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Humble Friends Post by :nedsenft Category :Essays Author :Lydia H. Sigourney Date :November 2011 Read :2559

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Humble Friends

Kindness to animals shows an amiable disposition, and correct principles. The inferior creation were given for our use, but not for our abuse or cruelty. Many of them add greatly to the comfort of domestic life, and also display qualities deserving of regard. The noble properties of the dog, the horse, and the "half-reasoning elephant," have long been known and praised. But among the lower grades of animals, especially if they receive kind treatment, traits of character are often discovered that surprise or delight us.

Cats, so frequently the objects of neglect or barbarity, are more sagacious than is generally supposed. The mother of four young kittens missed one of her nurslings, and diligently searched the house to find it. Then she commenced calling upon the neighbours, gliding from room to room, and looking under sofas and beds with a troubled air. At length she found it in a family in the vicinity, where it had been given by her mistress. Taking it in her mouth, she brought it home and bestowed on it her nursing cares and maternal caresses for a few weeks, then carried it back to the same neighbour, and left it in the same spot where she found it. It would seem as if she wished to testify her approbation of the home selected for her child, and desired only to nurture it until it should be old enough to fill it properly.

A cat who had repeatedly had her kittens taken from her and drowned immediately after their birth, went to a barn belonging to the family, quite at a long distance from the house. She so judiciously divided her time, as to obtain her meals at home and attend to her nursery abroad. At length she entered the kitchen, followed by four of her offspring, well-grown, all mewing in chorus. Had she foresight enough to conclude, that if she could protect them until they reached a more mature age, they would escape the fate of their unfortunate kindred?

A little girl once sat reading, with a large favourite cat in her lap. She was gently stroking it, while it purred loudly, to express its joy. She invited a person who was near, to feel its velvet softness. Reluctant to be interrupted in an industrious occupation that required the use of both hands, the person did not immediately comply, but at length touched the head so abruptly that the cat supposed itself to have been struck. Resenting the indignity, it ceased its song, and continued alternately rolling and closing its eyes, yet secretly watching, until both the busy hands had resumed their employment. Then, stretching forth a broad, black velvet paw, it inflicted on the back of one of them a quick stroke, and jumping down, concealed itself beneath the chair of its patron. There seemed in this simple action a nice adaptation of means to ends: a prudent waiting, until the retaliation that was meditated could be conveniently indulged, and a prompt flight from the evil that might ensue.

The race of rats are usually considered remarkable only for voraciousness, or for ingenious and mischievous inventions to obtain the gratification of appetite. A vessel that had been much infested by them, was when in port fumigated with brimstone, to expel them. Escaping in great numbers, they were dispatched by people stationed for that purpose. Amid the flying victims a group was observed to approach slowly, upon the board placed between the vessel and the shore. One of those animals held in his mouth a stick, the extremities of which were held by two others, who carefully led him. It was discovered that he was entirely blind. The executioners making way for them, suffered them to live. It was not in the heart of man to scorn such an example.

Another of our ships, while in a foreign port, took similar measures to free itself from those troublesome inmates. Amid the throngs that fled from suffocating smoke to slaughtering foes, one was seen moving laboriously as if overburdened. Climbing over the bodies of his dead companions, he bore upon his back another, so old as to be unable to walk. Like Eneas, escaping from the flames of Troy, perhaps it was an aged father that he thus carried upon his shoulders. Whether it were filial piety or respect for age, his noble conduct, as in the previous instance, saved his life and that of his venerable friend.

Sheep are admired for their innocence and meekness, more than for strong demonstrations of character. Yet the owner of a flock was once surprised by seeing one of his fleecy people rushing to and fro beneath his window, in great agitation and alarm. Following her to the pasture, where she eagerly led the way, he found a fierce dog tearing the sheep. Having put him to flight, he turned in search of the messenger, and found her in a close thicket, where she had carefully hidden her own little lamb, ere she fled to apprize the master of their danger. This strangely intelligent animal was permitted to live to the utmost limit of longevity allotted to her race.

The instinct of the beaver approaches the bounds of reason. Their dexterity in constructing habitations and rearing mounds to repel the watery element, surpasses that of all other animals. A gentleman who resided where they abound, wished to ascertain whether this was inherent, or the effect of imitation. He took therefore, to his house, an infant beaver, ere its eyes were opened. It was an inmate of his kitchen, where one day, from a leaky pail, a small stream of water oozed out upon the floor. Out ran the little beaver, and collected sticks and clay, with which it built a dam to stop the passage of the tiny brook.

An Indian, going out to shoot beaver, saw a large one felling a lofty tree. Ere he gave the finishing strokes, he ascended a neighbouring hill, throwing his head about, and taking deep draughts of air. The Indian, who stedfastly regarded him, supposed that he was taking an observation of which way the wind blew: as when he made his last effort on the tree, he made use of this knowledge to shelter himself from injury at its fall. He then measured the trunk into equal lengths for the height of the house he was to build, and loading his broad tail with wet clay, made a mark at each division. Uttering a peculiar cry, three little beavers appeared at their father's call, and began to knaw asunder the wood at the places which he had designated.

"When I saw this," said the Indian, "I turned away. Could I harm such a creature? No. He was to me as a brother."

Among the insect tribes, the ant sustains a good character for foresight and industry, having been cited by the wise monarch of Israel as an example and reproof to the sluggard. Their almost resistless force in the tropical countries, where they move in bodies, shows the power that the feeble may acquire through unity of effort and design.

When Dr. Franklin was on his embassy in France, soon after our Revolution, he one morning sat musing over his solitary breakfast, and perceived a legion of large black ants taking possession of the sugar-bowl. His philosophic mind being ever ready for experiments, he caused it to be suspended from the ceiling by a string. They returned. The sweet food was above their reach. It was worth an effort to regain it. One placed himself in a perpendicular position, and another mounted upon his shoulders. Others ascended the same scaffolding, each stretching to his utmost altitude. Down fell the line. Yet it was again and again renewed. Then the Babel-builders disappeared. Had they given up the siege? No. They had only changed their mode of attack. Soon they were seen traversing the ceiling, and precipitating themselves upon the coveted spoil, by the string that sustained it. Here was somewhat of the same boldness and perseverance that led Hannibal across the Alps, to pour his soldiers down upon astonished Italy.

Thus the spider that sought so many times to fasten its frail thread, and at length succeeded, gave a profitable lesson to King Robert the Bruce, when he ruminated in discouragement and despair on his failing enterprises.

Parrots are generally considered as senseless repeaters of sounds and words, that convey neither sentiment nor feeling. Now and then, there seems some variation from this rule. A parrot who had been reared with kindness, selected as his prime favourite the youngest child in the family. By every means in his power he expressed this preference. The little girl was seized with a severe sickness. He missed her in her accustomed haunts, and turning his head quickly from side to side, called loudly for her.

At length, the fair form, stretched in its coffin, met his view. In wild and mournful tones, he continued to utter her name. He was removed far from the room, but the shrill echo of his voice was still heard amid the funeral obsequies, pronouncing with frantic grief the name of his lost Mary. Ever afterwards, when the sound of the tolling bell met his ear, the fountains of memory were troubled, and the cry of "Mary! Mary!" mingled with the mournful knell, till it ceased.

Since so many interesting properties are discovered in the inferior creation, where, perhaps, we least expected them, it is well to search for such traits of character as deserve our regard, and consider them as humble friends, that we may better do our duty to them, and please Him who has entrusted them to our protection.

(The end)
Lydia H. Sigourney's essay: Humble Friends

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