"And the Northern Lights come down, To dance with the houseless snow; And God, Who clears the grounding berg, And steers the grinding floe, He hears the cry of the little kit-fox, And the lemming, on the snow."
Life Stories of Wild Animals
WILLIAM DAVENPORT HULBERT
Doubleday, Page & Co. Garden City New York 1914
Copyright, 1900, 1901, and 1902, by the S. S. Mcclure Co.
Copyright, 1902, by Doubleday, Page & Co.
To my Sister KATHARINE GRACE HULBERT
THE BIOGRAPHY OF A BEAVER 1
THE KING OF THE TROUT STREAM 41
THE STRENUOUS LIFE OF A CANADA LYNX 83
POINTERS FROM A PORCUPINE QUILL 125
THE ADVENTURES OF A LOON 163
THE MAKING OF A GLIMMERGLASS BUCK 199
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
The Beaver Lumbering Frontispiece
"On the grass in the warm, quiet sunshine of an autumn afternoon" 6
Building the Dam 22
Nesting Grounds 62
"He tried jumping out of the water" 72
"The hole was suddenly darkened, and a round, hairy face looked in" 100
"He was a very presentable young lynx" 110
"They both stood still and looked at each other" 120
"High up in the top of a tall hemlock" 132
"He quickly made his way to the beach" 148
"He went under as simply as you would step out of bed" 166
"She herself was a rarely beautiful sight" 170
"The old earth sliding southward fifty miles an hour" 180
"He was a baby to be proud of" 202
"The buck was nearing the prime of life" 226
"Wherever they went they were always struggling and fighting" 230
Some thirty years ago, while out on one of his landlooking trips in the woods of Northern Michigan, my father came upon a little lake which seemed to him the loveliest that he had ever seen, though he had visited many in the course of his explorations. The wild ponds are very apt to be shallow and muddy, with low, marshy shores; but this one was deep and clear, and its high banks were clothed with a splendid growth of beech, maple and birch. Tall elms stood guard along the water's edge, and here and there the hardwood forest was broken by dark hemlock groves, and groups of lordly pine-trees, lifting their great green heads high above their deciduous neighbors. Only in one place, around the extreme eastern end, the ground was flat and wet; and there the tamarack swamp showed golden yellow in October, and light, delicate green in late spring. Wild morning-glories grew on the grassy point that put out from the northern shore, and in the bays the white water-lilies were blossoming. Nearly two miles long and three-quarters of a mile wide, it lay basking and shimmering in the sunshine, a big, broad, beautiful sheet of water set down in the very heart of the woods.
There were no settlers anywhere near, nor even any Indians, yet there was no lack of inhabitants. Bears and wolves and a host of smaller animals were to be found, and along the shores were runways that had been worn deep in the soil by the tread of generation after generation of dainty little cloven hoofs. I suppose that some of those paths have been used by the deer for hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of years.
The lands around the entire lake were offered for sale by the United States Government at the ridiculously low price which Uncle Sam has asked for most of his possessions; and with the help of some friends my father bought the whole shore. During the years which followed he was occupied in various ways, and some of the best recollections of my boyhood are of the days and the nights which I spent with him on his fishing-tug, steaming about the Straits of Mackinac and the northern part of Lake Huron. But he could not forget the Glimmerglass, that little wild lake up in the woods. He had fallen in love with it at first sight, and at last he took his family and went there to live.
Human neighbors were scarce around the lake, and perhaps that was one reason why we took such a lively interest in the other residents—those who were there ahead of us. "Him and me's chums," my small sister said of the red-squirrel that hung around the log-barn. And some of the animals seemed to take a very lively interest in us. The chipmunks came into the house occasionally, on foraging expeditions; and so, I regret to say, did the skunks. There was a woodchuck who used to come to the back door, looking for scraps, and who learned to sit bolt upright and hold a pancake in his fore paws while he nibbled at it, without being in the least disturbed by the presence and the comments of half a dozen spectators. The porcupines became a never-ending nuisance, for they made almost nightly visits to the woodshed. To kill them was of little use, for the next night—or perhaps before morning—there were others to take their places. Once in a while one of them would climb up onto the roof of the house; and between his teeth and his feet and the rattling of his quills on the shingles, the racket that he made was out of all proportion to his size.
It is sweet to lie at evening in your little trundle-bed, And to listen to a porky gnawing shingles overhead; Porky, porky, porky, porky; Gnawing shingles overhead.
The wolves had been pretty nearly exterminated since my father's first visit to the lake, and we saw little or nothing of them. The bears seemed to be more numerous, but they were very shy and retiring. We found their tracks more often than we came upon the animals themselves. Some of the cat tribe remained, and occasionally placed themselves in evidence. My brother came in one day from a long tramp on snow-shoes, and told how he had met one of them standing guard over the remains of a deer, and how the lynx had held him up and made him go around. Beavers were getting scarce, though a few were still left on the more secluded streams. Deer, on the contrary, were very plentiful. Many a time they invaded our garden-patch and helped themselves to our fresh vegetables.
One August afternoon a flock of eight young partridges, of that spring's hatching, coolly marched out of the woods and into the clearing, as if they were bent on investigating their new neighbors. Partridges appear to be subject to occasional fits of stupidity, and to temporary (or possibly permanent) loss of common-sense; but it may be that in this case the birds were too young and inexperienced to realize what they were doing. Or perhaps they knew that it was Sunday, and that the rules of the household forbade shooting on that day. If so, their confidence was sadly misplaced. We didn't shoot them, but we did surround them, and by working carefully and cautiously we "shooed" them into an empty log-house. And the next day we had them for dinner.
Around the shores of the Glimmerglass a few loons and wild-ducks usually nested, and in the autumn the large flocks from the Far North often stopped there for short visits, on their way south for the winter. They were more sociable than you would suppose—or at least the loons were—and the same small girl who had made friends with the red-squirrel learned to talk to the big birds.
Down in the water the herring and a large species of salmon trout made their homes, and probably enjoyed themselves till they met with the gill-net and the trolling-hook. But herring and salmon trout did not satisfy us; we wanted brook trout, too. And so one day a shipment of babies arrived from the hatchery at Sault Ste. Marie, and thus we first became acquainted with the habits of infant fishes, and learned something of their needs and the methods of their foster-parents.
One after another our neighbors introduced themselves, each in his own way. And they were good neighbors, all of them. Even the porcupines and the skunks were interesting—in their peculiar fashion—and I wish there were none worse than they in the city's slums.
I have said good-by to the Glimmerglass, and it may be that I shall never again make my home by its shores. But the life of the woods goes on, and will still go on as long as man will let it. I suppose that, even as I write, the bears are "holeing up" for the winter, and the deer are growing anxious because the snow is covering the best of their food, and they of the cat tribe are getting down to business, and hunting in deadly earnest. The loons and the ducks have pulled out for the Gulf of Mexico, and the squirrels are glad that they have such a goodly store of nuts laid up for the next four months. The beavers have retired to their lodges—that is, if Charley Roop and his fellows have left any of them alive. The partridges—well, the partridges will just have to get along the best way they can. I guess they'll pull through somehow. The porcupines are all right, as you will presently see if you read this book. They don't have to worry. Down in the bed of the trout stream the trout eggs are getting ready—getting ready. And out on the lake itself the frost is at work, and the ice-sheet is forming, and under that cold, white lid the Glimmerglass will wait till another year brings round another spring-time—the spring-time that will surely come to all of us if only we hold on long enough.
Chicago, December, 1901.
THE BIOGRAPHY OF A BEAVER
A BROAD, flat tail came down on the water with a whack that sent the echoes flying back and forth across the pond, and its owner ducked his head, arched his back, and dived to the bottom. It was a very curious tail, for besides being so oddly paddle-shaped it was covered with what looked like scales, but were really sections and indentations of hard, horny, blackish-gray skin. Except its owner's relations, there was no one else in all the animal kingdom who had one like it. But the strangest thing about it was the many different ways in which he used it. Just now it was his rudder—and a very good rudder, too.
In a moment his little brown head reappeared, and he and his brothers and sisters went chasing each other round and round the pond, ducking and diving and splashing, raising such a commotion that they sent the ripples washing all along the grassy shores, and having the jolliest kind of a time. It isn't the usual thing for young beavers to be out in broad daylight, but all this happened in the good old days before the railways came, when northern Michigan was less infested with men than it is now.
When the youngsters wanted a change they climbed up onto a log, and nudged and hunched each other, poking their noses into one another's fat little sides, and each trying to shove his brother or sister back into the water. By and by they scrambled out on the bank, and then, when their fur had dripped a little, they set to work to comb it. Up they sat on their hind legs and tails—the tail was a stool now, you see—and scratched their heads and shoulders with the long brown claws of their small, black, hairy hands. Then the hind feet came up one at a time, and combed and stroked their sides till the moisture was gone and the fur was soft and smooth and glossy as velvet. After that they had to have another romp. They were not half as graceful on land as they had been in the water. In fact they were not graceful at all, and the way they stood around on their hind legs, and shuffled, and pranced, and wheeled like baby hippopotami, and slapped the ground with their tails, was one of the funniest sights in the heart of the woods. And the funniest and liveliest of them all was the one who owned that tail—the tail which, when I last saw it, was lying on the ground in front of Charlie Roop's shack. He was the one whom I shall call the Beaver—with a big B.
But even young beavers will sometimes grow tired of play, and at last they all lay down on the grass in the warm, quiet sunshine of the autumn afternoon. The wind had gone to sleep, the pond glittered like steel in its bed of grassy beaver-meadow, the friendly woods stood guard all around, the enemy was far away, and it was a very good time for five furry little babies to take a nap.
The city in which the tail first made its appearance was a very ancient one, and may have been the oldest town on the North American continent. Nobody knows when the first stick was laid in the dam that changed a small natural pond into a large artificial one, and thus opened the way for further municipal improvements; but it was probably centuries ago, and for all we can tell it may have been thousands of years back in the past. Generation after generation of beavers had worked on that dam, building it a little higher and a little higher, a little longer and a little longer, year after year; and raising their lodges as the pond rose around them. Theirs was a maritime city, for most of its streets were of water, like those of Venice; rich cargoes of food-stuffs came floating to its very doors, and they themselves were navigators from their earliest youth, and took to the water as naturally as ducks or Englishmen. They were lumbermen, too, and when the timber was all cut from along the shores of the pond they dug canals across the low, level, marshy ground, back to the higher land where the birch and the poplar still grew, and floated the branches and the smaller logs down the artificial water-ways. And there were land roads, as well as canals, for here and there narrow trails crossed the swamp, showing where generations of busy workers had passed back and forth between the felled tree and the water's edge. Streets, canals, public works, dwellings, commerce, lumbering, rich stores laid up for the winter—what more do you want to constitute a city, even if the houses are few in number, and the population somewhat smaller than that of London or New York?
There was a time, not very long before the Beaver was born, when for a few years the city was deserted. The trappers had swept through the country, and the citizens' skulls had been hung up on the bushes, while their skins went to the great London fur market. Few were left alive, and those few were driven from their homes and scattered through the woods. The trappers decided that the ground was worked out, and most of them pushed on to the north and west in search of regions not yet depopulated. Then, one by one, the beavers came back to their old haunts. The broken dam was repaired; new lodges were built, and new beavers born in them; and again the ancient town was alive with the play of the babies and the labors of the civil engineers. Not as populous, perhaps, as it had once been, but alive, and busy, and happy. And so it was when our Beaver came into the world.
The first year of his life was an easy one, especially the winter, when there was little for anyone to do except to eat, to sleep, and now and then to fish for the roots of the yellow water-lily in the soft mud at the bottom of the pond. During that season he probably accomplished more than his parents did, for if he could not toil he could at least grow. Of course they may have been growing, too, but it was less noticeable in them than in him. Not only was he increasing in size and weight, but he was storing up strength and strenuousness for the work that lay before him. It would take much muscle to force those long yellow teeth of his through the hard, tough flesh of the maple or the birch or the poplar. It would take vigor and push and enterprise to roll the heavy billets of wood over the grass-tufts to the edge of the water. And, most of all, it would take strength and nerve and determination to tear himself away from a steel trap and leave a foot behind. So it was well for the youngster that for a time he had nothing to do but grow.
Spring came at last, and many of the male beavers prepared to leave home for a while. The ladies seemed to prefer not to be bothered by the presence of men-folk during the earliest infancy of the children; so the men, probably nothing loath, took advantage of the opportunity to see something of the world, wandering by night up and down the streams, and hiding by day in burrows under the banks. For a time they enjoyed it, but as the summer dragged by they came straggling home one after another. The new babies who had arrived in their absence had passed the most troublesome age, and it was time to begin work again. The dam and the lodges needed repairs, and there was much food to be gathered and laid up for the coming winter.
Now, on a dark autumn night, behold the young Beaver toiling with might and main. His parents have felled a tree, and it is his business to help them cut up the best portions and carry them home. He gnaws off a small branch, seizes the butt end between his teeth, swings it over his shoulder, and makes for the water, keeping his head twisted around to the right or left so that the end of the branch may trail on the ground behind him. Sometimes he even rises on his hind legs, and walks almost upright, with his broad, strong tail for a prop to keep him from tipping over backward if his load happens to catch on something. Arrived at the canal or at the edge of the pond, he jumps in and swims for town, still carrying the branch over his shoulder, and finally leaves it on the growing pile in front of his father's lodge. Or perhaps the stick is too large and too heavy to be carried in such a way. In that case it must be cut into short billets and rolled, as a cant-hook man rolls a log down a skidway. Only the Beaver has no cant-hook to help him, and no skidway, either. All he can do is to push with all his might, and there are so many, many grass-tufts and little hillocks in the way! And sometimes the billet rolls down into a hollow, and then it is very hard to get it out again. He works like a beaver, and pushes and shoves and toils with tremendous energy, but I am afraid that more than one choice stick never reaches the water.
These were his first tasks. Later on he learned to fell trees himself. Standing up on his hind legs and tail, with his hands braced against the trunk, he would hold his head sidewise, open his mouth wide, set his teeth against the bark, and bring his jaws together with a savage nip that left a deep gash in the side of the tree. A second nip deepened the gash, and gave it more of a downward slant, and two or three more carried it still farther into the tough wood. Then he would choose a new spot a little farther down, and start a second gash, which was made to slant up toward the first. And when he thought that they were both deep enough he would set his teeth firmly in the wood between them, and pull and jerk and twist at it until he had wrenched out a chip—a chip perhaps two inches long, and from an eighth to a quarter of an inch thick. He would make bigger ones when he grew to be bigger himself, but you mustn't expect too much at first. Chip after chip was torn out in this way, and gradually he would work around the tree until he had completely encircled it. Then the groove was made deeper, and after a while it would have to be broadened so that he could get his head farther into it. He seemed to think it was of immense importance to get the job done as quickly as possible, for he worked away with tremendous energy and eagerness, as if felling that tree was the only thing in the world that was worth doing. Once in a while he would pause for a moment to feel of it with his hands, and to glance up at the top to see whether it was getting ready to fall, and several times he stopped long enough to take a refreshing dip in the pond; but he always hurried back, and pitched in again harder than ever. In fact, he sometimes went at it so impetuously that he slipped and rolled over on his back. Little by little he dug away the tree's flesh until there was nothing left but its heart, and at last it began to crack and rend. The Beaver jumped aside to get out of the way, and hundreds and hundreds of small, tender branches, and delicious little twigs and buds came crashing down where he could cut them off and eat them or carry them away at his leisure.
And so the citizens labored, and their labor brought its rich reward, and everybody was busy and contented, and life was decidedly worth living.
But one black November night our hero's father, the wisest old beaver in all the town, went out to his work and never came home again. A trapper had found the rebuilt city—a scientific trapper who had studied his profession for years, and who knew just how to go to work. He kept away from the lodges as long as he could, so as not to frighten anyone; and before he set a single trap he looked the ground over very carefully, located the different trails that ran back from the water's edge toward the timber, visited the stumps of the felled trees, and paid particular attention to the tooth-marks on the chips. No two beavers leave marks that are exactly alike. The teeth of one are flatter or rounder than those of another, while a third has large or small nicks in the edges of his yellow chisels; and each tooth leaves its own peculiar signature behind it. By noting all these things the trapper concluded that a particular runway in the wet, grassy margin of the pond was the one by which a certain old beaver always left the water in going to his night's labor. That beaver, he decided, would best be the first one taken, for he was probably the head of a family, and an elderly person of much wisdom and experience; and if one of his children should be caught first he might become alarmed, and take the lead in a general exodus.
So the trapper set a heavy double-spring trap in the edge of the water at the foot of the runway, and covered it with a thin sheet of moss. And that night, as the old beaver came swimming up to the shore, he put his foot down where he shouldn't, and two steel jaws flew up and clasped him around the thigh. He had felt that grip before. Was not half of his right hand gone, and three toes from his left hind foot? But this was a far more serious matter than either of those adventures. It was not a hand that was caught this time, nor yet a toe, or toes. It was his right hind leg, well up toward his body, and the strongest beaver that ever lived could not have pulled himself free. Now when a beaver is frightened, he of course makes for deep water. There, he thinks, no enemy can follow him; and, what is more, it is the highway to his lodge, and to the burrow that he has hollowed in the bank for a refuge in case his house should be attacked. So this beaver turned and jumped back into the water the way he had come; but, alas! he took his enemy with him. The heavy trap dragged him to the bottom like a stone, and the short chain fastened to a stake kept him from going very far toward home. For a few minutes he struggled with all his might, and the soft black mud rose about him in inky clouds. Then he quieted down and lay very, very still; and the next day the trapper came along and pulled him out by the chain.
Something else happened the same night. Another wise old beaver, the head man of another lodge, was killed by a falling tree. He ought to have known better than to let such a thing happen. I really don't see how he could have been so careless. But the best of us will make mistakes at times, and any pitcher may go once too often to the well. I suppose that he had felled hundreds of trees and bushes, big and little, in the course of his life, and he had never yet met with an accident; but this time he thought he would take one more bite after the tree had really begun to fall. So he thrust his head again into the narrowing notch, and the wooden jaws closed upon him with a nip that was worse than his own. He tried to draw back, but it was too late, his skull crashed in, and his life went out like a candle.
And so, in a few hours, the city lost two of its best citizens—the very two whom it could least afford to lose. If they had been spared they might, perhaps, have known enough to scent the coming danger, and to lead their families and neighbors away from the doomed town, deeper into the heart of the wilderness. As it was, the trapper had things all his own way, and by working carefully and cautiously he added skin after skin to his store of beaver-pelts. I haven't time to tell you of all the different ways in which he set his traps, nor can we stop to talk of the various baits that he used, from castoreum to fresh sticks of birch or willow, or of those other traps, still more artfully arranged, which had no bait at all, but were cunningly hidden where the poor beavers would be almost certain to step into them before they saw them. After all, it was his awful success that mattered, rather than the way in which he achieved it. Our friend's mother was one of the next to go, and the way his brothers and sisters disappeared one after another was a thing to break one's heart.
One night the Beaver himself came swimming down the pond, homeward bound, and as he dived and approached the submarine entrance of the lodge he noticed some stakes driven into the mud—stakes that had never been there before. They seemed to form two rows, one on each side of his course, but as there was room enough for him to pass between them he swam straight ahead without stopping. His hands had no webs between the fingers, and were of little use in swimming, so he had folded them back against his body; but his big feet were working like the wheels of a twin-screw steamer, and he was forging along at a great rate. Suddenly, half-way down the lines of stakes, his breast touched the pan of a steel trap, and the jaws flew up quick as a wink and strong as a vise. Fortunately there was nothing that they could take hold of. They struck him so hard that they lifted him bodily upward, but they caught only a few hairs.
Even a scientific trapper may sometimes make mistakes, and when this one came around to visit his trap, and found it sprung but empty, he thought that the beavers must have learned its secret and sprung it on purpose. There was no use, he decided, in trying to catch such intelligent animals in their own doorway, and he took the trap up and set it in a more out-of-the-way place. And so one source of danger was removed, just because the Beaver was lucky enough to touch the pan with his breast instead of with a foot.
A week later he was really caught by his right hand, and met with one of the most thrilling adventures of his life. Oh, but that was a glorious night! Dark as a pocket, no wind, thick black clouds overhead, and the rain coming down in a steady, steady drizzles—just the kind of a night that the beavers love, when the friendly darkness shuts their little city in from all the rest of the world, and when they feel safe and secure. Then, how the long yellow teeth gouge and tear at the tough wood, how the trees come tumbling down, and how the branches and the little logs come hurrying in to augment the winter food-piles! Often of late the Beaver had noticed an unpleasant odor along the shores, an odor that frightened him and made him very uneasy, but to-night the rain had washed it all away, and the woods smelled as sweet and clean as if God had just made them over new. And on this night, of all others, the Beaver put his hand squarely into a steel trap.
He was in a shallow portion of the pond, and the chain was too short for him to reach water deep enough to drown him; but now a new danger appeared, for there on the low, mossy bank was an otter, glaring at him through the darkness. Beaver-meat makes a very acceptable meal for an otter, and the Beaver knew it. And he knew, also, how utterly helpless he was, either to fly or to resist, with that heavy trap on his arm, and its chain binding him to the stake. His heart sank like lead, and he trembled from his nose to the end of his tail, and whimpered and cried like a baby. But, strange to say, it was the trapper who saved him, though, of course, it was done quite unintentionally. As the otter advanced to the attack there came a sudden sharp click, and in another second he too was struggling for dear life. Two traps had been set in the shallow water. The Beaver had found one, and the otter the other.
The full story of that night, with all its details of fear and suffering and pain, will never be written; and probably it is as well that it should not be. But I can give you a few of the facts, if you care to hear them. The Beaver soon found that he was out of the otter's reach, and with his fears relieved on that point he set to work to free himself from the trap. Round and round he twisted, till there came a little snap, and the bone of his arm broke short off in the steel jaws. Then for a long, long time he pulled and pulled with all his might, and at last the tough skin was rent apart, and the muscles and sinews were torn out by the roots. His right hand was gone, and he was so weak and faint that it seemed as if all the strength and life of his whole body had gone with it. No matter. He was free, and he swam away to the nearest burrow and lay down to rest. The otter tried to do the same, but he was caught by the thick of his thigh, and his case was a hopeless one. Next day the trapper found him alive, but very meek and quiet, worn out with fear and useless struggles. In the other trap were a beaver's hand and some long shreds of flesh and sinew that must once have reached well up into the shoulder.
We shall have to hurry over the events of the next winter—the last winter in the city's history. By the time the Beaver's wound was healed—Nature was good to him, and the skin soon grew over the torn stump—the pond was covered with ice. The beavers, only half as numerous as they had been a few weeks before, kept close in their lodges and burrows, and for a time they lived in peace and quiet, and their numbers suffered no further diminution. Then the trapper took to setting his traps through the ice, and before long matters were worse than ever. By spring the few beavers that remained were so thoroughly frightened that the ancient town was again abandoned—this time forever. The lodges fell to ruins, the burrows caved in, the dam gave way, the pond and canals were drained, and that was the end of the city.
Yet not quite the end, after all. The beavers have vanished from their old habitation, but their work remains in the broad meadows cleared of timber by their teeth, and covered with rich black soil by the inundations from their dam. There is an Indian legend which says that after the Creator separated the land from the water He employed gigantic beavers to smooth it down and prepare it for the abode of men. However that may be, the farmers of generations to come will have reason to rise up and bless those busy little citizens—but I don't suppose they will ever do it.
One city was gone, but there were two that could claim the honor of being our Beaver's home at different periods of his life. The first, as we have already seen, was ancient and historic. The second was brand-new. Let us see how it had its beginning. The Beaver got married about the time he left his old home; and this, by the way, is a very good thing to do when you want to start a new town. Except for his missing hand, his wife was so like him that it would have puzzled you to tell which was which. I think it is very likely that she was his twin sister, but of course that's none of our business. Do you want to know what they looked like? They measured about three feet six inches from tip of nose to tip of tail, and they weighed perhaps thirty pounds apiece. Their bodies were heavy and clumsy, and were covered with thick, soft, grayish under-fur, which in turn was overlaid with longer hairs of a glistening chestnut-brown, making a coat that was thoroughly water-proof as well as very beautiful. Their heads were somewhat like those of gigantic rats, with small, light-brown eyes, little round ears covered with hair, and long orange-colored incisors looking out from between parted lips. One portrait will answer for both of them.
They wandered about for some time, looking for a suitable location, and examining several spots along the beds of various little rivers, none of which seemed to be just right. But at last they found, in the very heart of the wilderness, a place where a shallow stream ran over a hard stony bottom, and here they set to work. It was a very desirable situation in every respect. At one side stood a large tree, so close that it could probably be used as a buttress for the dam when the latter was sufficiently lengthened to reach it; while above the shallow the ground was low and flat on both sides for some distance back from the banks, so that the pond would have plenty of room to spread out. If they could have spoken they would probably have said that the place was a dam site better than any other they had seen.
Alder bushes laid lengthwise of the current were the first materials used, and for a time the water filtered through them with hardly a pause. Then the beavers began laying mud and stones and moss on this brush foundation, scooping them up with their hands, and holding them under their chins as they waddled or swam to the dam. The Beaver himself was not very good at this sort of work, for his right hand was gone, as we know, and it was not easy for him to carry things; but he did the best he could, and together they accomplished a great deal. The mud and the grass and such-like materials were deposited mainly on the upper face of the dam, where the pressure of the water only sufficed to drive them tighter in among the brush; and thus, little by little, a smooth bank of earth was presented to the current, backed up on the lower side by a tangle of sticks and poles. Its top was very level and straight, and along its whole length the water trickled over in a succession of tiny rills. This was important, for if all the overflow had been in one place the stream might have been so strong and rapid as to eat into the dam, and perhaps carry away the whole structure.
The first year the beavers did not try to raise the stream more than a foot above its original level. There was much other work to be done—a house to be built, and food to be laid in for the winter—and if they spent too much time on the dam they might freeze or starve before spring. A few rods up-stream was a grassy point which the rising waters had transformed into an island, and here they built their lodge, a hollow mound of sticks and mud, with a small, cave-like chamber in the centre, from which two tunnels led out under the pond—"angles," the trappers call them. The walls were masses of earth and wood and stones, so thick and solid that even a man with an axe would have found it difficult to penetrate them. Only at the very apex of the mound there was no mud, nothing but tangled sticks through which a breath of fresh air found its way now and then. In spite of this feeble attempt at ventilation I am obliged to admit that the atmosphere of the lodge was often a good deal like that of the Black Hole of Calcutta, but beavers are so constituted that they do not need much oxygen, and they did not seem to mind it. In all other respects the house was neat and clean. The floor was only two or three inches above the level of the water in the angles, and would naturally have been a bed of mud; but they mixed little twigs with it, and stamped and pounded it down till it was hard and smooth. I think likely the Beaver's tail had something to do with this part of the work, as well as with finishing off the dam, for he was fond of slapping things with it, and it was just the right shape for such use. In fact, I fear that if it had not been for the tail, and for other tails like it, neither of the cities would ever have been as complete as they were. With the ends of projecting sticks cut off to leave the walls even and regular, and with long grass carried in to make the beds, the lodge was finished and ready.
And now you might have seen the beavers coming home to rest after a night's labor at felling timber—swimming across the pond toward the island, with only the tops of their two little heads showing above the water. In front of the lodge each tail-rudder gives a slap and a twist, and they dive for the submarine door of one of the angles. In another second they are swimming along the dark, narrow tunnel, making the water surge around them. Suddenly the roof of the passage rises, and their heads pop up into the air. A yard or two farther, and they enter the chamber of the lodge, with its level floor and its low, arched roof. And there in the darkness they lie down on their grass beds and go to sleep. It is good to have a home of your own where you may take your ease when the night's work is done.
Near the upper end of the pond, where the bank was higher, they dug a long burrow, running back ten or fifteen feet into the ground. This was to be the last resort if, by any possibility, the lodge should ever be invaded. It was a weary task, digging that burrow, for its mouth was deep under the water, and every few minutes they had to stop work and come to the surface for breath. Night after night they scooped and shovelled, rushing the job as fast as they knew how, but making pretty slow progress in spite of all their efforts. It was done at last, however, and they felt easier in their minds when they knew that it was ready for use in case of necessity. From its mouth in the depths of the pond it sloped gradually upward to a dry chamber under the roots of a large birch; and here, where a few tiny holes were not likely to be noticed from the outside, two or three small openings, almost hidden by the moss and dead leaves, let in the air and an occasional ray of light. The big tree made a solid roof overhead, and the chamber was large enough, with a little crowding, to accommodate a whole family of beavers.
There was only one other heavy task, and that was the gathering of the wood, which, with its bark, was to serve as food through the winter. This too was finally finished, and the very last things that the beavers did that fall were to put another coat of mud on the outside of the lodge, and to see that the dam was in the best possible condition. No repairing could be done after the ice made; and if the dam should give way at any time during the winter, the pond would be drained, and the entrances of the lodge and the burrow would be thrown open to any prowling marauders that might happen to pass that way. So it was imperative to have things in good order before cold weather came on.
There came a quiet, windless day, when the sky was gray, and when the big snow-flakes came floating lazily down, some to lose themselves in the black water, and some to robe the woods and the shores in white. At nightfall the clouds broke up, the stars shone forth, and the air grew odder and keener till long crystal spears shot out across the pond, and before morning a sheet of glass had spread from shore to shore. I do not think it was unwelcome. The beavers were shut in for the winter, or could only go abroad with considerable difficulty, but they had each other, and there was a little world of their own down under the ice and snow. The chamber of the lodge was home, and just outside was their food storehouse—the big pile of wood which it had cost so much labor to gather. One of the entrances was shorter and straighter than the other, and through this they used to bring in sticks from the heap, and lay them on the floor between the beds, where they could devour the bark at their leisure. If they grew restless, and wanted to go farther afield, there was the bottom of the pond to be explored, and the big luscious lily-roots to be dug up for a change of diet. It was a peaceful time, a time of rest from the labors of the past year, and of growing fat and strong for those of the year to come. We have much goods laid up for many months; let us eat, drink, and be merry, and hope that the trappers will not come to-morrow.
The babies came in May, and I suppose that the young father and mother were almost as proud and happy as some of you who are in similar circumstances. The Beaver did not wander very far from home that spring and summer, nor was he away very long at a time.
There were five of the children, and they were very pretty—about as large as rats, and covered with thick, soft, silky, reddish-brown fur, but without any of the longer, coarser, chestnut-colored hairs that formed their parents' outer coats. They were very playful, too, as the father and mother had been in their own youthful days. For a while they had to be nursed, like other babies; but by and by the old beavers began to bring in little twigs for them, about the size of lead-pencils; and if you had been there, and your eyes had been sharp enough to pierce the gloom, you might have seen the youngsters exercising their brand new teeth, and learning to sit up and hold sticks in their baby hands while they ate the bark. And wouldn't you have liked to be present on the night when they first went swimming down the long, dark tunnel; and, rising to the surface, looked around on their world of woods and water—on the quiet pond, with its glassy smoothness broken only by their own ripples; on the tall trees, lifting their fingers toward the sky; and on the stars, marching silently across the heavens, and looking down with still, unwinking eyes on another family of babies that had come to live and love and be happy for a little while on God's earth?
One of the children was killed by an otter before the summer was over, but I am glad to say that the other four grew up and were a credit to their parents.
The babies were not the only addition to the new city during that year, for about mid-summer another pair of beavers came and built a lodge near the upper end of the pond. It was a busy season for everybody—for our old friends as well as for the new-comers. The food-sticks which had been peeled off their bark during the winter furnished a good supply of construction material, and the dam was built up several inches higher, and was lengthened to the buttress-tree on one side, and for a distance of two or three rods on the other, so as to keep the water from flowing around the ends. As the water-level rose it became necessary to build up the floor of the lodge in order to keep it from being flooded; and that, in turn, necessitated raising the roof by the simple process of hollowing it out from within and adding more material on the outside. In the same way the lodge was made both longer and broader, to accommodate the growing family and the still further increase that was to be expected the following spring. More burrows were dug in the shore of the pond—you can't have too many of them—and a much larger stock of food wood was gathered, for there were six mouths, instead of two, to be fed through the coming winter. The father and mother worked very hard, and even the babies helped with the lighter tasks, such as carrying home small branches, and mending little leaks in the dam. The second pair of beavers was also busy with lodge and burrow and storehouse, and so the days slipped by very rapidly.
Only once that year did a man come to town, and then he did not do anything very dreadful. He was not a trapper, he was only an amateur naturalist who wanted to see the beavers at their work, and who thought he was smart enough to catch them at it. His plan was simple enough; he made a breach in the dam one night, and then climbed a tree and waited for them to come and mend it. It was bright moonlight, and he thought he would see the whole thing and learn some wonderful secrets.
The Beaver was at work in the woods not very far away, and presently he came down to the edge of the pond, rolling a heavy birch cutting before him. He noticed at once that the water was falling, and he started straight for the dam to see what was the matter. The amateur naturalist saw him coming, a dark speck moving swiftly down the pond, with a long V-shaped ripple spreading out behind him like the flanks of a flock of wild geese. But the beaver was doing some thinking while he swam. He had never before known the water to fall so suddenly and rapidly; there must be a very bad break in the dam. How could it have happened? It looked suspicious. It looked very suspicious indeed; and just before he reached the dam he stopped to reconnoitre, and at once caught sight of the naturalist up in the tree. His tail rose in the air and came down with the loudest whack that had ever echoed across the pond, a stroke that sent the spray flying in every direction, and that might have been heard three-quarters of a mile away. His wife heard it, and paused in her work of felling a tree; the children heard it, and the neighbors heard it; and they all knew it meant business. The Beaver dived like a loon and swam for dear life, and he did not come to the surface again till he had reached the farther end of the pond and was out of sight behind a grassy point. There he stayed, now and then striking the water with his tail as a signal that the danger was not yet over. It isn't every animal that can use his caudal appendage as a stool, as a rudder, as a third hind leg, as a trowel for smoothing the floor of his house, and as a tocsin for alarming his fellow-citizens.
The naturalist roosted in the tree till his teeth were chattering and he was fairly blue with cold, and then he scrambled down and went back to his camp, where he had a violent chill. The next night it rained, and as he did not want to get wet there was nothing to do but stay in his tent. When he visited the pond again the dam had been repaired and the water was up to its usual level. He decided that watching beavers wasn't very interesting, hardly worth the trouble it cost; and he guessed he knew enough about them, anyhow. So the next day he packed up his camping outfit and went home.
In the following year the population was increased to eighteen, for six more babies arrived in our Beaver's lodge, and four in his neighbors'. In another twelvemonth the first four were old enough to build lodges and found homes of their own; and so the city grew, and our Beaver and his wife were the original inhabitants, the first settlers, the most looked-up-to of all the citizens. You are not to suppose, however, that the Beaver was mayor of the town. There was no city government. The family was the unit, and each household was a law unto itself. But that did not keep him from being the oldest, the wisest, the most knowing of all the beavers in the community, just as his father had been before him in another town.
I don't believe you care to hear all about the years that followed. They were years of peace and growth, of marriages and homebuilding, of many births and a few deaths, of winter rest and summer labor, and of quiet domestic happiness. There was little excitement, and, best of all, there were no trappers. The time came when the Beaver might well say, as he looked around on the community which he and his wife had founded, that he was a citizen of no mean city.
But this could not last. A great calamity was coming—a calamity beside which the slow destruction of the former town would seem tame and uninteresting.
One bright February day the Beaver and his wife left their lodge to look for lily-roots. They had found a big fat one and were just about to begin their feast, when they heard foot-steps on the ice over their heads, and the voices of several men talking eagerly. They made for the nearest burrow as fast as they could go, and stayed there the rest of the day, and when they returned to their lodge they found—but I'm going too fast.
The men were Indians and half-breeds, and they were in high feather over their discovery. Around this pond there must be enough beaver-skins to keep them in groceries and tobacco and whiskey for a long time to come. But to find a city is one thing, and to get hold of its inhabitants is another and a very different one. One of the Indians was an elderly man who in the old days had trapped beaver in Canada for the Hudson Bay Company, and he assumed the direction of the work. First of all they chopped holes in the ice and drove a line of stakes across the stream just above the pond, so that no one might escape in that direction. Then, by pounding on the ice, and cutting more holes in it here and there, they found the entrances to all the lodges and most of the burrows, and closed them also with stakes driven into the bottom. Fortunately they did not find the burrow where our Beaver and his wife had taken refuge. They were about to break open the roofs of the lodges when the old man proposed that they should play a trick on one of the beaver families—a trick which his father had taught him when he was a boy, and when the beavers were many in the woods around Lake Superior. He described it with enthusiasm, and his companions agreed that it would be great fun. For a time there was much chopping of ice and driving of stakes, and then all was quiet again.
By and by one of our Beaver's children began to feel hungry, and as his father and mother had not come home he decided to go out to the wood-pile and get something to eat. So he took a header from his bed into the water, and swam down the angle. The door had been unbarred again, and he passed out without difficulty, but when he reached the pile he found it surrounded by a fence made of stakes set so close together that he could not pass between them. He swam clear around it, and at last found one gap just wide enough to admit his body. He passed in, and as he did so his back grazed a small twig which had been thrust down through a hole in the ice, and the watching Indians saw it move, and knew that a beaver had entered the trap. He picked out a nice stick of convenient size, and started to return to the lodge. But where was that gap in the fence? This was the place, he was sure. Here were two stakes between which he had certainly passed as he came in, but now another stood squarely between them, and the gate was barred. He swam all round the wood-pile, looking for a way out, and poking his little brown nose between the stakes, but there was no escape, and when he came back to the entrance and found it still closed his last hope died, and he gave up in despair. His heart and lungs and all his circulatory apparatus had been so designed by the Great Architect that he might live for many minutes under water, but they could not keep him alive indefinitely. Overhead was the ice, and all around was that cruel fence. Only a rod away was home, where his brothers and sisters were waiting for him, and where there was air to breathe and life to live—but he could not reach it. You have all read or heard how a drowning man feels, and I suppose it is much the same with a drowning beaver. They say it is an easy death.
By and by a hooked stick came down through a hole in the ice and drew him out, the gate was unbarred, the twig was replaced, and the Indians waited for another hungry little beaver to come for his dinner. That's enough. You know now what the parents found when they came home—or rather what they didn't find.
It would have taken too long to dispose of the whole city in this way, so the Indians finally broke the dam and let the water out of the pond, and then they tore open the lodges and all the burrows they could find, and the inhabitants were put to the—not the sword, but the axe and the club. Of all those who had been so happy and prosperous, the old Beaver and his wife were the only ones who escaped; and their lives were spared only because the Indians failed to find their hiding-place.
That was the end of the second city, but it was not quite the end of the beavers. A few miles up-stream they dug a short burrow in the bank and tried to make a new home. In May another baby came, but only one, and it was dead before it was born. Next day the mother died too, and the Beaver left the burrow and went out into the world alone. I really think his heart was broken, though it continued to beat for several months longer.
Just northeast of the Glimmerglass there lies a long, narrow pond, whose shores are very low and swampy, and whose waters drain into the larger lake through a short stream only a few rods in length. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years ago the narrow strip of land that separates them may possibly have been a beaver-dam, but to-day it is hard to tell it from one of Nature's own formations. In the course of his lonely wanderings the Beaver reached this pond, and here he established himself to spend his last few weeks. He was aging rapidly. Such a little while ago he had seemed in the very prime of life, and had been one of the handsomest beavers in the woods, with fur of the thickest and softest and silkiest, and a weight of probably sixty pounds. Now he was thin and lean, his hair was falling out, his teeth were losing their sharp edges and becoming blunt and almost useless, and even his flat tail was growing thicker and more rounded, and its whack was not as startling as of old when he brought it down with all his might on the surface of the water.
Yet even now the old instinct flamed up and burned feebly for a little while. Or shall we say the old love of work, and of using the powers and faculties that God had given him? Why should the thing that is called genius in a man be set down as instinct when we see it on a somewhat smaller scale in an animal? Whatever it was, the ruling passion was still strong. All his life he had been a civil engineer; and now, one dark, rainy autumn night, he left his shallow burrow, swam down the pond to its outlet, and began to build a dam. The next day, pushing up the shallow stream in my dug-out canoe, I saw the alder-cuttings lying in its bed, with the marks of his dull teeth on their butts. God knows why he did it, or what he was thinking about as he cut those bushes and dragged them into the water. I don't; but sometimes I wonder if a wild dream of a new lodge, a new mate, a new home, and a new city was flitting through his poor, befogged old brain.
It was only a few nights later that he put his foot into Charlie Roop's beaver-trap, jumped for deep water, and was drowned like his father before him. Charlie afterward showed me the pelt, which he had stretched on a hoop made of a little birch sapling. It was not a very good pelt, for, as I said, the Beaver had been losing his hair, but Charlie thought he might get a dollar or two for it. Whether he needed the dollar more than the Beaver needed his skin was a question which it seemed quite useless to discuss.
As we left the shack I noticed the tail lying on the ground just outside the door.
"Why don't you eat it?" I asked. "Don't you know that a beaver's tail is supposed to be one of the finest delicacies in the woods?"
"Huh!" said Charlie. "I'd rather have salt pork."
THE KING OF THE TROUT STREAM
IT was winter, and the trout stream ran low in its banks, hidden from the sky by a thick shell of ice and snow, and not seeing the sun for a season. But the trout stream was used to that, and it slipped along in the darkness, undismayed and not one whit disheartened; talking to itself in low, murmuring tones, and dreaming of the time when spring would come back and all the rivers would be full.
Mingled with its waters, and borne onward and downward by the ceaseless flow of its current, went multitudes of the tiniest air-bubbles, most of them too small ever to be seen by a human eye, yet large enough to be the very breath of life to thousands and thousands of creatures. Some of them found their way to the gills of the brook trout, and some to the minnows, and the herrings, and the suckers, and the star-gazers; some fed the little crustacea, and the insect larvae, and the other tiny water animals that make up the lower classes of society; and some passed undetained down the river and out into Lake Superior. But there were others that worked down into the gravel of the riverbed; and there, in the nooks and crannies between the pebbles, they found a vast number of little balls of yellow-brown jelly, about as large as small peas, which seemed to be in need of their kindly ministrations. And the air-bubbles touched the trout eggs gently and lovingly, and in some mysterious and wonderful way their oxygen passed in through the pores of the shells, and the embryos within were quickened and stirred to a new vigor and a more rapid growth.
Not all of the eggs were alive. Some had been crushed between the stones; some were buried in sediment, which had choked the pores and kept away the friendly oxygen until they smothered; and some had never really lived at all. But one danger they had been spared, for there were no saw-mills on the stream to send a flood of fungus-breeding sawdust down with the current. And in spite of all the misfortunes and disasters to which trout eggs are liable, a goodly number of them were doing quite as well as could be expected. I suppose one could hardly say that they were being incubated, for, according to the dictionaries, to incubate is to sit upon, and certainly there was no one sitting on them. Their mothers had not come near them since the day they were laid. But the gravel hid them from the eyes of egg-eating fishes and musk-rats; the water kept them cold, but not too cold; the fresh oxygen came and encouraged them if ever they grew tired and dull, and so the good work went on.
Through each thin, leathery, semi-transparent shell you could have seen, if you had examined it closely, a pair of bright, beady eyes, and a dark little thread of a backbone that was always curled up like a horseshoe because there wasn't room for it to lie straight. But along the outside of the curve of each spinal column a set of the tiniest and daintiest muscles was getting ready for a long pull, and a strong pull, and a pull all together. And one day, late in the winter, when the woods were just beginning to think about spring, the muscles in one particular egg tugged with all their little might, the backbone straightened with a great effort, the shell was ripped open, and the tail of a brand-new brook trout thrust itself out into the water and wiggled pathetically.
But his head and shoulders were still inside, and for a while it looked as if he would never get them free. His tail was shaped somewhat like a paddle set on edge, for a long, narrow fin ran from the middle of his back clear around the end of it and forward again on the under side of his body, and with this for an oar he struggled and writhed and squirmed, and went bumping blindly about among the pebbles like a kitten with its head in the cream pitcher. And at last, with the most vigorous squirm and wriggle of all, he backed clear of the shell in which he had lain for so many weeks and months, and, weak and weary from his exertions, lay down on a stone to rest.
He had to lie on his side, for attached to his breast was a large, round, transparent sac which looked very much like the egg out of which he had just come. In fact it really was the egg, or at least a portion of it, for it held a large part of what had been the yolk. If you could have examined him with a microscope you would have seen a most strange and beautiful thing. His little body was so delicate and transparent that one could see the arteries pulsing and throbbing in time with the beating of his heart, and some of those arteries found their way into the food-sac, where they kept branching and dividing, and growing smaller and more numerous. And in the very smallest of the tiny tubes a wonderful process was going on—as wonderful as the way in which the oxygen fed the embryos through the shell. Somehow, by life's marvellous alchemy, the blood was laying hold of the material of the yolk, turning it into more blood, and carrying it away to be used in building up bone and muscle everywhere from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail. You might not have detected the actual transformation, but you could have seen the beating of the engine, and the throbbing rush of the little red rivers, all toiling with might and main to make a big, strong trout out of this weak and diminutive baby. And you could have seen the corpuscles hurrying along so thick and fast that at times they blocked up the passages, and the current was checked till the heart could bring enough pressure to bear to burst the dam and send them rushing on again. For the corpuscles of a trout's blood are considerably larger than those of most fishes, and they sometimes get "hung up," like a drive of logs sent down a stream hardly large enough to float it.
With a full haversack to be drawn upon in such a convenient manner the Troutlet was not obliged to take food through his mouth or to think about hustling around in search of a living. This was very fortunate, for the stream was full of hungry beasts of prey who would be very likely to gobble him up quick the first time he went abroad; and, besides, his frail little body was still so weak and delicate that he could not bear the light of day. So, instead of swimming away to seek his fortune, he simply dived down deeper into the gravel, and stayed there. For some weeks he led a very quiet life among the pebbles, and the only mishap that befell him during that time was the direct result of his retiring disposition. In his anxiety to get as far away from the world as possible he one day wedged himself into a cranny so narrow that he couldn't get out again. He couldn't even breathe, for his gill-covers were squeezed down against the sides of his head as if he were in a vise. A trout's method of respiration is to open his mouth and fill it with water, and then to close it again and force the water out through his gills, between his cheeks and his shoulders, about where his neck would be if he had one. It's very simple when you once know how, but you can't do it with your gill-covers clamped down. His tail wiggled more pathetically than ever, and did its level best to pull him out, but without success. He was wedged in so tightly that he couldn't move, and he was fast smothering, like a baby that has rolled over on its face upon the pillow. But at the last moment, when his struggles had grown feebler and feebler until they had almost ceased, something stirred up the gravel around him and set him free. He never knew what did it. Perhaps a deer or a bear waded through the stream; or a saw-log may have grounded for a moment in the shallow; or possibly it was only the current, for by this time most of the snow had melted, and the little river was working night and day to carry the water out of the woods. But whatever it was, he was saved.
He stayed in the gravel nearly a month, but his yolk-sac was gradually shrinking, and after a time it drew itself up into a little cleft in his breast and almost disappeared. There was nothing left of it but a little amber-colored bead, and it could no longer supply food enough for his growing body. There were times when he felt decidedly hungry. And other changes had come while he lay and waited in the gravel. The embryonic fin which had made his tail so like a paddle was gone, the true dorsal and caudal and anal fins had taken their proper shape, and he looked a little less like a tadpole and a little more like a fish. He was stronger than he had been at first, and he was losing his dread of the sunlight; and so at last he left the gravel-bed, to seek his rightful place in the world of moving, murmuring waters.
He was rather weak and listless at first, and quite given to resting in the shallows and back water, and taking things as easily as possible. But that was to be expected for a time, and he was much better off than some of the other trout babies. He saw one that had two heads and only one body, and another with two heads and two bodies joined together at the tail. Still others there were who had never been strong enough to straighten their backbones, and who had lain in the egg till the shell wore thin and let them out head first, which is not at all the proper way for a trout to hatch. Even now they still retained the horseshoe curve, and could never swim straight ahead, but only spin round and round like whirligigs. These cripples and weaklings seemed to have got on pretty well as long as their food-sacs lasted, but now that they had to make their own living they were at a serious disadvantage. They all disappeared after a day or two, and our friend never saw them again. They couldn't stand the real struggle of life.
Many a strong, healthy baby disappeared at the same time, and if there had not been so many of them it is not likely that any would have survived the first few days and weeks. Even as it was, I doubt if more than one fish out of each thousand eggs ever lived to grow up. It is not difficult to guess where they went. Our Trout had hardly emerged from his hiding-place in the gravel when a queer, ugly, big-headed little fish darted at him from under a stone, with his jaws open and an awful cavity yawning behind them. The Troutlet dodged between a couple of pebbles and escaped, but another youngster just beyond him was caught and swallowed alive. That was his first meeting with the star-gazer, who kills more babies than ever Herod did. Then there were minnows, and herrings, and lizards, and frogs, and weasels, and water-snakes, and other butchers of all sorts and sizes, too numerous to mention. And perhaps the worst of all were the older trout, who never seemed to have the least compunction about eating their small relations, and who were so nimble and lively that it was almost impossible to keep out of their way. Our friend spent most of his time in the shallow water near the banks, where larger fishes were not so likely to follow him, but even there he had many narrow escapes and was obliged to keep himself hidden as much as possible under chips and dead leaves, and behind stones.
Often he found himself in great peril when he least suspected it. Once he lay for some time in the edge of a dark forest of water-weeds, only an inch from a lumpish, stupid-looking creature, half covered with mud, that was clinging to one of the stems. The animal appeared so dull and unintelligent that the young Trout paid little attention to him until another baby came up and approached a trifle closer. Then, quick as a flash, the creature shot out an arm nearly three-quarters of an inch long, bearing on its end two horrible things which were not exactly claws, nor fingers, nor teeth, but which partook of the nature of all three, and which came together on the infant's soft, helpless little body like a pair of tongs or the jaws of a steel trap, and drew him in to where the real jaws were waiting to make mince-meat of him. Our friend fled so precipitately that he did not see the end of the tragedy, but neither did he ever see that baby again. Before the summer had passed, the dull, lumpish-looking creature had become a magnificent insect, with long, gauzy wings, clad in glittering mail, and known to everybody as a dragon-fly, but I doubt if any of his performances in the upper air were ever half as dragon-like as the deeds of darkness that he did when he was an ugly, shapeless larva down under the water.
Fortunately, not all the larvae in the stream were thus to be feared. Many were so small that the Troutlet could eat them, instead of letting them eat him; and nowhere were they more plentiful than in this same forest of water-weeds. His first taste of food was a great experience, and gave him some entirely new ideas of life. One day he was lying with his head up-stream, as was his usual habit, when a particularly fat, plump little larva, torn from his home by the remorseless river, came drifting down with the current. He looked very tempting, and our friend sallied out from under a stick and caught him on the fly, just as he had seen the star-gazer catch his own brother. The funny little creature wriggled deliciously on his tongue, and he held him between his jaws for a moment in a kind of ecstasy; but he couldn't quite make up his mind to swallow him, and presently he spat him out again and went back to the shadow of his stick to rest and think about it. It was the first time in his life that he had ever done such a thing, and he felt rather overwhelmed, but an hour or two later he tried it again, and this time the living morsel did not stop in his mouth, but went straight on down.
It was really something more than a new experience—this first mouthful of food—for it marked a turning-point in his career. Up to this time he had lived entirely on the provisions which his parents had left him, but henceforth he was independent and could take care of himself. He was no longer an embryo; he was a real fish, a genuine Salvelinus fontinalis, as carnivorous as the biggest and fiercest of all his relations. The cleft in his breast might close up now, and the last remnant of his yolk-sac vanish forever. He was done with it. He had graduated from the nursery, and had found his place on the battle-field of life.
It must be admitted, however, that he did not look much like a mature trout, even now. He was less than three-quarters of an inch long, and his big head, bulging eyes, and capacious mouth were out of all proportion to his small and feeble body. But time and food were all that was needed to set these matters right; and now that he had learned how, he set to work and did his level best. I should be afraid to guess how many tiny water-creatures, insects and larvae and crustaceae, found their way down his throat, but it is pretty safe to say that he often ate more than his own weight in a single day. And so he grew in size and strength and symmetry, and from being a quiet, languid baby, always hiding in dark corners, and attending strictly to his own affairs, he became one of the liveliest and most inquisitive little fishes in all the stream. To a certain extent he developed a fondness for travelling, and in company with other troutlets of his own age and size he often journeyed from place to place in search of new surroundings and new things to eat. In fly-time he found a bountiful food-supply in the mosquitoes and black-flies that swarmed over the stream, and it was fun to see him leap from the water, catch one of them in his mouth, and drop back with a triumphant little splash. It wasn't really very considerate in him to prey on those biting, stinging flies, for in after years they would be his best defenders against anglers and fishermen, but consideration doesn't seem to be one of the strong points in a brook trout's character.
It would take too long to tell of all his youthful doings during the next year, and of all his narrow escapes, and the many tight places that he got into and out of. It was a wonder that he ever pulled through at all, but I suppose it is necessary that a few trout should grow up, for, if they didn't, who would there be to eat the little ones?
Once a kingfisher dived for him, missed him by a hair's-breadth, and flew back, scolding and chattering, to his perch on an old stub that leaned far out over the water. And once he had a horrible vision of an immense loon close behind him, with long neck stretched out, and huge bill just ready to make the fatal grab. He dodged and got away, but it frightened him about as badly as anything can frighten a creature with no more nerves than a fish. And many other such adventures he had—too many to enumerate. However, I don't think they ever troubled him very much except for the moment. He grew more wary, no doubt, but he didn't do much worrying. Somehow or other he always escaped by the skin of his teeth, and the next spring he was swallowing the new crop of young fry with as little concern as his older relations had shown in trying to swallow him. So far he seemed to be one of the few who are foreordained to eat and not be eaten, though it was more than likely that in the end he, too, would die a violent death.
When he was about a year and a half old he noticed that all the larger trout in the stream were gathering in places where the water was shallow, the bottom pebbly, and the current rapid; and that they acted as if they thought they had very important business on hand. He wanted to do as the others did, and so it happened that he went back again to the gravelly shallow where the air-bubbles had first found him. By this time he was about as large as your finger, or possibly a trifle larger, and he had all the bumptiousness of youth and was somewhat given to pushing himself in where he wasn't wanted.
The male trout were the first to arrive, and they promptly set to work to prepare nests for their mates, who were expected a little later. It was a simple process. All they did was to shove the gravel aside with their noses and fins and tails, and then fan the sediment away until they had made nice, clean little hollows in the bed of the stream; but there was a good deal of excitement and jealousy over it, and every little while they had to stop and have a scrap. The biggest and strongest always wanted the best places, and if they happened to take a fancy for a location occupied by a smaller and weaker fish, they drove him out without ceremony and took possession by right of the conqueror. For the most part their fighting seemed rather tame, for they did little more than butt each other in the ribs with their noses, but once in a while they really got their dander up and bit quite savagely. And when the lady trout came to inspect the nests that had been prepared for them, then times were livelier than ever, and the jealousy and rivalry ran very high, indeed.
Of course our Trout was too young to bear a very prominent part in these proceedings, but he and some companions of about his own age skirmished around the edges of the nesting grounds, and seemed to take a wicked delight in teasing the old males and running away just in time to escape punishment. And when the nests began to be put to practical use, the yearlings were very much in evidence. Strictly fresh eggs are as good eating down under the water as they are on land, and, partly on this account, and partly because direct sunshine is considered very injurious to them, the mothers always covered them with gravel as quickly as possible. But in spite of the best of care the current was constantly catching some of them and sweeping them away, and our young friend would creep up as near as he dared, and whenever one of the yellow-brown balls came his way he would gobble it down with as little remorse as he had felt for his first larva. Now and then an irate father would turn upon him fiercely and chase him off, but in a few minutes he would be back again, watching for eggs as eagerly as ever. Once, indeed, he had a rather close call, for the biggest old male in all the stream came after him with mouth open as if he would swallow him whole, as he could very easily have done. Our friend was almost caught when the big fellow happened to glance back and saw another trout coming to visit his wife, and promptly abandoned the chase and went home to see about it.
A year later our Trout went again to the gravelly shallow, and this time, being six inches long and about thirty months old, he decided to make a nest of his own. He did so, and had just induced a most beautiful young fish of the other sex to come and examine it, with a view to matrimony, when that same big bully appeared on the scene, promptly turned him out of house and home, and began courting the beautiful young creature himself. It was very exasperating, not to say humiliating, but it was the sort of thing that one must expect when one is only a two-year-old.
The next year he had better luck. As another summer passed away, and the cooler weather came on, he arrayed himself in his wedding finery, and it almost seemed as if he had stolen some of the colors of the swamp maples, in their gay fall dress, and was using them to deck himself out and make a brave display. In later years he was larger and heavier, but I don't think he was ever much handsomer than he was in that fourth autumn of his life. His back was a dark, dusky, olive-green, with mottlings that were still darker and duskier. His sides were lighter—in some places almost golden yellow; and scattered irregularly over them were the small, bright carmine spots that gave him one of his aliases, the "Speckled Trout." Beneath he was usually of a pale cream color, but now that he had put on his best clothes his vest was bright orange, and some of his fins were variegated with red and white, while others were a fiery yellow. He was covered all over with a suit of armor made of thousands and thousands of tiny scales, so small and fine that the eye could hardly separate them, and from the bony shoulder-girdle just behind his gills a raised line, dark and slightly waving, ran back to his tail, like the sheer-line of a ship. There were other fishes that were more slender and more finely modelled than he, and possibly more graceful, but in him there was something besides beauty—something that told of power and speed and doggedness. He was like a man-o'-war dressed out in all her bunting for some great gala occasion, but still showing her grim, heavy outlines beneath her decorations. His broad mouth opened clear back under his eyes, and was armed with rows of backward-pointing teeth, so sharp and strong that when they once fastened themselves upon a smaller fish they never let him go again. The only way out from between those jaws was down his throat. His eyes were large and bright, and were set well apart; and the bulge of his forehead between them hinted at more brains than are allotted to some of the people of the stream. Altogether, he was a most gallant and knightly little fish, and it would certainly have been a pity if he hadn't found a mate.
And now he started the third time for the gravelly shallow, and travelled as he had never travelled before in all his life. Streams are made to swim against—every brook trout knows that—and the faster they run, the greater is the joy of breasting them. The higher the water-fall, the prouder do you feel when you find you can leap it. And our friend was in a mood for swimming, and for swimming with all his might. Never had he felt so strong and vigorous and so full of life and energy, and he made his fins and his tail go like the oars of a racing-shell. Now he was working up the swift current of a long rapid like a bird in the teeth of the wind. Now he was gathering all his strength for the great leap to the top of the water-fall. And now, perhaps, he rested for a little while in a quiet pool, and presently went hurrying on again, diving under logs and fallen trees, swinging round the curves, darting up the still places where the water lay a-dreaming, and wriggling over shallow bars where it was not half deep enough to cover him; until at last he reached the old familiar place where so many generations of brook trout had first seen the light of day and felt the cold touch of the snow-water.
As before, he and the other males arrived at the nesting grounds some days in advance of their mates, and spent the intervening time in scooping hollows in the gravel and quarrelling among themselves. Two or three times he was driven from a choice location by someone who was bigger than he, but he always managed in some way to regain it, or else stole another from a smaller fish; and when the ladies finally appeared he had a fine large nest in a pleasant situation a little apart from those of his rivals. But for some reason the first candidates who came to look at it declined to stay. Perhaps they were not quite ready to settle down, or perhaps they were merely disposed to insist on the feminine privilege of changing their minds. But finally there came one who seemed to be quite satisfied, and with whom the Trout himself had every reason to be pleased.
She was not a native of the stream, but of one of the hatcheries of the Michigan Fish Commission; and while he was lying in the gravel she was one of a vast company inhabiting a number of black wooden troughs that stood in a large, pleasant room filled with the sound of running water. Here there were no yearlings nor musk-rats nor saw-bill ducks looking for fresh eggs, nor any dragons nor star-gazers lying in wait for the young fry. Instead there were nice, kind men, who kept the hatching troughs clean and the water at the right temperature, and who gently stirred up the troutlets with a long goose-feather whenever too many of them crowded together in one corner, trying to get away from the hateful light. Under this sort of treatment most of the thirty million babies in the hatchery lived and thrived. Only a few thousands of them were brook trout, but among those thousands one of the smartest and most precocious was the one in whom we are just now most interested. She was always first into the dark corners, as long as dark corners seemed desirable; and later, when they began to come up into the light and partake of the pulverized beef-liver which their attendants offered them, there was no better swimmer or more voracious feeder than she. All this was especially fortunate because there was a very hard and trying experience before her—one in which she would have need of all her strength and vitality, and in which her chances of life would be very small, indeed. It came with planting time, when she and a host of her companions were whisked through a rubber tube and deposited in a big can made of galvanized iron, in which they were borne away to the trout stream. The journey was a long one, they were pretty badly cramped for room, and before they reached their destination the supply of oxygen in the water became exhausted. The baby trout began to think they had blown out the gas, and they all crowded to the surface, where, if anywhere, the minute bubbles that keep one alive are to be found. They gulped down great mouthfuls of water and forced it out through their gills as fast as ever they could, but, somehow, all the life seemed to be gone out of it, and it did them no good whatever. Pretty soon a few turned over on their backs and died, and every last one of them would have suffocated if the man who had charge of the party hadn't noticed what was going on and come to the rescue. Picking up a dipperful of water and troutlets, and holding it high in the air, he poured it back into the can with much dashing and splashing. Hundreds and hundreds of tiny bubbles were caught in the rush and carried down to the bottom, and so the oxygen came back again to the tired gills, and the danger was over.
The emigrants reached the trout stream at last, and one would have supposed that their troubles were ended. In reality the chapter of trials and tribulations had only just begun, for the same fishes and frogs and lizards that had so persecuted our friend and his brothers and sisters were on hand to welcome the new arrivals, and very few escaped. And so, in spite of its quiet beginnings in the peaceful surroundings of the hatchery, this young lady trout's life proved quite as exciting and adventurous as our friend's, and it is possible that the good care which she received during her early infancy really served to make things all the harder for her when she came to be thrown entirely on her own resources. The mere change in the temperature of the water when she was turned out of the can was quite a shock to her nervous system; and, whereas most trout are somewhat acquainted with the dangers and hardships of the stream, almost from the time they rip their shells open, she did not even know that there was such a place until she was set down in it and told to shift for herself.
However, by dint of strength, speed, agility, and good judgment in selecting hiding-places—and also, in all probability, by a run of remarkably good luck—she made her way unharmed through all the perils of babyhood and early youth, and now she was one of the most beautiful little three-year-old pirates that ever swooped down upon a helpless victim.
As she and our friend swam side by side, her nose and the end of her tail were exactly even with his. Her colors were the same that he had worn before he put on his wedding garments, and if you had seen them together in the early summer I don't believe you could ever have told them apart. They were a well-matched pair, more evenly mated, probably, than is usual in fish marriages.
But they were not to be allowed to set up housekeeping together without fighting for the privilege. Hardly had she finished inspecting the nest, and made up her mind that it would answer, and that he was, on the whole, quite eligible as a husband, when a third trout appeared and attempted to do as the big bully had done the year before. This time, however, our young friend's blood was up, and, though the enemy was considerably larger than he, he was ready to strike for his altars and his fires. He made a quick rush, like a torpedo-boat attacking a man-of-war, and hit the intruder amidships, ramming him with all his might. Then the enemy made as sudden a turn, and gave our Trout a poke in the ribs, and for a few minutes they dodged back and forth, and round and round, and over and under each other, each getting in a punch whenever he had a chance. So far it seemed only a trial of strength and speed and dexterity, and if our Trout was not quite as large and powerful as the other, yet he proved himself the quicker and the more agile and lively. But before it was over he did more than that, for, suddenly ranging up on the enemy's starboard quarter, he opened his mouth, and the sharp teeth of his lower jaw tore a row of bright scales from his adversary's side, and left a long, deep gash behind. That settled it. The big fellow lit out as fast as he could go, and our Trout was left in undisputed possession.
The nesting season cannot last forever, and by and by, when the days were very short and the nights were very long, when the stars were bright, and when each sunrise found the hoar-frost lying thick and heavy on the dead and fallen leaves, the last trout went in search of better feeding grounds, and again the gravelly shallow seemed deserted. But it was only seeming. There were no eggs in sight—the frogs, the rats, the ducks, and the yearlings had taken care of that, and I am very much afraid that our friend may have eaten a few himself, on the sly, when his wife wasn't looking—but hidden away among the pebbles there were thousands, and the old, old miracle was being re-enacted, and multitudes of little live creatures were getting ready for the time when something should tell them to tear their shells open and come out into the world.
One of the Trout's most remarkable adventures, and the one which probably taught him more than any other, came during the hot weather of the following summer. The stream had grown rather too warm for comfort, and lately he had got into the habit of frequenting certain deep, quiet pools where icy springs bubbled out of the banks and imparted a very grateful coolness to the slow current. It was delightful to spend a long July afternoon in the wash below one of these fountains, having a lazy, pleasant time, and enjoying the touch of the cold water as it went sliding along his body from nose to tail. One sunshiny day, as he lay in his favorite spring-hole, thinking about nothing in particular, and just working his fins enough to keep from drifting down stream, a fly lit on the surface just over his head—a bright, gayly colored fly of a species which was entirely new to him, but which looked as if it must be very finely flavored. As it happened, there had been several days of very warm, sultry weather, and even the fish had grown sullen and lazy, but this afternoon the wind had whipped around to the north, straight off Lake Superior, and all the animals in the Great Tahquamenon Swamp felt as if they had been made over new. How the brook trout could have known of it so quickly, down under the water, is a mystery; but our friend seemed to wake up all of a sudden, and to realize that he hadn't been eating as much as usual, and that he was hungry. He made a dash at the fly and seized it, but he had no sooner got it between his lips than he spat it out again. There was something wrong with it. Instead of being soft and juicy and luscious, as all flies ought to be, it was stiff, and dry, and hard, and it had a long, crooked stinger that was different from anything belonging to any other fly that he had ever tasted. It disappeared as suddenly as it had come, and the Trout sank back to the bottom of the pool.