Afterwards, Humphrey insisted that Arthur had no one but himself to blame for what happened. Arthur was just as sure that he had done the right thing. Whoever was at fault (if there was fault), both agreed, though, that it all started when the people in town started to complain about the way the choir behaved during service. Which, when you come right down it, made it a human problem, really. So it was most unfair that, in the end, it was the mice who bore the brunt of it. Or “mouse, singular”, said Humphrey, being pointedly grammatical. Nevertheless, being a singular mouse was not, thought Arthur, adequate compensation. Given the situation.
At any rate, it all started with complaints from the congregation.
The parents of the errant young mice decided that something needed to be done; and, in the circumstances, they felt the most appropriate solution was a choir of their own.
Humphrey promptly voluteered to be choirmaster. This would have been ideal, except that, as it turned out he had a tin ear. (He insisted that his ear was just as much flesh-and-blood as anyone else’s. But he knew what they meant.) Sadly, from Arthur’s perspective, it was well known that he was a devotee of church music.
The same could not be said of all the young mice, some of whose ears were as tinny as the schoolmaster’s. So Humphrey declared himself Scoutmaster as well, and took his troop for a long hike round the tombstones.
Arthur, meanwhile, found the best way to keep an eye on the choir.
For a while, it all worked out very well. The choirmaster took charge of an unexpectedly larger treble section, Arthur got a comfy snooze, the youngsters were kept busy and out of trouble, and their parents were able to get a little time to themselves.
Then, one day, the parson came over to the vestry to explain to the mice that his mother was going to come to stay with him—for how long, he didn’t know—and they would have to all keep very quiet and out of sight. “Because she doesn’t believe in mice,” he added.
Arthur suggested kindly that he bring the old lady over so she could see them.
The parson explained that it wasn’t that she didn’t think mice existed. She simply didn’t believe they were people.
Since they had got rather fond of the parson, the mice agreed to keep out of sight for the duration. Still, it was only natural that indignation should run high after he returned to the vicarage. They had to admit, though, that there were sadly many human beings who felt the way his mother did. Indeed, whenever they left the church, they took their lives in their paws. As Arthur grumbled, the lives of mice would be far easier if everyone recognized that humanity encompassed other species—but they all reckoned it wasn’t likely to happen in their lifetime. All told, there was some ill feeling about the upcoming visit.
However, Humphrey expounded at some length on the ails of the aged. After all, he pointed out, if she was the parson’s mother, she had to be very, very old. She was probably half-blind and tottered around with a cane, or even a walker. This elicited a degree of sympathy, especially from those with elderly parents themselves. Everyone agreed that it would be dreadful for the parson if a sudden shock caused his poor old mum to have a heart attack. Keeping out of sight might actually be a kindness.
Sampson strolled round to the vicarage that evening to see what was what. He reported back that the parson’s mother was certainly quite old and did wear glasses. He hadn’t seen a cane.
The following day, she picked the parson’s roses and filled the vases by the altar. She approved the shine on the brasses (which pleased the mice, who kept them well polished), and admired the tiles in the chancel (which pleased her son, who was very proud of them). Then she visited the vestry, and everyone whisked out of the way. She tsked over the moth holes in his cassock, and had rather a lot to say about the drips from the vestry roof.
However, this was a matter in which the mice were in complete agreement. Sadly, she had no more suggestions than anyone else about ways to raise money to repair the roof. Still, on the whole, she seemed rather a suitable mother for their parson; and the mice were inclined to overlook her little foible.
That Sunday, she came to service. No one had thought to tell the choirmaster that his ultra-treble section would be absent; so he was expecting them to be there.
She was not amused that the boys were allowed to bring their pets to church.
She was even less amused when Robin Finch told her the mice were fellow choristers—
—and where they lived when they weren’t in the choir.
The parson’s mother—who was no fool—could see perfectly well that mice could never have joined the choir without her son’s knowledge. So she didn’t even bother trying to argue with him. (It is true that she fancied herself an irresistible force; but she had long since found that, in some matters, he was an immovable object.) Still, in her opinion, the situation was intolerable, and would undoubtedly lead—if it had not already led—to parson, choir, and Wortlethorpe becoming a laughingstock in the Daily Mail.
Being a woman of determination, she decided to do something about the situation herself.
Fortunately, she was also a woman of tradition.
The older mice were quite familiar with traps. They didn’t like them, of course. Nasty things to have around the place. Prone to accidents. They gave strictest orders to their children to steer clear; and Humphrey made sure to provide the scout troup with an informative lecture (complete with diagram).
So naturally, after choir practice that Wednesday, some of the young mouse-choristers decided to stick around to investigate the funny thing that had appeared behind the lectern.
Arthur had been supervising assiduously.
So it came as a shock when he spotted what the young fools were doing. He rushed to stop them.
Arthur felt very much alone. However, although some of the little mice had followed their instincts to escape and hide, at least a few had run back home to the vestry and their mothers, and someone (he never found out who) actually admitted what they’d all been up to.
There was quite a confabulation among the rescuers. Everyone agreed that it was most fortunate that Arthur had only been caught by the tail. The question, of course, was how best to free him. At this point, there was much painful tugging and prying. However, it quickly became clear that the tail was well and truly caught, and wasn’t going to slide free in a hurry.
Humphrey told Arthur to be a man instead of a mouse. However, Arthur insisted that a mouse he was and would always be, and his tail HURT, and they were to stop.
Some of the other mice were firm that all that was needed was a bit of greasing and Arthur’s tail would just slide free. Sampson, as the one with the longest legs, sped off to his favourite bins to find a good bit of bacon rind. While they waited, Humphrey informed them all that there wasn’t a hope that something so simple could possibly work. He advised surgery. He had, after all, read a great deal about anatomy, he assured them. If someone would only find him a nice sharp knife, Arthur would hardly feel a thing.
Arthur was very relieved when Sampson returned with the bacon rind.
Several of the mice rolled up their sleeves (metaphorically speaking) and set to work, while Humphrey inspected the mechanism, sketched out a diagram, and started to work out how levers might best be applied to unSNAP the trap. Everyone was therefore deeply engrossed in rescue efforts and paying no attention to anything around them, when suddenly—
Naturally, faced with something so horrendously prickly, everyone skedaddled.
Well, everyone except Arthur.
The next few minutes were giddy.
Then he took a sudden dive.
With his tail pinned by the weight of the trap, Arthur plummeted to the bottom of the bucket. He held his breath for as long as he could, struggling mightily, desperately, impossibly….
It was good greasy rind.
He popped up to the surface of the bucket, and trod water until rescue arrived. Sampson let down a string with a lifesaver on the end of it, which Arthur grasped gratefully; and he was drawn up to safety.
Later that day, Humphrey led an indignant delegation to call at the vicarage and make their complaints.
The parson visited the vestry. He found his afflicted parishioner—
—tail splinted, wrapped in cottonwool and tucked up under a handkerchief in a cigar-box. “I thought I’d made the situation clear,” he said ruefully. “ but … mothers always think they know best. They just don’t listen.”
Arthur said he understood, and accepted the apology. (Privately, he thought it wasn’t actually the parson who needed to say sorry; but they both knew that wasn’t going to happen.)
Sampson accompanied the parson home.
He may have said a word about the mouse-choristers. He may not. At any rate, the parson said his prayers for rather a long time that night, and the next morning had a word with his mother over breakfast. She was most particularly put out when he called her actions “unChristian”.
The mice were not sorry to see her go. Arthur never felt quite the same about swimming, though; and it was months before he could bring himself to take his usual few laps round the font.