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NATURE Of mice and men

Outdoor Living

Country Sights and Sounds
John Shelley

The executioner stood up from the table, walked to the door and closed it firmly with a sound like a gavel on mahogany, setting the stage for the final act.
Feeling compelled to rise up as an impromptu defence lawyer, I tried to plead on behalf of the accused. After all, they weren’t really to blame; they were just doing what came naturally. But the case against them had been irrefutably settled. They had behaved badly, and no more would a place be found for them.
I would warn them, then, except I do not speak their language. Besides, they fear me, although I mean no harm. Once they know I am home they hide themselves away, no doubt chattering together in hushed tones, all eyes and ears, watching and listening for my step with little screams of terror building up in their hearts.
‘Let them go,’ I softly say, and try to reason. ‘Didn’t God use the raven, among the most unclean of birds, to bring food to Elijah when he hid from Ahab in the mountains? So too our friends might prove themselves equally providential should hard times fall upon us.’ In evidence I lifted the corner of the settee to reveal a double handful of beech mast.
The executioner frowned from darkened brow and I knew my efforts at intervention were wasted. ‘Dirty rotten rodents! Kill them! Kill them all!’ and with that, new mousetraps were procured.
Yes, we have mice again. Already. They normally arrive in late autumn. Perhaps they think that late autumn has already arrived. It certainly feels like it.
The mice we have are not those grey, evil smelling, house mice that are the bane of every rural dwelling. No, they are something infinitely more tolerable and really rather endearing. They are orange-brown, white-tummied wood mice. With their large round ears, darkly liquid eyes and paintbrush whiskers they are almost comical in appearance and most entertaining to observe as they gather food and store it safely away for the future.
Having them in the house, I am told in a slow, unmistakably stern tone of voice, is neither comical nor entertaining, and as a result I have now been most thoroughly instructed in the use of mousetraps and how to bait them most effectively with chocolate hazelnut spread.
The appearance of chocolate hazelnut spread cheered me immensely, and as I ate the last of it I was able to think of other baits that would doubtless prove equally effective. Cheese - mice like cheese, don’t they? Yet so do I. Peanut butter then. Of course. It has to be useful for something. I layered it on in great dobs, so that each trap would attract an entire family of mice and perhaps wipe them out with one blow.
And so the deed was done. I should have been wearing a hood as I set the traps. Could there be no kinder way? At least they would have deliciously crunchy peanut butter between their teeth at the fatal moment. Imagine; the last thing they would ever know.
Later that same evening a loud snap sounded from the back kitchen, followed by the faint and frantic scrabbling of tiny claws on the tiled floor. I went to look. There lay our first victim with his back broken and those lovely dark eyes nearly popped from their sockets. Guilt ridden, I dropped the corpse into the toilet and pulled the flush. It disappeared, though only for a moment. A bubble rose, and with it came my little woodmouse, swirling belly up with a macabre grin dominating its features. Two more flushes finally sent it on its way.
Since then the entire tribe has been eradicated. Four fell to the peanuts and a fifth ate poison before going under the freezer to die and punish us with its scent until we tracked it down.
The chances of five mice all being of the one sex are likely rather slim, so it seems fortunate that action was taken before they began to reproduce. A female wood mouse might produce four or five litters in a year, with five or six babies in each. And these might begin to reproduce within two months of birth. In just a short time we would be knee deep in the things.
A stray cat has turned up at the house, miaowing promises of efficient pest control. It is young enough to elicit pity, yet old enough to cause alarm. We are pondering its future.