Squirrels, perched in the branches

HOW pretty little squirrels look perched in the branches of a tree! I like to watch them as they nimbly run up the trunk or spring from bough to bough. One or two are generally to be seen in a clump of great old beeches near a house in the country where I usually spend some happy weeks in summer; and I will tell you a story of a little squirrel whose acquaintance I made there last summer.

I happened to be up very early one morning, long before breakfast was ready or any of the family were down, and I went out into the garden to enjoy the fresh, sweet smell of the early day. The cows were grazing in the field beyond, and now and then lowing a friendly “good-morning” to each other. Some ducks were waddling in procession down to the pond, quacking out their wise remarks as they went. The little birds were singing lustily their welcome to the new-born day. Even the old watch-dog came yawning, stretching, blinking and wagging his tail in kindly dog-fashion to bid me “good-day” in the summer sunshine.

As I stood under the great beech trees, taking in with greedy eye and ear the sights and sounds of country-life so refreshing to a Londoner, I heard something fall from one of the trees, then a scuffle, and immediately afterward a white Persian cat belonging to the house bounded toward me in hot pursuit of a dear little squirrel. I was just in time to save the poor little animal by stepping between it and the cat. The squirrel passed under the edge of my dress and made off again up another tree; so pussy lost her prey.

Soon afterward, when we were at breakfast, the butler told us that one of the little boys of the village, who had lost a pet squirrel, had asked if he might look for it in the garden of the house. It had first escaped into some trees in the park, and he had traced it from them into the garden. It at once occurred to me that this must be the little creature I had saved from the cat. I remembered how it made straight toward me, as if asking me for protection from its enemy, which only a tame squirrel would do; and I proposed, when breakfast was over, that we should go out and help in the search.

Little Jack Tompkins stood under the beech trees, looking with tear-stained face up into the branches. Suddenly I saw his face brighten, and he called out, “I see un, ma’am; I see un! If so be no one warn’t by, I be sure he’d come to I.”

I need not say we retreated to a distance; then Jack called up the tree in a loud whisper, “Billee, Billee!” and in a minute down came the little creature on to his shoulder. I can tell you Jack was a happier child than he had been when he came into the garden. And when I told him what a narrow escape “Billee” had had from the cat, he said, “It would be hard if a cat eat he, for our old puss brought he up with her own kits.” Then he told us how the squirrel, when a tiny thing, had dropped out of its nest and been found by him lying almost dead at the foot of a tree, and how he had carried it home and tried whether pussy would adopt it as one of her own kittens. The cat was kind; the squirrel throve under her motherly care, and became Jack’s pet and companion.

Now, children, in this instance it was all very well to keep a tame squirrel. “Billee” seemed happy leading the life he was accustomed to; he had been fed and cared for by human beings from his infancy, and might be as incapable of finding food and managing for himself in a wild state as a poor canary would be if let loose from its cage. But generally it is cruel to imprison little wild birds and animals who have known the enjoyment of liberty.