Mrs. Bob: a John Dunn story


Wednesday afternoon brought brilliant winter sun and blinding glare off the drifted snow. I was glad to get home. It was Quilters’ afternoon at our place too.

“How long have you lived in town?” one stitcher was asking in the living room as I eased the front door shut.

“Thirty-nine years now,” came Margaret’s response. Not one head lifted from concentrated staring at the stretched quilt in the frame.

“In the same house?”

“Yes. You see, we decided to get out of the city, and to come out here because we knew we could find an old house, with space for a garden, and flower beds, and space for the children.

As Margaret took hold of the thread of recollection, I sat and listened as she spun it out over the quilt amongst friends.

“Even from Church Street, it looked like a funny old house, and we thought that it would have odd noises in it, and strange old stories if it could tell about the lives of former owners and their history. So we knew, even from the street, we’d like the old place.”

Margaret stopped momentarily to re-thread her needle.

“Of course we were new to Almonte, and new to Canada also. England had been mother to both Bob and me, and this funny old house on Church Street had a bit of the gables of Old England in it too. On the ground floor was this gem of a conservatory with small panes of glass in wood muntins, windows on three sides, and lots and lots of book shelves under the windows. Well, to make it short, we fell in love with the conservatory.”

“We had to move in quickly because Bob was scheduled to go to hospital for surgery on his left leg, and after he got out he’d be laid up with a cast on it for at least two weeks. In bed, of course. In fact, he’d have to stay in bed with his leg slung up by an overhead cable, leaving the leg to rest in a cage, or net, which, we found could be the ultimate use of Patrick’s old hockey goal net.”

Poor Bob, I thought, but silently, of course.

“We moved in September, the first of the month. First thing we did was put our books on all the shelves around that marvellous conservatory.”

“So Bob went off to hospital in the city where his doctor had his office, and I spent time knitting and sewing and stitching, those fine arts which young ladies learn in England, it seems, along with the two times table.”

“The doors must have been open quite a lot during our moving time when books, beds, tables, chairs, boxes of wool and all the rest of the stuff came in.”

“We knew that one of the features of living out in the country would be getting used to wild life, and from the conservatory windows we could find something every day. Squirrels gathering up nuts to keep for winter, and, when we went down town to the post office to collect the mail, there, behind the post office were muskrats and beaver in the river. You know how pleasant it is watching them making dens to hold their provisions for the long winter ahead. Field mice, too, skunks, and garter snakes too. I often thought of “To A Mouse”, that marvellous tale of the field mouse’s harvest and the crashing upset of his plans for winter.”

“You didn’t miss the city life?” asked a quilter.

“Never, we never regretted the day we found this funny old house. It was so friendly too. While Bob was off in hospital I stayed alone with the youngsters in the house. They had their homework from school, and I had plenty of knitting.”

“One evening I was sitting in the conservatory with some knitting, and some reading, and a cup of tea.”

“I happened to glance up. A quick blur of movement caught my eye. I looked again. This time there could be no mistake about it. That blur of movement was real. A real mouse!”

“Ugh!” a quilter shuddered.

“Indeed yes, a mouse. It scurried across the floor and went under the lowest shelf of the bookcase and just sat there crouched under ‘Tales of Ancient Rome’, an Agatha Christie novel, and Shakespeare’s Tragedies.”

“Two little ears, pointed at the top, picked up every tremor within the conservatory. I waited. Mouse waited. Next move, I guessed, was up to me.”

“Oh spare me such a move!” a quilter exclaimed.

“But I only sat and stared, and waited.” Margaret went silent, but for a moment only.

“Patrick, I knew, was upstairs doing homework. It was about time he’d be thinking of coming down to get a snack from the refrigerator.”

“That did it. I could enlist his help to get rid of the mouse. Meanwhile I just sat and stared at the two little pointed ears where Hamlet and Macbeth and Julius Caesar and King Lear were carrying on some conversation with the Merchant of Venice. All the time I watched those two pointed ears on the mouse. And all the while too no Patrick came down to the refrigerator.”

“No Patrick came down to the refrigerator?” echoed another quilter.

“No Patrick!” A stunned silence. Margaret found herself.

“Zero hour came. I had to do something. So, I got up and set a barrier across the conservatory entry from one side to the other, a solid barrier, the entire width of the opening and then some. It would be impossible for any mouse to clamber over it. Anyway, with the barrier up, and escape impossible, I called out loud for Patrick, and eventually, behold, Patrick heard and came to the conservatory entry.”

“Patrick,” I said, “Would you be so kind as to get a broom and dustpan and a brush and a large paper bag. There’s a mouse in here who thinks he’s come to stay for the winter. He’s under the bookcase, and we must get rid of that mouse instantly. If we can.”

“Times, I must admit,” came a quilter’s confession “When it’s nice to have a man about the house.” Margaret thought so too. She went on.

“Patrick went into action, with skill and dexterity. He swept out the mouse with the brush, picked it up off the floor in front of the barrier, and dropped mouse into the paper bag.”

“Oh thank you, Patrick.” I said. “You’re better than a Pied Piper. However, now you’ll also need a hammer, or a broken hockey stick, or perhaps a baseball bat to knock the mouse on the head to make sure he does not return. It’s not a pleasant task, but it has to be done, and since your father’s in hospital at the moment, you’re rather elected by acclamation to be vice-rector of this chantry. Can you manage?”

“Of course, mother,” replied Patrick, and then somewhat airily he enquired “You want me to get rid of the mouse?”

“Right on, Patrick. Wild life in the country should be encouraged, we know, but kept in its place. And this conservatory is not the place for a mouse, nor a family of his cousins whom he reckons by the dozens, I’m sure, nor his aunts!”

“‘All right,” said Patrick. ‘Leave it to me.'”

“Patrick left the house carrying the paper bag in one hand. Half an hour later he returned.”

“How did you get rid of the mouse?” I asked, wonderingly, for Patrick, to my knowledge had never received instruction in the art of making a mouse disappear. I was curious about his methodology.”

“‘I took him out to the field at the end of King Street and shook him out of the bag into the long grass.'”

“Oh, Patrick,” I moaned in a disappointing tone, “Don’t you know he’s already learned to love this funny old house of ours, and he’ll surely return with uncles, aunts, and cousins by the dozens?”

“‘Not likely'” said Mr. Patrick. In fact he thought mouse’s chances of finding his way out of the morass at the end of King Street back to our conservatory were slim indeed, and he was prepared to lay odds of l00 to 1 against.”

“I had to be content with his assessment.”

Margaret paused only long enough to re-thread.

“And then came the great day when Mr. Bob returned home to glory of wife and family. He was ferried home by ambulance and assisted into the house by burly ambulance attendants. A bed had been readied for him in the conservatory where he could sit up in bed and enjoy watching the blue jays annoy the squirrels around the bird feeder, and feel the late fall sun coming in through the windows of the conservatory with astounding boldness.”

“And there with his leg in the netting out of Patrick’s old hockey goal, and held upright by a kind of block and tackle hooked to the ceiling, with the Globe and Mail crossword puzzle in front of him, his morning was perfect for a start. The second morning at home he was munching toast with peanut butter and strawberry jam, when, behold, as I came in with the tea tray, I declare, I spied wild life again in the conservatory! Indeed, wild life, and not just in the house either. It was in the bed, munching on crumbs from Bob’s breakfast. Not exactly the same mouse which Patrick had removed to the end of King Street, but the same species, with the same colour, the same ears, same this and that, and everything, including the same appetite for toast with peanut butter.”

“Dismayed by this turn of events, I exclaimed to Bob, “Did you not even notice the mouse in here? Why it must have run right across the cast on your leg. It could have even stopped to autograph the cast. Do you mean to say you did not even notice it? Oh, shame, shame! Bob, how could you?”

“What’s all this commotion?” he asked.

“Oh, Bob,” I was so annoyed too when I said it, “We can’t let this go on at all. We’ll have to set traps under your bed.”

“Shame, shame,” he replied. “Margaret, my love, my dove, my pretty one, you’re upset, and I know the real reason. Indeed I do. You’re simply jealous!”

“Jealous?” I threw the word back, incredulous, of course, but laughing at such a wild thought. “What in the world would I be jealous about?”

“You’re just jealous because it was a female mouse!”

All stitching stopped. All quilters looked up and laughed with Margaret.

“I couldn’t pour the tea for laughing,” Margaret finally found her tongue. “Our old house with its tales, and the conservatory where you could look out at the wild life in the country. Well, that morning I thought we’d added some to its history. It’s still such a funny old house, don’t you think?”

Indeed. Poor Bob.

John Dunn
23 Nov. 93