RATHER more than a fortnight ago an importunate guest disturbed my quiet and would not leave me in peace during those tranquil hours of the night which I am accustomed to spend in work.
You will say that I ought to have got rid of him. Nothing more simple, apparently, than to seize the disturbing guest and to put him on his feet in the street, saying to him: "Good friend, do me the favour not to come back to this house while I live in it and while you behave so badly."
But with my guest there is no reasoning at all. I begged him, with the most delicate phrases from the book of courtesy, to go away, or not to make a noise. On seeing his insistence, I reached, by degrees, from the simple threat of dismissal to the terrible one (it frightens me to remember!) of dealing him a vile and treacherous death. To such a point does hastiness on occasions blind us! Even to crime!
And to any one in the same circumstances I suspect the same thing would occur.
Because what he does is so irritating. At the moment when I compose myself for writing, at that very moment he makes an unbearable noise that gets on my nerves and prevents me from writing calmly a single line, and from even putting together my ideas. When, tired of the torture, I throw down my pen and go to bed, the mocking noise at once ceases as if by magic, and the silence of the dead, or of those who work, reigns again in my room.
But there is still more! As I leave them scattered on the table, my poor papers appear the following morning as if they were the remains of a kite, crumpled and even torn, turning my writing to strange hieroglyphics, incapable of being read, and my books, my poor books, which are so dear to me, they are cut as if with a saw, covers and all!
Such an enemy well deserved the tremendous punishment which my legitimate indignation prepared for him. I maintain him, but he, however, illtreats me! Have you ever seen such black ingratitude?
So I spoke to several friends of mine not long ago, and finding my pacific and easy-going nature so changed to such a decided and determined attitude, and to such a fixed project of sanguinary vengeance, they said to me, quite surprised and bewildered:
"We did not believe you capable of such thoughts! To assassinate! to avenge! When, even in extreme cases, it might be legitimate and honourable it leaves a stain in the mouth and in the mind of him who thinks it. We do not understand you now, my friend; with such principles one goes to prison or to the scaffold with surprising ease. If it is an ingrate who is to be dealt with, turn him ignominiously out of your house and leave him alone."
And I noticed in my audience a movement of repulsion that made me feel uneasy.
"But now it occurs to me that I have spoken," I added, "without telling who is the person concerned. It is a mouse which, hidden behind my bookcase, makes an infernal noise about twelve o’clock at night, the hour at which I dedicate myself to my work. It is he who destroys everything within the reach of his nails or teeth, who must have in his body more letters than a printing press and more paper than a paper-mill."
Either it was an old and seasoned mouse, experienced in malicious tricks, or what he has gnawed has taught him to be on his guard against everything. Be that as it may, it is certain that there is no instrument, mouse-trap, or poison which could put the wretch to death and ensure my tranquillity.
You ought to have seen me some nights handling an old cavalry sabre, pursuing the little mouse, which finished by hiding itself between the bookcase and the wall, laughing at my cutting and thrusting.
Convinced that there was nothing to be done against such an agile enemy, I called to my aid a cat who was well known for his courage and hatred of the mouse tribe, big Micifuf, who, although old and retired from active life, had no objection to placing himself at my disposal, only on certain fixed conditions.
"If you want me to help you," he said to me, "you must entertain me like a prince; must buy me a fine gilt collar; and when I have killed the mouse who troubles you, must make me a good present for my family."
I agreed to all this, provided I was freed of the diabolical creature and in the belief that that same night it would fall into the power of my ally.
After a little time I noticed that the noise disappeared, which was something of a consolation, and I observed that the good Micifuf was lying near the bookcase. He looked at me and smiled as if to say, "There, you see! as soon as they smell me about all is over."
I do not Know whether it was instinct or suspicion: it is certain and true that I thought a certain understanding existed between the mouse and Micifuf, and decided to spy upon them to convince myself of this treachery.
"The mouse does not come out," I said to myself, "and if he does not come out from behind the bookcase for these three or four days and has not eaten anything all this time, the unhappy creature must be on the point of dying of hunger, if it is not already dead. Well, then, if it is alive there is doubtless some trickery here!"
A few days afterwards I overheard a long conversation between Micifuf and the mouse.
Said the former to the latter: "Now you see I don’t interfere with you at all. On the contrary, I myself supply you with food, giving it to you on the sly as we agreed. But if you make a noise I shall be obliged to lay hands on you, in which case, frankly, neither you nor I would derive any benefit—you, because you run the risk of my devouring you at a mouthful; and I because, once you are dead, the master would send me away, and I shall not be able to find another fool like this, who keeps me and treats me famously without my doing any work whatever."
"For my part," said the mouse, "I don’t think I shall break the compact. I don’t move, even to sneeze; so that you ought to be very pleased. By the way, you might be good enough to increase my rations of cheese, for you know I like it immensely, and above all Gruyère."
At this moment I could not restrain my indignation, and calling Micifuf I said to him:
"You are a cat without honour; what you have done is a really dirty trick of the worst kind. I should never have brought you here for that purpose, for I could have made an arrangement with the mouse myself. I prefer to keep him rather than to feed you both."
"Come, come!" exclaimed Micifuf with the utmost coolness. "I see you have not understood my plan. Listen! By acting so with the mouse, which is an unhappy creature in the fullest sense of the word, I shall succeed in getting him out of his haunts, and he will yield himself trustingly to my claws and teeth."
So that very night he approached the bookcase and said:
"Little mouse, my friend! Come out, for now nobody is about and we can chat at our ease."
The mouse showed its little snout from behind the bookcase and came out, little by little, with justifiable fear.
"Come now, draw near, and don’t make me raise my voice, I don’t know whether they can hear us. Listen to what I have to tell you. You must know, my good friend, that I have always felt a great affection for your race, by reason of a tradition which has been preserved in my family for many years. According to this, one of our ancestors, a beautiful Angora cat—I don’t know exactly whether it was my great-grandfather or my great-great-grandfather—was once very ill and without resources, lying on the miserable straw of a garret, when a compassionate mouse brought him some cheese-rinds and, I suppose, some other eatables right up to his own bed. He was going to take them when another mouse, of disagreeable appearance, with some red marks on its back, drew near and took away the food, taking advantage of the fact that my great-grandfather had rheumatism and could not move.
"Since then we have decided to kill all the descendants of that wicked fellow who made our relative die of hunger, and also to reward the one who was so good to him in time of trouble."
"That appears quite right to me," said the mouse.
"Listen, by the by: do you know it seems to me that you have some red spots on your back?"
The mouse was startled and said that his good friend the cat must have cobwebs in his eyes.
"Really, I am very shortsighted, and it would not be at all extraordinary if I were mistaken. I will come near in order to recognise you better."
He had no sooner approached than, seizing him with his claws, he began to shout:
"Master! Master! Here is the mouse!"
I hastened at the call, and, if the truth must be told, far from being pleased, the deed troubled me in the highest degree.
The little mouse lay dead in Micifuf’s claws, and the cat was showing himself off, proud of his achievement.
"I hope," said he, "that you will give me the reward agreed on."
Then I could no longer restrain my indignation, and, seizing a stick, I began to whack the traitor, saying to him:
"Wretch! At first you would have deceived me, and now, by practising the wiles of traitors, you have murdered him to whom you offered protection. Take the reward which all traitors receive."
At each blow with the stick Micifuf snorted, leaping high into the air, until at length he dashed through a pane of the window and threw himself out into the street. I did not wish to know whether he was killed or not. He well deserved to be killed.
And since then, everybody who has recourse to deceit seems hateful to me, even though they deceive for the purpose of killing the most troublesome of little mice.