Belinda the Rat

A comment on my last post back on Valentine’s day, illustrating the often hazy line dividing animals from pets, brought a wonderful story to my attention. So, I asked the ‘tale-teller’ if she would share it here. So over to guest blogger, Fennie Somerville:

The Story of My Rat

The gentlest, most astute and altogether cleverest specimen among a race of folk that are themselves amongst the most perspicacious on the planet.  If she didn’t wash behind her ears it was only because she didn’t have a flannel to hold in her little paws and because her tiny hands were sore with digging. And escaping. And going hungry. And trying to find food that wasn’t poisoned.  And always having an eye and a whisker open for a Jack Russell and always pondering why a rat’s life should be so, cold, so hard, so unloved.  Her name was Belinda.

Illustration from 'Friends in Feathers and Fur, and Other Neighbors', by James Johonnot (1885)
Illustration from ‘Friends in Feathers and Fur, and Other Neighbors’, by James Johonnot (1885)

Well one day Belinda got herself pregnant.  She was a female after all and she didn’t have a lot of choice.  She hardly even saw the male rat that had impregnated her but soon she could feel the baby ratlets growing in her womb.  You might almost say they rattled around inside her. You see Belinda was rather thin.

But then Belinda happened to come across my compost heap, warm, dry and full of vegetables.  Better still it was full of worms.  Into the compost she saw that she could burrow and there in the deep warm darkness could make a nest and deliver the babies.  Yet she had learned the hard way that digging simply advertises one’s presence.  How many burrows had she started only to be chased out of them by a man wielding a spade which had almost cut her in half?

So she had an idea.  She would dig but she would hide the spoil.  But how?  By now the babies in her womb had grown big.  She was becoming uncomfortable.  She might dig in the soft soil of the compost heap, but as for hiding the spoil……? Then she spotted that one end of the compost heap abutted a wooden garden shed. Of course being a rat she didn’t know it was a shed. It seemed like some vast dark oubliette.  A vast oubliette suddenly illuminated by a spark of genius.  She would gnaw a hole through the shed wall – the wood was almost rotten – and she would then transport the soil she had dug out of the compost heap into the shed and then no-one would notice her diggings.  Of course she didn’t have a wheel barrow so it all had to be done little by little, spraying the soil backwards – first with her front legs and then with her back.

Slowly, achingly, for she was almost at term, the work was done and as she dug into the farthest recesses of the compost heap and made a nesting chamber, and hurried out to find dried leaves and feathers and hair to fill it, she felt her waters break. But she knew as she settled down to give birth that she and her kits were safe.  That outside no-one would be able to detect that she had burrowed into the compost heap.  That every particle of soil that she had excavated was now safely inside the shed.

With the worms in the compost heap and the many invertebrates around of every sort, her milk flowed and she could feel her kits growing strong.  She sang to them in a little rat voice and she licked behind their ears and under their tails.  She groomed their coats and she taught them little tricks. There were three boy kits and a little girl.  She’d be a mother too, one day, if Belinda could manage to teach her how to avoid the people that called rats vermin and set about them with dogs and spades.

Rats have always been partial to eggs

She would show them one day if the family could find a chicken run, how to transport eggs with one rat lying on its back and holding the egg and the others pulling it along by its tail.  All this she thought as she cuddled her cubs and kept them warm.

Then she heard someone come to the compost heap and enter the shed.  She could feel the vibration through the earth.  Her diggings would be discovered.  What would happen now to her babies, not strong enough to live independently?  For some minutes Belinda was quite distracted; she even bared her teeth.

But then she heard the shed door being closed.  Her diggings had been discovered, but they had been wondered at and overlooked. They were not important.  It was Belinda and Belinda’s new life that mattered.

And so Belinda survived.  And her family did too. And afterwards she resolved that she would never bother the shed keeper again. And that not all humans were cruel and that we all needed peace and quiet in which to find food, shelter and to raise our families and that some of them knew that the earth was given us to share. Belinda knew this and taught it to her children.  And in return the shed keeper told Belinda’s story in the hope that people will understand that despite all the panic stories they are far more likely to be injured by a fellow human being on this earth than by an intelligent and humble rat just trying to survive.

copyright: Fennie Somerville, 2014

Fennie blogs at Corner Cupboard

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