LADY MARY AND HER NURSE;
A PEEP INTO THE CANADIAN FOREST.
THE FLYING SQUIRREL—ITS FOOD—STORY OF A WOLF—INDIAN VILLAGE—WILD RICE
SLEIGHING—SLEIGH ROBES—FUR CAPS—OTTER SKINS—OLD SNOW-STORM—OTTER HUNTING—OTTER SLIDES—INDIAN NAMES—REMARKS ON WILD ANIMALS AND THEIR HABITS
PART I.—LADY MARY READS TO MRS. FRAZER THE FIRST PART OF THE HISTORY OF THE SQUIRREL FAMILY
PART II.—WHICH TELLS HOW THE GREY SQUIRRELS GET ON WHILE THEY REMAINED ON PINE ISLAND—HOW THEY BEHAVED TO THEIR POOR RELATIONS, THE CHITMUNKS— AND WHAT HAPPENED TO THEM IN THE FOREST
PART III.—HOW THE SQUIRRELS GOT TO THE MILL AT THE RAPIDS—AND WHAT HAPPENED TO VELVET-PAW
SQUIRRELS—THE CHITMUNKS—DOCILITY OF A PET ONE—ROGUERY OF A YANKEE PEDLAR—RETURN OF THE MUSICAL CHITMUNK TO HIS MASTER'S BOSOM—SAGACITY OF A BLACK SQUIRREL
INDIAN BASKETS—THREAD—PLANTS—MAPLE SUGAR-TREE—INDIAN ORNAMENTAL WORKS —RACOONS
CANADIAN FLOWERS—AMERICAN PORCUPINE—CANADIAN BIRDS—SNOW SPARROW-ROBIN RED-BREAST
INDIAN BAG—INDIAN EMBROIDERY—BEAVER'S TAIL—BEAVER ARCHITECTURE—HABITS OF THE BEAVER—BEAVER TOOLS—BEAVER MEADOWS
INDIAN BOY AND HIS PETS—TAME BEAVER AT HOME—KITTEN, WILDFIRE—PET RACOON AND THE SPANIEL PUPPIES—CANADIAN FLORA
NURSE TELLS LADY MARY ABOUT A LITTLE BOY WHO WAS EATEN BY A BEAR IN THE PROVINCE OF NEW BRUNSWICK—OF A BABY THAT WAS CARRIED AWAY, BUT TAKEN ALIVE—A WALK IN THE GARDEN—HUMMING BIRDS—CANADIAN BALSAMS
AURORA BOREALIS, OR NORTHERN LIGHTS, MOST FREQUENTLY SEEN IN NORTHERN CLIMATES—CALLED MERRY DANCERS—ROSE TINTS—TINT-LIKE APPEARANCE—LADY MARY FRIGHTENED
STRAWBERRIES—CANADIAN WILD FRUITS—WILD RASPBERRIES—THE HUNTER AND THE LOST CHILD—CRANBERRIES—CRANBERRY MARSHES—NUTS
GARTER SNAKES—RATTLE SNAKES—ANECDOTE OF A LITTLE BOY—FISHERMAN AND SNAKE—SNAKE CHARMERS—SPIDERS—LAND TORTOISE
ELLEN AND HER PET PAWNS—DOCILITY OF PAN—JACK'S DROLL TRICKS— AFFECTIONATE WOLF—FALL FLOWERS—DEPARTURE OF LADY MARY—THE END
A PEEP INTO THE CANADIAN FOREST.
THE FLYING SQUIRREL—ITS FOOD—STORY OF A WOLF—INDIAN VILLAGE—WILD RICE.
"Nurse, what is the name of that pretty creature you have in your hand? What bright eyes it has! What a soft tail, just like a grey feather! Is it a little beaver?" asked the Governor's [Footnote: Lady Mary's father was Governor of Canada.] little daughter, as her nurse came into the room where her young charge, whom we shall call Lady Mary, was playing with her doll.
Carefully sheltered against her breast, its velvet nose just peeping from beneath her muslin neckerchief, the nurse held a small grey-furred animal, of the most delicate form and colour.
"No, my lady," she replied, "this is not a young beaver; a beaver is a much larger animal. A beaver's tail is not covered with fur; it is scaly, broad, and flat; it looks something like black leather, not very unlike that of my seal-skin slippers. The Indians eat beavers' tails at their great feasts, and think they make an excellent dish."
"If they are black, and look like leather shoes, I am very sure I should not like to eat them; so, if you please, Mrs. Frazer, do not let me have any beavers' tails cooked for my dinner," said the little lady in a very decided tone.
"Indeed, my lady," replied her nurse, smiling, "it would not be an easy thing to obtain, if you wished to taste one, for beavers are not brought to our market. It is only the Indians and hunters who know how to trap them, and beavers are not so plentiful as they used to be."
Mrs. Frazer would have told Lady Mary a great deal about the way in which the trappers take the beavers, but the little girl interrupted her by saying, "Please, nurse, will you tell me the name of your pretty pet? Ah, sweet thing! what bright eyes you have!" she added, caressing the soft little head which was just seen from beneath the folds of the muslin handkerchief to which it timidly nestled, casting furtive glances at the admiring child, while the panting of its breast told the mortal terror that shook its frame whenever the little girl's hand was advanced to coax its soft back.
"It is a flying squirrel, Lady Mary," replied her nurse; "one of my brothers caught it a month ago, when he was chopping in the forest. He thought it might amuse your ladyship, and so he tamed it and sent it to me in a basket filled with moss, with some acorns, and hickory-nuts, and beech-mast for him to eat on his journey, for the little fellow has travelled a long way: he came from the beech-woods near the town of Coburg, in the Upper Province."
"And where is Coburg, nurse? Is it a large city like Montreal or Quebec?"
"No, my lady; it is a large town on the shores of the great Lake Ontario."
"And are there many woods near it?"
"Yes; but not so many as there used to be many years ago. The forest is almost all cleared, and there are fields of wheat and Indian corn, and nice farms and pretty houses, where a few years back the lofty forest grew dark and thick."
"Nurse, you said there were acorns, and hickory-nuts, and beech-mast in the basket. I have seen acorns at home in dear England and Scotland, and I have eaten the hickory-nuts here; but what is beech-mast? Is it in granaries for winter stores; and wild ducks and wild pigeons come from the far north at the season when the beech-mast fall, to eat them; for God teaches these, His creatures, to know the times and the seasons when His bounteous hand is open to give them food from His boundless store. A great many other birds and beasts also feed upon the beech-mast."
"It was very good of your brother to send me this pretty creature, nurse," said the little lady; "I will ask Papa to give him some money."
"There is no need of that, Lady Mary. My brother is not in want; he has a farm in the Upper Province, and is very well off."
"I am glad he is well off," said Lady Mary; "indeed, I do not see so many beggars here as in England."
"People need not beg in Canada, if they are well and strong and can work; a poor man can soon earn enough money to keep himself and his little ones."
"Nurse, will you be so kind as to ask Campbell to get a pretty cage for my squirrel? I will let him live close to my dormice, who will be pleasant company for him, and I will feed him every day myself with nuts and sugar, and sweet cake and white bread. Now do not tremble and look so frightened, as though I were going to hurt you; and pray, Mr. Squirrel, do not bite. Oh! nurse, nurse, the wicked, spiteful creature has bitten my finger! See, see, it has made it bleed! Naughty thing! I will not love you if you bite. Pray, nurse, bind up my finger, or it will soil my frock."
Great was the pity bestowed upon the wound by Lady Mary's kind attendant, till the little girl, tired of hearing so much said about the bitten finger, gravely desired her maid to go in search of the cage, and catch the truant, which had effected its escape, and was clinging to the curtains of the bed. The cage was procured—a large wooden cage, with an outer and an inner chamber, a bar for the little fellow to swing himself on, and a drawer for his food, and a little dish for his water. The sleeping-room was furnished by the nurse with soft wool, and a fine store of nuts was put in the drawer; all his wants were well supplied, and Lady Mary watched the catching of the little animal with much interest. Great was the activity displayed by the runaway squirrel, and still greater the astonishment evinced by the Governor's little daughter, at the flying leaps made by the squirrel in its attempts to elude the grasp of its pursuers.
"It flies! I am sure it must have wings. Look, look, nurse! it is here, now it is on the wall, now on the curtains! It must have wings, but it has no feathers!"
"It has no wings, dear lady, but it has a fine ridge of fur, that covers a strong sinew or muscle between the fore and hinder legs; and it is by the help of this muscle that it is able to spring so far, and so fast; and its claws are so sharp that it can cling to a wall, or any flat surface. The black and red squirrels, and the common grey, can jump very far, and run up the bark of the trees very fast, but not so fast as the flying squirrel."
At last Lady Mary's maid, with the help of one of the housemaids, succeeded in catching the squirrel, and securing him within his cage. But though Lady Mary tried all her words of endearment to coax the little creature to eat some of the good things that had been provided so liberally for his entertainment, he remained sullen and motionless at the bottom of the cage. A captive is no less a captive in a cage with gilded bars, and with dainties to eat, than if rusted iron shut him in, and kept him from enjoying his freedom. It is for dear liberty that he pines, and is sad, even in the midst of plenty!
"Dear nurse, why does my little squirrel tremble and look so unhappy? Tell me if he wants anything to eat that we have not given him. Why does he not lie down and sleep on the nice soft bed you have made for him in his little chamber? See, he has not tasted the nice sweet cake and sugar that I gave him."
"He is not used to such dainties, Lady Mary. In the forest, he feeds upon hickory-nuts, and butter-nuts, and acorns, and beech-mast, and the buds of the spruce, fir and pine kernels, and many other seeds and nuts and berries, that we could not get for him; he loves grain too, and Indian corn. He sleeps on green moss and leaves, and fine fibres of grass and roots; and drinks heaven's blessed dew, as it lies bright and pure upon the herbs of the field."
"Dear little squirrel, pretty creature! I know now what makes you sad. You long to be abroad among your own green woods, and sleeping on the soft green moss, which is far prettier than this ugly cotton wool. But you shall stay with me, my sweet one, till the cold winter is passed and gone, and the spring flowers have come again; and then, my pretty squirrel, I will take you out of your dull cage, and we will go to St. Helen's green island, and I will let you go free; but I will put a scarlet collar about your neck before I let you go, that, if any one finds you, they may know that you are my squirrel. Were you ever in the green forest, nurse? I hear Papa talk about the 'Bush' and the 'Backwoods;' it must be very pleasant in the summer, to live among the green trees. Were you ever there?"
"Yes, dear lady, I did live in the woods when I was a child. I was born in a little log-shanty, far, far away up the country, near a beautiful lake, called Rice Lake, among woods, and valleys, and hills covered with flowers, and groves of pine, and white and black oaks."
"Stop, nurse, and tell me why they are called black and white; are the flowers black and white?"
"No, my lady; it is because the wood of the one is darker than the other, and the leaves of the black oak are dark and shining, while those of the white oak are brighter and lighter. The black oak is a beautiful tree. When I was a young girl, I used to like to climb the sides of the steep valleys, and look down upon the tops of the oaks that grew beneath; and to watch the wind lifting the boughs all glittering in the moonlight; they looked like a sea of ruffled green water. It is very solemn, Lady Mary, to be in the woods by night, and to hear no sound but the cry of the great wood-owl, or the voice of the whip-poor-will, calling to his fellow from the tamarack swamp; or, may be, the timid bleating of a fawn that has lost its mother, or the howl of a wolf."
"Nurse, I should be so afraid; I am sure I should cry if I heard the wicked wolves howling in the dark woods, by night. Did you ever know any one who was eaten by a wolf?"
"No, my lady; the Canadian wolf is a great coward. I have heard the hunters say, that they never attack any one, unless there is a great flock together and the man is alone and unarmed. My uncle used to go out a great deal hunting, sometimes by torchlight, and sometimes on the lake in a canoe, with the Indians; and he shot and trapped a great many wolves and foxes and racoons. He has a great many heads of wild animals nailed up on the stoup in front of his log-house."
"Please tell me what a stoup is, nurse?"
"A verandah, my lady, is the same thing, only the old Dutch settlers gave it the name of a stoup; and the stoup is heavier and broader, and not quite so nicely made as a verandah. One day my uncle was crossing the lake on the ice; it was a cold winter afternoon; he was in a hurry to take some food to his brothers, who were drawing pine-logs in the bush. He had, besides a bag of meal and flour, a new axe on his shoulder. He heard steps as of a dog trotting after him; he turned his head, and there he saw close at his heels, a big, hungry-looking grey wolf; he stopped and faced about, and the big beast stopped and showed his white sharp teeth. My uncle did not feel afraid, but looked steadily at the wolf, as much as to say, 'Follow me if you dare,' and walked on. When my uncle stopped, the wolf stopped; when he went on, the beast also went on.
"I would have run away," said Lady Mary.
"If my uncle had let the wolf see that he was afraid of him, he would have grown bolder, and have run after him and seized him. All animals are afraid of brave men, but not of cowards. When the beast came too near, my uncle faced him, and showed the bright axe, and the wolf then shrank back a few paces. When my uncle got near the shore, he heard a long wild cry, as if from twenty wolves at once. It might have been the echoes from the islands that increased the sound; but it was very frightful, and made his blood chill, for he knew that without his rifle he should stand a poor chance against a large pack of hungry wolves. Just then a gun went off; he heard the wolf give a terrible yell, he felt the whizzing of a bullet pass him, and, turning about, saw the wolf lying dead on the ice. A loud shout from the cedars in front told him from whom the shot came; it was my father, who had been on the look-out on the lake shore, and he had fired at and hit the wolf, when he saw that he could do so without hurting his brother."
"Nurse, it would have been a sad thing if the gun had shot your uncle."
"It would; but my father was one of the best shots in the district, and could hit a white spot on the bark of a tree at a great distance without missing. It was an old Indian from Buckhorn Lake, who taught him to shoot deer by torchlight, and to trap beavers."
"Well, I am glad that horrid wolf was killed, for wolves eat sheep and lambs; and I dare say they would devour my little squirrel if they could get him. Nurse, please to tell me again the name of the lake near which you were born."
"It is called Rice Lake, my lady. It is a fine piece of water, more than twenty miles long, and from three to five miles broad. It has pretty wooded islands, and several rivers or streams empty themselves into it. The Otonabee River is a fine broad stream, which flows through the forest a long way. Many years ago, there were no clearings on the banks, and no houses, only Indian tents or wigwams; but now, there are a great many houses and farms."
"What are wigwams?"
"A sort of light tent, made with poles stuck into the ground, in a circle, fastened together at the top, and covered on the outside with skins of wild animals, or with birch bark. The Indians light a fire of sticks and logs on the ground, in the middle of the wigwam, and lie or sit all round it; the smoke goes up to the top and escapes. In the winter, they bank it up with snow, and it is very warm."
"I think it must be a very ugly sort of house; and I am glad I do not live in an Indian wigwam," said the little lady.
"The Indians are a very simple folk, my lady, and do not need fine houses, like this in which your papa lives. They do not know the names or uses of half the fine things that are in the houses of the white people. They are happy and contented without them. It is not the richest that are happiest, Lady Mary, and the Lord careth for the poor and the lowly. There is a village on the shores of Rice Lake where the Indians live. It is not very pretty. The houses are all built of logs, and some of them have gardens and orchards. They have a neat church, and they have a good minister, who takes great pains to teach them the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The poor Indians were Pagans until within the last few years."
"What are Pagans, nurse?"
"People, Lady Mary, who do not believe in God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, our blessed Saviour."
"Nurse, is there real rice growing in the Rice Lake? I heard my governess say that rice grew only in warm countries. Now, your lake must be very cold if your uncle walked across the ice."
"This rice, my lady, is not real rice. I heard a gentleman tell my father, that it was, properly speaking, a species of oats, [Footnote: Zizania or water oats.]—water oats he called it, but the common name for it is wild rice. This wild rice grows in vast beds in the lake, in patches of many acres. It will grow in water from eight to ten or twelve feet deep; the grassy leaves float upon the water like long narrow green ribbons. In the month of August, the stem that is to bear the flower and the grain rises straight up, above the surface, and light delicate blossoms come out of a pale straw colour and lilac. They are very pretty, and wave in the wind with a rustling noise. In the month of October, when the rice is ripe, the leaves turn yellow, and the rice-heads grow heavy and droop; then the squaws—as the Indian women are called—go out in their birch-bark canoes, holding in one hand a stick, in the other a short curved paddle, with a sharp edge. With this, they bend down the rice across the stick, and strike off the heads, which fall into the canoe, as they push it along through the rice-beds. In this way they collect a great many bushels in the course of the day. The wild rice is not the least like the rice which your ladyship has eaten; it is thin and covered with a light chaffy husk. The colour of the grain itself is a brownish green, or olive, smooth, shining, and brittle. After separating the outward chaff, the squaws put by a large portion of the clean rice in its natural state for sale; for this they get from a dollar and a half to two dollars a bushel. Some they parch, either in large pots, or on mats made of the inner bark of cedar or bass wood, beneath which they light a slow fire, and plant around it a temporary hedge of green boughs, closely set to prevent the heat from escaping; they also plant stakes, over which they stretch the matting at a certain height above the fire. On this they spread the green rice, stirring it about with wooden paddles, till it is properly parched; this is known by its bursting and showing the white grain of the flour. When quite cool it is stowed away in troughs, scooped out of butter-nut wood, or else sewed up in sheets of birch-bark or bass-mats, or in coarsely made birch-bark baskets."
"And is the rice good to eat, nurse?"
"Some people like it as well as the white rice of Carolina; but it does not look so well. It is a great blessing to the poor Indians, who boil it in their soups, or eat it with maple molasses. And they eat it when parched without any other cooking, when they are on a long journey in the woods, or on the lakes. I have often eaten nice puddings made of it with milk. The deer feed upon the green rice. They swim into the water, and eat the green leaves and tops. The Indians go out at night to shoot the deer on the water; they listen for them, and shoot them in the dark. The wild ducks and water-fowls come down in great flocks to fatten on the ripe rice in the fall of the year; also large flocks of rice buntings and red wings which make their roosts among the low willows, flags, and lilies close to the shallows of the lake."
"It seems very useful to birds as well as to men and beasts," said little Lady Mary.
"Yes, my lady, and to fishes also, I make no doubt; for the good God has cast it so abundantly abroad on the waters, that I dare say they also have their share. When the rice is fully ripe, the sun shining on it gives it a golden hue, just like a field of ripened grain. Surrounded by the deep blue waters, it looks very pretty."
"I am very much obliged to you, nurse, for telling me so much about the Indian rice, and I will ask mamma to let me have some one day for my dinner, that I may know how it tastes."
Just then Lady Mary's governess came to bid her nurse dress her for a sleigh-ride, and so for the present we shall leave her; but we will tell our little readers something more in another chapter about Lady Mary and her flying squirrel.
SLEIGHING—SLEIGH ROBES—FUR CAPS—OTTER SKINS—OLD SNOW-STORM—OTTER HUNTING—OTTER SLIDES—INDIAN NAMES—REMARKS ON WILD ANIMALS AND THEIR HABITS.
"Nurse, we have had a very nice sleigh-drive. I like sleighing very much over the white snow. The trees look so pretty, as if they were covered with white flowers, and the ground sparkled just like mamma's diamonds."
"It is pleasant, Lady Mary, to ride through the woods on a bright sunshiny day, after a fresh fall of snow. The young evergreens, hemlocks, balsams, and spruce-trees, are loaded with great masses of the new-fallen snow; while the slender saplings of the beech, birch, and basswood are bent down to the very ground, making bowers so bright and beautiful, you would be delighted to see them. Sometimes, as you drive along, great masses of the snow come showering down upon you; but it is so light and dry, that it shakes off without wetting you. It is pleasant to be wrapped up in warm blankets, or buffalo robes, at the bottom of a lumber-sleigh, and to travel through the forest by moonlight; the merry bells echoing through the silent woods, and the stars just peeping down through the frosted trees, which sparkle like diamonds in the moonbeams."
"Nurse, I should like to take a drive through the forest in winter. It is so nice to hear the sleigh-bells. We used sometimes to go out in the snow in Scotland, but we were in the carriage, and had no bells."
"No, Lady Mary: the snow seldom lies long enough in the old country to make it worth while to have sleighs there; but in Russia and Sweden, and other cold Northern countries, they use sleighs with bells."
Lady Mary ran to the little bookcase where she had a collection of children's books, and very soon found, in one of Peter Parley's books, a picture of Laplanders and Russians wrapped in furs sleighing.
"How long will the winter last, nurse?" said the child, after she had tired herself with looking at the prints; "a long, long time—a great many weeks?—a great many months?"
"Yes, my lady; five or six months."
"Oh, that is nice—nearly half a year of white snow, and sleigh-drives every day, and bells ringing all the time! I tried to make out a tune, but they only seemed to say, 'Up-hill, up-hill! down-hill, down-hill!' all the way. Nurse, please tell me what are sleigh-robes made of?"
"Some sleigh-robes, Lady Mary, are made of bear-skins, lined with red or blue flannel; some are of wolf-skins, lined with bright scarlet cloth; and some of racoon; the commonest are buffalo-skins: I have seen some of deer-skins, but these last are not so good, as the hair comes off, and they are not so warm as the skins of the furred or woolly-coated animals."
"I sometimes see long tails hanging down over the backs of the sleigh and cutters—they look very pretty, like the end of mamma's boa."
"The wolf and racoon skin robes are generally made up with the tails, and sometimes the heads of the animals are also left. I noticed the head of a wolf, with its sharp ears, and long white teeth, looking very fierce, at the back of a cutter, the other day."
"Nurse, that must have looked very droll. Do you know, I saw a gentleman the other day, walking with papa, who had a fox-skin cap on his head, and the fox's nose was just peeping over his shoulder, and the tail hung down his back, and I saw its bright black eyes looking so cunning. I thought it must be alive, and that it had curled itself round his head; but the gentleman took it off, and showed me that the eyes were glass."
"Some hunters, Lady Mary, make caps of otter, mink, or badger skins, and ornament them with the tails, heads, and claws."
"I have seen a picture of the otter, nurse; it is a pretty, soft-looking thing, with a round head and black eyes. Where do otters live?"
"The Canadian otters, Lady Mary, live in holes in the banks of sedgy, shallow lakes, mill-ponds, and sheltered creeks. The Indian hunters find their haunts by tracking their steps in the snow; for an Indian or Canadian hunter knows the track made by any bird or beast, from the deep broad print of the bear, to the tiny one of the little shrewmouse, which is the smallest four-footed beast in this or any other country.
"Indians catch the otter, and many other wild animals, in a sort of trap, which they call a 'dead-fall.' Wolves are often so trapped, and then shot. The Indians catch the otter for the sake of its dark shining fur, which is used by the hatters and furriers. Old Jacob Snowstorm, an old Indian who lived on the banks of the Rice Lake, used to catch otters; and I have often listened to him, and laughed at his stories."
"Do, please, nurse, tell me what old Jacob Snow-storm told you about the otters; I like to hear stories about wild beasts. But what a droll surname Snow-storm is!"
"Yes, Lady Mary; Indians have very odd names; they are called after all sorts of strange things. They do not name the children, as we do, soon after they are born, but wait for some remarkable circumstance, some dream or accident. Some call them after the first strange animal or bird that appears to the new-born. Old Snow-storm most likely owed his name to a heavy fall of snow when he was a baby. I knew a chief named Musk-rat, and a pretty Indian girl who was named 'Badau'-bun,' or the 'Light of the Morning.'"
"And what is the Indian name for Old Snow-storm?"
"'Be-che-go-ke-poor,' my lady."
Lady Mary said it was a funny sounding name, and not at all like Snow-storm, which she liked a great deal better; and she was much amused while her nurse repeated to her some names of squaws and papooses (Indian women and children); such as Long Thrush, Little Fox, Running Stream, Snow-bird, Red Cloud, Young Eagle, Big Bush, and many others.
"Now, nurse, will you tell me some more about Jacob Snow-storm and the otters?"
"Well, Lady Mary, the old man had a cap of otter-skin, of which he was very proud, and only wore on great days. One day as he was playing with it, he said:—'Otter funny fellow; he like play too, sometimes. Indian go hunting up Ottawa, that great big river, you know. Go one moonlight night; lie down under bushes in snow: see lot of little fellow and big fellow at play. Run tip and down bank; bank all ice. Sit down top of bank; good slide there. Down he go splash into water; out again. Funny fellow those!' And then the old hunter threw back his head, and laughed, till you could have seen all his white teeth, he opened his mouth so wide."
Lady Mary was very much amused at the comical way in which the old Indian talked.
"Can otters swim, nurse?"
"Yes, Lady Mary; the good God, who has created all things well, has given to this animal webbed feet, which enable it to swim; and it can also dive down in the deep water, where it finds fish and mussels, and perhaps the roots of some water-plants to eat. It makes very little motion or disturbance in the water when it goes down in search of its prey. Its coat is thick, and formed of two kinds of hair; the outer hair is long, silky, and shining; the under part is short, fine, and warm. The water cannot penetrate to wet them,—the oily nature of the fur throws off the moisture. They dig large holes with their claws, which are short, but very strong. They line their nests with dry grass and rushes and roots gnawed fine, and do not pass the winter in sleep, as the dormice, flying squirrels, racoons, and bears do. They are very innocent and playful, both when young and even after they grow old. The lumberers often tame them, and they become so docile that they will come at a call or whistle. Like all wild animals, they are most lively at night, when they come out to feed and play."
"Dear little things! I should like to have a tame otter to play with, and run after me; but do you think he would eat my squirrel? You know cats will eat squirrels—so mamma says."
"Cats belong to a very different class of animals; they are beasts of prey, formed to spring and bound, and tear with their teeth and claws. The otter is also a beast of prey, but its prey is found in the still waters, and not on the land; it can neither climb nor leap. So I do not think he would hurt your squirrel, if you had one."
"See, nurse, my dear little squirrel is still where I left him, clinging to the wires of the cage, his bright eyes looking like two black beads."
"As soon as it grows dark he will begin to be more lively, and perhaps he will eat something, but not while we look at him—he is too shy for that."
"Nurse, how can they see to eat in the dark?"
"The good God, Lady Mary, has so formed their eyes that they can see best by night. I will read you, Lady Mary, a few Verses from Psalm civ.:—
"Verse 19. He appointed the moon for seasons: the sun knoweth his going down.
20. Thou makest darkness, and it is night: wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth.
21. The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God.
22. The sun ariseth, they gather themselves together, and lay them down in their dens.
23. Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening.
24. O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the eath is full of thy riches.
"Thus you see, my dear lady, that our heavenly Father taketh care of all his creatures, and provideth for them both by day and by night."
"I remember, nurse, that my dormice used to lie quite still, nestled among the moss and wool in their little dark chamber in the cage, all day long; but when it was night they used to come out and frisk about, and run along the wires, and play all sorts of tricks, chasing one another round and round, and they were not afraid of me, but would let me look at them while they ate a nut, or a bit of sugar; and the dear little things would drink out of their little white saucer, and wash their faces and tails—it was so pretty to see them!"
"Did you notice, Lady Mary, how the dormice held their food?"
"Yes, they sat up, and held it in their fore-paws, which looked just like tiny hands."
"There are many animals whose fore-feet resemble hands, and these, generally, convey their food to their mouths—among these are the squirrel and dormice. They are good climbers and diggers. You see, my dear young lady, how the merciful Creator has given to all his creatures, however lowly, the best means of supplying their wants, whether of food or shelter."
"Indeed, nurse, I have learned a great deal about squirrels, Canadian rice, otters, and Indians; but, if you please, I must now have a little play with my doll. Good-bye, Mrs. Frazer,—pray take care of my dear little squirrel, and mind that he does not fly away." And Lady Mary was soon busily engaged in drawing her wax doll about the nursery in a little sleigh lined with red squirrel fur robes, and talking to her as all children like to talk to their dolls, whether they be rich or poor—the children of peasants, or governors' daughters.
LADY MARY READS TO MRS. FRAZER THE FIRST PART OF THE HISTORY OF THE SQUIRREL FAMILY.
One day Lady Mary came to her nurse, and putting her arms about her neck, whispered to her,—"Mrs. Frazer, my dear good governess has given me something—it is in my hand," and she slily held her hand behind her— "will you guess what it is?"
"Is it a book, my lady?"
"Yes, yes, it is a book, a pretty book; and see, here are pictures of squirrels in it. Mrs. Frazer, if you like, I will sit down on this cushion by you and read some of my new book. It does not seem very hard."
Then Mrs. Frazer took out her work-basket and sat down to sew, and Lady Mary began to read the little story, which, I hope, may entertain my little readers as much as it did the Governor's daughter.
THE HISTORY OF A SQUIRREL FAMILY
It must be a pleasant thing to be a squirrel, and live a life of freedom in the boundless forests; to leap and bound among the branches of the tall trees; to gambol in the deep shade of the cool glossy leaves, through the long warm summer day; to gather the fresh nuts and berries; to drink the pure dews of heaven, all bright and sparkling from the opening flowers; to sleep on soft beds of moss and thistle-down in some hollow branch rocked by the wind as in a cradle. Yet, though this was the happy life led by a family of pretty grey squirrels that had their dwelling in the hoary branch of an old oak-tree that grew on one of the rocky islands in a beautiful lake in Upper Canada, called Stony Lake (because it was full of rocky islands), these little creatures were far from being contented, and were always wishing for a change. Indeed, they had been very happy, till one day when a great black squirrel swam to the island and paid them a visit. He was a very fine handsome fellow, nearly twice as large as any of the grey squirrels; he had a tail that flourished over his back, when he set it up, like a great black feather; his claws were sharp and strong, and his eyes very round and bright; he had upright ears, and long, sharp teeth, of which he made good use. The old grey squirrels called him cousin, and invited him to dinner. They very civilly set before him some acorns and beech-nuts; but he proved a hungry visitor, and ate as much as would have fed the whole family for a week. After the grey squirrels had cleared away the shells and scraps, they asked their greedy guest where he came from, when Blackie told them he was a great traveller, and had seen many wonderful things; that he had once lived on a forked pine at the head of the Waterfall, but being tired of a dull life, he had gone out on his travels to see the world; that he had been down the lake, and along the river shore, where there were great places cut out in the thick forest, called clearings, where some very tall creatures lived, who were called men and women, with young ones called children; that though they were not so pretty as squirrels—for they had no for on them, and were obliged to make clothes to cover them and keep them warm—they were very useful, and sowed corn and planted fruit-trees and roots for squirrels to eat, and even built large grain stores to keep it safe and dry for them.
This seemed very strange, and the simple little grey squirrels were very much pleased, and said they should like very much to go down the lakes too, and see these wonderful things.
The black squirrel then told them that there were many things to be seen in these clearings: that there were large beasts, called oxen, and cows, and sheep, and pigs; and these creatures had houses built for them to live in; and all the men and women seemed to employ themselves about, was feeding and taking care of them.
Now this cunning fellow never told his simple cousins that the oxen had to bear a heavy wooden yoke and chain, and were made to work very hard; nor that the cows were fed that they might give milk to the children; nor that the pigs were fatted to make pork; nor that the sheep had their warm fleeces cut off every year that the settlers might have the wool to spin and weave. Blackie did not say that the men carried guns, and the dogs were fierce, and would hunt poor squirrels from tree to tree, frightening them almost to death with their loud, angry barking; that cats haunted the barns and houses, and, in short, that there were dangers as well as pleasures to be met with in these clearings; and that the barns were built to shelter the grain for men, and not for the benefit of squirrels.
The black squirrel proved rather a troublesome guest, for he stayed several days, and ate so heartily, that the old grey squirrels were obliged to hint that he had better go back to the clearings, where there was so much food, for that their store was nearly done.
When Blackie found that all the nice nuts were eaten, and that even pine-kernels and beech-nuts were becoming scarce, he went away, saying that he should soon come again.
The old grey squirrels were glad when they saw the tip of Blackie's tail disappear, as he whisked down the trunk of the old oak; but their young ones were very sorry that he was gone, for they liked very much to listen to all his wonderful stories, which they thought were true; and they told their father and mother how they wished they would leave the dull island and the old tree, and go down the lakes, and see the wonderful things that their black cousin had described.
But the old ones shook their heads, and said they feared there was more fiction than truth in the tales they had heard, and that if they were wise they would stay where they were. "What do you want more, my dear children," said their mother, "than you enjoy here? Have you not this grand old oak for a palace to live in; its leaves and branches spreading like a canopy over your heads, to shelter you from the hot sun by day and the dews by night? Are there not moss, dried grass, and roots beneath, to make a soft bed for you to lie upon? and do not the boughs drop down a plentiful store of brown ripe acorns? That silver lake, studded with islands of all shapes and sizes, produces cool clear water for you to drink and bathe yourselves in. Look at those flowers that droop their blossoms down to its glassy surface, and the white lilies that rest upon its bosom,—will you see anything fairer or better if you leave this place? Stay at home and be contented."
"If I hear any more grumbling," said their father, "I shall pinch your ears and tails." So the little squirrels said no more, but I am sorry to say they did not pay much heed to their wise, old mother's counsels; for whenever they were alone, all their talk was how to run away, and go abroad to see the world, as their black cousin had called the new settlement down the lakes. It never came into the heads of the silly creatures that those wonderful stories they had been told originated in an artful scheme of the greedy black squirrel, to induce them to leave their warm pleasant house in the oak, that he and his children might come and live in it, and get the hoards of grain, and nuts, and acorns, that their father and mother had been laying up for winter stores.
Moreover, the wily black squirrel had privately told them that their father and mother intended to turn them out of the nest very soon, and make provision for a new family. This indeed was really the case; for as soon as young animals can provide for themselves, their parents turn them off, and care no more for them. Very different, indeed, is this from our parents; for they love and cherish us as long as they live, and afford us a home and shelter as long as we need it.
Every hour these little grey squirrels grew more and more impatient to leave the lonely little rocky island, though it was a pretty spot, and the place of their birth; but they were now eager to go abroad and seek their fortunes.
"Let us keep our own counsel," said Nimble-foot to his sisters Velvet-paw and Silver-nose, "or we may chance to get our tails pulled; but be all ready for a start by early dawn to-morrow."
Velvet-paw and Silver-nose said they would be up before sunrise, as they should have a long voyage down the lake, and agreed to rest on Pine Island near the opening of Clear Lake. "And then take to the shore and travel through the woods, where, no doubt, we shall have a pleasant time," said Nimble-foot, who was the most hopeful of the party.
The sun was scarcely yet risen over the fringe of dark pines that skirted the shores of the lake, and a soft creamy mist hung on the surface of the still waters, which were unruffled by the slightest breeze. The little grey squirrels awoke, and looked sleepily out from the leafy screen that shaded their mossy nest. The early notes of the wood-thrush and song-sparrow, with the tender warbling of the tiny wren, sounded sweetly in the still, dewy morning air; while from a cedar swamp was heard the trill of the green frogs, which the squirrels thought very pretty music. As the sun rose above the tops of the trees, the mist rolled off in light fleecy clouds, and soon was lost in the blue sky, or lay in large bright drops on the cool grass and shining leaves. Then all the birds awoke, and the insects shook their gauzy wings which had been folded all the night in the flower-cups, and the flowers began to lift their heads, and the leaves to expand to catch the golden light. There was a murmur on the water as it played among the sedges, and lifted the broad floating leaves of the white water-lilies, with their carved ivory cups; and the great green, brown, and blue dragon-flies rose with a whirring sound, and darted to and fro among the water flowers.
It is a glorious sight to see the sun rise at any time, for then we can look upon him without having our eyes dazzled with the brightness of his beams; and though there were no men and women and little children, in the lonely waters and woods, to lift up their hands and voices in prayer and praise to God, who makes the sun to rise each day, yet no doubt the great Creator is pleased to see his creatures rejoice in the blessings of light and heat.
Lightly running down the rugged bark of the old oak-tree, the little squirrels bade farewell to their island home—to the rocks, mosses, ferns, and flowers that had sheltered them, among which they had so often chased each other in merry gambols. They thought little of all this, when they launched themselves on the silver bosom of the cool lake.
"How easy it is to swim in this clear water!" said Silver-nose to her sister Velvet-paw. "We shall not be long in reaching yonder island, and there, no doubt, we shall get a good breakfast."
So the little swimmers proceeded on their voyage, furrowing the calm waters as they glided noiselessly along; their soft grey heads and ears and round black eyes only being seen, and the bright streaks caused by the motion of their tails, which lay flat on the surface, looking like silver threads gently floating on the stream.
Not being much used to the fatigue of swimming, the little squirrels were soon tired, and if it had not been for a friendly bit of stick that happened to float near her, poor Velvet-paw would have been drowned; however, she got up on the stick, and, setting up her fine broad tail, went merrily on, and soon passed Nimble-foot and Silver-nose. The current drew the stick towards the Pine Island that lay at the entrance of Clear Lake, and Velvet-paw leaped ashore, and sat down on a mossy stone to dry her fur, and watch for her brother and sister: they, too, found a large piece of birch-bark which the winds had blown into the water, and as a little breeze had sprung up to waft them along, they were not very long before they landed on the island. They were all very glad when they met again, after the perils and fatigues of the voyage. The first thing to be done was to look for something to eat, for their early rising had made them very hungry. They found abundance of pine-cones strewn on the ground, but, alas for our little squirrels! very few kernels in them; for the crossbills and chiccadees had been at work for many weeks on the trees; and also many families of their poor relations, the chitmunks or ground squirrels, had not been idle, as our little voyagers could easily guess by the chips and empty cones round their holes. So, weary as they were, they were obliged to run up the tall pine and hemlock trees, to search among the cones that grew on their very top branches. While our squirrels were busy with the few kernels they chanced to find, they were startled from their repast by the screams of a large slate-coloured hawk, and Velvet-paw very narrowly escaped being pounced upon and carried off in its sharp-hooked talons. Silver-nose at the same time was nearly frightened to death by the keen round eyes of a cunning racoon, which had come within a few feet of the mossy branch of an old cedar, where she sat picking the seeds out of a dry head of a blue flag-flower she had found on the shore. Silvy, at this sight, gave a spring that left her many yards beyond her sharp-sighted enemy.
A lively note of joy was uttered by Nimblefoot, for, perched at his ease on a top branch of the hemlock-tree, he had seen the bound made by Silver-nose.
"Well jumped, Silvy," said he; "Mister Coon must be a smart fellow to equal that. But look sharp, or you will get your neck wrung yet; I see we must keep a good look-out in this strange country."
"I begin to wish we were safe back again in our old one," whined Silvy, who was much frightened by the danger she had just escaped.
"Pooh, pooh, child; don't be a coward," said Nimble, laughing.
"Cousin Blackie never told us there were hawks and coons on this island," said Velvet-paw.
"My dear, he thought we were too brave to be afraid of hawks and coons," said Nimble. "For my part, I think it is a fine thing to go out a little into the world. We should never see anything better than the sky and the water, and the old oak-tree on that little island."
"Ay, but I think it is safer to see than to be seen," said Silvy, "for hawks and eagles have strong beaks, and racoons sharp claws and hungry-looking teeth; and it is not very pleasant, Nimble, to be obliged to look out for such wicked creatures."
"Oh, true indeed," said Nimble; "if it had not been for that famous jump you made, Silvy, and, Velvet, your two admirers, the hawk and racoon, would soon have hid all your beauties from the world, and put a stop to your travels."
"It is very well for brother Nimble to make light of our dangers," whispered Velvet-paw, "but let us see how he will jump if a big eagle were to pounce down to carry him off."
"Yes, yes," said Silvy; "it is easy to brag before one is in danger."
The squirrels thought they would now go and look for some partridge-berries, of which they were very fond, for the pine-kernels were but dry husky food after all.
There were plenty of the pretty white star-shaped blossoms, growing all over the ground under the pine-trees, but the bright scarlet twin-berries were not yet ripe. In winter the partridges eat this fruit from under the snow; and it furnishes food for many little animals as well as birds. The leaves are small, of a dark green, and the white flowers have a very fine fragrant scent. Though the runaways found none of these berries fit to eat, they saw some ripe strawberries among the bushes; and, having satisfied their hunger, began to grow very merry, and whisked here and there and everywhere, peeping into this hole and under that stone. Sometimes they had a good game of play, chasing one another up and down the trees, chattering and squeaking as grey squirrels only can chatter and squeak, when they are gambolling about in the wild woods of Canada.
Indeed, they made such a noise, that the great ugly black snakes lifted up their heads, and stared at them with their wicked spiteful-looking eyes, and the little ducklings swimming among the water-lilies, gathered round their mother, and a red-winged blackbird perched on a dead tree gave alarm to the rest of the flock by calling out, Geck, geck, geck, as loudly as he could. In the midst of their frolics, Nimble skipped into a hollow log—but was glad to run out again; for a porcupine covered with sharp spines was there, and was so angry at being disturbed, that he stuck one of his spines into poor Nimble-foot's soft velvet nose, and there it would have remained if Silvy had not seized it with her teeth and pulled it out. Nimble-foot squeaked sadly, and would not play any longer, but rolled himself up and went to sleep in a red-headed woodpecker's old nest; while Silvy and Velvet-paw frisked about in the moonlight, and when tired of play got up into an old oak which had a large hollow place in the crown of it, and fell asleep, fancying, no doubt, that they were on the rocky island in Stony Lake; and so we will bid them good night, and wish them pleasant dreams.
* * * * *
Lady Mary had read a long while, and was now tired; so she kissed her nurse, and-said "Now, Mrs. Frazer, I will play with my doll, and feed my squirrel and my dormice."
The dormice were two soft, brown creatures, almost as pretty and as innocent as the squirrel, and a great deal tamer; and they were called Jeannette and Jeannot, and would come when they were called by their names, and take a bit of cake or a lump of sugar out of the fingers of their little mistress. Lady Mary had two canaries, Dick and Pet; and she loved her dormice and birds, and her new pet the flying squirrel, very much, and never let them want for food, or water, or any nice thing she could get for them. She liked the history of the grey squirrels very much; and was quite eager to get her book the next afternoon, to read the second part of the adventures and wanderings of the family.
WHICH TELLS HOW THE GREY SQUIRRELS GET ON WHILE THEY REMAINED ON PINE ISLAND—HOW THEY BEHAVED TO THEIR POOR RELATIONS, THE CHITMUNKS—AND WHAT HAPPENED TO THEM IN THE FOREST.
It was noon when the little squirrels awoke, and, of course, they were quite ready for their breakfast; but there was no good, kind old mother to provide for their wants, and to bring nuts, acorns, roots, or fruit for them; they must now get up, go forth, and seek food for themselves. When Velvet-paw and Silver-nose went to call Nimble-foot, they were surprised to find his nest empty; but after searching a long while, they found him sitting on the root of an upturned tree, looking at a family of little chitmunks busily picking over the pine-cones on the ground; but as soon as one of the poor little fellows, with great labour, had dug out a kernel, and was preparing to eat it, down leaped Nimble-foot, and carried off the prize; and if one of the little chitmunks ventured to say a word, he very uncivilly gave him a scratch, or bit his ears, calling him a mean, shabby fellow.
Now, the chitmunks were really very pretty. They were, to be sure, not more than half the size of the grey squirrels, and their fur was short, without the soft thick glossy look upon it of the grey squirrels'. They were of a lively tawny yellow-brown colour, with long black and white stripes down their backs; their tails were not so long nor so thickly furred; and instead of living in the trees, they made their nests in logs and wind-falls, and had their granaries and winter houses too under ground, where they made warm nests of dried moss and grass and thistledown; to these they had several entrances, so that they had always a chance of refuge if danger were nigh. Like the dormice, flying squirrels, and ground hogs, they slept soundly during the cold weather, only awakening when the warm spring sun had melted the snow. [Footnote: It is not quite certain that the chitmunk is a true squirrel, and he is sometimes called a striped rat. This pretty animal seems, indeed, to form a link between the rat and squirrel.]
The vain little grey squirrels thought themselves much better than these little chitmunks, whom they treated with very little politeness, laughing at them for living in holes in the ground, instead of upon lofty trees, as they did; they even called them low-bred fellows, and wondered why they did not imitate their high breeding and behaviour.
The chitmunks took very little notice of their rudeness, but merely said that, if being high-bred made people rude, they would rather remain humble as they were.
"As we are the head of all the squirrel families," said Silver-nose, "we shall do you the honour of breakfasting with you to-day."
"We breakfasted hours ago, while you lazy fellows were fast asleep," replied an old chitmunk, poking his little nose out of a hole in the ground.
"Then we shall dine with you: so make haste and get something good for us," said Nimble-foot. "I have no doubt you have plenty of butter and hickory-nuts laid up in your holes."
The old chitmunk told him he might come and get them, if he could.
At this the grey squirrels skipped down from the branches, and began to run hither and thither, and to scratch among the moss and leaves, to find the entrance to the chitmunks' grain stores. They peeped under the old twisted roots of the pines and cedars, into every chink and cranny, but no sign of a granary was to be seen.
Then the chitmunks said, "My dear friends, this is a bad season to visit us; we are very poor just now, finding it difficult to get a few dry pine-kernels and berries, but if you will come and see us after harvest, we shall have a store of nuts and acorns."
"Pretty fellows you are!" replied Nimble, "to put us off with promises, when we are so hungry; we might starve between this and harvest."
"If you leave this island, and go down the lake, you will come to a mill, where the red squirrels live, and where you will have fine times," said one of the chitmunks.
"Which is the nearest way to the mill?" asked Velvet-paw.
"Swim to the shore, and keep the Indian, path, and you will soon see it."
But while the grey squirrels were looking out for the path, the cunning chitmunks whisked away into their holes, and left the inquirers in the lurch, who could not tell what had become of them; for though they did find a round hole that they thought might be one of their burrows, it was so narrow that they could only poke in their noses, but could get no further; the grey squirrels being much fatter and bigger than the slim little chitmunks.
"After all," said Silvy, who was the best of the three, "perhaps, if we had been civil, the chitmunks would have treated us better."
"Well," said Nimble, "if they had been good fellows, they would have invited us, as our mother did cousin Blackie, and have set before us the best they had. I could find it in my heart to dig them out of their holes, and give them a good bite." This was all brag on Nimble's part, who was not near so brave as he wished Silvy and Velvet-paw to suppose he was.
After spending some time in hunting for acorns, they made up their minds to leave the island; and as it was not very far to the mainland, they decided on swimming thither.
"Indeed," said Silver-nose, "I am tired of this dull place; we are not better off here than we were in the little island in Stony Lake, where our good old mother took care we should have plenty to eat, and we had a nice warm nest to shelter us."
"Ah! well, it is of no use grumbling now; if we were to go back, we should only get a scolding, and perhaps be chased off the island," said Nimble. "Now let us have a race, and see which of us will get to shore first;" and he leaped over Velvet-paw's head, and was soon swimming merrily for the shore. He was soon followed by his companions, and in half an hour they were all safely landed. Instead of going into the thick forest, they agreed to take the path by the margin of the lake, for there they had a better chance of getting nuts and fruit; but though it was the merry month of June, and there were plenty of pretty flowers in bloom, the berries were hardly ripe, and our little vagrants fared but badly. Besides being hungry, they were sadly afraid of the eagles and fish-hawks that kept hovering over the water; and when they went further into the forest to avoid them, they saw a great white wood-owl, noiselessly flying out from among the close cedar swamps, that seemed just ready to pounce down upon them. The grey squirrels did not like the look of the owl's great round shining eyes, as they peered at them, under the tufts of silky white feathers, which almost hid his hooked bill; and their hearts sunk within them, when they heard his hollow cry, "Ho, ho, ho, ho!" "Waugh, ho!" dismally sounding in their ears.
It was well that Velvet-paw was as swift afoot as she was soft, for one of these great owls had very nearly caught her, while she was eating a filbert that she had found in a cleft branch, where a nuthatch had fixed it, while she pecked a hole in the shell. Some bird of prey had scared away the poor nuthatch, and Velvet-paw no doubt thought she was in luck when she found the prize; but it would have been a dear nut to her, if Nimble, who was a sharp-sighted fellow, had not seen the owl, and cried "Chit, chit, chit, chit!" to warn her of her danger. "Chit, chit, chit, chit!" cried Velvet-paw, and away she flew to the very top of a tall pine-tree, springing from one tree-top to another, till she was soon out of the old owl's reach.
"What shall we do for supper to-night?" said Silver-nose, looking very pitifully at Nimble-foot; whom they looked upon as the head of the family.
"We shall not want for a good supper and breakfast too, or I am very much mistaken. Do you see that red squirrel yonder, climbing the hemlock-tree? Well, my dears, he has a fine store of good things in that beech-tree. I watched him run down with a nut in his teeth. Let us wait patiently, and we shall see him come again for another; and as soon as he has done his meal, we will go and take ours."
The red squirrel ran to and fro several times, each time carrying off a nut to his nest in the hemlock; after a while, he came no more. As soon as he was out of sight Nimble led the way, and found the hoard. The beech was quite hollow in the heart, and they went down through a hole in the branch, and found a store of hazel-nuts, with acorns, hickory-nuts, butter-nuts, and beech-mast, all packed quite close and dry. They soon made a great hole in the red squirrel's store of provisions, and were just choosing some nuts to carry off with them, when they were disturbed by a scratching against the bark of the tree. Nimble, who was always the first to take care of himself, gave the alarm, and he and Velvet-paw, being nearest to the hole, got off safely; but poor Silvy had the ill luck to sneeze, and before she had time to hide herself the angry red squirrel sprang upon her, and gave her such a terrible cuffing and scratching, that Silvy cried out for mercy. As to Nimble-foot and Velvet-paw, they paid no heed to her cries for help; they ran away, and left her to bear the blame of all their misdeeds, as well as her own. Thieves are always cowards, and are sure to forsake one another when danger is nigh.
The angry red squirrel pushed poor Silvy out of her granary, and she was glad to crawl away, and hide herself in a hole at the root of a neighbouring tree, where she lay in great pain and terror, licking her wounds, and crying to think how cruel it was of her brother and sister to leave her to the mercy of the red squirrel. It was surely very cowardly of Foot-foot and Velvet-paw to forsake her in such a time of need; nor was this the only danger that befel poor Silvy. One morning, when she put her nose out of the hole, to look about her before venturing out, she saw seated on a branch, close beside the tree she was under, a racoon, staring full at her, with his sharp cunning black eyes. She was very much afraid of him, for she thought he looked very hungry; but as she knew that racoons are very fond of nuts and fruit, she said to herself, "Perhaps if I show him where the red squirrel's granary in the beech-tree is, he will not kill me." Then she said very softly to him, "Good Mister Coon, if you want a very nice breakfast, and will promise to do me no hurt, I will tell you where to find plenty of nuts."
The coon eyed her with a sly grin, and said, "If I can get anything more to my taste than a pretty grey squirrel, I will take it, my dear, and not lay a paw upon your soft back."
"Ah! but you must promise not to touch me, if I come out and show yon where to find the nuts," said Silvy.
"Upon the word and honour of a coon!" replied the racoon, laying one black paw upon his breast; "but if you do not come out of your hole, I shall soon come and dig you out, so you had best be quick; and if you trust me, you shall come to no hurt."
Then Silvy thought it wisest to seem to trust the racoon's word, and she came out of her hole, and went a few paces to point out the tree, where her enemy the red squirrel's store of nuts was; but as soon as she saw Mister Coon disappear in the hollow of the tree, she bade him good-bye, and whisked up a tall tree, where she knew the racoon could not reach her; and having now quite recovered her strength, she was able to leap from branch to branch, and even from one tree to another, whenever they grew, close and the boughs touched, as they often do in the grand old woods in Canada; and so she was soon far, far away from the artful coon, who waited a long time, hoping to carry off poor Silvy for his dinner.
Silvy contrived to pick up a living by digging for roots, and eating such fruits as she could find; but one day she came to a grassy cleared spot, where she saw a strange-looking tent, made with poles stuck into the ground and meeting at the top, from which came a bluish cloud that spread among the trees; and as Silvy was very curious, she came nearer, and at last, hearing no sound, ran up one of the poles, and peeped in, to see what was within side, thinking it might be one of the fine stores of grain that people built for the squirrels, as her cousin Blackie had made her believe. The poles were covered with sheets of birch-bark, and skins of deer and wolves, and there was a fire of sticks burning in the middle, round which some large creatures were sitting on a bear's skin, eating something that smelt very nice. They had long black hair, and black eyes, and very white teeth. Silvy felt alarmed at first; but thinking they must be the people who were kind to squirrels, she ventured to slip through a slit in the bark, and ran down into the wigwam, hoping to get something to eat; but in a minute the Indians jumped up, and before she had time to make her escape she was seized by a young squaw, and popped into a birch box, and the lid shut down upon her: so poor Silvy was caught in a trap; and all for believing the artful black squirrel's tales.
Silver-nose remembered her mother's warning now, when it was too late; she tried to get out of her prison, but in vain; the sides of the box were too strong, and there was not so much as a single crack for a peep-hole. After she had been shut up some time, the lid was raised a little, and a dark hand put in some bright, shining hard grains for her to eat. This was Indian corn, and it was excellent food; but Silvy was a long, long time before she would eat any of this sweet corn, she was so vexed at being caught and shut up in prison; besides, she was very much afraid that the Indians were going to eat her. After some days, she began to get used to her captive state; the little squaw used to feed her, and one day took her out of the box, and put her into a nice light cage, where there was soft green moss to lie on, a little bark dish with clear water, and abundance of food. The cage was hung up on the bough of a tree, near the wigwam, to swing to and fro as the wind waved the tree. Here Silvy could see the birds flying to and fro, and listen to their cheerful songs. The Indian women and children had always a kind look, or a word to say to her; and her little mistress was so kind to her, that Silvy could not help loving her. She was very grateful for her care; for when she was sick and sulky, the little squaw gave her bits of maple-sugar and parched rice out of her hand. At last Silvy grew tame, and would suffer herself to be taken out of her house, to sit on her mistress's shoulder, or in her lap; and though she sometimes ran away and hid herself, out of fun, she would not have gone far from the tent of the good Indians, on any account. Sometimes she saw the red squirrels running about in the forest, but they never came very near her; but she used to watch ail day long for her brother Nimble-foot, or sister Velvet; but they were now far away from her, and no doubt thought that she had been killed by the red squirrel, or eaten up by a fox or racoon.
* * * * *
"Nurse, I am so glad pretty Silvy was not killed, and that the good Indians took care of her."
"It is time now, my dear, for you to put down your book," said Mrs. Frazer, "and to-morrow we will read some more."
"Yes, if you please, Mrs. Frazer," said Lady Mary.
HOW THE SQUIRRELS GOT TO THE MILL AT THE RAPIDS—AND WHAT HAPPENED TO VELVET-PAW.
Nimble-foot and Velvet-paw were so frightened by the sight of the red squirrel, that they ran down the tree without once looking back to see what had become of poor Silver-nose; indeed the cowards, instead of waiting for their poor sister, fled through the forest as if an army of red squirrels were behind them. At last they reached the banks of the lake, and, jumping into the water, swam down the current till they came to a place called the "Narrow," where the wide lake poured its waters through a deep rocky channel, not more than a hundred yards wide; here the waters became so rough and rapid, that our little swimmers thought it wisest to go on shore. They scrambled up the steep rocky bank, and found themselves on a wide open space, quite free from trees, which they knew must be one of the great clearings the traveller squirrel had spoken of. There was a very high building on the water's edge, that they thought must be the mill that the chitmunks had told them they would come to; and they were in good spirits, as they now expected to find plenty of good things laid up for them to eat, so they went in by the door of the mill.
"Dear me, what a dust there is!", said Nimble, looking about him; "I think it must be snowing."
"Snow does not fall in hot weather," said Velvet; "besides, this white powder is very sweet and nice;" and she began to lick some of the flour that lay in the cracks of the floor.
"I have found some nice seeds here," said Nimble, running to the top of a sack that stood with the mouth untied; "these are better than pine-kernels, and not so hard. We must have come to one of the great grain-stores that our cousin told us of. Well, I am sure the people are very kind to have laid up so many good things for us squirrels."
When they had eaten as much as they liked, they began to run about to see what was in the mill. Presently, a man came in, and they saw him take one of the sacks of wheat, and pour it into a large upright box, and in a few minutes there was a great noise—a sort of buzzing, whirring, rumbling, dashing, and splashing;—and away ran Velvet-paw in a terrible fright, and scrambled up some beams and rafters to the top of the wall, where she sat watching what was going—on, trembling all over; but finding that no harm happened to her, took courage, and after a time ceased to be afraid. She saw Nimble perched on a cross-beam looking down very intently at something; so she came out of her corner and ran to him, and asked what he was looking at.
"There is a great black thing here," said he, "I cannot tell what to make of him at all; it turns round, and round, and round, and dashes the water about, making a fine splash." (This was the water-wheel.)
"It looks very ugly indeed," said Velvet-paw, "and makes my head giddy to look at it; let us go away. I want to find out what these two big stones are doing," said she; "they keep rubbing against one another, and making a great noise."
"There is nothing so wonderful in two big stones, my dear," said Nimble; "I have seen plenty bigger than these in Stony Lake."
"But they did not move about as these do; and only look here at the white stuff that is running down all the time into this great box. Well, we shall not want for food for the rest of our lives; I wish poor Silvy were with us to share in our good luck."
They saw a great many other strange things in the mill, and they thought that the miller was a very funny-looking creature; but as they fancied that he was grinding the wheat into flour for them, they were not much afraid of him; they were more troubled at the sight of a black dog, which spied them out as they sat on the beams of the mill, and ran about in a great rage, barking at them in a frightful way, and never left off till the miller went out of the mill, when he went away with his master, and did not return till the next day; but whenever he saw the grey squirrels, this little dog, whose name was "Pinch," was sure to set up his ears and tail, and snap and bark, showing all his sharp white teeth in a very savage manner.
Not far from the mill was another building: this was the house the miller lived in; and close by the house was a barn, a stable, a cow-shed, and a sheep-pen, and there was a garden full of fruit and flowers, and an orchard of apple-trees close by.
One day Velvet-paw ran up one of the apple-trees and began to eat an apple; it looked very good, for it had a bright red cheek, but it was hard and sour, not being ripe. "I do not like these big, sour berries," said she, making wry faces as she tried to get the bad taste out of her mouth by wiping her tongue on her fore-paw. Nimble had found some ripe currants; so he only laughed at poor Velvet for the trouble she was in.
These little grey squirrels now led a merry life; they found plenty to eat and drink, and would not have had a care in the world, if it had not been for the noisy little dog Pinch, who let them have no quiet, barking and baying at them whenever he saw them; and also for the watchful eyes of a great tom-cat, who was always prowling about the mill, or creeping round the orchard and outhouses; so that with all their good food they were not quite free from causes of fear, and no doubt sometimes wished themselves safe back on the little rocky island, in their nest in the old oak-tree.
Time passed away—the wheat and the oats were now ripe and fit for the scythe, for in Canada the settlers mow wheat with an instrument called a "cradle scythe." The beautiful Indian corn was in bloom, and its long pale green silken threads were waving in the summer breeze. The blue-jays were busy in the fields of wheat; so were the red-winged blackbirds, and the sparrows, and many other birds, great and small; field-mice in dozens were cutting the straw with their sharp teeth, and carrying off the grain to their nests; and as to the squirrels and chitmunks, there were scores of them, black, red, and grey, filling their cheeks with the grain, and laying it out on the rail fences and on the top of the stumps to dry, before they carried it away to their storehouses. And many a battle the red and the black squirrels had, and sometimes the grey joined with the red, to beat the black ones off the ground.
Nimble-foot and his sister kept out of these quarrels as much as they could; but once they got a severe beating from the red squirrels for not helping them to drive off the saucy black ones, who would carry away the little heaps of wheat, as soon as they were dry.
"We do not mean to trouble ourselves with laying up winter stores," said Nimble one day to his red cousins; "don't you see Peter, the miller's man, has got a great wagon and horses, and is carting wheat into the barn for us?"
The red squirrel opened his round eyes very wide at this speech. "Why, Cousin Nimble," he said, "you are not so foolish as to think the miller is harvesting that grain for your use. No, no, my friend; if you want any, you must work as we do, or run the chance of starving in the winter."
Then Nimble told him what their cousin Blackie had said. "You were wise fellows to believe such nonsense!" said the red squirrel. "These mills and barns are all stored for the use of the miller and his family; and what is more, my friend, I can tell you that men are no great friends to us poor squirrels, and will kill us when they get the chance, and begrudge us the grain we help ourselves to."
"Well, that is very stingy," said Velvet-paw; "I am sure there is enough for men and squirrels too. However, I suppose all must live, so we will let them have what we leave; I shall help myself after they have stored it up in yonder barn."
"You had better do as we do, and make hay while the sun shines," said the red squirrel.
"I would rather play in the sunshine, and eat what I want here," said idle Velvet-paw, setting up her fine tail like a feather over her back, as she ate an ear of corn.
"You are a foolish, idle thing, and will come to no good," said the red squirrel. "I wonder where you were brought up?"
I am very sorry to relate that Velvet-paw did not come to a good end, for she did not take the advice of her red cousin, to lay up provisions during the harvest; but instead of that, she ate all day long, and grew fat and lazy; and after the fields were all cleared, she went to the mill one day, when the mill was grinding, and seeing a quantity of wheat in the feeder of the mill, she ran up a beam and jumped down, thinking to make a good dinner from the grain she saw; but it kept sliding down and sliding down so fast, that she could not get one grain, so at last she began to be frightened, and tried to get up again, but, alas! this was not possible. She cried out to Nimble to help her; and while he ran to look for a stick for her to raise herself up by, the mill-wheel kept on turning, and the great stones went round faster and faster, till poor Velvet-paw was crushed to death between them. Nimble was now left all alone, and sad enough he was, you may suppose.
"Ah," said he, "idleness is the ruin of grey squirrels, as well as men, so I will go away from this place, and try and earn an honest living in the forest. I wish I had not believed all the fine tales my cousin the black squirrel told me."
Then Nimble went away from the clearing, and once more resolved to seek his fortune in the woods. He knew there were plenty butter-nuts, acorns, hickory-nuts, and beech-nuts, to be found, besides many sorts of berries; and he very diligently set to work to lay up stores against the coming winter.
As it was now getting cold at night, Nimble-foot thought it would be wise to make himself a warm house; so he found out a tall hemlock-pine that was very thick and bushy at the top; there was a forked branch in the tree, with a hollow just fit for his nest. He carried twigs of birch and beech, and over these he laid dry green moss, which he collected on the north side of the cedar-trees, and some long grey moss that he found on the swamp maples, and then he stripped the silky threads from the milk-weeds, and the bark of the cedar and birch-trees. These he gnawed fine, and soon made a soft bed; he wove and twisted the sticks, and roots, and mosses together, till the walls of his house were quite thick, and he made a sort of thatch over the top with dry leaves and long moss, with a round hole to creep in and out of.
Making this warm house took him many days' labour; but many strokes will fell great oaks, so at last Nimble-foot's work came to an end, and he had the comfort of a charming house to shelter him from the cold season. He laid up a good store of nuts, acorns, and roots: some he put in a hollow branch of the hemlock-tree close to his nest; some he hid in a stump, and another store he laid under the roots of a mossy cedar. When all this was done, he began to feet very lonely, and often wished no doubt that he had had his sisters Silvy and Velvet-paw with him, to share his nice warm house; but of Silvy he knew nothing, and poor Velvet-paw was dead.
One fine moonlight night, as Nimble was frisking about on the bough of a birch-tree, not very far from his house in the hemlock, he saw a canoe land on the shore of the lake, and some Indians with an axe cut down some bushes, and having cleared a small piece of ground, begin to sharpen, the ends of some long poles. These they stuck into the ground close together in a circle; and having stripped some sheets of birch-bark from the birch-trees close by, they thatched the sides of the hut, and made a fire of sticks inside. They had a dead deer in the canoe, and there were several hares and black squirrels, the sight of which rather alarmed Nimble; for he thought if they killed one sort of squirrel, they might another, and he was very much scared at one of the Indians firing off a gun close by him. The noise made him fall down to the ground, and it was a good thing that it was dark among the leaves and grass where the trunk of the tree threw its long shadow, so that the Indian did not see him, or perhaps he might have loaded the gun again, and shot our little friend, and made soup of him for his supper.
Nimble ran swiftly up a pine-tree, and was soon out of danger. While he was watching some of the Indian children at play, he saw a girl come out of the hut with a grey squirrel in her arms; it did not seem at all afraid of her, but nestled to her shoulder, and even ate out of her hand; and what was Nimble's surprise to see that this tame grey squirrel was none other than his own pretty sister Silver-nose, whom he had left in the hollow tree when they both ran away from the red squirrel.
You may suppose the sight of his lost companion was a joyful one; he waited for a long, long time, till the fire went out, and all the Indians were fast asleep, and little Silvy came out to play in the moonlight, and frisk about on the dewy grass as she used to do. Then Nimble, when he saw her, ran down the tree, and came to her and rubbed his nose against her, and licked her soft fur, and told her who he was, and how sorry he was for having left her in so cowardly a manner, to be beaten by the red squirrel.
The good little Silvy told Nimble not to fret about what was past, and then she asked him for her sister Velvet-paw. Nimble had a long sorrowful tale to tell about the death of poor Velvet; and Silvy was much grieved. Then in her turn she told Nimble all her adventures, and how she had been caught by the Indian, girl, and kept, and fed, and tamed, and had passed her time very happily, if it had not been for thinking about her dear lost companions. "But now," she said, "my dear brother, we will never, part again; you shall be quite welcome, to share my cage, and my nice stores of Indian corn, rice, and nuts, which my kind mistress gives me."
"I would not be shut up in a cage, not even for one day," said Nimble, "for all the nice and grain in Canada. I am a free squirrel, and love my liberty. I would not exchange a life of freedom in these fine old woods, for all the dainties in the world. So, Silvy, if you prefer a life of idleness and ease to living with me in the forest, I must say good-bye to you."
"But there is nothing to hurt us, my dear Nimble—no racoons, nor foxes, nor hawks, nor owls, nor weasels; if I see any hungry-looking birds or beasts, I have a safe place to run to, and never need be hungry!"
"I would not lead a life like that, for the world," said Nimble. "I should die of dullness; if there is danger in a life of freedom, there is pleasure too, which you cannot enjoy, shut up in a wooden cage, and fed at the will of a master or mistress."
"Well, I shall be shot if the Indians awake and see me; so I shall be off."
Silvy looked very sorrowful; she did not like to part from her newly-found brother, but she was unwilling to forego all the comforts and luxuries her life of captivity afforded her.
"You will not tell the Indians where I live, I hope, Silvy, for they would think it a fine thing to hunt me with their dogs, or shoot me down with their bows and arrows."
At these words Silvy was overcome with grief, so jumping off from the log on which she was standing, she said, "Nimble, I will go with you and share all your perils, and we will never part again." She then ran into the wigwam; and going softly to the little squaw, who was asleep, licked her hands and face, as if she would say, "Good-bye, my good kind friend; I shall not forget all your love for me, though I am going away from you for ever."
Silvy then followed Nimble into the forest, and they soon reached his nice comfortable nest in the tall hemlock-tree.
* * * * *
"Nurse, I am glad Silvy went away with Nimble, are not you? Poor Nimble must have been so lonely without her, and then you know it must have seemed so hard to him if Silvy had preferred staying with the Indians, to living with him."
"Those who have been used to a life of ease do not willingly give it up, my dear lady; thus you see, love for her old companion was stronger even than love of self. But I think you must have tired yourself with reading so long to me."
"Indeed, nurse, I must read a little more, for I want you to hear how Silvy and Nimble amused themselves in the hemlock-tree."
Then Lady Mary went on and read as follows.
* * * * *
Silvy was greatly pleased with her new home, which was as soft and as warm as clean dry moss, hay, and fibres of roots could make it. The squirrels built a sort of pent or outer roof of twigs, dry leaves, and roots of withered grass, which was pitched so high that it threw off the rain and kept the inner house very dry. They worked at this very diligently, and also laid up a store of nuts and berries. They knew that they must not only provide plenty of food for the winter, but also for the spring months, when they could get little to eat beside the buds and bark of some sort of trees, and the chance seeds that might still remain in the pine-cones.
Thus the autumn months passed away very quickly and cheerfully with the squirrels while preparing for the coming winter. Half the cold season was spent, too, in sleep; but on mild sunny days the little squirrels, roused by the bright light of the sunbeams on the white and glittering snow, would shake themselves, rub their black eyes, and after licking themselves clean from dust, would whisk out of their house and indulge in merry gambols up and down the trunks of the trees, skipping from bough to bough, and frolicking over the hard crisp snow, which scarcely showed on its surface the delicate print of their tiny feet, and the sweep of their fine light feathery tails. Sometimes they met with some little shrewmice, running on the snow. These very tiny things are so small, they hardly look bigger than a large black beetle; they lived on the seeds of the tall weeds, which they, might be seen climbing and clinging to, yet were hardly heavy enough to weigh down the heads of the dry stalks. It is pretty to see the footprints of these small shrewmice, on the surface of the fresh fallen snow in the deep forest-glades. They are not dormant during the winter like many of the mouse tribe, for they are up and abroad at all seasons; for however stormy and severe the weather may be, they do not seem to heed its inclemency. Surely, children, there is One who cares for the small tender things of earth, and shelters them from the rude blasts.
Nimble-foot and Silver-nose often saw their cousins, the black squirrels, playing in the sunshine, chasing each other merrily up and down the trees, or over the brush-heaps; their jetty coats, and long feathery tails, forming a striking contrast with the whiteness of the snow, above which they were sporting. Sometimes they saw a few red squirrels too, but there was generally war between them and the black ones.
In these lonely forests, everything seems still and silent, during the long wintry season, as if death had spread a white pall over, the earth, and hushed every living thing into silence. Few sounds are heard through the winter days, to break the death-like silence that reigns around, excepting the sudden rending and cracking of the trees in the frosty air, the fall of a decayed branch, the tapping of a solitary woodpecker, two or three small species of which still remain after all the summer birds are flown; and the gentle, weak chirp of the little tree-creeper, as it runs up and down the hemlocks and pines, searching the crevices of the bark for insects. Yet in all this seeming death lies hidden the life of myriads of insects, the huge beast of the forest, asleep in his lair, with many of the smaller quadrupeds, and forest-birds, that, hushed in lonely places, shall awake to life and activity as soon as the sun-beams shall once more dissolve the snow, unbind the frozen streams, and loosen the bands which held them in repose.
At last the spring, the glad joyous spring, returned. The leaf-buds, wrapped within their gummy and downy cases, began to unfold; the dark green pines, spruce, and balsams began to shoot out fresh spiny leaves, like tassels, from the ends of every bough, giving out the most refreshing fragrance; the crimson buds of the young hazels, and the scarlet blossoms of the soft maple, enlivened the edges of the streams; the bright coral bark of the dogwood seemed as if freshly varnished, so brightly it glowed in the morning sunshine; the scream of the blue jay, the song of the robin and wood-thrush, the merry note of the chiccadee, and plaintive cry of the pheobe, with loud hammering strokes of the great red-headed woodpecker, mingled with the rush of the unbound forest streams, gurgling and murmuring as their water flowed over the stones, and the sighing of the breeze, playing in the tree-tops, made pleasant and ceaseless music. And then as time passed on, the trees unfolded all their bright green leaves, the buds and forest flowers opened; and many a bright bell our little squirrels looked down upon, from their leafy home, that the eye of man had never seen.
It was pleasant for our little squirrels, just after sunset, in the still summer evenings, when the small silver stars came stealing out, one by one, in the blue sky, to play among the cool dewy leaves of the grand old oaks and maples; to watch the fitful flash of the fireflies, as they glanced here and there, flitting through the deep gloom of the forest boughs, now lost to sight, as they closed their wings, now flashing out like tiny tapers, borne aloft by unseen hands in the darkness. Where that little creek runs singing over its mossy bed, and the cedar-boughs bend down so thick and close, that only a gleam of the bright water can be seen, even in the sunlight—there the fireflies crowd, and the damp foliage is all alive with their dazzling light.
In this sweet still hour, just at the dewfall, the rush of whirring wings may be heard from the islands, or in the forest, bordering on the water's edge; and out of hollow logs and hoary trunks of trees come forth the speckled night-hawks, cutting the air with their thin sharp wide wings, and open beak, ready to entrap the unwary moth, or moskitoe, that float so joyously upon the evening air. One after another, sweeping in wider circles, come forth these birds of prey, till the whole air seems alive with them; darting hither and thither, and uttering wild shrill screams, as they rise higher and higher in the upper air, till some are almost lost to sight. Sometimes one of them will descend with a sudden swoop, to the lower regions of the air, just above the highest tree-tops, with a hollow booming sound, as if some one were blowing in an empty vessel.
At this hour, too, the bats would quit their homes in hollow trees and old rocky banks, and flit noiselessly abroad, over the surface of the quiet star-lit lake; and now also would begin the shrill, trilling note of the green-frog, and the deep hoarse bass of the bull-frog, which ceases only at intervals, through the long, warm summer night. You might fancy a droll sort of dialogue was being carried on among them. At first, a great fellow, the patriarch of the swamp, will put up his head, which looks very much like a small pair of bellows, with yellow leather sides; and say in a harsh, guttural tone, "Go to bed, go to bed, go to bed."
After a moment's pause, two or three will rise and reply, "No, I won't! no, I won't! no, I won't!"
Then the old fellow, with a growl, replies,—"Get out, get out, get out," —and forthwith, with a rush, and a splash, and a dash, they raise a chorus of whirring, grating, growling, grunting, whistling sounds, which make you hold your ears. When all this hubbub has lasted some minutes, there is a pop, and a splash, and down go all the heads under the weeds and mud; and after another pause, up comes the old father of the frogs, and begins again with the old story—"Go to bed, go to bed, go to bed," and so on. During the heat of the day, the bull-frogs are silent; but as the day declines, and the air becomes cooler, they re-commence their noisy chorus.
I suppose these sounds, though not very pleasant to the ears of men, may not be so disagreeable to those of wild animals. I dare say neither Nimble nor Silvy were in the least annoyed by the hoarse note of the bull-frog; but gambolled as merrily among the boughs and fresh dewy leaves, as if they were listening to sweet music, or the songs of the birds.
The summer passed away very happily; but towards the close of the warm season, the squirrels, Nimble and Silvy, resolved to make a journey to the rocky island on Stony lake, to see the old squirrels, their father and mother. So they started at sunrise one fine pleasant day, and travelled along, till one cool evening, just as the moon was beginning to rise above the pine-trees, they arrived at the little rocky islet where they first saw the light; but when they eagerly ran up the trunk of the old oak-tree, expecting to have seen their old father and mother, they were surprised and terrified by seeing a wood-owl in the nest.
As soon as she espied our little squirrels, she shook her feathers, and set up her ears—for she was a long-eared owl—and said, "What do you want here?—ho, ho, ho, ho!
"Indeed, Mrs. Owl," said Nimble, "we come hither to see our parents, whom we left here a year ago. Can you tell us where we shall find them?"
The owl peered out of her ruff of silken feathers, and after wiping her sharp bill on her breast, said, "Your cousin the black squirrel beat your father and mother out of their nest a long time ago, and took possession of the tree and all that was in it, and they brought up a large family of little ones, all of which I pounced upon one after another, and ate. Indeed, the oaks here belong to my family; so finding these impudent intruders would not quit the premises, I made short work of the matter, and took the law into my own hands."
"Did you kill them?" asked Silvy, in a trembling voice.
"Of course I did, and very nice tender meat they were," replied the horrid old owl, beginning to scramble out of the nest, and eyeing the squirrels at the same time with a wicked look.
"But you did not eat our parents too?" asked the trembling squirrels.
"Yes, I did; they were very tough, to be sure, but I am not very particular."
The grey squirrels, though full of grief and vain regret, were obliged to take care of themselves. There was, indeed, no time to fee lost, so they made a hasty retreat. They crept under the roots of an old tree, where they lay till the morning; they were not much concerned for the death of the treacherous black squirrel who had told so many stories, got possession of their old nest, and caused the death of their parents; but they said—"We will go home again to our dear old hemlock-tree, and never leave it more." So these dear little squirrels returned to their forest home, and may be living there yet.
* * * * *
"Nurse," said Lady Mary, "how do you like the story?"
Mrs. Frazer said it was a very pretty one.
"Perhaps my dear little pet is one of Nimble or Silvy's children. You know, nurse, they might have gone on their travels too when they were old enough, and then your brother may have chopped down the tree and found them in the forest."
"But your squirrel, Lady Mary, is a flying squirrel, and these were only common grey ones, which are a different species. Besides, my dear, this history is but a fable."
"I suppose, nurse," said the child, looking up in her nurse's face, "squirrels do not really talk."
"No, my dear, they have not the use of speech as we have, but in all ages people have written little tales called fables, in which they make birds and beasts speak as if they were men and women, it being an easy method of conveying instruction."
"My book is only a fable then, nurse? I wish it had been true; but it is very pretty."
SQUIRRELS—THE CHITMUNKS-DOCILITY OF A PET ONE—ROGUERY OF A YANKEE PEDLAR—RETURN OF THE MUSICAL CHITMUNK TO HIS MASTER'S BOSOM—SAGACITY OF A BLACK SQUIRREL.
"Mrs. Frazer, are you very busy just now?" asked Lady Mary, coming up to the table where her nurse was ironing some lace.
"No, my dear, not very busy, only preparing these lace edgings for your frocks. Do you want me to do anything for you?"
"I only want to tell you that my governess has promised to paint my dear squirrel's picture, as soon as it is tame, and will let me hold it in my lap, without flying away. I saw a picture of a flying squirrel to-day, but it was very ugly—not at all like mine; it was long and flat, and its legs looked like sticks, and it was stretched out, just like one of those muskrat skins that you pointed out to me in a fur store. Mamma said it was drawn so, to show it while it was in the act of flying; but it is not pretty—it does not show its beautiful tail, nor its bright eyes, nor soft silky fur. I heard a lady tell mamma about a nest full of dear, tiny little flying squirrels; [Footnote: Tame flying squirrels may be purchased at the Pantheon, in Oxford Street.] that her brother once found in a tree in the forest; he tamed them, and they lived very happily together, and would feed from his hand. They slept in the cold weather like dormice; in the day-time they lay very still, but would come out, and gambol, and frisk about at night. But somebody left the cage open, and they all ran away except one, and that he found in his bed, where it had run for shelter with its little nose under his pillow. He caught the little fellow, and it lived with him till the spring, when it grew restless, and one day got away, and went off to the woods."
"These little creatures are impatient of confinement, and will gnaw through the woodwork of the cage to get free, especially in the spring of the year. Doubtless, my dear, they pine for the liberty which they used to enjoy before they were captured by man."
"Nurse, I will not let my little pet be unhappy. As soon as the warm days come again, and my governess has taken his picture, I will let him go free. Are there many squirrels in this part of Canada?"
"Not so many as in Upper Canada, Lady Mary. They abound more in some years than in others. I have seen the beech and oak woods swarming with black squirrels. My brothers have brought in two or three dozen in one day. The Indians used to tell us that want of food, or very severe weather setting in, in the north, drive these little animals from their haunts. The Indians, who observe these things more than we do, can generally tell what sort of winter it will be, from the number of wild animals in the fall."
"What do you mean by the fall, nurse?"
"The autumn in Canada, my lady, is called so from the fall of the leaves. I remember one year was remarkable for the great number of black, grey, and flying squirrels; the little striped chitmunk was also plentiful, and so were weasels and foxes. They came into the barns and granaries, and into the houses, and destroyed great quantities of grain; besides gnawing clothes that were laid out to dry; this they did to line their nests with. Next year there were very few to be seen."
"What became of them, nurse?"
"Some, no doubt, fell a prey to their enemies, the cats, foxes, and weasels, which were also very numerous that year; and the rest, perhaps, went back to their own country again."
"I should like to see a great number of these pretty creatures travelling together," said Lady Mary.