John B Keane: A guest does well to play by the house rules

FROM where he came I do not know - and, as far as I’m concerned, he’s welcome. There’s plenty for all, and since he doesn’t drink or smoke he cannot make the least impression on our weekly budget.

FROM where he came I do not know - and, as far as I’m concerned, he’s welcome. There’s plenty for all, and since he doesn’t drink or smoke he cannot make the least impression on our weekly budget.

It may be the he is a fugitive from some cat-ridden inhabitation down the street. Things may have got too hot for him and evacuation emerged as his final solution.

When I write at night, he potters industriously behind the wall. If I cough or shuffle at my work he pauses at his, and when I resume he, too, takes up where he left off. I haven’t seen him nor do I want to, and my only fear is that some night, in the dark, he will fall into the sink and damage himself. It has been known to happen before and mice are exploratory by nature. When my work is done I turn out the light for a while and, sure enough, he begins to stir again, but not for long. He too retires for the night and there is an end to his labours.

By day, like Galloping Hogan, he remains under cover and not a chirp or a peep is heard from him until all the household bar myself, are in bed. I think he knows that he has nothing to fear from me, and after the first few tentative scratching’s his confidence returns and he goes all out to finish whatever he is at.

I crack a match and light a cigarette and there is silence behind the wall. We have reached an understanding and all is well between us. We respect and trust each other the way craftsmen do. But mice, like men, make slips and the other morning the girl who works for us came running into the kitchen while we were having our breakfast. She was pale as a freshly white-washed wall and we waited breathlessly for what she had to say.

“I’m after seeing a mouse!” she said, and on her face was the look of one who will collapse if she doesn’t get sympathy.

I rose to investigate. When I returned, the missus was plying her with tea.

“He’s gone now,” I said cockily and with the authority of a man who is in charge of the situation”

“I’m not going in there again,” she said,”

“He won’t hurt you,” I told her.

“Is it coddin’ me you are?” she said “He’d tear the legs off me.”

I was annoyed with the mouse and disappointed in him, not because he frightened the girl – a good fright does no harm to young people. It jolts the heart and heightens colour after the initial shock has passed. I was annoyed with the mouse because he had broken faith. He had not honoured his side of the bargain. There we were perfectly happy, but he finished all that, putting in a daylight appearance. Now they would be after me to remonstrate with him and this could only end in the total destruction of our friendship.

I succeeded in passing the whole affair off as if it were a thing of nothing. But, later that day, the girl saw the mouse again and she put her cards openly on the table. It was to be herself or the mouse! At 4.30 the missus saw the mouse and so did another woman who went upstairs at the time.

The other woman was a neighbour who had come to discuss the measles. She was a stout, excitable woman and she was the first to scream.

The mouse had gone too far this time and I thought he must be out of his senses. His behaviour, to say the least, was reckless and unwarranted and he had compromised me irretrievably.

I now had to appease and placate three nervous women instead of one. At five o’clock the missus called me aside.

“He’ll have to go,” she said

“But how?” I appealed. “What can I do?”

The neighbour and the girl who works for us were both out for blood.

I am not in the least bit afraid of mice that I cannot see, but confronting one in the flesh is something I prefer to avoid.

“Poison him!” the girl said.

“Or drown him,” the neighbour added.

I recoiled in horror. None of them could know about my affinity with the mouse. If I could, somehow, have conveyed the rules of the game to him, all would be well.

The neighbour looked at me auspiciously. “Maybe ‘tis you are afraid of him!” she taunted.

I scoffed at this and laughed loudly at the idea, but the three of them saw through me. “Give me a brush,” said the neighbour resolutely.

The girl handed her the brush and the three of them went boldly up the stairs. Safety in numbers, no doubt.

I knew they could not possibly succeed for three hysterical women and one sweeping brush are no match for the agile mouse, who, by this time, would have heard their approach and scooted to his sanctuary behind the wall. They returned breathless and triumphant, I prepared myself for the worst.

“Well,” I said, “is he dead?”

“No,” they said. “But he won’t be coming back after the fright we gave him.”

That night I started work as usual, but there was no companionable scratching, and I wondered if they really succeeded in frightening him off. But no, a few moments passed and he was very busy at his renovations again. He chirped away several times; something he had not done before.