Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
A Northern Pet
By Isaac Israel Hayes (18321881)
[Born in Chester Co., Penn., 1832. Died in New York, N. Y., 1881. The Open Polar Sea. 1867.]
IT is almost a month since we passed the darkest day of the winter, and it will be a long time yet before we have light; but it is time for us now to have at noontime a faint flush upon the horizon. We find a new excitement, if such it may be called, in the impatience of expectation. Meanwhile I pet my fox.
Birdie has become quite tame, and does great credit to her instructor. She is the most cunning creature that was ever seen, and does not make a bad substitute for the General. She takes the Generals place at my table, as she has his place in my affections; but she sits in my lap, where the General never was admitted, and, with her delicate little paws on the cloth, she makes a picture. Why, she is indeed a perfect little gourmande, well bred, too, and clever. When she takes the little morsels into her mouth her eyes sparkle with delight, she wipes her lips, and looks up at me with a coquetterie that is perfectly irresistible. The eagerness of appetite is controlled by the proprieties of the table and a proper self-respect; and she is satisfied to prolong a feast in which she finds so much enjoyment. She does not like highly seasoned food; indeed, she prefers to take it au natural, so I have a few bits of venison served for her on a separate plate. She has her own fork; but she has not yet advanced sufficiently far in the usages of civilization to handle it for herself, so I convey the delicate morsels to her mouth. Sometimes she exhibits too much impatience; but a gentle rebuke with the fork on the tip of the nose is quite effective in restoring her patience, and saving her from indigestion.
Her habits greatly interest me. I have allowed her to run loose in my cabin, after a short confinement in a cage had familiarized her with the place; but she soon found out the bulls-eye over my head, through the cracks around which she could sniff the cool air; and she got into the habit of bounding over the shelves, without much regard for the many valuable and perishable articles which lay thereon. From this retreat nothing can tempt her but a good dinner; and as soon as she sees from her perch the bits of raw venison, she crawls leisurely down, sneaks gently into my lap, looks up longingly and lovingly into my face, puts out her little tongue with quick impatience, and barks bewitchingly if the beginning of the repast is too long delayed.
I tried to cure her of this habit of climbing by tying her up with a chain which Knorr made for me of some iron wire; but she took it so much to heart that I had to let her go. Her efforts to free herself were very amusing, and she well earned her freedom. She tried continually to break the chain, and, having once succeeded, she seemed determined not to be baffled in her subsequent attempts. As long as I was watching her she would be quiet enough, coiled up in her bed or her tub of snow; but the moment my eyes were off her, or she thought me asleep, she worked hard to effect her liberation. First she would draw herself back as far as she could get, and then suddenly darting forward, would bring up at the end of her chain with a jerk which sent her reeling on the floor; then she would pick herself up, panting as if her little heart would break, shake out her disarranged coat, and try again. But this she would do with much deliberation. For a moment she would sit quietly down, cock her head cunningly on one side, follow the chain with her eye along its whole length to its fastening in the floor, and then she would walk leisurely to that point, hesitate a moment, and then make another plunge. All this time she would eye me sharply, and if I made any movement, she would fall down at once on the floor and pretend sleep.
She is a very neat and cleanly creature. She is everlastingly brushing her clothes, and she bathes very regularly in her bath of snow. This last is her great delight. She roots up the clean white flakes with her diminutive nose, rolls and rubs and half buries herself in them, wipes her face with her soft paws, and when all is over she mounts with her delicate fingers to the side of the tub, looks around her very knowingly, and barks the prettiest little bark that ever was heard. This is her way of enforcing admiration; and, being now satisfied with her performance, she gives a goodly number of shakes to her sparkling coat, and then, happy and refreshed, she crawls to her airy bed in the bulls-eye and sleeps.