I like cats. I like mice. When we were at boarding school my brother once lent me one of his. I tucked it into the sleeve of my blazer, and then it disappeared. I wept, and my brother was not pleased. I've read Beatrix Potter. I lift spiders and beetles and even flies out of puddles.
My cat likes mice. It is said that if you have a cat, you won't have mice in the house. This is not quite true. You probably won't have mice living-in, unless you're Beatrix Potter, but it is no accident that the words "cat" and "mouse" go together.
Last night my cat, which is gentle, well-fed, and never lifts a paw in anger, brought a mouse inside to play with. It was tiny. Nose to tail it was no longer than my finger. It got loose and ran along the skirting board and squeezed between books on the lowest shelf of the bookcase. The cat clawed the books out onto the floor and managed to catch the mouse. I grabbed the cat, whose mouth held the whole mouse apart from its tiny tail, which twitched anxiously. We were all on the floor, with urgent questions about life and death quivering in the air.
My instinct, right or wrong, is to rescue rather than to let nature takes its course. Nature can do its sometimes cruel work outside where I don't have to watch, but not on my living-room carpet. The mouse, loose again, fled here and there, including snuggled beside the instep on my furry slipper. I couldn't quite twist around to pick it up, and it streaked across the carpet and under the sofa. There it stayed, while the cat prowled around the perimeter poking his paw underneath in dangerous, sweeping strokes.
He gave up eventually and went outside, while I settled down with my book, one eye on the page and the other on the sofa. I felt ridiculously uneasy. I couldn't do anything, and arguably it was pointless to try. The mouse was probably injured, although it seemed fast and frisky, and a merciful death was the best outcome. I have more than once delivered that merciful death for a small and mortally wounded creature, but I couldn't get near this one to see what condition it was in. I went to bed troubled.
This morning the books were scattered over the floor again, and the cat was ready to pounce. This time I was quicker and snatched the mouse before he did. It seemed undamaged so I took it outside and dropped it into the shrubbery, where it blinked once and slipped under the euphorbia. The cat went out in a huff.
Several hours later a mouse (the mouse?) lay dead on the back doorstep. I buried it. That's life - and death.