The Chestnut Who Knew How to Ask for Help

To Our Dear Friend Skweek

One late afternoon as I was returning home from my patrol, I spotted something at our front door. Something small, round and beige-brown in colour. I thought it was a large chestnut in its dried pod, but it started to move, running from left to right on the mat. Strange, I thought, I don’t recall seeing chestnuts run. But who knows. . .? I figured I’d get closer and check, so I started to approach it very cautiously. If it could run, it could also bite or drive its quills into me – there are so many strange things in this world! My mum is one. She believes she’s going to publish a book, poor thing! Moving right along. . .

A few steps from the front door, I realised it wasn’t a chestnut – it was a tiny baby hedgehog!

“What are you doing here, petit? Where is your mum?”

He seemed astonished by my question. “Mum? She’s in the house! She’ll be bringing my dinner soon.”

“No,” I said, “I mean your mummy hedgehog. Where is she?”

“I love mum! I’m your brother!” he replied, and ran to the azalea flower bed to hide. I had the feeling he was emotional and was going to cry.

What was all this about, I wondered. Maybe I shouldn’t have asked him this question? Maybe my siblings, the Maine Coons, knew something about this? I thought I’d better go inside and speak with them. I jumped on the patio fence and from there onto the windowsill as I always do. The Maine Coons were already sitting at the table enjoying their dinner. As it looked good and smelled delicious, I walked inside to join them, forgetting about the baby hedgehog in the process.

It was only much later, after dinner, when we were all gathered around mum for evening cuddles that I remembered him.

“The baby!” I exclaimed. “Did he get his dinner?”

Mum knew immediately whom I was talking about. “Yes, Freddy, he gobbled a full plate of kibbles and ham!”

Daddy cat Uddy, who had seemed to be in a deep asleep, suddenly raised his head. “The baby? What baby? Mum, you haven’t adopted someone new without telling us, have you?”

He was alarmed – and rightly so. Our mum is capable of adopting just about anybody and anything; not only birds and cats, but also ants, snails, butterflies, trees, and plants. When she goes to the garden centre, she probably asks the flowers around her, “Which one of you wants to come to my garden?” And I’m sure she genuinely expects a reply.

A little embarrassed, mum told us this story:

“A few days ago, I was taking some fresh air on the patio. The evening was beautiful and calm, the last rays of sunlight were illuminating the garden, and the birds were chirping everywhere. I hadn’t had time to go out yet that day, so I just stood there, enjoying this tiny moment of peace and quiet. The garden seemed empty. You’d all gone back into the house already, and no neighbouring cats had yet come in to ask for dinner.
“Usually, at this time between daylight and dusk, hedgehogs come out of the bamboo hedge or the rhododendron bed to quench their thirst at our large bowl at the end of the path. As you know, there is always fresh water available so that stray cats, birds, hedgehogs and occasionally bees and butterflies can drink. Our Freddy, who drinks the water from any puddle he finds where he walks (don’t you, sonny?), showed me how precious water is to free-roaming animals.

“It’s then that I spotted them: a couple of hedgehogs running on the path. The first one was a very large hedgehog mummy, possibly an older lady, which suddenly emerged from the flower bed and ran very quickly towards the water bowl. She was followed by a tiny baby, possibly her son. I’d never seen them before, and I’m sure you would say the same. We know all the hedgehogs that come to our garden, don’t we? Anyhow, I’d never seen this mummy hedgehog come into the garden before, and all the babies we’d seen up to that point this year had been bigger, probably older. She ran so fast that it was difficult for the baby to follow her, yet he was trying very hard.

“She didn’t care, didn’t look back to see where the baby was and didn’t wait for him. On the contrary, I felt she was doing everything she could to lose him. This was a strange behaviour; the other mummy hedgehogs are always so attentive to their kids! However, I thought she may just be very thirsty.

“Once she reached the water bowl, she leaned over and started to drink. The baby finally caught up with her and tried to climb on her back. He clung to her back leg, but she immediately shook herself so that he fell off.

“He tried once, twice, three times, and each time she shook herself to get rid of him. Finally, and obviously very upset, she stopped drinking, turned to the baby and pushed him away violently with her paw, then began to run towards the flower bed. The poor baby ran after her, and although she was running very fast, he managed to catch up with her just before she disappeared into the foliage. Again, he clung to her leg, hanging onto her side. He obviously wanted his mother to carry him – that was probably what she usually did, and he likely couldn’t understand why he wasn’t allowed to be on her back now. Again, she shook herself to toss him off, but he tried again. This time, she paused and then gave him a big kick with her back paw. The impact was so brutal that the little hedgehog ended up on his back on the grass next to the path. By the time he managed to get back on his feet, his mummy had disappeared inside the flower bed.

“Of course, I wanted to help, so I ran to look for him, but when I reached the spot, he too was gone. I assumed he had followed his mummy.

“My darlings, you can imagine how sorry I was for this poor baby! But what could I do? I searched the rhododendron bush all over but couldn’t find either the baby or the mummy hedgehog. So, I went into the kitchen to fetch some kibbles and placed them on a plate next to the flower bed even though I doubted this little baby would be able to eat by himself.

“I didn’t tell you all this before, my darlings, because I knew it would make you sad. But I’m guessing you’re now wondering how this little baby came to be your brother. Well. . .

“The next evening, I wanted to check on these hedgehogs. Would they come back? Had the mother simply been in a bad mood the day before? Had she changed her mind about her son? I really hoped to see her reconciled with her baby. I would have been so happy to see her carrying him on her back!

“I stood still on the patio and waited without making the slightest noise for a long time so as not to frighten them if they came back. After an hour or so, I wanted to go inside to make dinner for you, but just then my phone rang. I answered the call, which lasted some time, and forgot about watching for the hedgehogs.

“While I was busy on the phone, I felt something – or someone – climbing on my sneaker. Looking down, I saw him, the tiny little hedgehog! He was sitting quietly on one of my sneakers. He didn’t seem to be at all frightened. He just raised his little muzzle towards me and tilted his tiny head as if to get a better look at me. Although I didn’t actually hear him say anything, I’m sure he was asking if I had anything for him to eat.

“I could hardly believe it! Had he sensed that I was worried about him? Had he guessed I was his best chance of survival?

“Because he was very small, he had managed to squeeze through the fence surrounding the patio. However, to get off the paved path, come inside the patio and find me, must have required a lot of effort from such a tiny baby. Was it just a coincidence, or was he looking for me? When I’d put the bowl of kibbles close to the flower bed, I had of course left a bit of my scent. This baby, who had probably eaten a kibble or two, would likely have been looking for the same scent the next day when he was getting hungry.

“Anyhow, I removed him gently from my sneaker and went to the kitchen to fetch some food.

“‘Don’t move, wait for me right there!’ I said, as if he could understand me. A few minutes later, I was back with finely chopped ham, served on a flat saucer. I thought the ham would be easier to chew than the kibbles.

“He was indeed waiting for me, running around the patio as if it were a fun game. He was sniffing the corners, chair and table legs, your baskets and the toys you’d left outside. He was as happy as a little kitten exploring his new surroundings. I put the plate next to a chair, and it didn’t take him more than a minute to spot the food. First, he tasted a piece or two and finding the ham to his liking, proceeded to climb right onto the plate. Then, sitting cosily in the middle, he began to devour all the food around him. Well, you will have to teach him a few things, my darlings, for example, that plates aren’t made to sit on!

“Once he’d finished his dinner, I expected him to go back to the flower bed which I supposed was his home, but he didn’t! He just stayed there, in a corner, too happy to have found a new home and a new mum! As you know, the fox from the park sometimes comes to the patio at night, so I carried the little hedgehog to the terrace where it’s more sheltered. Have you seen the crate next to the garage, Freddy? I’d lined it with straw for the rabbits that I bought from the garden centre, and he’s in there now, happy as Larry.

“That’s the whole story, my darlings. I hope you don’t mind having a new brother!”

Of course, we didn’t mind. On the contrary, we were ecstatic! We all wanted to go out to greet him and cuddle him at once. (Mum said that young baby hedgehogs have soft fur like kitties rather than spiky quills.) But mum told us that it was late and that we should let him sleep. After all, we’d see him the next day.

So, the following morning, we organised a big party in the garden to celebrate Thad’s arrival in the family. And that’s how I became the big brother of a little hedgehog named Thad the Chestnut (as a reminder of my mistake).

Every evening, Thad comes to the front door to ask for his dinner; if mum isn’t home or if she doesn’t open the door immediately, he stands right up against the door and knocks gently on the glass with his muzzle.

“Where’s my dinner, mum? I’m hungry!” he calls, but only I can understand him. For you know, we’re not only brothers, we’re the best of friends! We explore the hedges together and patrol all around the garden, and if that rascal Big Head arrives, we face him off together. Um, I mean, we, uh, run away together to escape.

Oh, just another thing! The other day, I saved his life! It was just before noon when I noticed he was missing. I looked everywhere in the garden – in the hedges, in his crate. . . He wasn’t anywhere! So, I set out to explore the area. And that’s when I found him, on the road to Paris. Well, what I saw first was a truck driving very slowly. As I passed it, I saw Thad walking right in front of the truck, very calmly.

“Thad, you little fool, what are you doing?” I cried.

“I’m going to look for my hedgehog mummy. I heard she went to Paris to get some jam for breakfast.”

Gee, I don’t know who could have told him such a silly thing. I meowed very, very loudly, and the truck driver heard me. He stopped his huge machine to see what was going on. I quickly jumped next to Thad, trying to push him out of the way, but I couldn’t. The truck driver, a very nice man, stepped out, picked both of us up at the same time in his enormous hand and put us on the side of the road, on the grass.

Mind you, he did reprimand us a little bit, but we probably deserved it, right?

Now that I know Thad would love to have his hedgehog mummy back, the Maine Coons and I have put together a plan to help him. But I’ll tell you more about that next time!

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