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Reginald in Russia and Other Stories

The Mouse
Theodoric Voler had been brought up, from infancy to the confines of middle age, by a
fond mother whose chief solicitude had been to keep him screened from what she called
the coarser realities of life. When she died she left Theodoric alone in a world that was as
real as ever, and a good deal coarser than he considered it had any need to be. To a man
of his temperament and upbringing even a simple railway journey was crammed with
petty annoyances and minor discords, and as he settled himself down in a secondclass
compartment one September morning he was conscious of ruffled feelings and general
mental discomposure. He had been staying at a country vicarage, the inmates of which
had been certainly neither brutal nor bacchanalian, but their supervision of the domestic
establishment had been of that lax order which invites disaster. The pony carriage that
was to take him to the station had never been properly ordered, and when the moment for
his departure drew near the handy-man who should have produced the required article
was nowhere to be found. In this emergency Theodoric, to his mute but very intense
disgust, found himself obliged to collaborate with the vicar's daughter in the task of
harnessing the pony, which necessitated groping about in an ill-lighted outhouse called a
stable, and smelling very like one--except in patches where it smelt of mice. Without
being actually afraid of mice, Theodoric classed them among the coarser incidents of life,
and considered that Providence, with a little exercise of moral courage, might long ago
have recognised that they were not indispensable, and have withdrawn them from
circulation. As the train glided out of the station Theodoric's nervous imagination accused
himself of exhaling a weak odour of stable-yard, and possibly of displaying a mouldy
straw or two on his usually well-brushed garments. Fortunately the only other occupant
of the compartment, a lady of about the same age as himself, seemed inclined for slumber
rather than scrutiny; the train was not due to stop till the terminus was reached, in about
an hour's time, and the carriage was of the old-fashioned sort, that held no
communication with a corridor, therefore no further travelling companions were likely to
intrude on Theodoric's semi- privacy. And yet the train had scarcely attained its normal
speed before he became reluctantly but vividly aware that he was not alone with the
slumbering lady; he was not even alone in his own clothes. A warm, creeping movement
over his flesh betrayed the unwelcome and highly resented presence, unseen but
poignant, of a strayed mouse, that had evidently dashed into its present retreat during the
episode of the pony harnessing. Furtive stamps and shakes and wildly directed pinches
failed to dislodge the intruder, whose motto, indeed, seemed to be Excelsior; and the
lawful occupant of the clothes lay back against the cushions and endeavoured rapidly to
evolve some means for putting an end to the dual ownership. It was unthinkable that he
should continue for the space of a whole hour in the horrible position of a Rowton House
for vagrant mice (already his imagination had at least doubled the numbers of the alien
invasion). On the other hand, nothing less drastic than partial disrobing would ease him
of his tormentor, and to undress in the presence of a lady, even for so laudable a purpose,
was an idea that made his eartips tingle in a blush of abject shame. He had never been
able to bring himself even to the mild exposure of open-work socks in the presence of the
fair sex. And yet--the lady in this case was to all appearances soundly and securely
asleep; the mouse, on the other hand, seemed to be trying to crowd a Wanderjahr into a
 
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