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An essay by Elizabeth Brightwen

The Californian Mouse

Title:     The Californian Mouse
Author: Elizabeth Brightwen [More Titles by Brightwen]

A rather strange parcel from California reached me by post some years ago. It was marked "Live animals with care," and consisted of a box, containing several divisions, each having fine wire-work to admit air. In one I found a spiny creature called a Gecko, in another a beautiful lizard which had not survived the journey, and in the third a very rare species of mouse known as _Perognathus Pencillatus_. It has a soft silky coat of silver grey and fawn colour, and a long tail with a little tuft at the end, very large black eyes and white paws. It was alive, but weak and tired with its journey of ten days and all the jars and shocks it must have had by the way. I gave it warm milk and soaked bread, which it seemed to enjoy, and some hours later it was supplied with wheat grains, the food upon which it lives in its native country.

True to his natural instinct, mousie soon began to fill both his cheek pouches with the corn, and tried to hide it away as a supply for the future. In a few days the little creature was in perfect health, and he has been a great pet now for several years; perfectly tame and gentle, he will run about on the table and amuse himself happily wherever he is placed.

Being entirely inodorous he is kept in the drawing-room in a mahogany cage which was made specially to meet his small requirements. He is a busy little creature at night, as he likes daily to make a fresh bed of cotton-wool, and fusses about with his mouth full of material until he has arranged his little couch.

In his own country, where the cold is very severe in winter, its habit is to become perfectly unconscious, exactly as if dead, and in that state it can endure the rigour of the climate and wake up when the temperature rises. It was once left in a cold room and became in this apparently lifeless state. I was not alarmed, as I knew of its peculiarity, but it really was difficult to believe it ever could revive; there was no trace of warmth, or any apparent beating of the heart, and so it lay for some days, but on bringing it into a warm room it became as bright and active as ever. It seems a more intense form of hibernation than that of our squirrel and dormouse.

The naturalist at San Bernardino, from whom I obtained this mouse, told me he had kept one as a pet for many years, and his specimen lived entirely without water; as there was sufficient moisture in the wheat grains on which it fed to supply its need; but I think it is cruel to keep anything without the means of quenching thirst which might arise from an artificial mode of life, so my little pet has always a small jar of water to which I know it resorts from its requiring to be refilled from time to time.

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Elizabeth Brightwen's essay: Californian Mouse