Rev. Elswood and The Rabid Squirrel


Roger L. Smalling

"Come out of that thar tree, Sam Jenkins, or we're agoin' to shoot you out", said Smitty, exasperated.

"I think his brains is rattled", replied Cliff Jackson.

Directly above them, the frightened Jenkins listened to the conversation and clung tenaciously to the slippery maple branch. "What rattler?", he yelled. "Does rattlers climb trees? I thought you said it was a rabid squirrel!"

The Reverend Elswood, standing between the other two, pinched his nose and shook his head as he always did when presented with complex problems. "Smitty", he said, "if 'n we can't get him out of this here tree afore nightfall, we're in trouble. We can't find our way out of these woods in the dark."

Old Jason, from across the river, sauntered up just about then, having caught the conversation that just transpired between the men on the ground. "I thought old screwball Jenkins was afraid of heights", he exclaimed. "How did he get up in that thar tree?"

Patiently, Elswood explained.

It seems that during the hunt, Jenkins had been assigned to watch the hole of a hollow log into which an unidentified furry object had taken refuge. He rested the butt of the rusty shotgun on the stump, alongside his left foot. His hand was on the barrel, ready for action.

He felt clear-headed that day. "Sure," he thought, "I ain't in the class of that thar Earnest Hummingbird fellar and these here backwoods ain't the hills of Kill-a-man-gyro; and squirrels ain't chargin' elephants. But still, us hunters has a lot in common."

He stood tall and proud, ready for anything. Meanwhile, Smith was poking a long stick down a hole in the log at the other end in an effort to extract the creature Elswood had seen dive in there. "Thar he is, Cliff", he yelled.

Cliff stopped swinging at the log with his ax and stepped back to get out of Reverend Elswood's line of fire. This action provoked Jenkins to lift his gaze from the hole in the log, contrary to orders.

The timing was perfect. A small animal bounded out of the hole. It ascended the stump, paused in confusion, and then scampered across Jenkin's boot, heading for the nearest tree. Jenkins realized it was a squirrel. Smitty, from the far end of the log couldn't see it well, and yelled, "I think it's a rabbit."

"Rabid!", shouted Jenkins in panic. "It's a rabid squirrel. Run for it!"

The other three hunters dashed briskly around the log in pursuit of the unfortunate rodent, ignoring Jenkins' affirmations. None knew where it went, but all were in hot pursuit anyway.

Jenkins interpreted these moves as agreement with his diagnosis of the rodent's state of health and sprinted for the nearest tree. He caught the lowest limb and swung himself up, climbing hard.

This situation presented no difficulty except in one minor detail. Both the rodent and Jenkins had chosen the same tree.

Jenkins was so successful in his ascent that the squirrel was obliged to occupy a position opposite and slightly below. While Jenkins considered himself trapped, the rodent apparently interpreted this proceedure as a new and unfair hunting tactic and chittered angrily. The latter was now in clear command of the safari.

"Jenkins thinks that thar squirrel is hydrophone", said Elswood in his most scholary tone.

"Oh, you mean the rabies", replied Jason. "But squirrels don't catch that do they?"

"Well, Jenkins thinks so", said Reverend Elswood, "and he's not about to come out of that thar maple tree."

While the sun began to sink behind the tree where Jenkins was perched, the men below exchanged suggestions. No one wanted to risk climbing a tree in the fading light. Chopping it down was out of the question since it might hurt someone on the ground. Besides, they didn't want to risk loosing the squirrel. The prospect of a cold night in the forest began to loom insidiously in their minds.

Suddenly Reverend Elswood began rubbing his balding scalp as he usually did when stumbling on the solution to a problem. "Well, I guess I can always repent afterwards", he mumbled. He turned and walked briskly back toward the hollow log where Jenkins had dropped his shotgun. The others ignored him and continued exchanging suggestions.

Presently, Reverend Elswood returned with the shotgun and proceeded to unload it. He opened the front of the cartridges with his pocket knife, removed the shot and threw it away. He scooped up some sand and began to pour it into the cartridges. Smitty asked, "what on earth are you doin'?"

"Your last idea was the right one", replied Elswood, "and I hope Jenkins lives to regret it."

The cartridges, now armed with harmless sand, were reloaded into the shotgun. "Jenkins", shouted Elswood, "Smitty told you that if you didn't come out of that thar tree, we was goin' to shoot you out. This here is buckshot!"

The others looked askance at one another because of this obvious lie, while Elswood aimed at Jenkins and pulled both triggers on the old double-barrelled gun.

Blam! Sand splattered on the tree trunk, whistled through the leaves and smacked Jenkins square on the behind.

Jenkins evaluated the situation for a second and concluded that things were getting serious. Rabid squirrel or no, he was going to come down and take charge of this situation. "Them fellars don't know how to handle a shotgun," he thought.

Both occupants bailed out of the tree at the same instant. The squirrel made a beautiful flying leap toward a thicket on the far side of the tree. Jenkins, noticeably less graceful, began his descent hand over hand, primate style.

It was a pity he missed the last branch. He completed the trip with a spectacular WHOMP as he landed on his back, generating a cloud of dust on either side of his uninjured person.

Later that night, hunting party dispersed, a weary Reverend opened the door to his house and stumbled into the living room. As he eased himself into the rocking chair, his wife Susy entered the room. "How many squirrels did you shoot today?", she asked.

"Only one", he answered wryly. "Only one."