It was spring in the big old garden behind the big old house. The days were getting longer, green buds were on the trees, daffodils were dancing around the crocuses in the breeze, and the grey squirrel was HUNGRY.
His winter-time sleepiness had melted away in the sunshine, and he scampered all around the garden, checking his store-houses for snacks. He was just digging up a nice stash of acorns when, suddenly, SCHWALUMF! A fat, orange-striped cat crashed through the garden, nearly on top of him!
Terrified, the grey squirrel scrambled up the nearest tree, and watched in shock as the cat pranced across the lawn and under the gate to the vegetable patch.
The cat did not belong to the big old garden, or even to the big old house. Her owners lived away down the street! But, they were the sort of people who believe a cat should be free to do as it likes, and the orange-striped cat liked hunting in the big old garden.
After two more extremely close calls, the grey squirrel learned to avoid the edges of gardens, for the cat often leapt blindly through the plants, in hopes of surprising him. Still, she stalked him so often that he stayed in the trees as much as he could.
Finally, the grey squirrel went to see his seventh-cousin-once-removed, Jasper the chipmunk, who lived in a comfortable burrow under the stones by the fish pond. Jasper knew about the cat, of course.
“Only she doesn’t bother me much,” he said. “She seems to stay away from this part of the garden with all the water.”
They talked about it for a while, and the grey squirrel said, “There is that, you know,” and Jasper said, “If you know what I mean,” and the grey squirrel said, “That depends on how you look at it, I suppose,” until Jasper pulled on his whiskers and said, “It sounds dangerous to me. But you know my door is always open to you.”
A few days later, the grey squirrel gathered his courage and dropped to the ground where he had a walnut buried. He began to excavate it, while watching under his tail the whole time.
Sure enough, the orange-striped cat burst through the garden behind him!
But soon as the grey squirrel heard, “SCWA!” he jumped, and was gone before she could LUMF!
The puzzled cat stopped to lick her paws. Surely there had been someone scrabbling in the garden just now. But where had he gone? Then she heard it again, just the other side of the daffodils. Again she SCWALUMFed through the flowers, and again there was no one there! But this time, from the other side of a big yellow forsythia bush, came a rude scold.
Well, that made her angry, and the next thing the grey squirrel knew, he was racing across the garden with the cat schwalumf-schwalumf-schwalumfing close behind!
Just when he thought his heart might burst with running, the grey squirrel squirted between two great clumps of ornamental grasses, and skittered onto Jasper’s doorstep. His paws slipped on the mossy stones as he flung himself into the doorway. He stepped on his own tail. Then he tumbled around to watch the cat “SCHWA!” between the grasses, and “PLOOSH!” smack into the fish pond!
For a long moment, she sat neck-deep in the pond, with water running down her nose and off her ears and whiskers. Then, with a yowl, she rocketed out of the pond, down the path, and out under the gate.
I wish I could tell you the orange-striped cat gave up hunting that day. But she was a cat, and self-control was not in her nature. She did, however, give up her habit of leaping – SCHWALUMF! – though the gardens without looking, and this made her much easier for the grey squirrel and his neighbors to avoid.
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Illustration by Bryce Lowe (13)
(If you enjoyed this, you may like to read the previous tale, The Happiest Grey Squirrel, here.)