ONE spring morning I was walking home through the woods when I saw a baby squirrel. He was sitting on his haunches a few feet away from me with his tail spread over him like a fat little sail. And then I noticed that Topsy, our neighbor’s dog, was seeing him, too.
Now why I should have considered myself, a great mortal woman done up in a red jersey sport suit, less terrifying than flop-eared old Topsy I don’t know; still, I knelt and held out a reassuring hand. And the baby squirrel without an instant’s hesitation ran toward me and, clambering up, curled itself warm and wet inside my palm.
It was a delicious moment: that anything as little and as wild should throw itself upon a human being for protection was very touching, and I felt a tenderness welling up within me that mounted to sheer idiocy. Then, as Topsy still seemed overinterested, and as he was the somewhat spiritless kind of little dog that obeys in despondent fashion, I sent him home ahead of me and sat down on a tree trunk to consider my problem.
If a baby squirrel is loose in the wild wet woods, I thought, then his mother and father should know about it; also they must be reasonably near, because I knew he was too young to have covered much ground very fast. Well, then, as I felt powerless to summon his parents from tree tops, the best thing to do was to put the baby squirrel down and hide myself behind a bush until such time as one of them should smell its little young in trouble and rush chattering down to bear him off. To a nest, I supposed, although I had given so little thought to baby squirrels up to now that I really did n’t know. However, that seemed the most reasonable plan, and I stooped to put him down.
But he did n’t want to be put down. With all his wild skinny little strength he clung to me, the light in his black eyes white with fear.
‘Why, darling,’ I said, ‘Topsy’s gone, and your mother’s coming to get you.’ Fierce clutchings at my fingers. ‘Yes, she is; she’s probably looking for you right this minute.’ Here I sueceeded in momentarily disentangling him. ‘Silly! That was silly of you. I’m not going away before she conies, you know; I’ll be right behind that bush. . . .’ And more in like jibbering fashion. No use. ‘All right,’ I said at last, ‘we’ll go home, then.’ And, letting him snuggle contentedly in the crook of my arm, we walked on.
My husband was waiting for his lunch when we got home. And I, who had considered myself in the light of a Saint Francis, dewy blue robes and all, was a little disappointed to see that the baby squirrel took to him just as affectionately as he did to me.
We fed him mashed potato out of a spoon. He treated it as a nut, grasping the spoon proper between his paws and looking up charmingly in between bites. The mashed potato was my husband’s idea, not mine: I had consented only because I felt sure mashed potato would be so outside a baby squirrel’s experience that he would stop short of it with pricked-up ears. Not so, however; and when my husband had finally torn himself away and gone back to his work (he is writing a history on the causes of the World War) I looked at the baby squirrel anxiously. Was his outraged digestion beginning to rebel? Was there a flush upon that furry little cheek? It did not seem so. Curling himself up into less than the size of a tennis ball, he went promptly to sleep. Gone with the closing of an eye was this strange new world of giants and silver spoons — he had no worries; but where, I wondered as I watched his little sides move sweetly in and out, where could I find a book on the care and feeding of the infant squirrel?
We have never had any children ourselves; and the village ’vet’ I knew had gone on a vacation, so there was no help there. But the character of various pokings and nudgings on our homeward walk led me to believe that the baby squirrel was still dependent on his mother for his nourishment. Well, somehow we must manage, because more experiment in the way of diet might, I feared, prove fatal.
Then, as I was casting about in my mind’s eye for what would nearest approximate the workings of a mother squirrel, I remembered a certain eye dropper that I had come across in the village drug store. It was in all ways like an ordinary eye dropper except for a small round bump at its end. Perfect. I sat right down and wrote a note to nice Mr. Swab in the drug store explaining my reasons for wanting that special kind of dropper, and sent William down to get it on his bicycle.
Four times during a busy afternoon I peeked in to see the baby squirrel. He seemed refreshed after his nap and perfectly content, sniffling about the room and climbing over books and ash trays. His climbings and snifflings were so intelligent that I longed to share them with my husband; but an iron rule of over thirty years never to disturb him when he’s working cannot be broken lightly, so I did n’t. Later I learned, however, that he had peeked in, too. At five o’clock, when it was time for tea, we went out in the kitchen to prepare his milk.
We diluted it with water, half and half; we warmed it; and then, spying a can of powdered sugar, we added half a teaspoon.
When we opened the door he rushed to greet us, tail up, eyes shining. ‘Hello, darling,’ we said; ‘hello, sweetheart; here’s your nice warm milk.’
‘Are you sure it isn’t too warm, Mary?’ asked my husband.
I tested it on the back of my hand. No. It seemed just right. Over his pillow we spread a fine huck towel. I grasped the baby squirrel tight. My husband filled the dropper.
It took the baby squirrel a few minutes to catch on, but after the first drops were down and warming his gullet he stopped struggling; he grabbed the dropper fiercely between his paws and took loud gulping sucks, while my husband, great god at the other end of the dropper, pumped the milk in. But when the dropper had to be removed in order to refill it the baby squirrel went right off his head. He ran around in circles, clawing the towel off the pillow; he bit; he uttered thwarted baby-squirrel cries. Never before, he would have us understand, had his sweet, steady progress toward repletion been so rudely interrupted.
‘Here, cunning; here, stupid.’
Ah! The bump once more between his teeth, he closed his eyes. He sucked. His little belly swelled.
The next morning we were up early to give him his milk. We hurried into our dressing gowns, and fumbled and whispered down the back stairs so as not to wake the maids. We’d left him on the downstairs screened porch in the middle of his damask pillow; the door was open and the baby squirrel gone.
We learned, however, that William had left it open with a purpose. He also had come round early to see the baby squirrel, and as he approached the porch he’d heard great chatterings.
‘Why,’ he said, ‘I almost dies thinkin’ it was comin’ out of that mite!’
It. was n’t, though; it was coming from a mother squirrel on the lawn who was bursting to get in. ‘She wanted to adopt him,’William said. So he’d opened the door and retired to watch the fun. And sure enough, she’d swished up the steps and, quicker than William could say ‘Jack Robinson,’ had the baby squirrel by the scruff of the neck, and up a tree.
So that’s where our baby squirrel is — in a nest with four others, according to William, who spends a good deal of his time bringing us reports. But the baby squirrel is rather adolescent now. When we walk round the garden on tiptoe after dinner even my husband is n’t sure which one he really is.