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An essay by Elizabeth Brightwen

A Mole

Title:     A Mole
Author: Elizabeth Brightwen [More Titles by Brightwen]

A live mole above-ground is a somewhat rare sight, for, as a rule, his habits are altogether subterranean; but now and then he may be captured by a sudden grasp as he scrambles along in his odd, unwieldly fashion, and a curious fellow he is in many ways.

Strolling quietly along a country lane one summer's evening, I heard a great rustling in a dry ditch, the dead leaves were being scattered right and left, and I stopped to see what could be the cause. In a minute the black velvet coat of a mole appeared, and I at once resolved to endeavour to catch it, though with little hope of success, for the creature is apt to dive into the ground in an instant when alarmed. However, watching my opportunity, I managed to seize and hold him firmly; but I had nothing to put him in, and he struggled furiously to escape. All I could do was to roll him up in one end of my black lace shawl and hurry home with my capture. Alas! for the unlucky shawl--the mole soon began rending and tearing it into shreds with his powerful feet and teeth. I was rapidly becoming acquainted with the habits of moles, and in a way that I should not soon forget; still, that mole must be brought home somehow, and I next transferred him to my dress pocket, which I held fast, whilst he scrambled and pushed his strong little snout in all directions to find some way of escape. He was soon placed in a zinc fern case, with glass sides, supplied with earth to burrow in, and fed with worms. I also gave him a pan of water, as I remembered seeing a plan of a mole's burrow which always includes a place for water. It was a really painful sight to watch the creature feeding; he pounced upon a worm with the fury of a tiger, and holding it in his mouth, tore it to pieces with his sharp claws and rapidly devoured all the pieces, and snuffing about to make sure he had quite finished it, he then darted off to seek another. The mole has a most voracious appetite and dies very quickly if unable to obtain food. I was interested to watch the bustling, active life of the little creature; his morning toilet when the black velvet coat was attended to, carefully brushed and licked by a tiny red tongue (though it never seemed to pick up dirt or defilement in its passage through the earth) and finally, after a few days, I had the pleasure of setting him free, when he dived into the ground out of sight in a moment.

Some years later a live mole was much desired by a young relative who was giving Natural History lectures to some school children. It happened that a mole had found its way into the conservatory and was doing much damage there by making its runs close to the surface and uprooting the plants in its course. The gardener and I resolved to catch it; he was anxious to prevent further mischief to his plants, and I was wishing to help the lecturer by sending a lively specimen to illustrate his subject. The exciting part of the business was the necessity of making the capture before eleven o'clock, when the carrier would pass by, and, taking charge of the animal, would deliver it in time for the lecture next day. We watched for the upheaving of the mole's run which came at last. The gardener made a quick plunge with his hand into the soft earth, but alas! the mole escaped. He kept quiet for ten minutes, then another attempt was made, and failed. The carrier's bell sounded and he passed by. I still kept watch, and again saw the earth move--the third time was successful. I had gone to find a tin box, and on my return I was greeted with "Here's the mole, ma'am!" Poor fellow! he was being ignominiously held up by the scruff of his neck, and kicking furiously at the indignity. He was soon packed up in soft grass, with a plentiful supply of worms to feast upon by the way. A special messenger overtook the carrier, and a telegram was sent to announce the dispatch of the precious animal.

He first reached a London office, where I fear he tended to hinder business, as it was needful to transfer him to a cage, and no one seemed particularly anxious for the honour of catching him, as his teeth were known to be both sharp and numerous, and his disposition not of the meekest. However, he was placed in his cage, travelled down into Kent, and gave wonderful pleasure when exhibited to the children.

One would naturally suppose that in a country village where boys and girls are daily going to and from school, they would all have been familiar with this little creature, but when the question was asked if they had ever seen a dead mole, only fifteen children out of ninety had seen one, and only three had ever seen a live one.

Next day the mole was let loose upon a very hard piece of ground, but even there he very quickly burrowed out of sight.

[The end]
Elizabeth Brightwen's essay: Mole