"CROKER, minor, have you been up to the head-master? Yes? Then sit still and don't fidget. Boys, pick up your books on rat-catching, and we will resume yesterday's task."
The last chapter treats of a prime day's rat-catching, where rats were numerous and known to be numerous; but don't suppose all days are like this, for if you do you will be sadly disappointed, and you will have a lot to learn, for there are days, and very pleasant days too, when you will have to walk mile after mile to find a rat, and even then not be successful; but you will be out of doors in the fresh air, with devoted companions and something fresh to see at every step, if you keep your eyes open. Don't get disheartened, and above all things never say, "Oh, it is no good looking here or looking there for a rat; there is sure not to be one. Come on and don't waste time." You often find them in the most unexpected places.
I once went three times to the house of an old lady, being sent for because there was a rat that came each night and took her hen's eggs and carried off young ducks and chickens. I spent hours looking for it in hedges, ditches, sheds, out-houses and stable, and even put Tinker up on the roof of all the buildings, thinking the assassin might be under the tiles; but it was no go.
Night after night the plunderer came, and I began to see that the old lady did not think much of me. At last, one afternoon, I called again and began operations by asking to have a dog that was tied up to a kennel in a back yard led away, as his barking disturbed my dogs. This was done, and a minute afterwards Chance was sidling round the kennel, staking her reputation upon the rat being under it. I got out a ferret and looked round the kennel, and was utterly disgusted to find it was placed firmly on hard ground without a vestige of a hole. I am sorry to say I went so far as to sneer at Chance and tell her she did not know the difference between a dog and a rat. She herself for a moment seemed in doubt, but the next she went inside the kennel and stood at a hole in the plank floor. I put the ferret back in the bag and, taking hold of the kennel, tilted it up, and in an instant the dogs had a vicious-looking old monster dead.
Now the only possible way that rat could have got in and out of his house was by passing the dog as he slept, and yet the old lady and her gardener assured me that the dog was as keen as mustard after rats.
I once killed a rat inside a church. I found it during a long sermon, but for the life of me I can't remember what that sermon was about. I was sitting in a seat opposite about a score of village school children, and suddenly I was struck by their appearance, and the thought passed through my mind, "How like humans are to dogs! Why, those children look just like my dogs when they find a rat, especially that flaxen-haired girl with a front tooth out." Then I noticed that they were all looking in one direction, and so I looked there too and saw a rat sitting with just its nose out of a hole which ran under the brick floor, apparently listening to the sermon. The next morning the parson and I went to the church. I took one ferret and only Tinker. I chose Tinker because he was black and rather clerical looking. The rat was at home, and we had it in five minutes. This was one of the few times I ever did rat-catching with my hat off, and it felt very queer.
Again, I once killed a mother rat and a lot of young ones which I found in the stuffing of a spring sofa in a spare bedroom at an old manor-house. There were rats in the walls, and "Mary Ann" had often seen a rat in the room when she went in to dust, and it had given her "such a turn." This time I took all the dogs with me, and we were followed by the lady of the house, four dreadfully pretty daughters and "Mary Ann." Madam and Mary Ann got on the sofa, standing, and the four daughters stood on four chairs round the room. All six clasped their clothes tight round their ankles—why, I never could think. This was the only time in her life that I ever found Chance a fool. Directly she got into the room, she wriggled and twisted, turned her head this way and that, threw herself on her back and fairly grovelled. Wasp, Pepper, and the long-tailed Tinker were nearly as bad, and it was plain to see they were shy and bashful in such a gorgeous room and surrounded by such a galaxy of beauty. It was the soft-hearted Grindum who saved us; he blinked much, but directly I said, "Hie round, dogs! Hunt him up! Search him out!" he went to work—up on the bed, round the room, behind the furniture, and at last began sniffing round the sofa. I got hot all over, for I thought he was mistaking an aristocratic lady and her hand-maid for rats; but no, at last he went under the sofa, and turning over on his back began to scratch at the underside of it up above him. Madam and Mary Ann jumped off, and the latter felt another "turn"; then both took refuge on chairs and again clasped their clothes tight round them. I turned the sofa up on its back, and there through the sacking near a leg I found a nice round hole into the interior among the springs. I put a ferret in, and in a minute there was a rush and scuffle, the sofa seemed alive, and then three or four small rats bolted out and were accounted for; another squeak and rush, and out came the mother and was quickly dispatched; then, as the ferret did not come out, I ripped the sacking and found it eating a deliciously tender young rat. I bagged the ferret, and while I did so, Grindum killed three or four small ones. I afterwards found that the rats had eaten through the wainscot and so got into the room. The rest of the afternoon was spent in turning over all sorts of furniture, including beds, and hunting through each room with the dogs; but we found no more rats as inside lodgers.
Three or four months after this episode, rats swarmed in the walls of this same house and behind the wainscoting, and my professional services were called in to get rid of them. How they got into the house I never discovered, for there were no holes from the outside, and no creepers on the walls for them to mount by and get on to the roof; the drains did not appear to communicate with the inside of the house, and all the doors fitted tight. Equally puzzling was it, now that they were inside, to get them out, for I dare not put ferrets in, for fear they should kill a rat and leave it to decay and smell for months.
I tried various plans. I got a live rat, tied a ferret's bell on it, and turned it loose, and for days after it was constantly heard tinkling inside the walls; but it did not drive the rats away. I singed the coat of a rat, put tar on the feet of another and turned them loose; but it was no good. At last I took possession of a wood-house in a cellar down in the basement, from which a short passage led to other cellars, and in the walls of these there were many open holes. First of all I went carefully over the wood cellar and made sure there were no holes in it; and then, putting in a few faggots to give shelter to any nervous young rat, I started each night to feed them with delicious balls of barley-meal, which were made up with scraps. In this way I gave a rats' supper-party each night for three weeks, and each morning I found clean-swept dishes. At last the fatal day arrived. A string was tied to the handle of the door leading up into the kitchen, the food was placed in the dishes as usual about ten p.m., and all the household, except myself, went to bed. I sat over the kitchen fire reading my paper till a distant clock struck midnight, and then I gave a sharp pull to the string and heard the door bang to and the fastening fall, and I knew I had them. I lit a big glass lantern, went round to the stables and let out all the dogs, took them to the cellar window and slipt them through quickly, squeezing myself through after them and shutting the window again. In half no time fifty rats were killed, and all the dogs, except Tinker, pretty badly bitten; but they were used to that and did not care. Then I locked the back door behind me, taking the key home to bring back in the morning when I called to be paid eight and fourpence for my night's work. Three times in the next three months I went through a similar performance, and the first time I killed twenty-eight rats, the second seven, and the third time only two, and these were old bachelors. Then every hole in the walls was filled up with a cement made up with broken glass, and I have never heard of a rat in that house since.
Before I forget it, let me tell you that if a rat dies in the wall, or under the floor of a house where it can't be got at, its whereabouts can be discovered in this way, provided the weather is warm. Take a butterfly net over to the butcher's shop, and there catch a dozen bluebottle flies, and, taking care not to hurt them, slip them into a glass jar and tie a rag over it. Return to the room where the smell is, and, shutting the door after you, let your pack of flies loose and sit down to watch them, and in half-an-hour you will find they are all buzzing round one spot. Have this spot opened out, be it wall or floor, and there the dead rat will be found. Has the bell rung? Yes, half a minute! Put your books away, form two and two outside, and I will take you for our usual walk. We will resume this task in the morning. Croker, minor, the top part of Jones' leg was not made to stick pins into. If I see you do it again, I shall give you a rat to catch, so be careful!