Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim'rous beastie,
O, what panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' murd'ring pattle!
--from "To a Mouse"? Robert Burns
I’m conflicted about Burns here. He has so much empathy for the beastie, an earthy field type (probably in tiny overalls and chewing on a stub of straw) turned up by Burn’s plow. Like Burns, I am generally against chasing wi’ murdr’ring pattle, but for a different reason. Mice give me the heebie jeebies. Unlike Burns, however, I faced the beastie this morning with a gleam of murder in me eye and a pounding heart in my breastie.
There’s a false ceiling in our bedroom. Former residents of this house disguised cracking plaster by dropping down a false ceiling from which 2 x 3 foot insulated tiles hang. There’s even a big translucent panel covering the light. Lying on our bed looking up, one might imagine one is at the office.
Last fall, we woke at 2:36 a.m. one morning to the scurry of tiny claws — a track meet in the space between the false ceiling and the plaster. Slumber was scant until Victor slew the beastie a few nights later. He was really a cute little guy hanging by his crushed skull from the jaws of Victor. Brown, smooth fur and a creamy white underbelly — the poor little fella was just trying to come in out of the cold; only to me he was just a miniature RAT.
Perhaps it’s unfair, but I link mice and rats, and I can’t help but remember the time on the farm that Dad discovered a rat’s nest in the old auger pit next to the granary. The pit had filled with straw and grain over the years, and a family of rats had come to nest there. “Nest”? is such a sweet word, and there was a hoard of little sweeties crawling around in there. With shovels poised for smashing, my brothers and I waited while my dad prodded and dug with a pitch fork. I was never as alive as when rats hurtled straight for me, dauntless of my smashing spade. There’s an adrenaline laced satisfaction that comes with the sound and feel of making contact that cannot be duplicated, even by the Wii. There’s an even worse horror when, after that contact, rat continues to scamper on over ones foot. We killed about every other one, I think, the others making it to freedom. My memory records that there must have been over twenty of the buggars. They lay scattered about the yard – fat with grain, pink noses, whiskers. Heebie jeebie. I didn’t sleep too well for a long time, then, either.
There’s also the story of my wife’s grandfather’s encounter with the beastie. He was moving a pile of garbage when ratty shot straight up his pant leg. A better man than I am, he throttled the beastie just before it reached his groin and snapped its neck through his pants with his bare hand. From then on he tied up his pant legs when working at the garbage pile. (Note: This was in a time when garbage was not encased in Rubbermaid, but heaped, and then moved from smaller heaps to larger ones).
I digress. The fella I’d caught above my false ceiling wasn’t a rat, but cousin enough to make me his sworn enemy. That wasn’t the end, either. Victor slew two more before the ceiling went quiet and I figured we were in the clear until next fall, when cold might chase the next mouse family indoors.
Wrong. Two nights ago, Burn’s beastie was at it again. Scurry. Scurry. Scurry. Time for Victor.
2:36 a.m. this morning we were wakened by the snap. It was a solid, satisfying snap, finality and mortality in one instant. Only, wait.
Drag. Drag. Silence. Drag. (repeat)
Turns out mousie was not dead. I proposed to Sherry that I lift the tiles and go after it wi’ murd’ring pattle and a pair of gloves, but since my in-laws were in town and in the next room, she counseled that we avoid making a racket, sleep elsewhere, and tackle it in the morning. Cruel, but I figured mousie would die soon enough.
This morning when I found her, poor mousie had pulled herself up above the plaster through a hole, but Victor wouldn’t follow. Her left rear leg and tail were trapped; I suppose it was like me pulling a storm door around with a broken leg. I’m feeling pity and remorse as I write this (as you can see, mousie has morphed from it to she), but at the time, I was all about murd’ring.
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men Gang aft agley.
I expect she’ll die, which she certainly hadn’t planned. The stench will be unpleasant, methinks, but I faintly hope she returns to the bosom of her family and lives. In the mean time, on advice of my father-in-law, I’ve set the Victor cluster bomb — three traps set in a circle so that when she jumps away from the first”�snap!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see, I guess an’ fear!