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ALBERT DORRINGTON

THE LITTLE ZOO RAT

Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover 2019


Ex Libris

As published in
The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser,
14 March 1906

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2019
Version Date: 2019-06-06
Produced by Terry Walker and Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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NOW, a waterside rat is never certain what a seagull will do. On a wet reef or shoal end they will fight and thrash us to pieces—if a piece of meat is in question. We avoid the squawking gulls, and hug the piers and sniff the disc- rigged shore lines leading to the big, fat grain ships.

To succeed outside the sewers a rat must be a judge of ships and their probable destination, or he may get left in a cold- water port. Two or three years ago Jaka, a grey faced Sydney rat, stowed away on a cosy-looking boat that smelt of flour and cheese, and it landed him among the drift-ice at the South Pole. It was an expedition ship, and when it arrived at the first ice barrier the expedition cat chased Jaka out of the warm hold on to a naked, wind-bitten berg. It was very unpleasant for the little Sydney rat sitting on the floe with the Pole-wind stiffening his whiskers. I want to see a ship's papers before settling among the cheeses in the fore-hold.

One day I fell asleep in a load of hay, and it landed me at the Zoo. I found comfortable quarters at the back of the elephant shed. The clink-clinkerty of the picket chain was very soothing.

The Zoo rats are lazy. They sprawl and loaf about, trying to imitate the fat tigers and leopards. The big animals make better comrades than the cunning house pussies.

The large cat-headed tigers dozing in their cages are not half so dangerous as they look. I lived with a young Bengal for nine months. One wet, hungry night I crept into his cage after a morsel of bone that clung between the floor boards. He was asleep, and I ran in under the iron gate and snatched it away. I noticed that the Bengal's ears twitched slightly. There was another crumb of meat almost under his big front-paw. His eyes were closed, but I measured him ear and lip and claw. Then, with my little heart rap, rap, rapping, I slipped in and mouthed the morsel from under his brindled jaw. Then—he opened his eyes and looked at me. It was like a pair of arc-lamps burning me through and through. I dared not move; a long, hook-like claw flashed out.

'Please, sir,' I squeaked, 'Oh, please, sir—I—'

The young Bengal winked, and as I stared into his big green eyes, I felt that the claws would slice me in halves.

'What do you want, little fellow?' He yawned over me; it was like a red volcano with the top broken off. His tongue was covered with ridges, sharp as bayonets. 'What did you scratch my toe for?' he asked.

'Please, Mr. Tiger,' I whimpered, 'I mistook your house for the puma's.'

'Don't puma me,' he snarled. 'Don't start mistaking me for a South American animal. The puma is a nice, warm fellow in his way, but there's a slight difference in our biting power.'

Then the young Bengal rose slowly and stood over his drinking- trough. The cold water splashed over me as he lapped. He yawned and smote the bars idly, until the cage front hummed. 'I like the ring of iron bars,' he growled; 'It sings of the strength within me.'

I passed out to the elephant's quarters where the hay is sweet and the fresh-cut grass lies deep in the far corner. Sally, the drab-coloured elephant, pretends she isn't afraid of me. Whenever I dash in under the hay she will flick her ears and start rocking like a ship at anchor. Then she will fuss like an old lady, and fill the shed with strange sighs. And wait till I tell you. She blew a bucketful of dust over me one day. I thought I'd been hit by a sand-spout and a torpedo. I'm only five inches long, but I was very angry with that elephant. She was staring, down at me with her big head all over flies.

'Don't play that tune twice, Mrs. Leatherface!' I said hotly. 'A smaller rat than me bit through a beam once, and it let down the show on a bigger elephant than you.'

Funk! She was trembling all over.

'I meant to blow it over the camel,' she said. 'He likes dust baths. I have to give him one every night. It makes him think he's at home in the desert again.'

I ran out and hid myself until the keeper had gone to bed. Then I scampered over to where she was lying, and pinched the tender lip of her trunk. I pinched it hard, too hard, and before I could let go I was swinging up and down like a straw in a cyclone. You never heard such a trumpeting. If I'd been inside her trunk instead of outside she'd have blown me over the Randwick Racecourse.

'If you bump me against that beam, Sally, you'll be sorry,' I squeaked. 'My blood will be on your fat head. Stop the circus, and I'll come down.'

You've got to burn feathers under some of these lady elephants before you can cool their hysterics. I took a flying leap over her brow, bit her umbrellas—she calls them ears—and skipped into the hay.

'There's a rat worrying Sally,' said the head keeper next morning. 'Look at her toes and the lip of her trunk. I'll put a cheese-trap under the bran box to-night.'

'Cheese under the bran box,' I said to myself. 'Why doesn't he plant a gas works in the collection box?'

I ran off to the dingo house. They are sour, unlikeable fellows those dingoes, always plotting, and whining, and licking the cage bars. Still, it doesn't do for a small rat like me to run into a dingo-house looking for scraps. Their appetites keep them busy, and they never go to sleep. Some wild dogs are good ratters, but I don't want to get into the habit of being killed—not by a stiff-eared, yellow-headed, blackguard, anyway. And aren't they cunning!

'Good morning, Sheep Fat,' I said, peeping into their house. They pretended not to see me.

'Good day, Dingbats,' I squealed. Didn't they flare up! Yellow Jack, a narrow-hipped ruffian from the Baloo River, jumped at the bars.

'Look here little fellow,' he whined, 'I'll grease the padlock with you if—'

'Yes,' yapped the others. 'The insolent little biscuit thief.'

'It's a long time between sheep drives,' I said pleasantly. 'Scalps are going up. Good day! I'll telephone for the dog trapper.'

And off I scampered to the Wonga pigeons' quarters. Common hen eggs are all very well, but give me the yolk of a pigeon egg. I'd sooner be hit with the lion's tail than miss the Wonga's nest at laying time. Birds' nest are very safe things to handle. It takes a smart fellow to lay poison inside an egg. And a little rat has to watch the bread and butter these times.

Those kangaroo rats put on side when I go by. They're just off the grass, you know. One of them asked me yesterday if I liked cheese. The dear little gumsucker! I promised to send him a pound of ice for his birthday.

There's a lot of lip about the camel. If I could borrow his thirst I'd use it for washing clothes. Camels don't like rats. I've watched a big one hoof the hay and kneel on it just to see if I was asleep underneath. Camel hair makes a pretty nest, so does scarlet parrot feathers, stiffened with a bit of lion's mane. Horse-hair tickles the nose, and makes me sneeze violently—that gives me away to the Zoo cat.

I have said 'Good day' to the tiger, and the lion often keeps his tail still while I clean up the bone-crumbs from his floor. I can wash my face or drink at the puma's trough, and say 'Hullo!' to the stork—I've heard, that his bill is like a pair of scissors. Wish they'd ask him to cut the lion's hair.

But I am really afraid of the white Gulf owl with the moon eyes and the terrible beak. They brought it from Queensland, a month ago, and put it next to a lazy, yelping cuckoo. I nearly ordered my funeral the night I rushed through its cage on my way to the swamp quails. I thought a steamboat was hooting names after me. Hoot! hoot! I saw it tear a mouse to bits and go to sleep again.

I ran past the chained eagle the other day. I told him his claws would make good harrows, and I asked him why he didn't go on the land. He ruffled his feathers and blinked at me like an old poet.

'Land!' he cried, 'it's years since I saw any. They've got me in the dust now.' He jumped and reached upwards with his terrible pinions. 'I'd give something to stretch myself under this grey sky. My wings ache for a draught of wet, cloud air. I've seen the sun-rays spill over the mountain edge and light up the sea. The eagle of all birds knows the joys of loneliness. I have watched this bit of a world spinning like a big blood-drop in space in the dark of morning. I have vaulted beyond the black cloud-drifts to see the sun's rim pluming the Pacific. Forest and range are crossed in the beating of a wing. Down, down, in a world of grass the lambs rolled like grey wind-blown scarfs. Hukihuk! Shrrr!, a sweep, a downward snatch, and a lamb is swinging upward while the blood drops leaped from my claw. Falcon, hawk, and crow steer away at sound of my voice.'

The old eagle preened himself, and his leg-chain clanked wearily.

'I was stricken with a charge of gunshot and brought here,' he said hoarsely. 'No more sky, no more the lonely drinking pool in the hollow of the highest peak. All day I must listen to the yapping of those dingoes opposite and the squawking of parrots. They mean well, but a little well-placed poison would be a noble thing. The bush was the abode of peace and silence until the dogs and parrots came.'

I felt sorry for the lonely eagle. I can't understand a sensible bird wanting to rush through the clouds wetting his feathers. And there's no fun in flying to the top of a mountain to get a drink. Isn't the creek good enough?

I never play jokes on the monkeys. I can give Sally the elephant points, and teach her how to open a bag of chaff, but I have never arrived at the blind side of a monkey. Talk about brains! I've seen three of them surround an old, blind rat and call the keeper. A lot of us remember Jacob, the Orang Utan. He used to help the keepers set rat- and mouse-traps. I've seen him open a gate with a key, and whitewash the porcupines' house—I wonder the trade-unions didn't complain.

Yesterday, a little dingo pup asked me to share a bone. The others were asleep at the far end of the cage. But you never know these wild dogs. The moment I accepted the pup's invitation, the crowd was up in a flash.

'Gentlemen,' I said, 'your legs are too long for the rat- killing business.'

They bit and fell over each other trying to get me. I was out of the cage in a jiffy.

These white owls and dingoes are a bad lot. But not so bad as the cat. You never know where she will turn up. She has a broad, wicked head and needle claws. She traps sparrows in the grass and climbs like a monkey. I wish they'd hang a bell round her neck. She's always doing the right thing at the right moment. When a pigeon dies she follows the attendant the moment he takes it from the cage. I used to get a lot of dead birds once.

About a month ago I ran in the cage after a plumed coquette from the Murrumbidgee River; it was lying in a corner, its wings spread out. I dragged it to the bars, but, before I could pull it out, an old man cuckoo nearly scalped me.

'You little monster!' he yelped, 'get out.'

'Don't lose your feathers, Cooky,' I said. 'Keep a few for Sunday.'

That cuckoo had a beak like a tin-opener.

The keepers have been telling the Zoo cat about me. She pounced on me the other night in the elephant's hay. Sally was watching with her big blanket ears thrown back, and every time I dodged back into the hay she would lift the whole bundle with her trunk and scatter it, while the cat skirmished round. Given a fair chance, I can beat the best cat that ever walked. But an elephant and cat take a lot of crowding out. As fast as I covered myself with hay Sally would spill the whole lot in front of Puss.

'You big coward,' I screamed. 'Why don't you give me a chance?'

'Hoosht!' trumpeted Sally. 'We've got you this time. I've been afraid to eat a mouthful of hay the last three months for fear of swallowing you. Hoosht! Now's your chance, my pretty Puss,' she said to the cat.

I wasn't to be beat. With the cat almost on my tail, I skipped to Sally's trunk and ran over her forehead, squeaking. The cat mewed round and round the elephant's feet, but she wasn't game to follow me.

'Whoof! Hoosht!' screamed Sally. 'If you dare run inside my ear, I'll blow you out with a bucket of water.'

'Mew!' said the cat. I sprang to an overhead beam, slipped under the roof, and scooted.

Puss cornered me next night at the back of the camel shed. It was a race for life across the yard.

'I've got you now, you bragging squeaker,' she said. 'All the king's elephants and all the king's hay won't save you this time.'

'If I could only change myself into a porcupine or a bear,' I gasped, 'I know who'd do the running.'

I was out of breath, overfed, and fat; she was lean, and nimble, through chasing sparrows in the grass. The puma stared at me through the bars of his house, as I galloped past.

'Poor little fellow,' he sighed. 'It's any odds on Puss.'

'M-r-r-r,' said the cat. 'I've got you.'

I jumped for the Tiger's cage, and rolled, almost fainting, under the bars—just in time. The cat came after me, clawing and screaming, she couldn't stop herself.

'It's death or glory this time,' I said; 'and whoever bites first had better bite hard.'

The Tiger was up in a clap; his snarl would have broken a glass window.

'Eh?' he rasped. 'What's this? M-yaw.' I edged behind him. You couldn't see me for stripes.

'Eh?' he repeated, glaring at the cat. 'M-f, m-r-yaw.'

You should have heard the tiger cough. The cat sprang six feet in the air to express her feelings, and in moments of tribulation and suffering a cat always jumps the right way.

'She's gone,' I said. 'What a blessing!'

'Eh?' He turned with a snarl and looked at me, suddenly.

'I didn't see you. Get out of my house!' he roared. 'And don't disturb my sleep again.'

These tigers are unsociable fellows. I'll run into the snake department next time.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Administered by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.