Authors: Beverly Cleary
ight winds, moaning around corners and whistling through cracks, dashed snow against the windows of the Mountain View Inn. Inside, a fire crackled in the stone fireplace. The grandfather clock, as old and tired as the inn itself, marked the passing of time with a slow
that seemed to say, “Waitâ¦ing, waitâ¦ing.”
Everyone in the lobby was waitingâthe desk clerk, the handyman, old Matt, who also carried guests' luggage to their rooms, Ryan Bramble, the son of the hotel's new housekeeper, and Ralph, the mouse who lived under the grandfather clock.
The desk clerk dozed, waiting for guests who did not arrive. Matt leaned against the wall to watch television while he waited for the desk clerk to close up for the night. Ryan, sitting on the floor to watch television, waited for his mother to tell him to go to bed because he had to go to school the next day. Ralph, crouched beside Ryan, waited for the adults to leave so he could bring out his mouse-sized motorcycle. Unfortunately, Ralph's little brothers, sisters, and cousins, hiding in the woodpile and behind the curtains, were also waiting.
On the television set, a sports car crashed into a truck, shot off a cliff, and burst into flames.
“Wow!” Without taking his eyes from the screen, Ryan said, “There's a boy at school named Brad Kirby, who would really like this movie. He has a BMX bicycle for motocross racing, and his father sometimes drives him to school in a tow truck.” A police car followed the sports car over the cliff before Ryan added, “Brad isn't very friendly to me. He's sort of a loner.”
Ralph was more interested in television than in Ryan's problems. “If I had a sports car like that,” he said, “I wouldn't let it run off a cliff.”
Ralph was an unusual mouse. He had listened to so many children and watched so much television that he had learned to talk. Not everyone could understand him. Those who could were lonely children who shared Ralph's interest in fast cars and motorcycles and who took the trouble to listen. Other children, if they happened to glimpse Ralph, said, “I saw a mouse that squeaked funny.”
Matt was the only adult who understood Ralph. “Yes, sir, that mouse is a mouse in a million,” he often told himself.
Ralph knew there were not really a million mice in the inn, although he had to admit that in wintertime the mouseholes were crowded, because his rough outdoor relatives moved inside to keep warm. Ralph's mother said they were a rowdy bunch that set a bad example for the more civilized indoor mice.
While Ralph and Ryan were enjoying a commercial for a truck that could zigzag without overturning, Matt strolled into a room called the Jumping Frog Lounge and returned with a handful of popcorn. He dropped one kernel in front of Ralph.
“Thanks,” said Ralph, who enjoyed nibbling popcorn while watching television.
As the commercial ended, Mrs. Bramble entered the lobby. “Come on, my boy,” she said to Ryan. “It's past your bedtime. You know the manager doesn't like you hanging around the lobby.”
“Aw, Mom, just let me watch the end of the program,” pleaded Ryan. “I'll leave if any guests arrive.”
At that moment, the rattle and crunch of a car with chains on its tires was heard. Ryan rose and walked backward out of the lobby so he wouldn't miss the high-speed, siren-screaming chase on the television screen. As he left, he gave Ralph a little wave with his fingertips, a wave no one else would notice. Ralph wished Ryan could stay up all night like a mouse.
As the car stopped in front of the hotel and the desk clerk roused himself, Ralph scurried under the grandfather clock to the nest he had made from chewed-up Kleenex, a lost ski-lift ticket, and a few bits of carpet fringe he had nipped off when no one was looking. Beside his nest rested his two precious possessions: a little red motorcycle and a crash helmet made from half a Ping-Pong ball lined with thistledown, gifts of a boy who had once stayed in the hotel.
Above Ralph the clock began to grind and groan and strike,
, as if it had to summon strength for each stroke. Ralph dreaded the sound, even though it was the reason he lived under the clock. The noise terrified his little relatives, who thought the clock was out to get them. As long as they feared the clock, Ralph's motorcycle was safe.
The car door slammed. Feet stomped on the porch. When Matt opened the door to let two people blow into the lobby, a blast of freezing air sent Ralph's nest swirling around in bits. Never mind, thought Ralph, peeking out at two pair of boots, the kind known as waffle stompers, which had thick treads that held snow.
“Do you have a room for the night?” the owner of the larger boots asked the desk clerk.
“H-mm, let's see,” murmured the clerk, who always behaved as if the hotel might be full even though he knew it was not.
Stop pretending, thought Ralph, who was tired of waiting.
“Wellâ¦” The desk clerk ended the suspense. “I can let you have Room 207. Just fill out this card, please.”
Ralph's keen ears heard the scratch of a pen and the rattle of a key. He winced when the clerk banged the bell on the desk for Matt, even though Matt was standing right there, waiting to carry the guests' bags.
“Never mind,” said one of the guests to Matt. “We can find our room.” The pair picked up their luggage and stepped into the elevator, leaving behind puddles of melted snow.
“Cheapskates,” muttered Matt. Guests at this hotel often insisted on carrying luggage to avoid tipping him.
After the elevator door closed, Ralph worried that the puddles might dry before he had the lobby to himself. Time dragged on. The man in the red vest who worked in the Jumping Frog Lounge came out, yawned, and remarked that he might as well close for the night. The television station went off the air. The desk clerk locked the front door and left. If any more guests arrived, they would have to ring the night bell. Matt began to turn out the lights.
At last! Ralph threw his leg over his motorcycle, adjusted the rubber band that held his crash helmet in place, and grasped his tail so that it would not become tangled in his spokes. Then, because as everyone knows, a toy motorcycle moves when someone makes a noise like a motorcycle, Ralph took a deep breath, went
, and shot out from under the clock. Gradually he picked up speed and zoomed through a puddle. Wings of water fanned out from his wheels. It was a thrilling experience.
All of Ralph's little brothers, sisters, and cousins, hoping Matt would not notice them in the dim light, popped out from their hiding places to watch. Of course, Ralph had to show off. He took deeper breaths and rode faster, making puddles splash higher and leaving tiny tire tracks on the dry linoleum. Matt, who was banking the fire for the night, laid down the poker to enjoy the sight.
Unfortunately, the little relatives were not satisfied. Not now. Once Ralph's indoor relatives had been happy to have Ralph push them up and down the halls on his motorcycle, but this treat was not enough for his rowdy outdoor relatives. They wanted to ride the motorcycle by themselves, so now all the mice wanted to ride. They came running and jumping, across the threadbare carpet, to the linoleum, squealing, “I want a ride!” “Gimme a turn!” “Come on, Ralph, get off and let us use it!”
Ralph started to whiz around in a figure eight when his tires slipped and the motorcycle tipped. He lost control and landed in icy, dirty water.
The daring outdoor mice waded out to grab the motorcycle, but Ralph was quick. Dripping and shivering, he sprang back on the seat and rode off,
, avoiding clutching paws. If only he could make his relatives behave. “Go away. You're too little,” said Ralph through chattering teeth, as he swerved to miss tiny toes. “You would forget to hang on to your tails, and you'd get them tangled in my spokes.” He tried to wipe his nose with his wet paw and wished mouse children had to go to bed at night like human children.
“We would not!” The rougher mice grabbed the motorcycle and brought Ralph to a halt. “And you're not so big yourself. You fell down.”
All the mice began to complain. “You let us ride, or we'll tell your mother on you. She said you were supposed to give us a turn.” Cousins closest to Ralph in age said it wasn't fair for Ralph to have a motorcycle. Nobody had ever given them motorcycles, and they were just as good as Ralph. Some of the meaner mice told him their mothers said Ralph was spoiled and selfish and would probably turn out to be no good when he grew up.