Popular Science Monthly/Volume 16/January 1880/A Roguish Household Pet



AS company for the monkeys and myself, for many years past, I have had a "Jemmy." All my Suricates I call "Jemmys." The Latin name is Suricata Zenick. Jemmy is a very pretty little beast, somewhat like a small mongoose or very large rat. His head is as like the head of a hedgehog as can be imagined. His color is light brown, with darker stripe down the sides. He is an African animal, and lives in burrows on the plains, whence he is sometimes called the African prairie-dog, or the meercatze. Captain Adams tells me that, when in South Africa, he has frequently come across a camp of Jemmys. The plain will appear covered with them, sitting up motionless like so many ninepins; at the least notice, they simultaneously and in an instant disappear down their holes.

PSM V16 D338 Suricate.jpg

Suricate (Suricata Zenick).

I would like now to say something of the habits of this pretty little fellow, which was kindly given to me by Mr. Forbes Nixon. Jemmy the Third (for I have previously had two Jemmys) was allowed the free range of the whole house. He was full of curiosity and restlessness, running continually from one room to another. He very seldom walked; his pace, on the contrary, was a short gallop, or rather canter. When on the move he always gave tongue,' like a hound on a scent. It is impossible to describe his melodious cry in words. When handled and petted he would utter a sharp bark, not unlike that of a dog; and, if in a very good humor, I could, by imitating him, make him bark alternately with myself. His great peculiarity was his wonderfully intelligent and observing look. He had the peculiarity also of sitting up on his tail, like a kangaroo; his fore-paws on this occasion were like a dog's when begging. He was very fond of warmth, and would sit up inside the fender and warm himself, occasionally leaning back against the fender and looking round with the satisfied air of an old gentleman reposing after dinner. When the morning sun came into the room. Jemmy would go and sit in the sunbeams and look out of the window at the passing cabs and omnibuses. When doing this he had a way of turning round very sharply, and looking with his little pig's eyes at me and back, as much as to say, "What do you think of that?" When breakfast came up he would dance round me on his hind-legs, watching for something. I often put him on the breakfast-table; if I did not put him up he would climb up uninvited. It was very amusing to see him go and smell the egg, and, in his own language, swear at it for being hot. He could not understand its being hot enough to burn his nose; raw eggs were his special favorites. His great delight was to be allowed to upset the sugar-basin, and then scratch about among the lumps of sugar. He was also very fond of cream, and it was most amusing to see him try to get the little drops of cream I had left for him out of the cream-can, as left by the milk-woman. I am obliged to have my cream in this little can, as the cats, marmoset, or something else would be sure to have it before I came down. I placed the cream-can on the floor, and it was fun to see Jemmy try to force it open with his teeth, to get the cream out; he used quite to lose his patience with this metal cream-can.

After breakfast, Jemmy generally had a stand-up fight with the monkeys. He would inspect (from the outside) the bottom of the monkey-cage. If he discovered any portion of the monkeys' breakfast which he thought might suit him, he would immediately try to steal it by thrusting his arms through the bar. The monkeys invariably resented this indignity. The carroty, old, crippled monkey, Jane, could only make eyes and faces at him. The wicked, impudent "Little Jack" would jump up and down like an India-rubber ball, all the time well inside the cage, where Jemmy could not get at him. When Jemmy was fighting the monkeys, he would stand on his hind-legs and show his lovely white, carnivorous teeth at them, turning up his sharp, mole-like nose in a most contemptuous manner, all the time keeping up a continuous bark, into which fun the parrot generally entered and barked like Jemmy also.

One morning, in the middle of the fight, Jemmy forgot himself for the moment in turning round, and gave the ever-vigilant Little Jack a chance. Little Jack seized Jemmy's tail with screams of delight, and pulled him straight up to the bars. Carroty Jane then joined in, and they were getting the best of it, when suddenly Jemmy turned sharp round and made his teeth meet in Little Jack's hand. Little Jack skirmished round the cage three or four times on three legs; then, holding up his wounded hand, gazed mournfully and piteously at it, every now and then leaving off looking to make fiercer faces, and cock his ears at Jemmy. Never since has Little Jack ventured his hands outside the bars when a Jemmy-fight came on.

One of the funniest scenes that ever happened with Jemmy was as follows: Some seaside specimens had been sent me, and among the seaweed was a live shore-crab about the size of a five-shilling piece. Little "Chick-Chick," the marmoset, who will eat any quantity of meal-worms, blue-bottle flies, etc., came down at once off the mantelpiece and examined Mr. Crab, who was crawling about on the floor. None of my animals had evidently seen a live crab before. The monkeys were very much frightened, and made the same cry of alarm as when I show them a snake or the house-broom. Chick-Chick evidently thought that the crab was a huge insect. The crab put out his two nippers at full length, and gave the marmoset such a pinch that he retreated to the mantel-piece, and from this safe height gazed down upon the still threatening crab, uttering loud cries of "Chick, chick, chick!" alternated with his plaintive, bat-like, shrill note. Presently round the corner comes Mrs. Cat. The cat evidently thought that the crab, which was gently crawling about, was a mouse. She instantly crouched, head, eyes, and ears all intent, as if trying to make up her mind whether the crab was a mouse on which she ought to pounce or not, Hearing the row caused by the crab and marmoset fight, up comes Jemmy in full cry, with tail cocked well in the air. He also attacked the crab, but could not make head or tail of him. He did not like the smell, still less did he like the sundry nips in the nose that he received from the crab's claws. Jemmy has teeth half carnivorous, half insectivorous. When he is at home in Africa he lives upon mice, beetles, etc. He probably digs these creatures out of the ground, for, whenever he sees a crack in the floor, or a hole in a board, he will scratch away at it, as though much depended upon his exertions. When he is fed, it is curious to observe how he always pretends to kill his food before eating it. He invariably retreats backward while he is scratching and biting at his supposed lively food. The living food evidently is in the habit of escaping forward. Mr. Jemmy takes good care that he shall not do so, by scratching incessantly in a backward direction. A grand crab and Jemmy fight, which lasted nearly half an hour, then took place, ending in the discomfiture of the crab, whose carcass the marmoset and the cat, both coming forward, evidently desired to share. Although it was apparent that the taste of the crab was not agreeable to Jemmy's palate, yet he gradually ate him up, claws, shells, and all, simply to prevent the other animals from getting a single bit.

The cat's-meat man comes punctually every day at half-past one; when the cats hear the cry "meat," they rush down into the area, and Master Jemmy, seeing them bolt, would run also, his object being to steal the ration of meat from one of the cats. By instinct or experience he had somehow found out that the cat's claws are very sharp, and whereas his mode of attack upon the monkey was face to face, the monkeys being clawless, he attacked the cats by ruffing his hair up and pushing himself backward.

The cat, annoyed by being disturbed at dinner, would leave off eating and strike sharply at Jemmy with her paw; that was his opportunity. In a moment he would seize the cat's-meat and bolt with it, but by a most peculiar method, for when within striking distance of the cat's paw he would turn round and back up to the cat's face, and, directly she struck at him, he caught the blow on the back, then he would put his nose down through his forelegs, and through the hinder ones, and have the meat in a moment, leaving the cat wondering where it was gone. Jemmy had by this time taken it into a place of safety. Under the table in Mr. Searle's office there is just room for him to crawl; here the angry cat could not of course follow him. In this retreat he would finish up what he had stolen, and then emerge, licking his lips, and probably laughing to himself at the disappointed face of the cat. Jemmy was always fond of getting under anything or in any kind of hole, and his great delight was to get into a boot, and when he got to the end scratching it as though he wanted to get farther into the burrow. Frequently I found my boots going round the room, propelled, apparently, by some internal machinery. This machinery was Master Jemmy.

Jemmy was a greedy little fellow. John could not bring up any kind of food into my room without Jemmy. He would watch the cook broiling the chop down stairs, and when John brought it up would follow close to his heels, and what between Jemmy's pretty, begging manner, the monkey's plaintive cries, and the parrot's demand, it often happens that I get very little of the chop.

I had hoped to have written a fuller biography of our poor little Jemmy the Third, but alas! on Sunday last Jemmy was taken with a fit. I did everything I could to relieve the poor little fellow, but the fits were too much for him, and Mr. Searle and myself have been busily occupied in making his skin into a mat and his bones into a skeleton. The last Jemmy died of eating cotton-wool; this Jemmy died, I think, of eating too much, for he was as fat as a little bacon-pig, and weighed two pounds—a great weight for such a little animal. It is curious how fond I become of dear little animals such as Jemmy, and how much I miss his pretty little ways as I sit in the “Monkey-room” writing this memoir of my little pet.—Land and Water.