Up to the back gate, in the paved lane, rode our neighborhood policeman, on a bicycle.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, August 29, 1942.

“Now I’ve got squirrel trouble,” announced Jimmie Frise indignantly.

“Chewed into your attic?” I sympathized.

“No,” said Jim. “It’s complicated. This squirrel has a feud on with my Irish water spaniel, Rusty. For about two hours every morning and two hours every evening, it teases Rusty almost to distraction.”

“Well, that’s not your trouble,” I pointed out. “That’s Rusty’s.”

“No, but the neighbors,” explained Jimmie. “They’re complaining about the row Rusty makes over the squirrel.”

“Okay, keep Rusty in,” I solved.

“You can’t keep a dog in all day,” protested Jim. “And anyway, the darn squirrel doesn’t even come around our place until it sees Rusty out.”

“Well, discipline your dog,” I advised. “Give him a spanking or two and he’ll soon quit bothering with squirrels.”

“Not Rusty,” declared Jim warmly. “This feud has been developing quietly for two or three years. Now it’s the biggest thing in Rusty’s life. It’s the biggest thing he has ever had in his life. He’s scratching at the door to get out the first thing in the morning. He races around the yard, checking over the ground to see if his enemy, the squirrel, has been around yet. Then he gives a couple of defiant barks and sits back to wait.”

“There’s the moment to discipline him,” I explained.

“Aw, you don’t know Rusty,” said Jim. “He’s eight years old. He’s a person now, not a dog. He has his rights and knows them. He knows he can bark if he likes. There is no law against a dog barking. Except to excess.”

“Then what happens?” I inquired.

Then Comes Trouble

“Well there sits Rusty, all on the alert,” described Jim, “and sure enough, in a few minutes, along comes this squirrel on the telephone wires, coming from the south.”

“A black squirrel?” I inquired.

“A mangy, middle-aged dusty sort of black squirrel,” said Jim. “He lives in some oak trees about a block to the south of us. Along the telephone wires he comes, a few feet at a time. And when he sees Rusty crouching and watching for him down at the foot of the apple tree he starts a queer rusty, sucking sort of sound which is squirrel for cursing.”

“You understand squirrel talk?” I asked.

“Then Rusty starts to bark,” said Jim. “He rushes forth barking up at the squirrel, who sits on the telephone wire, looking down at Rusty and emitting those nasty, wheezy sounds baring his teeth.”

“Naturally the neighbors would complain,” I submitted, “if Rusty keeps it up.”

“Keep it up?” cried Jim. “They go for an hour or more. You would think a squirrel had more to do than come and tease a dog.”

“Well, you’d think a dog had more to do than get all bothered by a black squirrel,” I countered.

“Do the neighbors blame the black squirrel for inciting the row?” demanded Jimmie. “Not they. They blame it all on Rusty.”

“Aw, Jim,” I laughed, “don’t be silly. Either train your dog to keep quiet or get rid of the squirrel.”

“I’ve heaved rocks at the squirrel,” confessed Jim, “with only this result: that the squirrel thinks I’m in the game now too. And Rusty regards my actions as legal confirmation of his own attitude.”

“Haven’t you got an air rifle?” I inquired quietly.

“They’re illegal in the city,” said Jim, “and anyway, black squirrels are game and protected by law.”

“Get the hose after it,” I suggested.

“You don’t know black squirrels,” said Jim “They are the hardest animal in the world to snub. The more you disturb them, the more pleased they are. This blame squirrel sits on the telephone wires until he has got Rusty frothing at the mouth. Then he comes a little farther along the wire until he can take a jump on to the apple tree. Rusty regard this tree as sacred to him. It is his altar. His property. In all the world, Rusty makes claim to only one thing, and that’s our apple tree.”

“I can understand a dog,” I admitted.

“Well, sir,” went on Jim, “teetering and crouching on that telephone wire, the squirrel measures the four-foot jump to the nearest branch of the tree. Rusty, in a frenzy of excitement below, and at the same time trying to hold himself in control in the hope that the squirrel will miss the jump, alternates between almost insane rushing back and forth and stopping all of a quiver to watch the leap. It is like us at the circus, when the acrobats are ready to jump. We don’t know whether to look or not to look.”

“So the squirrel jumps?” I egged.

“And then Rusty really goes nuts,” said Jim. “For there is the squirrel up his sacred tree, running around it gaily, as if the tree belonged to him: running up to the topmost branches, darting down the trunk almost to within one jump of Rusty.”

“The poor neighbors,” I reminded.

“Well, after about 15 minutes,” related Jim, “Rusty gets completely exhausted. And he quiets down and goes some little distance from the tree and sits down. He knows the squirrel can’t jump back to the telephone wire. He knows that it has to come down the trunk and make a dash for the fence.”

“Why doesn’t he sit at the foot of the tree and out-wait the squirrel?” I inquired.

“He has tried it hundreds of times,” said Jim, “and the squirrel always wins because somebody comes and calls Rusty to supper.”

“Is there any hope of Rusty catching the squirrel at least?” I inquired. “The law of averages is on his side now.”

“No,” said Jim, “he waits and waits and finally he lies down, with his eyes on the tree. Then the squirrel, tired of the game, starts experimentally coming down the trunk. If Rusty leaps up too soon, he just retreats up the tree and sizzles derision down on Rusty’s head. When Rusty least expects it, the squirrel makes the jump, rushes across the garden, up the fence, back up a telephone pole and on to the wire again, with Rusty one jump behind. And, after a few choice insults, retires south to his own domain.”

Neighbors Complain

“Does this go on every day?” I asked.

“The neighbors have complained to the police,” said Jim, “and the police have given me warning.”

“Did you ask them if you could dispose of the squirrel?” I demanded.

“All they said was, it was illegal to use firearms or air rifles within the city limits,” said Jim.

“They never mentioned catapults?” I pursued.

“By jingo, no!” cried Jim.

“Okay,” I exclaimed exultantly. “Then I’ll help you deal with that squirrel.”

For wrapped spirally around one of my fishing rod cases is an old piece of inner tubes too small to be remembered for the salvage drive, but not too small to be remembered when you want a catapult, after 40 years.

And in Jimmie’s apple tree we found perfect crotch and from an old boot’s tongue we cut the perfect patch. And in a matter of half hour, we had as fine a catapult anybody ever saw.

“I don’t think,” I suggested, “that we should shoot stones. Or any hard objects. There are too many houses and garages around. I never broke a window when I was a boy. I would hate to break a window with a catapult at my age.”

“We are rendering a public service,” declared Jimmie, “in getting rid of this squirrel. Get rid of that beast, and Rusty becomes once more the honest, kindly human being he has always been.”

The apples on Jim’s tree have long since gone back to nature. They are small and runty and woody in texture and sour to taste. Not even the kids eat them. I tried one in the patch of the catapult and let drive with up into the leafy solidity of the apple tree.

“Whee,” said Jim. “Perfect.”

“And if I hit the squirrel,” I added, “with a nice, smooth, round apple, it won’t really injure it. It will just give it a hint.”

Rusty Ready For Battle

Rusty who had been looked in the kitchen until the preparations for battle were complete, came out on the dead run, ran excitedly around the garden smelling the tree and in the fence corners until he was satisfied with whatever report the squirrel had left its recent visits.

Then he stood at the wire gate at the back of the garden and emitted couple of defiant hoarse barks.

“See?” said Jim. “No harm in that.”

So we sat in the garden chairs and Rusty took up a position under the apple tree, watching with lifted muzzle to the south along the telephone wires.

Suddenly Rusty whined.

And in the distance, I could see the squirrel running in short stops and starts, high on the telephone wire, heading our way.

“Well, I’ll be jiggered,” I confessed.

Rusty crouched in the corner of the garden, his whole body shaking as with an ague. The squirrel arrived overhead, and detecting Rusty hiding below let loose a volley of wheezy, sucking and chattering abuse.

Rusty went berserk. He barked, whirled, leaped, like a dervish, letting loose a veritable clamor of sound.

“Okay,” said Jim, signalling. “Let him have it.”

I stood up and picked a nice, small, smooth apple about the size of a ping-pong ball.

Fitting it snugly in the patch of the catapult, a drew a long stretch.

“Ffffttt,” went the catapult, and the apple sped through the air, passing within about six inches of the swearing black squirrel.

With the greatest of ease, through the distance was nearer seven feet than four from where he was at the time, the squirrel leaped and soared into the apple tree.

“Hey,” came a distant shout in a loud, angry voice. “Hey you.”

“Psssst,” warned Jimmie, signalling me to hide the catapult.

A Visitor Arrives

And up the back gate, in the paved lane, rode our neighbourhood policeman, on a bicycle.

“Have you seen any kids throwing apples?” he demanded, glaring suspiciously at the apples on the ground.

“Kids? Apples?” I requested politely.

“Some kids throwing apples,” announced the cop, angrily, “and one hit me square on the back of the neck.”

“We certainly haven’t seen any kids around here,” said Jimmie.

But Rusty, who now discerned the squirrel in the lower branches of the tree, began to go into hysterics.

“Here, shut up,” cried Jim, leaping for him.

“Ho,” said the cop, “that’s the dog they are complaining of, isn’t it?”

Rusty, with an audience of three, went into a terrific spin. He Frothed. He leaped half way up the trunk. He nearly strangled to death, he barked so hard.

“What’s he got up there?” demanded the policeman, getting off his bike and walking in to look up the tree.

The squirrel, with bared teeth and mouth all puckered up, was giving us a fine going over.

The Catapult!

In my excitement, being unable to push the catapult in my trouser pocket, I had stuffed it down the back of my pants. And before I realized the situation, the cop had seen the weapon and had quietly reached and withdrawn it.

“So?” he said, eyeing me and the catapult.

He reached down and selected a nice shiny apple.

Setting his legs wide apart, he drew a long stretch and let the apple fly up into the tree. It hit the branch on which the squirrel was squatting, directly under the beast, and it burst into a flying explosion of juicy fragments that hissed and ripped amid the leaves all about the squirrel.

With all bravado gone, the squirrel with extraordinary alacrity, leaped unerringly from the topmost branch of the apple tree back on to the telephone wire. So eager was it to get away, it never even had to balance itself when it hit the wire. It kept right on going south until it was out of sight.

“That’s done it,” said Jim, with deep satisfaction.

“You could be pinched,” said the policeman, “For shooting a catapult in the city.”

“You shot it,” I pointed out.

“It’s a dandy,” said the cop, stretching it, and trying another apple in it. He let it go up through the tree. We heard a distant cluck as if it had hit a car top.

“Nix,” said Jimmie sharply.

The policeman hastily shoved the catapult down the back of his pants.

“I’ll have to confiscate this,” he said sternly.

And he stalked over and got on his bicycle.

Rusty, Jimmie and I went over and saw him off the premises in the friendliest fashion.

He rode with the majestic slowness of the law up the lane until he was nearly out of sight. Then he bent over the handlebars and put on speed.

“Yeah,” said Jim. “He’s got a catapult. Now he and his buddies will be shooting with it all night.”

Editor’s Note: A catapult was common slang for what we would now call a slingshot.