Dell and Egor

Ari Roussimoff

by Starkey

An Old Tale Retold

Barric, a frantic and worrisome mouse, peeped through the hole in the wall. The same hole in the wall that served as the door to his home. It was a mouse-sized hole and Barric was a mouse-sized mouse, so it served him well.

Egor the farmer smoked his pipe as his happy wife Dell unwrapped her birthday present. Egor was a tall, thin lad shaped like a stick and Dell was a portly lass shaped like an egg. There was not a finer match in all the hills and dales from Pucklechurch to Piddle.

Barric, worrisome as he was, watched the goings-on with a cautious eye. Barric was quite fond of birthdays. Birthdays meant cake and cake meant crumbs.

“Oh, Egor! You’re too kind to me.” Dell’s face was beaming as she gazed upon her gift.

“Aye, that I am,” said Egor. “That said, there’s none more deserving than you, Dell. Not a one.”

Barric strained his neck to see what it was. Was it a cake? A pie? A wheel of cheese?

“A store-bought mousetrap, dearest. I’ll be the envy of the valley.” Dell waddled over and gave an egg-shaped hug to her stick-shaped man.

“Oof!” Egor grunted in a rush of air. “You sure will, lass. They’ll all be green around the gizzards.”

“A store-bought mousetrap!” Barric squeaked. This was horrible news! Barric became even more frantic and more worrisome. “What shall I do?” he asked himself. “The other animals have been on the farm much longer than I — they’ll know what to do!”

Barric rushed into the farmyard. “Gloom! Despair!” he shouted. “The farmer’s wife has a mousetrap!” he shouted. “There is a mousetrap in the house!” Aside from the everyday clucks and oinks and moos and neighs, the farmyard remained silent. “Does nobody care?”

He ran over to the henhouse, the chickens would know what to do. “Gloom! Despair! The farmer’s wife has a mousetrap!” he told the chickens. “There is a mousetrap in the house!”

The chickens were unperturbed. They continued cluck to scratch the dirt for grubs. Abigail, the oldest chicken, sighed loudly. “This is obviously a troubling development for you, and, indeed, our hearts go out to you. But, this appears to be a mouse matter and no concern of ours. We’ll keep you in our thoughts and prayers.”

Barric scratched his chin. He’d always considered the chickens to be among his closest friends. “I’m sorry to have bothered you. I shall seek advice from the pig.” Barric ran as fast as he could to the pen.

“Gloom! Despair!” he exclaimed. “The farmer’s wife has a mousetrap! There is a mousetrap in the house!”

Yuri the pig rolled his eyes. “And you thought this news would be applicable to me in what manner?” He returned to his empty trough and snuffled for scraps.

“I’ve come seeking your wise counsel.”

“Wise counsel? This sounds like a mouse matter to me.” Yuri snuffled the trough again. “Wait,” he said. His countenance brightened. “Today’s the old bat’s birthday, isn’t it? Is the slop bucket brimming? I’ll bet it’s brimming.”

“Don’t you care about the mousetrap?”

“I care about the slop bucket. I can see how this upsets you, but what do you want from me? I’m a pig.”

Barric scratched his chin and wiggled his whiskers. “I…I just thought…”

“Tell you what,” Yuri interrupted, “I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers. How’s that sound?”

“Thank, you,” said Barric. “I’ll go ask the sheep.” Fighting back tears, he turned and ran as fast as he could to the meadow.

“Gloom! Despair!” he exclaimed. “The farmer’s wife has a mousetrap! There is a mousetrap in the house!”

The sheep all looked in Barric’s direction. “Have you seen any wolves about?” they all asked in unison.

“Not today. I’m here about the mousetrap. The farmer’s wife has a mousetrap!”

“Sorry mouse, we’d like to help, truly we would,” they all said, “But, these are dangerous times for everyone. A mousetrap is of little consequence compared to wolves. We’ll keep you in our thoughts and prayers,” they said — in unison.

“What about you, Jorn?” Jorn was the largest sheep. “We’ve always been friends, do you have any advice?”

“Sorry, buddy. I’m with those guys. We stick together. We all think alike.”

Barric scratched his chin, and, again, he fought back tears. Did no one on the farm care about him? “I’ll go ask the horse.” He ran away as fast as he could, away to the barn.

“Gloom! Despair! Willoughby!” he exclaimed. “The farmer’s wife has a mousetrap! There is a mousetrap in the house!”

“Pffft. A mousetrap? And this concerns me how? Look at my hooves, do you think I’m frightened of a mousetrap? I’d smash a mousetrap to bits.”

“I know that you are fearless, but I am not. I’m seeking your wise counsel on what I might do.”

“Good sir, I am a horse and I concern myself with horse matters. This is obviously a mouse matter. I will, however, keep you in my thoughts and prayers. Will that suit you?”

Barric drew a shuddering breath and scratched his chin. I shall not allow a horse to see me cry, he promised himself. “I’ll ask the cow. Cows are very intelligent.” Barric did not have a spiteful bone in his mouse-sized body, but he couldn’t resist saying something hurtful to the horse. Willoughby was supposed to be his friend. He ran as fast as he could to the field.

“Gloom! Despair!” he exclaimed. “The farmer’s wife has a mousetrap! There is a mousetrap in the house, Chaney!”

Chaney belched and chewed her cud. “So I’ve heard. You caused quite a stir at the chicken coop. They’re still clucking about your selfish behavior. They say you care for no one but yourself.”

“No one but myself? I’m just seeking sound advice.” A tear rolled down Barric’s cheek.

“I’m sorry, I can see you’re distressed about this, but this is a mouse matter.” Chaney belched again. “Best I can do is keep you in my thoughts and prayers.”

Barric ran back to the house as fast as he could. He ran through his mouse-sized hole and jumped into his mouse-sized bed. It was true. No one cared about him. He would have to face this danger on his own. He cried himself to sleep.

That night, at a quarter past twelve, the mousetrap snapped loudly! The sound carried out through the windows and all around the farmyard. All the animals promised themselves, in the morning, they would say a prayer and give a thought for Barric.

Dell jumped out of bed and rushed to the kitchen. She was eager to see how well a store-bought mousetrap caught mice. She did not see that the trap had caught, not a mouse, but a snake by the tail. The snake bit her on her portly leg.

“Help! Egor! A snake is trying to murder me!”

Egor stomped the snake to death with his bare feet. No one would murder his beloved.

Out to the barn, he rushed. He saddled the horse and gathered up his wife. Together, they rode to town faster than either of them had ever ridden. Just two miles shy of town, Willoughby collapsed and died from a heart attack. Egor carried his beloved the last two miles to the hospital where she was saved by the miracles of medicine. She remained there for nearly a week. Willoughby was buried in a field of flowers near the spot where he died.

On Sunday, the stick-shaped man and his egg-shaped wife were allowed to return home. Though her leg was very sore, Dell went straight away back to the work of a farmer’s wife.

“You should rest, lass,” Egor said. “No need to hop from the cock to the donkey.”

“There’s no rest for the righteous, Egor. No rest at all.”

That night, Dell broke out in a fever.

Egor, uneducated in cures and such, resorted to the cure-all nostrum of his youth, his dear ma’s chicken soup. The main ingredient in chicken soup is chicken. Abigail the chicken produced the tastiest broth he and Dell ever tasted.

Barric nibbled at a chunk of chicken and some bread crumbs that night.

The next day, Dell complained that the fever was chilling her to the bone. She feared she would never be warm again.

Egor made a fine, egg-shaped, sheep-skin blanket from Jorn the sheep. Later that day, he made a fine mutton soup for his egg-shaped beloved.

Barric used a few tufts of Jorn’s wool to line his mouse-sized bed.

The neighbors came, from as close as Pucklechurch and as far away as Piddle, to sit with Dell and see her through her illness. Egor would not allow himself to be thought of as an inhospitable host, so he butchered Yuri the pig to feed them all. Everyone thought the pulled-pork was the best they’d ever had.

Barric managed to steal away two slices of bacon in broad daylight.

Sadly, Dell succumbed to the fever. She died on a sunny morning. Her favorite kind of morning. Her entire family, from Barton in the Beans, attended the wake. Egor slaughtered Chaney the cow, and she was the source of their nourishment those sad days. Barric gorged himself on beefsteak and taters.

Egor, couldn’t bring himself to touch the gift that robbed him of the love of his life, so the store-bought mousetrap sat exactly where Dell had placed it. It sat there forever and ever and ever.

Barric, having seen the indifference in the workings and the way of things, grew less frantic and less worrisome with time. “Shit happens,” he said.” He kept the farm animals in his thoughts and prayers, always. There are new animals in the farmyard now, but Barric keeps his friendships at arm’s length. He keeps his mouse matters to himself.

Originally featured in The Weekly Knob, October 12, 2019

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