A Friendly Rat





Most of our animals, also many creeping things, such as our "wilde

wormes in woods," common toads, natter-jacks, newts, and lizards, and

stranger still, many insects, have been tamed and kept as pets.



Badgers, otters, foxes, hares, and voles are easily dealt with; but that

any person should desire to fondle so prickly a creature as a hedgehog,

or so diabolical a mammalian as the bloodthirsty flat-headed little

weasel, seems very odd. Spiders, too, are uncomfortable pets; you can't

caress them as you could a dormouse; the most you can do is to provide

your spider with a clear glass bottle to live in, and teach him to come

out in response to a musical sound, drawn from a banjo or fiddle, to

take a fly from your fingers and go back again to its bottle.



An acquaintance of the writer is partial to adders as pets, and he

handles them as freely as the schoolboy does his innocuous ring-snake;

Mr. Benjamin Kidd once gave us a delightful account of his pet

humble-bees, who used to fly about his room, and come at call to be fed,

and who manifested an almost painful interest in his coat buttons,

examining them every day as if anxious to find out their true

significance. Then there was my old friend, Miss Hopely, the writer on

reptiles, who died recently, aged 99 years, who tamed newts, but whose

favourite pet was a slow-worm. She was never tired of expatiating on

its lovable qualities. One finds Viscount Grey's pet squirrels more

engaging, for these are wild squirrels in a wood in Northumberland, who

quickly find out when he is at home and make their way to the house,

scale the walls, and invade the library; then, jumping upon his

writing-table, are rewarded with nuts, which they take from his hand.

Another Northumbrian friend of the writer keeps, or kept, a pet

cormorant, and finds him no less greedy in the domestic than in the wild

state. After catching and swallowing fish all the morning in a

neighbouring river, he wings his way home at meal-times, screaming to be

fed, and ready to devour all the meat and pudding he can get.



The list of strange creatures might be extended indefinitely, even

fishes included; but who has ever heard of a tame pet rat? Not the small

white, pink-eyed variety, artificially bred, which one may buy at any

dealer's, but a common brown rat, Mus decumanus, one of the commonest

wild animals in England and certainly the most disliked. Yet this wonder

has been witnessed recently in the village of Lelant, in West Cornwall.

Here is the strange story, which is rather sad and at the same time a

little funny.



This was not a case of "wild nature won by kindness"; the rat simply

thrust itself and its friendship on the woman of the cottage: and she,

being childless and much alone in her kitchen and living-room, was not

displeased at its visits: on the contrary, she fed it; in return the rat

grew more and more friendly and familiar towards her, and the more

familiar it grew, the more she liked the rat. The trouble was, she

possessed a cat, a nice gentle animal not often at home, but it was

dreadful to think of what might happen at any moment should pussy walk

in when her visitor was with her. Then, one day, pussy did walk in when

the rat was present, purring loudly, her tail held stiffly up, showing

that she was in her usual sweet temper. On catching sight of the rat,

she appeared to know intuitively that it was there as a privileged

guest, while the rat on its part seemed to know, also by intuition, that

it had nothing to fear. At all events these two quickly became friends

and were evidently pleased to be together, as they now spent most of the

time in the room, and would drink milk from the same saucer, and sleep

bunched up together, and were extremely intimate.



By and by the rat began to busy herself making a nest in a corner of the

kitchen under a cupboard, and it became evident that there would soon be

an increase in the rat population. She now spent her time running about

and gathering little straws, feathers, string, and anything of the kind

she could pick up, also stealing or begging for strips of cotton, or

bits of wool and thread from the work-basket. Now it happened that her

friend was one of those cats with huge tufts of soft hair on the two

sides of her face; a cat of that type, which is not uncommon, has a

quaint resemblance to a Mid-Victorian gentleman with a pair of

magnificent side-whiskers of a silky softness covering both cheeks and

flowing down like a double beard. The rat suddenly discovered that this

hair was just what she wanted to add a cushion-like lining to her nest,

so that her naked pink little ratlings should be born into the softest

of all possible worlds. At once she started plucking out the hairs, and

the cat, taking it for a new kind of game, but a little too rough to

please her, tried for a while to keep her head out of reach and to throw

the rat off. But she wouldn't be thrown off, and as she persisted in

flying back and jumping at the cat's face and plucking the hairs, the

cat quite lost her temper and administered a blow with her claws

unsheathed.



The rat fled to her refuge to lick her wounds, and was no doubt as much

astonished at the sudden change in her friend's disposition as the cat

had been at the rat's new way of showing her playfulness. The result was

that when, after attending her scratches, she started upon her task of

gathering soft materials, she left the cat severely alone. They were no

longer friends; they simply ignored one another's presence in the room.

The little ones, numbering about a dozen, presently came to light and

were quietly removed by the woman's husband, who didn't mind his missis

keeping a rat, but drew the line at one.



The rat quickly recovered from her loss and was the same nice

affectionate little thing she had always been to her mistress; then a

fresh wonder came to light--cat and rat were fast friends once more!

This happy state of things lasted a few weeks; but, as we know, the rat

was married, though her lord and master never appeared on the scene,

indeed, he was not wanted; and very soon it became plain to see that

more little rats were coming. The rat is an exceedingly prolific

creature; she can give a month's start to a rabbit and beat her at the

end by about 40 points.



Then came the building of the nest in the same old corner, and when it

got to the last stage and the rat was busily running about in search of

soft materials for the lining, she once more made the discovery that

those beautiful tufts of hair on her friend's face were just what she

wanted, and once more she set vigorously to work pulling the hairs out.

Again, as on the former occasion, the cat tried to keep her friend off,

hitting her right and left with her soft pads, and spitting a little,

just to show that she didn't like it. But the rat was determined to have

the hairs, and the more she was thrown off the more bent was she on

getting them, until the breaking-point was reached and puss, in a sudden

rage, let fly, dealing blow after blow with lightning rapidity and with

all the claws out. The rat, shrieking with pain and terror, rushed out

of the room and was never seen again, to the lasting grief of her

mistress. But its memory will long remain like a fragrance in the

cottage--perhaps the only cottage in all this land where kindly feelings

for the rat are cherished.



W. H. HUDSON.





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