said, "what is this thing? What are all these colors? Are we in heaven?"
"Cripes!" shouted Furlough from a far corner. "Don't stand there in the middle of the floor talking about heaven. Move! You're a mouse, not a man. You've got to scurry."
"What?" said Despereaux, still staring at the light.
But Furlough was gone.
He had, like a good mouse, disappeared into a hole in the molding.
Despereaux's sister Merlot took him into the castle library, where light came streaming in through tall, high windows and landed on the floor in bright yellow patches.
"Here," said Merlot, "follow me, small brother, and I will instruct you on the fine points of how to nibble paper."
Merlot scurried up a chair and from there hopped onto a table on which there sat a huge, open book.
"This way, small brother," she said as she crawled onto the pages of the book.
And Despereaux followed her from the chair, to the table, to the page.
"Now then," said Merlot. "This glue, here, is tasty, and the paper edges are crunchy and yummy, like so." She nibbled the edge of a page and then looked over at Despereaux.
From Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. Text copyright 2003 by Kate DiCamillo. Illustrations copyright 2003 by Timothy Basil Ering. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, transmitted or stored in an information retrieval system in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, taping, and recording, without prior written permission from the publisher, Candlewick Press.
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