The Good Sir James

: 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 u
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


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.