Bless this Mouse

536
04.03.2019

Hildegarde patted him gently. "I know, I know. We’ve all experienced it," she said. They sat together silently for a moment.

There was a noise from the church. They peered again through the ferns and saw the uniformed man come out to his van. He entered it and then emerged, carrying equipment, and reentered the side door of Saint Bartholemew’s.

"Traps," Ignatious said, knowingly.

"We can deal with those. I sprang two traps in the kitchen just last Sunday," Hildegarde said.

"Was that you? I overheard Lucretia say that she was the one who disarmed those traps."

"Lucretia!" Hildegarde drew herself up. Her whiskers quivered in outrage. "What a liar!"

Ignatious rolled his eyes. "She’s campaigning, you know, to oust you and be Mouse Mistress."

Hildegarde was so angry that she couldn’t speak.

"Calm down. I want to tell you something about the special traps he just carried in there. And it’s something that Lucretia won’t have any knowledge of. I’ve made quite a study of traps, you know. Back when I was at the univers—"

Hildegarde shot him her silencing glare.

"Sorry," Ignatious said. "But pull yourself together and listen."

"I’m listening. You said ‘special traps’?"

Ignatious nodded. "Yes. This is horrible. Heinous, actually."

"Describe it."

"There is no spring. No nasty little piece of metal to bop you on the head. And no bait."

"No cheese?"

"Nada. That’s Spanish, incidentally. Means ‘nothing.’"

She ignored that. "How do they work, then?"

"Nice scent to them. A little rectangle of cardboard with a very enticing smell. The Great X simply sets them about in all the obvious places. Closets. Kitchen sink. Trash cans. You know: all of our usual foraging spots."

"But no cheese. You said no cheese."

"No, but the smell lures mice. I know. I’ve smelled it. Terribly tempting. So the unsuspecting mouse goes close. It doesn’t look like a trap. Simply a piece of cardboard, after all."

Hildegarde shuddered. She could tell something awful was going to be described. "What happens?" she asked.

"It’s covered with glue."

"Glue?"

Ignatious nodded solemnly. "So the mouse leans forward to sniff or nibble—you know how we do. Or reaches out with a paw."

Hildegarde cringed. How utterly cruel! "And gets stuck," she said.

He nodded. "Dies there. Starves."

Hildegarde couldn’t speak. She was horrified.

"I saw something funny once," Ignatious said, trying to cheer her. "The janitor at the university library? He reached for his vacuum cleaner, and one of those traps was stuck under it."

Hildegarde frowned. "Nothing funny about that."

"So the janitor tried to pry it off with his foot. And his foot got stuck. So there he was, attached to his own vacuum cleaner! He had to clump down the hall, dragging all the equipment, to find someone to help him."

She smiled slightly at the thought. But still. It was very cruel.

"Look! There he goes!" Ignatious pointed. The exterminator came out and tossed his bag into the back of the van. Then he got in. After a moment they watched him drive away from the church.

"So that’s it? Gluey traps?" Hildegarde asked.

"No. He will have put poison around as well. There are many kinds of rodent poison—sorry to use the word rodent—brodifacoum, zinc phosphide, difethia-lone—"

"Oh, stop!" Hildegarde put her little paws over her ears. "I’d almost rather live Outdoors," she said with a sigh.

Ignatious shook his head. "It’s worse out here," he said. "Much more dangerous. We didn’t even tell them about hawks. And of course, winter’s coming soon. You know what that means."

"I know. We need to be near the furnace." Hildegarde turned and parted the ferns to reveal her sleeping nest. Oh, lord—Roderick was still snoring! "Well, I’m going to lie down for a while. I’ll try to figure out some survival methods to put into place for our return."

"If you don’t, Lucretia will. Take my word for it."

"Thanks, Ignatious." Hildegarde plodded away.

He called after her. "And then cats! On Sunday: cats!"

As if she weren’t already aware of it! Hildegarde waved one paw at him and went to lie down. She had a headache all of a sudden.

Chapter 9

Brave Volunteers Needed!

Two days passed. There were a few squabbles, and one crisis when several of Millicent’s mouselets got lost and squealed loudly until they were located and returned to her, but on the whole it was an uneventful time. Hildegarde even noted with satisfaction that several friendships had been formed with some field mice who were already residents of the cemetery. Field mice were a lesser species, of course—not very smart and with unappealingly small ears. But she thought that it was quite benevolent and generous of her clan to befriend them. It crossed her mind that perhaps they could plan, at Christmastime, to distribute small gifts somehow to the needy but worthy population of field mice.

But mostly, her mind was on their return to Saint Bartholemew’s. It was Friday evening, October second, and they had been in the cemetery long enough. She was planning to speak from the fountain once again, to give directions for the reentry that night. But she was very nervous.

"I was wondering, Hildegarde, if you would like…"

The voice startled her, and she looked up from her troubled thoughts. Oh, good lord: Lucretia.

"If I would like what?" she asked in a tense voice.

"Perhaps you’d like me to take over, make a speech, give instructions? You seem somewhat uncertain." Lucretia had a sly, malevolent look.

Hildegarde stared at her coldly. "I am never uncertain," she replied. "And at the moment, I am very certain that I would like you to return to your nest and wait there until I give the signal to gather."

Lucretia smirked. "Your wish is my command, Mouse Mistress," she said sarcastically. Then she turned and flounced away, her tail contemptuously erect.

"Ignatious," Hildegarde said, "I really don’t know quite what to tell them. There will be such dangers to face. We can describe the poison, assuming it will be there—"

"It will be there. We can be sure of it."

"And order them to eat nothing at all but their regular fare. Cookie crumbs, pizza crust, wedding cake remains, prayer book bindings…"

"Candles and crayons."

"Oh, lord, yes—some of them like that waxy stuff."

"Splenda packets. Those are safe."

"And gumdrops," Hildegarde added, "though I think I’m the only one who knows where he hides them."

"I sometimes eat soap," Ignatious confessed, blushing.

"You do?" She looked at him in surprise.

He nodded. "It makes me burp bubbles," he said, with an embarrassed laugh.

"Well, soap’s safe, at least. Shall I just tell them absolutely nothing unfamiliar, no matter how tempting?"

"Yes. And mothers must keep an eye on their mouselets. Supervise their eating."

"All right. I’ll give that order. But what on earth are we to do about the glue traps, Ignatious? If the Great X has used those? In the dark, when the church mice are scurrying, thinking about food—"

"I shudder to think of it, Hildegarde."

"I can just hear the cries, Ignatious! All of my population, stuck, their little paws glued—"

"Sometimes," he said ominously, "mice lean down to sniff, and then their nose becomes glued!"

Hildegarde shuddered. "How do they breathe, then?"

"That’s the point, Hildegarde. They can’t."

She gasped in horror.

"There is a way of getting them loose, once they’re trapped," Ignatious said. "But it’s very, very difficult and time-consuming. We could perhaps manage to release one—but if dozens are caught, well…"

She sighed, and glanced at the sky. The moon had risen. "I have to go speak to them, Ignatious. They must prepare. I’ll just have to—"

She was interrupted by a noisy rustle in the nearby shrubbery. Roderick pushed his way through, dragging something white. Behind him scampered Harvey, whining, as usual. "Nobody told me I couldn’t! I wasn’t doing anything wrong! Just looking for food!"

"Shhh." Hildegarde ordered the little mouse to be quiet. "What’s this, Roderick?"

Roderick dropped what he’d been carrying clenched in his big teeth. Then he huffed and puffed, catching his breath, and finally turned to the to sulking little mouse beside him. "I’m not mad at you, Harvey! Stop fussing!"

He looked at Hildegarde and Ignatious. "Harvey here noticed that the sexton put the trash out for tomorrow’s collection—"

"Yes, it’s Friday. He always puts it out on Friday evenings."

"So Harvey scampered over to check on it, and—"

Harvey wiggled, waved his tail, and squeaked, "I know you told us not to leave the cemetery! But I just went for a minute! You know, sometimes there’s good stuff in the trash! And I was going to share! I promise I was going to share!"

"Hush, Harvey, we’re not upset with you," Hildegarde said impatiently. "What did he find, Roderick?"

Roderick dragged the torn paper—apparently Harvey had already shredded one corner—over to where she and Ignatious were crouched side by side. "The light’s terrible," he said, "but can you read it?"

Hildegarde squinted at the paper. Mouse vision was poor; they relied on noses and ears, mostly. She went closer and said, "Move aside, Roderick. You’re blocking the moonlight." Dutifully Roderick backed up so that the full light of the risen moon illuminated the paper.

"Pest-B-Gone," she read aloud, and made a face.

Ignatious came to stand beside her and looked down as well at the paper. "Invoice," he read.

"What’s invoice?" asked Harvey. "I don’t know what invoice means! In voice? Is it about singing? I’m pretty good at singing! Listen!" He warbled briefly, "Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in theeeee…

"Am I in voice? Huh? Huh?"

"Quiet, Harvey. It just means ‘bill.’ It’s what Father Murphy had to pay the Great X." Ignatious looked at the amount written near the bottom of the page, after "total." "Yikes!" he said in astonishment. "It was a lot!"

Hildegarde was leaning forward over the paper. "We don’t care what he paid. They collect that offering every Sunday. They’re rich. But look here, Ignatious! Here’s the information we needed!" With one paw she pointed to the lines of text above the total amount.

"Good," Ignatious said. "He’s listed the kind of poison. I know what that looks like. So we can give specific instructions about what not to nibble. But what’s that written lower down? I have difficulty seeing even in the best light. Getting old! Can you read that, Hildegarde?"

"Yes. It’s what we feared. He calls them ‘glue boards,’" she said.

"Glue boards? What’re glue boards? Like snow boards? Like skateboards? I know what those are!" Harvey arranged his rear paws as if he were on a skateboard, and stood erect, pretending to balance with his front paws. "Look! Watch me! Kickflip! A one-eighty ollie! I’m really cool!"