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- Lady Mary and her Nurse - 10/22 -
"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.
"All wild animals, my dear, are more active by night than by day, and probably make their long journeys during that season. The eyes of many animals and birds are so formed, that they see best in the dim twilight, as cats, and owls, and others. Our heavenly Father has fitted all his. creatures for the state in which he has placed them."
"Can squirrels swim like otters and beavers, nurse? If they come to a lake or river, can they cross it?"
"I think they can, Lady Mary; for though these creatures are not formed like the otter, or beaver, or muskrat, to get their living in the water, they are able to swim when necessity requires them to do so. I heard a lady say that she was crossing a lake, between one of the islands and the shore, in a canoe, with a baby on her lap. She noticed a movement on the surface of the water. At first she thought it might be a water snake, but the servant lad who was paddling the canoe, said it was a red squirrel, and he tried to strike it with the paddle; but the little squirrel leaped out of the water to the blade of the paddle, and sprang on the head of the baby, as it lay on her lap; from whence it jumped to her shoulder, and before she had recovered from her surprise, was in the water again, swimming straight for the shore, where it was soon safe in the dark pine woods."
This feat of the squirrel delighted Lady Mary, who expressed her joy at the bravery of the little creature. Besides, she said she had heard that grey squirrels, when they wished to go to a distance in search of food, would all meet together, and collect pieces of bark to serve them for boats, and would set up their broad tails like sails, to catch the wind, and in this way cross large sheets of water.
"I do not think this can be true," observed Mrs. Frazer; "for the squirrel, when swimming, uses his tail as an oar or rudder to help the motion, the tail lying flat on the surface of the water; nor do these creatures need a boat, for God, who made them, has _given them_ the power of swimming at their need."
"Nurse, you said something about a ground squirrel, and called it a chitmunk. If you please, will you tell me something about it, and why it is called by such a curious name?"
"I believe it is the Indian name for this sort of squirrel, my dear. The chitmunk is not so large as the black, red, or grey squirrels. It is marked along the back with black and white stripes; the rest of its fur is a yellowish tawny colour. It is a very playful, lively, cleanly animal, somewhat resembling the dormouse in its habits. It burrows under ground. Its nest is made with great care, with many galleries which open at the surface, so that when attacked by an enemy, it can run from one to another for security."
[Footnote: The squirrel has many enemies; all the weasel tribe, cats, and even dogs attack them. Cats kill great numbers of these little animals. The farmer shows them as little mercy as he does rats and mice, as they are very destructive, and carry off vast quantities of grain, which they store in hollow trees for use. Not contenting themselves with one, granary, they have several in case one should fail, or perhaps become injured by accidental causes. Thus do these simple little creatures teach us a lesson of providential care for future events.]
"How wise of these little chitmunks to think of that!" said Lady Mary.
"Nay, my dear child, it is God's wisdom, not theirs. These creatures work according to his will; and so they always do what is fittest and best for their own comfort and safety. Man is the only one of God's creatures who disobeys Him."
These words made Lady Mary look grave, till her nurse began to talk to her again about the chitmunk.
"It is very easily tamed, and becomes very fond of its master. It will obey his voice, come at a call or a whistle, sit up and beg, take a nut or an acorn out of his hand, run up a stick, nestle in his bosom, and become quite familiar. My uncle had a tame chitmunk that was much attached to him; it lived in his pocket or bosom; it was his companion by day and by night. When he was out in the forest lumbering, or on the lake fishing, or in the fields at work, it was always with him. At meals it sat by the side of his plate, eating what he gave it; but he did not give it meat, as he thought that might injure its health. One day he and his pet were in the steam-boat, going to Toronto. He had been showing off the little chitmunk's tricks to the ladies and gentlemen on board the boat, and several persons offered him money if he would sell it; but my uncle was fond of the little thing, and would not part with it. However, just before he left the boat, he missed his pet; for a cunning Yankee pedlar on board had stolen it. My uncle knew that his little friend would not desert its old master; so he went on deck where the passengers were assembled, and whistled a popular tune familiar to the chitmunk. The little fellow, on hearing it, whisked out of the pedlar's pocket, and running swiftly along a railing against which he was standing, soon sought refuge in his master's bosom."
Lady Mary clapped her hands with joy, and said, "I am so glad, nurse, that the chitmunk ran back to his old friend. I wish it had bitten that Yankee pedlar's fingers."
"When angry, these creatures will bite very sharply, set up their tails, and run to and fro, and make a chattering sound with their teeth. The red squirrel is very fearless for its size, and will sometimes turn round and face you, set up its tail, and scold. But they will, when busy eating the seeds of the sunflower or thistle, of which they are very fond, suffer you to stand and watch them without attempting to run away. When near their granaries, or the tree where their nest is, they are unwilling to leave it, running to and fro, and uttering their angry notes; but if a dog is near, they make for a tree, and as soon as they are out of his reach, turn round to chatter and scold, as long as he remains in sight. When hard pressed, the black and flying squirrels will take prodigious leaps, springing from bough to bough, and from tree to tree. In this manner they baffle the hunters, and travel a great distance over the tops of the trees. Once I saw my uncle and brothers chasing a large black squirrel. He kept out of reach of the dogs, as well as out of sight of the men, by passing round and round the tree as he went up, so that they could never get a fair shot at him. At last, they got so provoked that they took their axes, and set to work to chop down the tree. It was a large pine-tree, and took them some time. Just as the tree was ready to fall, and was wavering to and fro, the squirrel, who had kept on the topmost bough, sprang nimbly to the next tree, and then to another, and by the time the great pine had reached the ground, the squirrel was far away in his nest among his little ones, safe from hunters, guns, and dogs."
"The black squirrel must have wondered, I think, nurse, why so many men and dogs tried to kill such a little creature as he was. Do the black squirrels sleep in the winter as well as the flying squirrels and chitmunks?"
"No, Lady Mary; I have often seen them on bright days chasing each other over logs and brush heaps, and running gaily up the pine-trees. They are easily seen from the contrast which their jetty black coats make with the sparkling white snow. These creatures feed a good deal on the kernels of the pines and hemlocks; they also eat the buds of some trees. They lay up great stores of nuts and grain for winter use. The flying squirrels sleep much, and in the cold season lie heaped upon each other, for the sake of warmth. As many as seven or eight may be found in one nest asleep. They sometimes awaken, if there come a succession of warm days, as in the January thaw; for I must tell you that in this country we generally have rain and mild weather for a few days in the beginning of January, when the snow nearly disappears from the ground. About the 12th, [Footnote: This remark applies more particularly to the Upper Province.] the weather sets in again steadily cold; when the little animals retire once more to sleep in their winter cradles, which they rarely leave till the hard weather is over."
"I suppose, nurse, when they awake, they are glad to eat some of the food they hare laid up in their granaries?"
"Yes, my dear, it is for this they gather their hoards in mild weather; which also supports them in the spring months, and possibly even during the summer, till grain and fruit are ripe. I was walking in the harvest field one day, where my brothers were cradling wheat. As I passed along the fence, I noticed a great many little heaps of wheat lying here and there on the rails, also upon the tops of the stumps in the field. I wondered at first who could have placed them there, but presently noticed a number of red squirrels running very swiftly along the fence, and perceived that they emptied their mouths of a quantity of the new wheat, which they had been diligently employed in collecting from the ears that lay scattered over the ground. These little gleaners did not seem to be at all alarmed at my presence, but went to and fro as busy as bees. On taking some of the grains into my hand, I noticed that the germ or eye of the kernels was bitten clean out."
"What was that for, nurse? can you tell me?"
"My dear young lady, I did not know at first, till, upon showing it to my father, he told me that the squirrels destroyed the germ of the grain, such as wheat or Indian corn, that they stored up for winter use, that it might not sprout when buried in the ground or in a hollow tree."
"This is very strange, nurse," said the little girl. "But I suppose," she added, after a moment's thought, "it was God who taught the squirrels to do so. But why would biting out the eye prevent the grain from growing?"
"Because the eye or bud contains the life of the plant; from it springs the green blade, and the stem that bears the ear, and the root that strikes down to the earth. The flowery part, which swells and becomes soft and jelly-like, serves to nourish the young plant till the tender fibres of the roots are able to draw moisture from the ground."
Lady Mary asked if all seeds had an eye or germ.
Her nurse replied that all had, though some were so minute that they looked no bigger than dust, or a grain of sand; yet each was perfect in its kind, and contained the plant that would, when sown in the earth, bring forth roots, leaves, buds, flowers, and fruits in due season.
"How glad I should have been to see the little squirrels gleaning the wheat, and laying it in the little heaps on the rail fence. Why did they
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