Saturday, March 15, 2014

Ashley Sterne Belling the Mouse - complete


Today I was delighted to discover that the Denver Public Library has an extensive collection of bound volumes of Punch magazine hidden away in a non-circulating area of the library stacks.  I requested Volume 183 for 1934, reserved a library computer, and proceeded to fill in the ellipses from a previous blog entry for Ashley Sterne's "Belling the Mouse," which I had partially assembled from Google snippets.  (If I am going to abuse the British copyright laws, I may as well go whole hog, as we say in Iowa.)   


Belling the Mouse
By Ashley Sterne   Punch (April 11, 1934)


"I've just seen a mouse in the kitchen," exclaimed Julia, pouncing in upon me just as I had settled down to write a cheque — Self: 5 pounds.

"Good," I said.  "Just the place for it.  Plenty of nice crumbs to eat, plenty of nice water to drink — in fact, a mouse's paradise."

"Don't frivol.  What are we going to do about it?" Julia demanded.

"We?  Oh, I am doing nothing for the moment. Tell it I'm busy.  Say I'll drop along later."

"I mean, we must get a trap or a cat at once.  Which?"

"A trap, I think," I pronounced slowly.  "A cat is always so liable to have kittens at any moment, whereas a trap never has trippens."

"Traps are rather cruel, though," Julia demurred, "especially the sudden-death kind which claims to break the poor thing's neck.  Usually they only break its tail."

"But they're not so cruel as cats," I remarked."Cats generally break up the entire mouse.  We ought to have taken out a mouse insurance policy when we moved here, then the responsibility would have been taken off our shoulders."

"Oh, what about a water-trap?" suggested Julia.  "The ironmonger sells them.  They're advertised as the most humane trap on the market."

"Is there such a thing as the Mousetrap Market?" I queried.  "If there is, the financial papers never quote its movements.  But what precisely is a water-trap?"

Julia explained.  It's a trap which is quite innocuous to look at; no mouse would suspect the cloven hoof beneath the velvet glove; but the bait is adjusted upon a collapsible platform concealing a can of water, the mouse mounting a short wooden incline to get there — the whole forming a a most desirable scaffold on which any mouse ought to feel proud to perish.  We arranged that Julia should buy one.

"But you'll have to set it," I said.  "The very thought of committing muricide revolts me.  By the way, what precisely is the objection to mice?"

"They breed," said Julia.

"So do elephants," I retorted, "but that's not regarded as a sufficient reason for scotching them.  On the contrary, you have to get a Government permit to slaughter them."

"I mean," Julia continued, "they over-run the place."

"One mouse can't breed," I said, "nor can we be over-run by just one mouse.  Why can't we keep it as we might keep a squirrel, for example?"

"Oh, but we can't keep one solitary mouse," Julia objected.  "The poor thing would pine away and die."

"Well, that's what you want it to do, isn't it?"

There's no pleasing some people.  Julia bought her trap, but when it came to the point it was I who had to put it up and generally act as O.C. mousetrap.

"Where shall I place it?" I asked that evening.  "Where was the mouse last seen?"

"On the step leading to the scullery."

"It may be said to have done the scullery step, then.  It won't want to go there again.  I shall put it under the sink.  What bait shall I use — worms or paste?"

"Cheese, you owl," said Julia tersely.

I did so. . . I caught the mouse all right.  I found it inside the tank next morning.  Unfortunately I had omitted to fill it with water.  The mouse jumped out the instant I withdrew it from beneath the collapsible platform.

"Any luck?" asked Julia when I returned to the breakfast-room.

I shook my head.  "Strictly speaking, we can't expect luck the very first time with a new trap the mouse has never seen before.  It doesn't know its way about in it yet."

The following morning the cheese was gone but I hadn't caught the mouse.  I found I had forgotten to place the tank under the false floor.

"The bait was taken," I announced to Julia.  "That shows it's nibbling.  We're getting on."

"But surely if the bait was gone," said Julia, "the mouse must have — "

"Not necessarily," I interposed hastily, "it might have whisked it off with its tail."

I was most careful that evening not only to fill the tank but to place it correctly.  It was not until I was in bed that I remembered that I had omitted the bait...

"Any luck?" Julia inquired as I came out of the kitchen the next morning.

"Not even a rise," I replied.

"You'd better change the bait tonight," observed Julia.  "Try suet.  Our mouse apparently doesn't like cheese."

"Or alternatively we might change our mouse for one which does," I suggested.  "However, we'll give it another chance to die like a sportsmouse."

I set the trap earlier than usual that evening as Julia and I were going out.  On our return Julia at once retired.  I dallied.  I though I should sleep better if I first inspected the trap.

Yes, we had fairly got him this time.  He was feebly treading water — a pitiful, desperately-scared little creature.  It could only be a matter of moments before he went down for the first time.  I grabbed a spoon from the dresser....  I opened the perforated zinc screen-window....  I leant out, spoon in hand....  A moist, glistening, bedraggled animal crawled miserably into the bushes.

Julia was sitting up in bed reading.

What's the book?" I asked.

"Ford Draycott's Coincidences," Julia replied.  "He quotes an extraordinary case of a murderer whom they vainly tried to hang three times.  Then they reprieved him."

"And quite right, too.  I should have done the same thing — murderer or marauder."

"Our mouse, for example?" queried Julia with a smile.

"Just so," I agreed, and, blushing criminally, I retired to the dressing-room.


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