Page:The Yellow Book - 01.djvu/152

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Two Sketches

laurels in a corner; then a dozen medium-sized, slender mice, trim and youthful-looking, rushing irrelevantly hither and thither, with funny inquisitive little faces; and then a squirming mass of pink things, like caterpillars, that were really infant mice, new born. They didn't remain infants long, though. In a few days they had put on virile togas of white fur, and were scrambling about the cage and nibbling their food as independently as their elders. The rapidity with which my mice multiplied and grew to maturity was a constant source of astonishment to me. It seemed as if every morning I found a new litter of young mice in the cage—though how they had effected an entrance through the wire gauze that lined it was a hopeless puzzle—and these would have become responsible, self-supporting mice in no time.

My mother told me that somebody had sent me this soul-stirring present from the country, and I dare say I was made to sit down and write a letter of thanks. But I'm ashamed to own I can't remember who the giver was. I have a vague notion that it was a lady, an elderly maiden-lady—Mademoiselle . . . . . something that began with P— who lived near Tours, and who used to come to Paris once or twice a year, and always brought me a box of prunes.

Alexandre carried the cage into my play-room, and set it up against the wall. I stationed myself in front of it, and remained there all the rest of the afternoon, gazing in, entranced. To watch their antics, their comings and goings, their labours and amusements, to study their shrewd, alert physiognomies, to wonder about their feelings, thoughts, intentions, to try to divine the meaning of their busy twittering language—it was such keen, deep delight. Of course I was an anthropomorphist, and read a great deal of human nature into them; otherwise it wouldn't have been such fun. I dragged myself reluctantly away when I was