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The Good Sir James

from The Strange Story Book





My Sir James is not the leal friend of Robert Bruce nor is he the
Douglas who fell at Otterburn and was buried 'by the bracken bush that
grows on yonder lilye lee.' My Sir James is alive and well to-day, and
is one of the Quiqui people who live in the wood beyond the avenue at
the end of our garden. There were two of these little squirrels, Sir
James and Lady Quiqui, and both sometimes came on to the lawn and
grubbed up crocus bulbs and committed other sins readily forgiven to
people of such beauty. They lived a peaceful and happy life till one
wild November night, when poor Lady Quiqui fell or was blown off a tree.
I went out next morning, and close to the garden gate I found her little
body on the ground still alive, but unable to move. I brought her to the
house, but no care could save her and she died within a few hours. Sir
James was now an inconsolable widower. I think he felt lonely, for after
his wife's death his appearances about the house became more and more
frequent.

The days were short and cold, and every morning the ground was white
with frost. Hungry birds flocked to the drawing-room window-sill for a
breakfast of bread-crumbs. One day Sir James came when they were
feasting. He was angry:

'The feast is for me,' he said, and with skilful, energetic hands he put
sparrows, chaffinches, and robins to flight and then breakfasted with an
excellent appetite.

Rows of sad little birds perched on the fence, and sat and watched
greedy Sir James from afar, but none dared come near the window till he
had gone. This happened nearly every day.

Once a great big herring-gull came and I think the little birds hoped
that their wrongs would now be avenged. Again and again the gull swooped
down and attempted to snatch some choice morsel, but again and again the
good Sir James tiny and brave, drove away his gigantic foe. It then
circled round uttering shrieks of rage and despair, and finally
departed, leaving Sir James triumphant.

One morning, a few days after the discomfiture of the herring-gull, Sir
James had another adventure. He had been sitting quietly on the
window-sill enjoying his cake and nuts. All of a sudden his mood changed
and he became very restless and angrily excited. He ran backwards and
forwards at a great pace for some moments, then he gave a spring forward
and downward towards the narrow garden-path. I looked out and, to my
horror, saw no Sir James, but the terrifying sight of 'Dolly,' the
gardener's cat, galloping away at full speed. Dolly was at once pursued
and captured. We almost wept with relief when we found that our worst
fears were not realised and that the good Sir James was not in Dolly's
mouth. Indeed, we blamed the cat far too hastily, and I now think that
Sir James was possibly not the victim, but the aggressor, and that he
had merely been driving the innocent Dolly away from the vicinity of his
breakfast. All we know for certain is that he very soon ran back to this
breakfast and finished it with much enjoyment, and that his return
brought peace and comfort to our agitated and anxious minds.

Sir James was sometimes unpunctual, and on those days the birds
thoroughly enjoyed themelves. By the time the little Quiqui-man arrived,
not a crumb was to be found off which he could dine. The birds twittered
with delight.

One day I bought a little cream-can with a lid, and filled it with his
favourite dainties. I then put it out on the window-sill, fastening the
handle firmly to a nail.

'Fancy expecting a wild animal to eat out of a thing like that,' someone
remarked, scornfully; 'he will think it is a trap and never go near it.'

I waited anxiously. About twelve o'clock a startled flight of small
birds announced the arrival of Sir James. Although there were still some
crumbs lying about, he went straight to the cream-can and shook it
vigorously with eager hands and teeth. It took him nearly five minutes
to get it open, but he persevered and succeeded. I then had the
satisfaction of seeing him dive into the tin, head first, about half a
dozen times, each time reappearing with cake or a nut.

From that day the little cream-can was kept well supplied with nuts and
cake. As time passed, Sir James grew more and more particular about his
food. He soon scorned crocus bulbs and even bread-crumbs, insisting on a
diet of shortbread cake and nuts. He always selected the biggest nut or
piece of cake to carry home. It was surprising what he could do. He was
one day seen dragging off about a third of a coconut that I had hung up
for the tits, and he managed to get this heavy burden over the high
fence that bounds our garden.

Another time we put uncracked nuts in the can instead of the usually
carefully prepared ones. Sir James examined them, dropped them, and then
with angry hands drummed upon the window-panes. Our guilty consciences
told us what was wrong, so we gently opened the window. Sir James
disappeared for a few moments, but long before we had finished cracking
the nuts he was back and watching us. We have never since dared offer
him uncracked nuts.

Winter passed, and 'in the spring a young man's fancy turns to thoughts
of love.' Sir James was very lonely and he longed for the companionship
of his own kind. He took to wandering. Sometimes days went by without
our seeing him, and our hearts were anxious when the little cream-can
remained with closed lid and contents untouched. Then on one occasion I
met the Quiqui-man nearly a mile from home. I knew him at once and he
knew me, for he came half-way down a tree to greet me, waving his little
brown hands with ten very black nails. When I saw the good Sir James so
far from home, I feared for him. I thought of the perils from hawks and
prowling cats that he was daily incurring. Something must be done and at
once. Negotiations produced the arrival a few days later of Jemima
Golightly, a fine handsome squirrel, who came by herself all the way
from Eastbourne to these West Highland shores. Miss Golightly was
instantly put in a cage, and next morning the wedding breakfast was
prepared and put in the cream-can. The cage was placed on a table by the
open window in the drawing-room. How anxiously I watched for the coming
of Sir James! At last he appeared. Just as he was making for his
cream-can, his quick eye detected Miss Golightly. In a moment he was on
the top of the cage tugging away at the handle, while Miss Golightly
inside rushed round and round, banging herself about so that I thought
the cage would get knocked over. Sir James, finding his efforts with
tooth and nail were unsuccessful, bestowed a further inspection on the
cage. He soon discovered the door which opened easily to his skilful
touch. Miss Golightly sprang out with a graceful bound--poor little
captive, set free by as gallant a knight as ever sat at Arthur's table.

The two squirrels stood quite still for a moment. Then Sir James led the
way through the open window, closely followed by Miss Golightly. I
rushed to the library. From there I could see the two little forms
making for the beech avenue. I was delighted. My joy, however, received
a decided check when Sir James reappeared alone, half an hour
afterwards. He went at once to the cream-can and in solitary splendour
ate nearly all the wedding breakfast. Had he already deserted the little
English bride he had so bravely rescued? Sir James resumed his daily
visits to the cream-can, but he never said anything about the bride. To
be sure, he always took away a tribute when he went home, but as he was
in the habit of doing this, we could not feel certain that it was
intended for anybody but himself.

It was about a fortnight later that a servant came to my room and said,
'Sir James is at the window.' I went at once to the drawing-room and, to
my surprise, saw, not Sir James, but the little bride. She was redder in
colour than Sir James, and had much bigger hands. I was enchanted, and
still more so when a few minutes later the good Sir James himself
arrived on the scene, and it was certainly charming to see the two
little squirrels side by side on the window-sill. Both the Quiqui
people have often come since then, but Lady Quiqui has never to this day
learned the secret of the cream-can. Sir James himself always performs
the opening ceremony, and he then retires and allows his lady to dine.
When he thinks that she has had enough he comes back and she goes away
home, and he feasts on what is left.

Sir James seems content with this arrangement and never fails to give
Lady Quiqui first choice of all the good things. This is the more
touching as he is rather a greedy little man. Greedy, generous, and
brave; and all of us, who know him, realise the fascination of the good
Sir James.

E. A. C.





Next: Rip Van Winkle

Previous: Young Amazon Snell



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