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Tom Chaney: Of Crickets and Field Mice and Murder Most Foul

Of Writers And Their Books: Of Crickets and Field Mice and Murder Most Foul. Tom says: "finally the pull of home overcomes the pleasure of fame." This column first appeared 16 November 2008.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: Not Just a Cake Mix / Duncan Hines

By Tom Chaney

Of Crickets and Field Mice and Murder Most Foul

Several of us were sitting around the big table at the Bookstore last week when we noticed a visitor. A little field mousie stuck his nose out around the soft drink machine and looked up at us as though we had failed to feed him lunch or to invite him to join our conversation. We spoke; he turned up his nose, shrugged his shoulders, flicked his tail and ambled off to where food used to be.

Although he (or perhaps, she) was in no way pestiferous, I called the local pest folks and ordered some field mice food -- heavily spiced.

In a way I welcomed the visit. All creatures need a place to snuggle as the leaves fall and the frost is heavy on the unripened tomatoes over the septic tank.

Along with the mice, we have a couple of crickets as well. They cannot match the mice for arrogance, but they make great music.

The last act the mouse performed before dying was to drag out a book for me to read. I have little guilt about extermination so long as I don't have to take the mouse out of the trap. But I did feel a bit of a twinge when I saw the title of the book he left.

It was The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden. It won the Newberry award some years ago. The blurb says it is aimed at children from seven to eleven. I want to hike that upper age by at least six decades.

The Bellinis -- father, mother, and young Mario -- have a newsstand in the Times Square subway station. The business is fairly marginal, but Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat keep an eye on it.

In the relative quiet following the departure of the last subway train there comes to Mario and Tucker a strange sound. "There was a noise of rustling nothingness in the station. Still Mario listened, straining to catch the mysterious sound. . . . And there it came again.

"It was like a quick stroke across the strings of a violin, or like a harp that had been plucked suddenly. If a leaf in a green forest far from New York had fallen at midnight through the darkness into a thicket, it might have sounded like that."

Thus Chester Cricket fetches up in Times Square. Mario adopts Chester over the objections of his mother and keeps him in a matchbox lined with a piece of tissue paper. After the Bellinis leave for the day, Tucker Mouse comes in to investigate.

Chester is a Connecticut cricket who loves liverwurst. Some New Yorkers had a picnic near Chester's stump, and he smelt liverwurst in their picnic basket.

He investigated, ate his fill, napped in the basket, and was trapped under a bag of roast beef sandwiches. He struggled to get free, finally managing freedom as the picnickers leave the train at Times Square. He jumped from the basket and was trapped in the pile of dirt where Mario finds him.

About this time in the story Harry Cat appears frightening Chester who cannot believe that the cat and mouse could be friends.

The next day Mr. Smedly, an opera lover comes by. Chester chirps for him -- "a perfect middle C."

And Chester chirps and chirps. Perfect middle C is not enough. He chirps operatic pieces -- much to the pleasure of Mr. Bellini. He chirps hymns. Folks stop to listen.

Mario goes to the shop of Sai Fong to find a cricket cage for Chester.

Well, now . . . it need not be said that Chester was pleased with his Chinese pagoda-like cricket cage, or that he sang with great cheer, and that Tucker and Harry along with Mario arrange concerts in the subway station.

What does need to be said is that Chester's concerts are reviewed in the New York Times, and that his popularity outgrew all bounds.

But finally the pull of home overcomes the pleasure of fame. Chester gives one last, private concert for Mario as he dozes off in the newsstand. Then Harry and Tucker escort Chester to Grand Central Station and see him off to home in Connecticut.

My poor recounting of this wonderful tale does not do it justice. The merry adventures of this trio are designed to thaw the coldest heart, and the drawings by Garth Williams are just perfect. He exactly captures the insouciant Tucker Mouse whose relative visited us the other day -- and whom we most foully murdered.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2013-11-17 03:27:58
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