Such a tiny creature would not be any trouble, I decided. And so I got the idea, at the beginning of the winter, that it might be all right to leave a mouse in my garden shed. It was such a cute mouse with the twitchiest whiskers. It had burrowed into a sack of Chudleys Original dog biscuits and was also making use of the bale of Easy Pack straw I had stored there for the rabbits.
It was perhaps naive of me to imagine that this creature intended to live a monastic life of splendid isolation, feasting on dog food, sleeping the sleep of the righteous in the chopped straw and perhaps, for diversion, browsing through some of the newspapers lining the plastic recycling box holding the dog biscuit bag.
But it was on this basis that I granted him leave to remain while the weather was inclement. I distinctly recall spelling out the terms of a shorthold winter tenancy agreement as I pulled Cydney the spaniel out of the shed one evening where she had been ferreting with murderous intent. ‘Seeing as it’s just you, I will turn a blind eye,’ I said. ‘Make yourself comfortable in the Easy Pack. Help yourself to Chudleys.
‘But you will need to be out once the weather turns. Let’s say, end of April?’ The mouse twitched his little nose at me before scurrying away into the dark recesses of the shed, which was erected by the ex-builder boyfriend when he discovered I was storing dog food under the stairs.
The mouse had been under the stairs too at that point, and in the wardrobe, and pretty much everywhere else in the house. I heard him scurrying at night. I put down humane poison from B&Q, which is to say poison that doesn’t work.
When I decamped to the country at weekends, I told the gamekeeper on the shooting estate where I rent my weekend place all about the mouse and he told me that the stuff you buy in shops is useless and he would give me his ‘special poison’.
‘Will it kill humanely?’ I asked.
‘It will kill,’ he said, staring into the middle distance enigmatically, as he sometimes does when talking about death.
The gamekeeper may appear ruthless. But he once told me he was gripped by a dark fear that the souls of all the creatures he had terminated would one day come back to haunt him. In any case, I didn’t take the gamekeeper’s poison and stuck with the blue putty in the clear plastic box. The mouse gave every impression that it made a nice change from Chudleys, or possibly he used it as a pre-Chudleys appetiser, or amuse-bouche.
When the ex-builder boyfriend built me a shed, we moved the dog food into it and the mouse decamped as well. And there it was happily scurrying when I issued it with the short-term lease.
I am sorry to say, however, that over the past few months my goodwill has been abused.
With the weather warming, I went into the shed to get some garden tools the other day, and the scene that greeted me was one of chaos: dog biscuits and straw everywhere, the place entirely trashed. I pulled aside the straw bale to investigate further and the mouse ran out. Cydney leapt in to give chase and as the mouse scuttled away, another one ran out. And another. And another. I lost count at 17.
The original mouse had evidently behaved like one of those spoilt brats who advertise a house party on Facebook when their parents are on holiday. I expect he posted the universal invite on his status update on Mousebook: ‘Party at mine! She’s away! All the Chudleys you can eat! Yey!’ As more and more of them flew out, I had little choice but to give Cydney the word.
She was superb and before long was locating, pouncing and dispatching mice at a rate of one every few seconds. They didn’t suffer. They were gone before they knew what had hit them. She deposited each one at my feet as I stood there with the broom sweeping the Mousebook party-goers into a black bin-bag.
Then I spent an hour clearing the shed of debris. It had been a shocking episode, but I was starting to feel better when all of a sudden I heard it. At first I thought it was the birds, but then I realised. It wasn’t the birds. Birds don’t make that sound. Nothing makes that sound except…
I put my hands to my ears as a voice in my head, half gamekeeper, half Hannibal Lecter — think Hannibal Lecter with a West Country accent — said: ‘Can you hear it, Clarice? Can you hear the squeaking of the mice?’