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
"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,
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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.