AUNT FLO AND SUPERMOUSE



One day John announced to the family that his Aunt Flo had called and told him she was coming for a visit.

"How long?" asked Weevil, directly. He and his sister Felicity had had visits from Aunt Flo before, and they found her a somewhat intractable older person.

"Oh, not long, I think," said John, "about a month, she said."

"A month!" Weevil repeated, angrily.

"Come, now," said mother Nancy, trying to keep the peace, "she is your great aunt, you know, and people are expected to respect their elders."

"Well," said Weevil, "just so long as she stays around town in the house and doesn't go to the cabin, I can survive."

"Now that's not like you at all, Waverley," commented father John. "Just you be on your good behaviour while she's here, that's all."

Felicity had taken in all this conversation without a word, gently spooning her cereal from one side of the plate to the other, as

she listened. But she was no more enthusiastic over Aunt Flo's expected arrival than was Weevil, or any of the others, for that matter.

It was not that Aunt Flo wasn't a nice person, for she tried very hard to look after people and keep everything neat and tidy; it was just that she tended to order them about, and who wants to be ordered about by a visitor in their own home.

Aunt Flo was the kind of person who, once she had made up her mind, was very hard to discourage. So it was that the very next day she arrived at their door with all her baggage.

And two days after that she announced she would go with John to the cabin and help the "poor man" by feeding him (and generally supervising the completion of the cabin -- although she did not admit to that, of course).

Now it happened that John had made great progress in working on the cabin, because when he was there he worked from dawn to dusk. And in order to keep his tools safely locked away in one place, and for shelter and convenience and so forth, he had put together a very small metal tool shed. It had come in a package from a store and although it was awkward to fasten some of the last few nuts and bolts single-handed (for how could you be outside and inside at the same time) John had managed it all quite quickly, and it looked very pretty at the edge of the clearing.

When John and Aunt Flo arrived at the clearing, she marched straight into the shed as soon as John had unlocked it.

"Now," she said, taking it over, "I'll soon have this place set up and you can have your meals in here."



Then she looked around more closely -- "Good Heavens," she said, "this place is overrun with mice. John, you must do something about this right away. We can't have mice taking over, can we? Next time you come here you must bring a mousetrap and we'll soon put a stop to this invasion."

John tried to explain, "Aunt Flo, it seems to me that all the birds and animals have a perfect right to be here, just as much as I do, in fact more so, this is their home, and I have merely come to join them."

"Nonsense," said Aunt Flo, "it's your property, you paid for it, and if they interfere they must be put an end to. You don't want mice, anyway, messy little things they are."

"Aunt Flo," said John mildly, "these are little white-footed deer mice, not town house mice at all. They are very sensitive and intelligent. Why, did you know that some scientists put mice into a maze with over three hundred different turns and dead ends in it, and they learnt it forwards and backwards in three days! Now you know that neither you nor I could do that. And besides, there are thousands upon thousands of them out here in the bush. If I catch some, others will take their place right away. That's the way nature is."

"Now don't argue with your elders, John," said Aunt Flo, "just you bring the mousetrap next time and we'll teach them some respect. Then they'll stay away if they know what's good for them."

"Very well," said John sadly, and on the next visit he brought a mousetrap, and cheese, sunflower seeds, and bread. Aunt Flo did not come, pending the clearing of the shed of mice. John reluctantly baited up the trap with a small fragment of cheese and went to work in the cabin. About twenty minutes later there was a sharp snap, and John, looking in the shed door saw a dead little grey and white mouse in the trap. He rebaited the trap, laying out the dead mouse in the bush for food for someone else, and went back to work. Six times more this happened in the next few hours, and so seven little corpses had been taken from the shed.



John continued working on the cabin and realized about an hour later that there was no sound from the toolshed.

"I suppose they're all dead now," he thought to himself. But in case he had missed hearing the sound, what with hammering and sawing from time to time, he looked into the shed once more to see if there was another mouse in the trap. The trap was empty. More than that, the bait had gone.

"Oh ho," thought John, "we must try again." So he baited the trap more carefully, and went back to work. Some time later, probably half an hour, he thought, he went back to look again. Once more the trap was empty, and the bait had gone.

Changing his tactics, he took this time a small piece of bread, rolled it between his fingers until it became soft like putty, and gently pressed it on the bait hook. It almost seemed to be glued on when he finished. Back to work went John, listening now for the click to tell him the trap was sprung. But no sound came, and after maybe a quarter of an hour he was curious enough to stop working again and look in the tool shed. He saw an empty trap once more, and the bait all gone.

John sat down outside the shed to think about this. Evidently he was facing a worthy adversary. Finally he drew a loose thread from his jeans, pushed a shelled sunflower seed on the bait hook and tied it there with a small piece of the thread. Back to work went John, with a heavy heart, because now he knew the trap would spring soon, and his brave little mouse would be dead. But after about ten minutes, John had still heard no sound from the shed, and he became more and more curious. Back he went again to look inside once more. The trap was empty, the thread hung there loosely around the hook, and the single sunflower seed was gone.

"Now," said John to himself admiringly -- and to the mouse if he could hear and understand -- "that's what I call a clever mouse."

Assuming the mouse did not speak John's language, John said out loud, "Now, I think that if I put this trap here, between these bricks and blocks, it will be more difficult to attack the bait delicately, and maybe you will make a mistake."

So he tried again, baiting the trap very delicately, and putting it in an awkward place. This time, his work began to suffer. He could not wait ten minutes. In five minutes he was back, peering around the door of the shed. As he had half expected, the trap was empty, and the bait gone. But the trap had been moved around a little, so that it was easier to get to the bait.

As the day wore on, John continued his matching of wits with the mouse. He did very little work that afternoon, for he kept re-baiting the trap, trying one bait after another, and setting it in different positions. Once he even suspended the trap on a cord from the roof of the shed; it made not the slightest difference. He began coming back at five minute intervals, which was about as long as it took to walk away, get fresh bait, and sit down to think how to reset the trap again.

At the end of the day, when it was time for John to leave, and proper time for mouse adventuring had arrived as the last light faded, John found he had used up all his cheese supply and his special bread for mice, and the sunflower seeds. He stood in the tool shed doorway as he turned to go home.

"Little mouse," he said out loud, "I give you great credit for your skill and bravery. You could not learn by your mistakes because one mistake this day would have been fatal. From now on as far as I am concerned you shall live in peace; I am proud of you as a neighbour, and I will call you Supermouse."

When he arrived home, he was confronted by Aunt Flo.

"Well?" she asked -- with an unfinished but obvious question.

"I caught seven mice today in the trap," he said.

"Did you leave it baited overnight?" asked Aunt Flo.

"No," said John, "I think that is all the mice we are going to catch."

"How could you!" said Felicity. "They did you no harm."

But a little later that evening as Felicity was going to bed, John went to her room and told her the whole story. Felicity was fascinated.

"Did you see the mouse?" she asked.

"No," said John, "and for all I know it might not even be a mouse. But I don't know what else could be so delicate in its eating habits. As a tribute I call it Supermouse."

"That's it," said Felicity. "I can't wait to get back there again to see if I can see it."

She did though, without knowing it, and in strange circumstances which we will now relate.

Mice in the bush expect to be treated as everyone's dinner, and when discovered, they escape if possible, sometimes by jumping several feet, up or away, but if they are truly cornered, they cower, obviously expecting to be seized and eaten on the spot.

Now one day Supermouse and his young family were playing together just by the tool shed, when a large black cat happened by. How a cat could possibly be five miles into the bush is hard to explain, but that is the truth of it.



Supermouse quickly, although he had never seen a cat before, sensed extreme danger and shepherded his young brood safely under the floor of the shed, all but one which the cat sprang upon and placed a paw over. Now this was a well-fed suburban-type cat, not a half-starved fend-for-yourself country-type cat, and so was partly acting for the pleasure of it. The young mouse was not yet hurt, but likely to die of a heart attack. Supermouse put on an act, literally, letting out a sharp squeak and looking helpless and foolish. Cat at once let go the smaller prey, which scampered after the others under the shed out of harm's way, but now Supermouse was under the cat's paw. He made no attempt to struggle, but crouched passively there, with his breath coming very fast partly through fear, despite his bravery, and partly through deception.

Cat picked up his tail in her teeth and walked deliberately and slowly towards the centre of the clearing, swinging Supermouse from side to side like a pendulum under her jaws as she went.

It so happened that all this occurred just after Aunt Flo's visit, and in her passion for tidiness she helped Supermouse, though she would have been very cross had she known of it. Aunt Flo had first taken a rake, and then the shears, and then the push lawnmower, and cut and clipped and trimmed the grassy clearing in front of the cabin for about twenty feet square. It was so neatly done, it could almost pass for a lawn. It was into the very centre of this clear patch of cut grass that cat walked, swinging Supermouse from side to side by the tail, and then sat down, dropping him between her paws. Supermouse knew better than to make a sudden move. He crouched there, very still, panting rapidly, and never taking his eyes from cat's eyes.

Cat prodded him at one end with her right paw, and getting no reaction, prodded him again at the other end with her left paw. It was this movement, and the supercilious arching of cat's back on the clearing that attracted Felicity's attention from inside the cabin as she happened to look out from the window next to where John was working. They had no wish for cats at the cabin and at once Felicity opened the door and stepped out. Cat looked up at her and jumped to its feet.

"What have you got there?" shouted Felicity, in an unfriendly tone. "Get away from here," and she began running towards cat who promptly fled at top speed, bounding off into the bush and down the trail.

So it was that Felicity came to be standing over Supermouse, who still crouched, panting quickly, now between Felicity's feet.

Felicity dropped down to her knees and looked at Supermouse who now fixed his eyes upon Felicity's eyes.

"Little mouse," she said, not moving her hands, "are you all right?" She spoke very softly and gently, to reassure the mouse. Supermouse responded by uncrouching himself a little, still with eyes fixed on Felicity's face.

"Little mouse," continued Felicity, "I do hope you are all right, because anyone who isn't, out here, doesn't have much of a chance." She smiled at Supermouse and continued talking to him. Supermouse now stopped panting and raised himself up still further, watching and listening intently to this Enormous Person beside him. Then he turned and faced Felicity, and rose to his hind legs.

"Oh, what a good thing," said Felicity, "You are all right then," and she still spoke very gently to Supermouse.

Standing on his hind legs and facing Felicity, Supermouse then jumped up and down three times. Felicity was not sure whether it was for joy or in appreciation, but it was definitely, Felicity felt, some way of establishing contact. Then Supermouse dropped to the ground and raced to the edge of the clearing disappearing from sight so quickly that he was almost a blur.

"Well," said Felicity to herself, as she stood up again, "there certainly isn't much wrong with you, that's for sure," and back she went to help her father John work in the cabin.





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