Chapter 1: Before Nibbles
Ever since I was a little girl I have had all sorts of pets. I remember in England at our house in the country there was a nest under the eaves, just outside my bedroom window, with a darling little family of swallows in it. That was why we named our house Little Swallows. It was so beautiful, like a little house out of a Walt Disney film nestled against a lovely woods that was almost like a bird sanctuary. All year around the woods back of our house were carpeted with some kind of wildflowers, except for just a few weeks during the winter.
I used to ride through the woods on my little mare Betty and I felt so high up in the air among the trees. It seemed as if I was right up there with the birds. They would fly down so low all around me and sing and chatter away -- just as if they were trying to attract my attention and talk to me. I used to try and answer them, and sometimes Betty would whinny as if she wanted to talk to us too. She was so intelligent -- she knew everything I said to her. Some people say horses do not understand what you say to them -- that they only understand the tone of your voice in command -- but that isn't so. I was only three and a half years old when I first had Betty, and she was as wild as anything, and threw me sky-high into a patch of stinging nettles the first time I crawled onto her back. Then I led her around and talked to her; I told her she had been given to me, and that I was her new mistress, and that I loved her very much and wanted her to love me. We walked around and talked for quite a while and then I led her over to the stone wall where I could climb up and get on her back and I kept on talking to her. From then on we were always friends. She would buck other people off or dash into the lake until she frightened them so that they were glad to get off...but you could do anything with her by talking to her. They said I was the only one who could do anything with her, but I know anyone could have if they had loved her as much as I did.
It was such fun down there. You see we lived in London on Wildwood Road, and we went down to Little Swallows for the summer and weekends. It was so wonderful. I feel I could write a book about Little Swallows. The house was sixteenth century. It was mentioned in Jeffery Farnol's novel, The Broad Highway -- only then it was supposed to be a haunted house. In fact, when we went to live there lots of people still called it The Haunted House, and it hadn't been lived in for years and years. But we loved it because it looked just as if it belonged in another world.
It had never had a bathroom. So we made the dairy into a bathroom and had to pipe water for fifty miles. One day a messenger boy brought a telegram to the door. I asked him to come in while I called Daddy, and he said, "Come in! Oh no, Miss -- not me. This here house is haunted. "
Mummie heard him and laughed and said, "Oh, it isn't haunted anymore, now that we've had hot and cold water laid on. "
So the rumor soon spread that the Taylors had uprooted the haunts.
We had people actually coming to see the place and raving about how pretty we had made it. There was a fireplace in every room. It was like going to bed in fairyland with the windows all wide open and the firelight flickering on the ceilings and walls, and outside even at night the birds would still sing.
The days were so busy and so exciting with all our pets. My brother Howard (who is two years and eight months older than I am) always had a lot of pets too.
We had rabbits, turtles, snakes, baby lambs, guinea pigs (we started out with two GP's and very soon had fifteen). They were so tiny when they were babies and were so cute to carry around in our pockets. Then we always had kittens all over the place and dogs of all kinds.
But -- we never had a chipmunk!
Now if you have never had a chipmunk, you won't know what you have missed. That is why I am writing this, because I think a chipmunk is the nicest little pet and companion anyone could possibly have. I say a chipmunk, because I have had a lot of them. I caught twenty-five when we were on location and they were all different. Some were shy and timid, some more daring and bold. One little fellow was so fresh and saucy that I called him Cheeky. ( There'll be more about him later. ) But the point of it is they were all little individuals, and then! There was --
Text copyright © 1946, copyright renewed 1981 by Elizabeth Taylor
First published in 1946 by Duell, Sloan and Pearce, Inc.
First Simon & Schuster edition, 2002