The early morning sun creeps slowly, silently, patiently above the slopes of Mossgiel Farm, East Ayrshire. The faintest of November chills grapples for prominence in the clean, crisp air. A delicate and occasional drip patters to the earth from the few remaining leaves on an otherwise bare tree. The thaw the only indication of an earlier frost.
Close to the tree a ploughman struggles manfully with his plough. Straining, wheezing, he grips to the rough wooden handles as the metal thrusts into the soil. Again. And again. Occasionally he halts, muttering to himself in hushed, mumbled tones before resuming his task once more. The wistful, somewhat distracted look upon the ploughman’s face remains as the plough hacks into the earth once more. A youthful, handsome face, one of a man in his mid-to-late twenties. Still, the strain clearly shows. Again, he stops. His gaze fixed inattentively in the distance, the muttering returning. Lines of verse nudge themselves ever so slightly into the realms of the barely audible. Repetitive, broken verse. Over and over. Announcing, correcting, repeating. Announcing, correcting, repeating. Eventually, seemingly satisfied, he shakes his gaze from its aimless resting point. He stares down at his plough, shifting his grip and bracing his arms for the next round of ritualistic menial torture. A startled look glazes over his face as he notices something at the foot of the plough. He releases his grip on the tool, slowly making his way around it before crouching down towards the earth.
‘Och, naw’ he exclaims, a disappointment weaved throughout his voice. His eyes are fixed on an upturned, or rather ruined, mouse’s nest strewn across the soil below his plough. Guilt, tinged with sadness, washes over his expression.
‘Poor wee beastie.’ he mutters.
Out of the corner of his eye he notices a small grey shape frantically darting through the mounds of upturned soil. The ploughman slowly raises himself up, never shifting his stare from the panicked mouse scurrying from the scene. The guilty look subsides enough to allow a fraction of that wistful expression to return.
‘Just a wee, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie’ he announces softly before adding emphasis to his voice. ‘A wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie. O, what a panic’s in yer…naw, in it’s……naw, naw, in thy. Aye. O, what a panic’s in thy….neestie? Naw, naw, neestie’s no even a soddin’ word. In thy…in thy…in thy breastie! That’s the one!’
The ploughman allows himself a smug smile before coughing gently in that pompous theatrical way that signals a forthcoming recitation or performance.
‘Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie’ he announces in a dramatically deep booming voice, ‘O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!’
At this the mouse visibly halts. Its frantic escape plan abruptly ceased. The ploughman catches sight of this. He watches as the mouse, a creature not traditionally known for its subtle or measured movements, slowly swivels its small frame around before gazing up at him. Slowly, even calmly, it walks along the upturned earth before halting only a yard or two from the ploughman. Still it looks up, peering straight into his gaze. The guilty wistfulness now replaced by something resembling a mixture of shock, curiosity and amusement. A look which, will presently become clear, is set to flee the scene to be temporarily replaced by nothing but a hideous sense of fear.
‘Here! Who are calling sleekit you big tube!?’ says the mouse.
The ploughman’s expression unsurprisingly now takes on that sense of fear just mentioned. He stares down at the mouse’s furious expression, its belligerent stance.
‘S-sorry…?’ ventures the ploughman.
‘I said, who the hell are you calling sleekit?! You big gormless tube!’ replies the mouse. ‘Aye…aye, I thought that’s what you said.’
‘I added in the ‘gormless’ bit the second time mind you.’
‘You did aye.’
The two continue to stare at each other. One in perplexity, confusion, desperately trying to reconcile the current events with the logic of reason, sense, the laws of the universe. The other in a continual state of annoyance.
‘I cannae be drunk’ declares the ploughman, more for his own benefit than that of his rodent companion.
‘Well that makes a change!’ answers the mouse.
‘I mean I wisnae even drinking last night!’
‘So you say.’
‘Wait. What do you mean by ‘that makes a change’?’
‘Just what I say’ replies the mouse, gradually increasing in annoyance.
‘And that is?’
‘That you’re always supping. The amount of times I’ve seen you hungover, sweating and toiling with that bloody plough, this week alone, is ridiculous.’
‘Aye, weel…I’m no drunk now anyway.’
Again the two look at each other. Sizing each other up. The ploughman’s singular attempt at reconciliation very obviously failing, if his still-dumfounded expression is anything to go by at least.
‘So…?’ says the mouse.
‘Sleekit!? You called me sleekit! At what point, during the destruction of my home, did you suddenly decide that I was displaying sly or cunning attributes? Was it when I was hurtling away, trying to preserve my life?’
‘Ach, no sleekit as in sly, sleekit as in shiny. Your coat, your fur. That kind of thing.’
‘Ok. That’s fine then.’
The mouse pondered for a couple of seconds, internally scrambling to hold onto his anger.
‘Ok then, yes. What about ‘cow’rin’, ‘tim’rous’ eh?’
‘What about them?’
‘Where do you get off calling me ‘tim’rous’ or ‘cow’rin’? You don’t even know me ploughman!’
‘But you were. You were both cow’rin and tim’rous!’
‘Aye well so would you be if a giant metal thing was slicing up your house piece by piece!’
‘Aye weel what’s your point?’
‘Well…’ mulled the mouse, ‘…well no-one likes to be told they’re being tim’rous or that they’re cow’rin do they. I mean come on.’
‘Fair point aye.’
The mouse continues to stare at the ploughman. A slight crack in the mouse’s composure appears visible. The kind of crack that comes from winning an argument far earlier than you expected to.
‘So’ starts the mouse, ‘what now?’
‘Yes, what now?’
‘With regards to what?’
‘With regards to you obliterating my house and leaving me homeless. What now?’
‘Well…I…I…I’m no sure to be honest wee yin. I’ll eh, I’ll build you a new one maybe? Aye, I’ll build you a new one. How does that sound? And I’ll make sure to avoid it when I’m ploughing the field in future?’
The ploughman smiles gently, if not timidly, awaiting the mouse’s reply. A reply, he predicts, sure to be drenched in warmth and an undying gratitude.
‘Don’t be so damn stupid, ploughman’ answers the mouse dismissively. ‘For a start, you’re never paying any attention when you plough this field! You’re forever muttering those poems of yours. Quite good by the way I must say but that’s beside the point. So no, you’d just tear through my nest yet again. No, we can’t have that. And secondly, you might be good at verse, ploughman, but you’d be useless at building a nest. Just because your lot think you’ve conquered nature it doesn’t mean you actually have. So no, try again.’
‘And don’t call me wee yin you patronising oaf!’
‘My apologies. Haud oan…you said you like my poetry?’
‘Is that all you’re taking from what I said?’ asked the mouse, its features screwing up in incredulity.
‘No, not all, no. But you like my poems aye? Which ones in particular?’
‘Of for god’s sa…yes, they’re fairly good, ok? That one you muttering about for weeks, the one with the dogs in it, that’s…’
‘The Twa Dugs?’ interrupted the ploughman.
‘That’s the one, yes. Yes I liked that one. I thought, here’s an intelligent, humorous young man, rare you find that in the fields. Of course then you completely destroyed my home so that shows how daft I was to think that, doesn’t it!’
‘Very kind of you’ comes the answer, an answer completely bereft of acknowledgment for the latter part of the mouse’s response, ‘Aye, very kind indeed.’
‘Humans.’ scoffs the mouse, gently shaking his head. ‘The slightest bit of flattery and that’s you won over. How you became the dominant species I’ll never know.’
The ploughman disappears temporarily to that wistful place of his, for no more than a few seconds, accompanied by a sense of gratification, before returning to the conversation.
‘Ok,’ he announces, rather more cheerfully and less racked with confusion than he had been only a minute or so previously, ‘how about this then; I’ll mark out an area around that tree just over there. A clear mark that I cannae go past with the plough. A wee fallow area perhaps. And you can build your own nest up there. Aye?’
The mouse turned his head towards the tree and perused the area for a good minute or so, muttering to itself occasionally.
‘…nice bit of a shade…yes, hmm…warmth in the winter perhaps…room for burrowing…yes, yes…nice view…’
The mouse eventually turns back to the ploughman.
‘Right then, yes. I think I can cope with that. Yes.’
‘But mind here,’ declares the mouse, a stern look now adorning it’s face, ‘you better be paying attention when you’re ploughing near that tree in the future ok? You hear me!’
‘Aye, aye, of course I will.’
‘The best laid schemes of mice and men eh’ said the mouse half to itself, half to the ploughman.
‘Sorry, what was that?’
‘Nothing. Never mind.’
‘So…! So are going to get on with it or what!? Need I remind you that I am currently homeless? Of no fixed abode. Oot oan ma erse, as it were!’
‘Naw, sorry, naw, of course. I’ll get started right now.’
‘Good, that’s what I like to hear. What’s your name anyway, ploughman? Just incase I have to take up a complaint with you over shoddy workmanship, for example.’
‘Oh, its’ eh, it’s Rabbie. Pleased to meet yer acquaintance.’
‘Rabbie, eh. The heaven-taught ploughman.’
‘Sorry, what was that?’
‘Nothing, never mind.’
‘Right. And your name is?’
‘Don’t be so bloody stupid man, mice don’t have names!’
‘Oh, oh of course not. No.’
‘Well anyway, it’s getting close to lunchtime so I’ll be off.’
‘Aye you’d best be.’
‘I’ll expect that work to be done by the time I’m back foraging by the way so get right to it.’
‘Shall do, aye.’
And with that the mouse scurries off at a furious pace, one of its various senses undoubtedly detecting the lunch it spoke of only moments earlier. The ploughman stares at the mouse for a few seconds as it disappears off into the earthy horizon. He nods his head slightly before slowly turning to trudge his way up to the tree in question. Muttering to himself all the while.
‘Wee sleekit, cow’rin tim’rous beastie…o, what a panic’s in thy breastie…’