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- Lady Mary and her Nurse - 5/22 -
"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,
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