In the main street amongst tall establishments of mart and worship was a high narrow housepressed between a coffee factory and a bootmaker’s. It had four flights of long dim echoingstairs, and at the top, in a room that was full of the smell of dried apples and mice, a man in themiddle age of life had sat reading Russian novels until he thought he was mad. Late was thehour, the night outside black and freezing, the pavements below empty and undistinguishablewhen he closed his book and sat motionless in front of the glowing but flameless fire. He felt hewas very tired yet he could not rest. He stared at a picture on the wall until he wanted to cry; itwas a colour print by Utamaro of a suckling child caressing its mother’s breastsas she sits infront of a blackbound mirror. Very chaste and decorative it was, in spite of its curious anatomy.
The man gazed, empty of sight though not of mind, until the sighing of the gas jet maddenedhim. He got up, put out the light, and sat down again in the darkness trying to compose his mindbefore the comfort of the fire. And he was just about to begin a conversation with himself when amouse crept from a hole in the skirting near the fireplace and scurried into the fender. The manhad the crude dislike for such sly nocturnal things, but this mouse was so small and bright, itsantics so pretty, that he drew his feet carefully from the fender and sat watching it almost withamusement. The mouse moved along the shadows of the fender, out upon the hearth, and satbefore the glow, rubbing its head, ears, and belly with its paws as if it were bathing itself with thewarmth, until, sharp and sudden, the fire sank, an ember fell, and the mouse flashed into its hole.
The man reached forward to the mantelpiece and put his hand upon a pocket lamp. Turning onthe beam, he opened the door of a cupboard beside the fireplace. Upon one of the shelves therewas a small trap baited with cheese, a trap made with a wire spring, one of those that smasheddown to break the back of ingenuous and unwary mice.