"Then we all set off, each with our card. And it worked! Just like you predicted! Such a clever idea, Hildegarde! Of course that’s why you’re Mouse Mistress! No one else could possibly have thought of it!
"Here, we can jump down now," Trina said. "I’m through in here."
"Through with what?"
"Just as we were leaving, after such a successful mission," she explained, "I remembered something. I remembered that we had left Father Murphy’s card box open, there on the table, with all the cards gone! You know how tidy he is. He would have noticed, first thing! And it was so important to keep our presence invisible. That’s why I came back, to put the lid back on the box. See? It’s all tidied up and back in place. We can go now. I’m sorry I made you anxious."
Jean was weeping.
"Oh, dear. I told her I’d be careful, but you know Jean. She’s a worrier."
Together they jumped down to the floor and ran quickly across the carpet and through the crack in the door. Then they pushed it, together, with all their combined strength, until it closed.
"Could you just show me one, so I can see how it worked?" Hildegarde asked.
"Of course. On the way out. I have to tell you something, though, Hildegarde…"
"What’s that?" They were hurrying along, side by side.
"We only found fifty-one. Please don’t say anything to Jeremiah. He feels terrible. He had the eight of spades. But we all looked and looked, and we only found fifty-one glue boards. Finally—so much time had passed—we simply left the eight of spades in the bushes by the front door.
"Here. Come over here." Trina directed Hildegarde to the coat rack in the narthex. "Look right behind, where the little opening to the inside of the wall is."
Hildegarde knew the route well. She had entered and exited so often from that tiny hole. Now she scurried over and looked. Behind the coat rack was a glue board, a smallish rectangle, lying on the tile floor where a scurrying church mouse would have undoubtedly have stepped upon it and been caught in such a horrible way.
"Look!" said Trina merrily, and she hopped onto the glue board.
"Don’t!" squealed Hildegarde, terrified.
"No, it’s quite safe! Let’s see…" Trina looked down. "It’s the three of hearts. I think Malcolm had that one. See what a good job he did? Fitted it perfectly!" She danced up and down on the three of hearts, which was glued securely over the rectangular trap.
"Amazing," Hildegarde said.
"I put my queen of diamonds on one in the ladies’ room, behind the sink, where the pipe comes in. It wasn’t easy, Hildegarde, to get the corners straight! But I think we all did a good job."
"You did indeed! Now let’s hurry back. We’ve got to get everyone moved back in before sunrise!"
Side by side, gleeful, the two church mice wriggled under the huge front door and scampered down the steps of Saint Bartholemew’s and into the Outdoors.
A light rain was beginning to fall.
Now, on Saturday night, the church mice were all back in residence once again. Most had returned to their old nests, finding them undisturbed inside the walls. The glue boards had been carefully explained to them by Hildegarde during her Departure talk, and the mice chuckled each time they skirted one. Seven of hearts, under the kitchen sink. Jack of clubs, in the sexton’s closet: Harvey, mischievous, had left some droppings on that one.
There was even a five of spades under the organ console, very close to Hildegarde’s sleeping nest. She
pushed it aside with a laugh. Oh, sometime the Great X would return, she knew, summoned again by Father Murphy, who would eventually miss his solitaire cards, and by the sexton, who would be mystified as he found them here and there throughout the church.
The Exterminator page of the telephone book, though, had been carefully eaten. Jeremiah had done it all alone, a big job, but he felt that he needed to atone for not being able to find the fifty-second glue board. His eight of spades was still in the bushes by the church steps, wet now, for it had been drizzling for twenty-four hours.
Hildegarde busied herself throughout the night, reminding the mice that tomorrow was the Feast of Saint Francis, the celebration that ordinarily they watched through the windows and peepholes. But the windy rain had increased during the night, and as the first light came, she made the rounds again, warning them all.
"It will be indoors," she said briskly, trying not to alarm them too much. It had been some years since it had rained on the day of the Blessing of the Animals. Most of the mice were too young to know anything but the outdoor ceremony and its amusing confusion. Ignatious was old enough, but he had been living at the university library then. So even he, with all his knowledge, was unaware of the impending danger.
"Stay hidden," she admonished them over and over. "Deeply hidden."
"I wanna watch!" Harvey whined. "Why can’t we watch?"
"There will be cats. Many cats."
"I’m not scared of cats! I could bite cats!" Harvey bared his big crooked front teeth.
Hildegarde shook him. "Listen to me! Cats are our worst enemy! You must fear cats! And you must watch only from the most hidden and inaccessible places. Inside an air vent. Top of an organ pipe, if you can climb up there—they’re slippery."
"In a cushion? I could be in a cushion!" Harvey suggested.
"No! Cats have terrible claws. They could rip a cushion—and you—apart in seconds!"
"Oh, darn," Harvey said, and went off sulking.
Hildegarde turned back to the assembled, nervous mice. "Find your hiding places now," she said, "because…" She assessed the light through the stained-glass windows. Rain made light very different, so it was hard to tell the time. "…it may be starting before long. Listen for the organ. When Trevor Fisoli begins to practice, you must absolutely be hidden."
Hildegarde watched as all of them, even Harvey, obediently scampered off to hide themselves. Oh, she hoped she could keep them safe! They were so dear to her! Most of them, anyway.
"Where’s Lucretia?" she asked Roderick, who was by her side. "I haven’t seen Lucretia this morning."
He shrugged. "Dunno. Probably up to no good."
"Well, I hope she has a hiding place planned. How about you, Roderick? Where are you headed?"
"Not sure. I was thinking about maybe under the mop in the sexton’s closet. He won’t be cleaning this morning."
"Well, he will be, but it’ll be when the ceremony ends. He’ll have to clean up after the animals. You know they lose control, often. Disgusting. Dogs especially."
"Think he’ll need his mop?" Roderick asked.
"Probably. Especially if that horse comes."
"Well, I’d better find a different place, then. Where are you going, Hildegarde?"
She hesitated. She was planning to head to the sacristy, her own special, private place. She thought that she might be able to peek through the keyhole of the sacristy door and get a bit of a glimpse. Was it selfish to keep a place so private and out-of-bounds only for herself? Maybe it was. And Roderick was so very loyal, and—yes, she had to admit—sweet. So she gave in.
"Come with me, Roderick. We’ll go to the sacristy. We can curl up under the surplices while Father Murphy vests himself. Then, after he leaves, we’ll have the room to ourselves and I think I can figure out a way to peek at the ceremony."
"The sacristy? I’m honored, Hildegarde. Thank you!" Roderick indeed looked very grateful and affectionate. Hildegarde knew, actually, that he had a bit of a crush on her. She had always thought that they were too old for that kind of foolishness. But now? With cats about to enter the church? With dangers to face? It seemed, for the first time, important to have a special friend.
They could hear Trevor Fisoli arrive and mount the stairs to the organ loft. In a moment he would start the resounding chords that always began his practice. Hildegarde and Roderick, side by side, scampered hastily to the sacristy to hide themselves.
But when they entered the small, quiet space, they were alarmed to hear a terrible cry. It was somewhat muffled, coming from the corner near the closet where the most important chasubles, albs, and stoles were stored. Hildegarde and Roderick froze. It was clearly the cry of a mouse. A wail, a scream! Somewhere in this room a mouse—one of her mice, Hildegarde realized—was suffering some kind of horrible torture.
They rushed forward, pushed the bottom of the thick draperies aside, and saw the catastrophe immediately. It was Lucretia, caught by all four feet, and her tail, as well, adhered to the only uncarded glue board. Eight of spades, Hildegarde thought. This one should have been the eight of spades.
Lucretia’s face was contorted with fear and pain. Even as she shook her head, screaming, some of her whiskers were caught. One was pulled out! How awful, to lose a whisker!
In the background, they heard Trevor begin to play scales. Then he ran through "Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring," one of his favorite practice pieces.
"Oh, what should we do? What can we do?" Roderick whimpered. He began to run in frenzied circles.
"Don’t touch it!" Hildegarde commanded. She feared that in his panic he would grab at the trap and become caught himself. "Be still for a moment! You’re distracting me, and I need to think."
"And Lucretia? Be quiet!" she ordered. What on earth was Lucretia doing in here, anyway? This was Hildegarde’s private space!
She did remember the remedy that Ignatious had described. But my goodness! It was almost impossible. "Olive oil!" she said aloud. "You have to saturate the glued parts of the victim with olive oil, Roderick. Do we have any? Is there some in the kitchen?"
Roderick nodded. "In the pantry. But it’s a big can, brand new, hasn’t been opened yet."
"Could we bite through it?"
"Not tin. No."
"Unscrew the lid?"
"No. Not even the church ladies can get it open. They always call in the sexton to help. And even he grunts and groans."
Lucretia wailed loudly. "Help! Help me!" Hildegarde could see another whisker rip off.
"Quiet, Lucretia! You got yourself into this. You should never have been in here. I’m going to help you, but you have to keep still." Dumb thing to say. Of course she’ll keep still. All four paws are glued tight.
Hildegrade remembered something. It might work. No way to know. But it was the only hope.
"See that shelf?" Hildegarde pointed to a high shelf on which stood a glass container decorated with silver filigree. "I have to get up there."
"Shouldn’t be too hard," Roderick said. "You climb things higher than that all the time. What’s in that bottle?"
Hildegarde didn’t answer him. She was still thinking. From the place at the foot of the drapery, Lucretia let out another wail of misery. Hildegarde ignored that. "Roderick," she said, "you must go out to the sanctuary. Has anyone arrived yet?" He peeked out the door and shook his head. They could still hear Trevor pounding away on the organ in the loft. But there were no other people in the church.
"Go bite into a cushion. Any cushion. Can you do that?"