RATAPLAN, A ROGUE ELEPHANT AND OTHER STORIES
By ELLEN VELVIN, F.Z.S.
Author of "Tales Told at the Zoo," "Jack's Visit," Etc.
by GUSTAVE VERBEEK
To GRACE GALLATIN THOMPSON SETON THIS BOOK IS AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED
TO THE AUTHOR, COMING AS A STRANGER TO THIS COUNTRY, HER HELP, ADVICE AND LOYAL FRIENDSHIP HAVE BEEN INVALUABLE
If an excuse for this book were needed, the undying interest of young people in both wild and domesticated animals would afford it. From time immemorial they have been amused and instructed by stories of animals, and it is not hard to trace the educational and humane influence of such tales.
There are heroes and tyrants, cruel and gentle natures in the animal world, as in our own, and, judged by our standards, their lives are pastorals or tragedies, even as ours are, while their histories are often even more interesting than those of men or women. Then, too, young people should know that these dwellers in forest wilds have, in part at least, the same aims, hopes and fears as ourselves.
In the preparation of this book the best of authorities have been consulted, and careful study given to the habits, traits and characteristics of the animals whose intimate lives are told in these stories. In addition, I have endeavored to tell young people, as pleasantly as possible, that they often make grave blunders in caring for their pets—blunders due to ignorance as to the requirements of their living toys.
New York City.
GEAN, THE GIRAFFE
KEESA, THE KANGAROO
CARA, THE CAMEL
SICCATEE, THE SQUIRREL
LEO, THE LION
CHAFFER, THE CHAMOIS
JINKS, THE JACKAL
PERO, THE PORCUPINE
TERA, THE TIGRESS
OSRA, THE OSTRICH
SEELA, THE SEAL
BRUNIE, THE BEAR
MONA, THE MONKEY
BULON, THE BUFFALO
From Drawings by Gustave Verbeek.
"But, oh, what havoc he made"
"Groar joined in with might and main"
"Even his mother looked at him with surprise"
"Sat on one of the boughs and scolded as hard as she could"
"He would take up some small animal and walk coolly off with it"
"Chaffer was the first to meet the hunters face to face"
"Jinks never was so happy as when he was leading his pack"
"Jock had never seen anything like it before"
"Tera sprang at the nearest calf, bringing him to the ground"
"Osra and his wives took up the chickens one by one, and swallowed them whole"
"Furious with rage, Brunie rose up and went to meet them"
"Mona did his best to attract the parrot's attention"
In one of the thick, shady and tangled forests of Ceylon a fine, fully-grown elephant was one day standing moodily by himself. His huge form showed high above the tangled brushwood, but his wide, flat feet and large, pillar-like legs were hidden in the thick undergrowth.
He was not standing still, however—for no elephant has ever been known to do that yet—his massive, elongated head, with its wide, flat ears, its long, snake-like, flexible trunk, its magnificent pair of ivory tusks and its ridiculous, little eyes moved gravely to and fro— up and down—in a wearied but restless manner.
Every now and then he would lift one of his massive legs and put it down again, or sway his whole body from side to side, or throw his trunk up in the air and then wave it round his head and over his back in all directions.
But, in spite of his moody, wearied air, the elephant's tiny eyes looked particularly wicked. And wicked they were, and a true index to the mischief going on in his elephant mind.
He had no herd round him, no brother or sister elephant with whom he could wave trunks, nod heads, or carry on a conversation in elephant language; he was alone, and preferred to be alone, for his irritable nature and morose disposition made it impossible for him to live with others.
It was not entirely due to himself that he lived alone, for his character was so bad, alas! that no herd would admit him into its ranks, no drive would have anything to do with him; for he was Rataplan, the Rogue, and he was feared, avoided and hated as much as it is possible for the gentle-natured and good-tempered Indian elephant to fear and hate anything.
There had been a time—long, long ago—when he had been one of a herd; but his roguishness had developed early, and after much forbearance and long-suffering the herd had turned him out; and from that time he had been a solitary wanderer.
From the first Rataplan pretended that he did not care, and tossed his trunk disdainfully when driven from the herd. He had felt it, nevertheless, and it had made him more morose, more irritable, more mad than ever.
He cared for nothing now: the only thing in which he took a delight was, destroying as much as possible in mere wantonness, and in working as much mischief as he could find time to plan and accomplish.
There had been times in the past when, in his better moments, he had longed to go back to the herd; had longed to be taken into some grand troop of elephants such as those he watched march through the forests. He longed to be one of them, and to feel that he was a respectable, well-conducted elephant.
But his overtures had always been received with disfavor and firm refusals, and the time had now come when nothing would have induced him to live with any elephants whatever; he preferred to be alone; and his evil nature and irritable temper thrived on his solitary life and mischief-making propensities, and to know that he was feared and dreaded was a very delight to him.
Out of pure mischief he would, at times, tear madly through the forest, trumpeting at the very top of his shrill voice, merely to give the elephants, or any other animals that might be about, a thorough fright.
Many and many a time had some horrid, insignificant little creatures who walked about on two legs, and carried things of fire in their hands, tried their very best to inveigle and entrap him, but in vain. Once, indeed, he had very nearly fallen into a horrible pit in which, at the very bottom, in the centre, was a dreadful, long, sharp stake, which, had he fallen, would have been driven through his thick body by its own weight, and he would have perished miserably and in agony.
But he had found it out in time—only just in time—for one of his hind legs had shot out suddenly behind him, and it was only by a mighty effort of his huge strength that he scrambled up and away from the source of danger.
But oh, what havoc he made! How he tore up anything and everything within his reach! Iron fences which those silly, little fire-carriers had stuck into the ground to protect their crops; silly, little, brick walls which he knocked over with one push of his huge body; young, healthy trees which had been planted so carefully a few years back, and which he pulled up with his long trunk as though they were little radishes; not to speak of the miles of rice and sugar-cane which he had trodden down in wanton waste and as a means of venting his temper.
Another time they had tried to drive him into a horrid place called a Keddah, which had been built with stout logs, and had huge buttresses which even he would have found it difficult to move.
He had been really startled one dark night on seeing huge bunches of fire coming towards him, and in spite of his daring he began to run in the opposite direction.
But it takes a rogue to catch a Rogue, and Rataplan was pretty wary. He had sense enough to know that those silly, little things on two legs would not take the trouble to run after him with bunches of fire unless they wanted him to run away somewhere, to some particular place. And so, after the first few, heavy, swinging steps, the reflection of the fire behind him showed him the outline of a keddah just in front, and with a shrill roar of rage Rataplan turned suddenly and fiercely round, dashed headlong through the line of fire, and, with a mighty trumpeting, disappeared into the forest.
So sudden and unexpected had been his onslaught that he had put out quite half a dozen of the bunches of fire: he had also put out the lives of the six, silly, little things who carried them. For a few swift pressures of his mighty feet had squeezed out their breath and destroyed their power to invent mischief with which to entrap the Rogue elephant.
For some time after this Rataplan had been more mad and wicked than ever. He knew perfectly well that he had killed a few of the fire- carriers, and he fully intended to kill a few more before he had done with them. But they were very cunning, these fire-carriers, and, although he had nearly caught a few of them, once or twice, they had generally escaped him when quite close by suddenly disappearing, and this caused Rataplan many serious cogitations and musings.
Wicked and clever as he was, he had only the instincts of his kind. All his senses were alert, and his eyes looked for enemies in all directions but one, and that one direction was above. He never looked up, and it never occurred to his stupid, old head, sharp as he thought himself, that the little fire-carriers might have climbed up into the trees above him. When they disappeared from his range of vision he gave up the chase, although, more often than not, the wicked, little things were sitting just above his head, where, had he only turned his trunk upwards, he could have picked them off as though they were little birds.
But he always did the same thing: he floundered blunderingly on through the forest, trumpeting, roaring, pulling up and tearing down everything within his reach, but never having sense enough to look above him. And so it was that he found it very difficult to get hold of the fire carriers, and he became madder and more full of rage than ever.
Even the herds of elephants were now getting afraid of him, although could they only have made up their gentle, docile minds to attack him he would have come to his end in no time.
But Indian elephants dislike warfare or disagreements, and often, even when severely wounded, will turn about and go away, not seeming to realize that a momentary pressure of one of their huge feet, or one straight blow with their tusks, would be more than sufficient to finish their enemies. More often than not the most an Indian elephant will do to his foe is to kick him from one huge foot to another until he is either dead or dying.
But from Rataplan, the Rogue, the other elephants preferred to keep aloof. Only once had a herd attempted to chase him, and this was when he had actually presumed to pay a little attention to the wife of its leader.
Then the leader, followed by the remainder of the herd, turned upon him, and for just once in his life Rataplan was frightened, and simply turned tail and ran—ran crashing and stumbling through the forest at a terrific speed, making the air resound with his trumpeting.
Had it not been that the dense forest was suddenly broken by a river, it would indeed have gone hard with him.
For an instant Rataplan thought he would stop—for, although elephants are beautiful swimmers, they are not particularly fond of the sport— but only for a moment; for the herd was close behind him and pressing him, and the leader could almost reach him with his trunk. Into the water dashed Rataplan, throwing up a mountain of spray which sprinkled the whole herd, and for a few moments he was lost to sight.
After the spray cleared away his huge form, with his trunk held high in the air, could be seen swimming easily and steadily towards the other side, and after a little conference with the herd the leader decided to let him go. But, as Rataplan knew only too well, woe betide him if ever he met that herd again.
And so it was that Rataplan, the Rogue, congratulated himself that so far he had never been caught, neither had any other elephant been able to hurt him.
But on this particular day he was very miserable and very lonely, and he had a restless, uneasy, wild feeling which inclined him to something daring. He was sick and tired of trying to catch the silly things that carried fire; he was tired of the forest; he was tired of himself. He felt more irritable, restless and evil-natured than ever, and as he stood there, swaying heavily from side to side and waving his trunk about him, he was a very miserable elephant indeed.
If he had only known it, one of the silly, little things who carried the fire had been watching him for some time.
Rataplan had been keeping very still for an elephant, but there is a certain sound which he and all his brethren make, unknown to themselves, and over which they have no control. This is a curious, little, bubbling noise which is caused by the water which is stored up in their insides in case of emergency; and this little bubbling noise had been heard by the fire-carrier.
He watched the huge beast with interest, and knew by his restless manner and the wicked look in his small eyes that he was in about as dangerous a state as it is possible for an elephant to be, and he made his plans accordingly.
He was very busy for a few minutes with some long, thick ropes, which had a heavy noose at each end. The ends of these ropes he fastened carefully to some heavy trees, and then he went quietly away. The little fire-carrier was a Mahout, hunter or rider, who was trained in the capture of elephants, and he felt sure that if Rataplan would only stay where he was a short time longer he would be able to catch him.
So he went away and looked carefully at his Koomkies.[Footnote: Female elephants which are trained for the purpose of catching wild elephants.—Author.] He had some particularly good ones just then, and they one and all turned their large, gentle heads towards him and awaited his pleasure. For they loved the chase, and entered into it with as much interest as he did himself.
As a rule he sent several koomkies out together, but on this occasion he decided to send only one.
This was Kinka, a gentle and tractable, little Indian elephant, who was well versed in the chase, and who was about as pretty and graceful as it is possible for a koomkie to be.
The mahout talked to her and patted her, and Kinka seemed to quite understand, nodding her head wisely, and touching his face and shoulders gently with the tip of her trunk.
When he had finished and began to lead her out she made a quiet, little trumpeting noise, which signified how delighted she was to go.
The mahout did not trouble himself about Kinka, once he had let her go. She knew her business and was about as deep and crafty as any mahout could wish. He selected his strongest little horse and followed her.
Kinka went quietly and steadily through the forest, making straight for the place where Rataplan was still standing, moodily moving his head to and fro.
Once within sight of him she put on a careless, coquettish air, and began to move carelessly towards him, plucking leaves and grass as though perfectly oblivious of his presence.
Rataplan suddenly stopped moving his huge head, and his wicked little eyes were bent on her with scrutiny and interest. He was not, however, going to be caught so easily. He did not care for society in any shape or form, not even the society of a koomkie, so he took no notice of her, but, after a few minutes' quiet contemplation, turned his head the other way.
Kinka, however, was not to be daunted. Still plucking little twigs and delicate buds and knocking them carefully and fastidiously against her forelegs in order to shake off any little fragment of dust that might have stuck there, she made her way steadily towards him, and as Rataplan, even then, took not the slightest notice she became bolder, and, trotting quietly up to him, began caressing him with her trunk and making several other endearing signs which were enough to melt the heart of any elephant under the sun.
Rataplan's heart was not exactly melted, but he was evidently interested and touched by the delicate attentions, and he became a little less morose and a little less moody; he even moved out of the tangled mass of undergrowth in which he had been standing, and deigned to talk to her a little bit; and Kinka made herself just as interesting as she possibly could.
Soon Rataplan began to forget his hatred of company, his dislike of his fellow-creatures; he began even to forget his evil thoughts and his mad rage, and he was just beginning to think what a nice, little elephant Kinka was when he felt, sharp pulls at his feet.
The next instant there was such a sudden pull on all his legs that, with a huge thud Rataplan found himself lying on the ground. With one furious cry of rage he did his best to turn, displaying a flexibility of body and limb which was quite astonishing in so clumsy an animal.
Rolling on the ground and uttering more cries of rage, it suddenly occurred to him to ask the nice, little elephant to help him. But alas! the nice, little elephant, Kinka, was nowhere to be seen.
Having done her duty and treacherously inveigled him in to the snare, with a little, triumphant wave of her trunk and a funny, little, trumpeting noise she had marched with a sort of "conquering hero" air back to her stable, there to tell the other koomkies of her prowess and successful capture.
In vain Rataplan butted the tree nearest to him with all his huge strength; it never moved, scarcely even shook, and he rolled again on the ground in despair. He wound his trunk round and round one of the ropes, doing his best to break and split it, but the rope was good and strong and only squeaked dismally.
He shrieked and roared, writhed and turned, until the forest re-echoed with his cries, and the cruel ropes cut into his ankles, making deep, red wounds which stained the ground all round his feet.
After a time his shrill cries of rage developed into hoarse moans of humiliation and despair.
All that night and the next Rataplan was left there. The ropes cut deeper and deeper into his poor, swollen ankles, his body getting fainter and fainter for want of food. But he was not a Rogue elephant for nothing, and would not give in.
In vain a whole lot of koomkies were brought out to try and induce him to follow them into the keddah; he was not to be tempted, and tore and strained at his ropes to such a degree that the mahout feared he would make wounds that could never be healed; so he took away the koomkies and waited yet another night.
The third night the koomkies were brought out again, this time with Kinka at their head. But the sight of Kinka nearly drove Rataplan mad; he strained and tore at the ropes, trumpeting and roaring, until even the koomkies were frightened. Could he only have got at Kinka, he would have torn her limb from limb. But although he stretched to his utmost, and his hind legs went out behind him in the struggle, he could not get near her.
The mahout was getting troubled, for Rataplan's ankles were now in such a state as to make him almost valueless, and he knew, even did the elephant give in now, it would be months before they were healed, if indeed they ever healed at all.
Yet another long, weary day and night did poor Rataplan lay there, getting weaker and weaker and suffering untold agonies caused by those cruel ropes.
He had by this time torn his ankles so fearfully that they were all ulcerated, and stiff from lying on the ground. To add to his misery, he had caught violent inflammation in his eyes.
The mahout realized that unless he got him into the keddah soon he would be of no use at all, and once more did his best with koomkies and dainty bits of food to tempt him to follow into the keddah.
But still Rataplan would not give in: his body was weak and getting visibly thinner, but his spirit was as strong, as wild and as unbreakable as ever.
There was a consultation among the mahouts, and it was decided, as he was still so savage, there was nothing to be done but to leave him yet one more day.
But the next day Rataplan presented a piteous sight. His poor ankles were swollen enormously; his eyes were so inflamed that he was quite blind, and, to make matters worse, the mahouts saw that he was suffering now from the Ceylon Murrain.
There was nothing to be done then but kill him.
It had been a wet night which had made his poor, ulcerated ankles as bad as they could be, and the pain in his eyes was maddening. Suffering from the murrain, too, it was far too dangerous to take him among other elephants, and so the end of Rataplan, the Rogue, was that, in spite of his grand physique, his unbreakable spirit, and his indomitable patience, he was actually shot by the very things he had despised all his life—those silly little things that carried guns.
And Kinka, when she knew that he was dead, was not even sorry. She only gave a triumphant little trumpeting as she thought of the triumph of her capture.
And so no one grieved for Rataplan, no one cared or thought about him. But then we must not forget that he was and always had been Rataplan, the Rogue.
GEAN, THE GIRAFFE
A tall, stately, gentle creature, standing about eighteen feet high.
A pretty, graceful head; large, tender, dark eyes; a beautiful, tawny coat, covered with rich, dark spots; a long neck; a rather short body, measuring about seven feet in length; slender, shapely legs, terminating in feet with divided hoofs; and a long tail, ending in a wisp of dark-colored hair, which was a splendid thing with which to whisk off the flies.
This was Gean, the Giraffe, and she belonged to a tribe which boasted of the fact that they were the tallest of all animals. But they were not aggressive about it at all, for giraffes are the most modest and gentle creatures to be found anywhere. They are quiet and inoffensive in all their ways and movements, shy and timid to a degree, and so cautious and wary that it is extremely difficult to get near them in their wild state.
Gean was just as timid and wary as the rest of her tribe; indeed, she was peculiarly so, for she had been unfortunate enough to lose her mother when quite young, and, deprived of that mother's care and protection, she had experienced some very narrow escapes from many kinds of dangers and difficulties, and these had made her suspicious of every fresh object she came across. There were times when she was really too cautious, and would not accept friendly overtures from strangers of her own kind.
There was another young giraffe about the same age as herself, who had come to see her several times lately, and, although he was a fine, handsome animal and stood nearly two feet taller than Gean herself, she would have nothing to do with him. Not even when he took the trouble to reach up his long neck[Footnote: although a giraffe's neck is so long, it has exactly the same number of vertebrae as all other mammals—seven—but each vertebra is exceptionally long.—Author.] and, stretching his tongue out to its full length—about eighteen or twenty inches—break off a tender, young branch of the "camel-thorn," which is a sort of acacia tree and considered a great dainty by giraffes, and offer it to her. Gean was very independent, as well as shy, and much preferred to pick leaves and blades of grass for herself.
Groar took it all very well; he was disappointed, of course, but he preferred a young giraffe that was shy, and knew he should value her all the more if he had a little trouble and difficulty in winning her. So he waited patiently, hoping that some day he would have an opportunity of distinguishing himself, and the day arrived much sooner than he expected.
Gean was pacing slowly up and down the open plain one day, but keeping pretty close to the low woods—for she avoided the high forest, not being able to keep as good a lookout there for her two greatest enemies, men and lions—when she suddenly scented danger. It was a long way off, it is true, but Gean had a very keen sense of smell. Not being with any herd at present, Gean was accustomed to look after herself, and generally managed to keep clear of enemies, although, as I told you just now, she knew what it was to have very narrow escapes.
She was cautious enough not to stop walking, but kept slowly on, putting each foot down in a careful, dainty manner, and so softly that only the very faintest rustle could be heard, this being caused by the whisking to and fro of her tail, which made a curious little swish- swish as she moved. She took care, however, to look round in all directions, and, as her beautiful, round eyes projected in a peculiar manner, she was able to do this without moving her head at all. The only direction in which she could not look without turning her head was directly behind her, but this little difficulty was overcome by walking in a semi-circle for a few minutes.
Suddenly Gean saw the enemy. It was a full-grown lion, and he was creeping cautiously out of the underbrush in the wood close by. It was not often that lions came out by day, but Gean had passed close to this lion's lair, and the odor of such a dainty morsel as a giraffe was too much for the lion, who decided to make the most of his opportunity.
The moment Gean saw him, without moving her graceful, pretty head, she started off at full speed, and, although such a beautiful, graceful animal when still, or walking slowly, she certainly was awkward and ungainly when running. Her gait was clumsy and shambling, and, with her tail whisking to and fro all the time, she made an odd and undignified appearance. Her speed, however, made up for her ungainly movements, and for some time she outdistanced the lion by a long way. The lion was lazy, as usual, and, thinking he could easily overtake a giraffe, did not put forth his best speed. Consequently, he made the fatal mistake of allowing the giraffe a good start, and to his great surprise found he was losing ground.
But, lazy and indolent as the lion is, he can be energetic enough when he chooses, and so the King of Beasts gathered himself together, put forth his great strength and best speed, and very soon it was Gean who was losing ground, while the lion was gaining steadily.
Quivering with terror, and with her strength failing her, poor Gean began to feel hopeless. She could see the lion getting closer and closer, but not a sound did she make, for the giraffe is absolutely dumb, and makes no noise even when dying. On and on she went, trusting to her strong limbs, making curious, frog-like leaps and awkward, jumpy movements, her long neck rocking swiftly up and down as though pulled by some mechanical contrivance, and her tail swishing faster than ever.
She knew now she could not keep up much longer, and at last, realizing she must give up the race, turned suddenly round and faced her enemy, sending forth such a shower of strong, vigorous kicks that the lion was not only surprised, but completely bewildered. He hesitated but a moment, however, and then prepared to spring. Crouching down, with his huge head close to the ground, he watched his opportunity, for he had no relish for springing straight at those flourishing heels, and Gean took very good care to keep her head carefully out of his way, although she was quite prepared to give him a good blow with a sidelong swing of her-muscular neck. But she knew perfectly well that she could not keep this up more than another minute or two, and her beautiful, brown eyes were distended with fear, and her breath came thick and fast.
It would indeed have gone hard with her, but at that very moment Groar appeared on the scene, and, taking in what was happening at a single glance, he promptly went to the rescue. A shambling and clumsy object he looked, moving the fore and hind legs of the same side simultaneously, but in Gean's eyes at that moment he was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. She kept up her kicking until Groar came up to her, and then he joined in with might and main, nourishing his four feet in the very face of the lion and daring him to do his worst.
But the lion thought better of it. It was all very well tackling one giraffe, but to face four such pairs of heels was more than he cared about, and when Groar took him unawares in the midst of all the kicking by suddenly striking him a heavy blow with his neck, the King of Beasts concluded it was not a good time to prove his sovereignty, and, with a sulky growl, slunk off to his lair.
As soon as the lion turned his back, poor Gean sank down utterly exhausted, her small head waving wearily to and fro, her long, black tongue hanging out of her mouth, and her breath coming in short, painful gasps. Groar comforted her as well as he could, caressing her tenderly, and every now and then drawing himself up to his full height on the lookout for danger. He never left her until she was able to move slowly back to the low woods, and then only to gather for her some tender shoots of camel-thorn and mimosa, and any young, tender leaves he could find.
Gean took them all very gently, and seemed humbled and grateful, and when, a little later on, he suggested that she should let him always take care of her, she thought it over and finally concluded it would be a very nice arrangement. And so Groar took her home to his herd and introduced her to the leader—an old giraffe with a dark chestnut hide and a longer neck than any of the others—as his wife.
And Gean was very happy, for Groar was a good and kind husband, and very devoted to her, and she no longer had to be always looking out for danger, for Groar was always watching, and guarded her with the greatest care. He took her for long walks through the woods, where they found nice, fresh food, and saw that she had her share of it, but they picked and ate only a few leaves or blades of grass at a time, for it is a provision of Nature that giraffes shall feed in this way, as their digestion is extremely delicate.
In times of danger they would get close to a tree, lean their bodies against it, and then, putting their heads and necks under the branches, would be so completely hidden that sometimes the natives would mistake the giraffes for trees, and the trees for giraffes. Gean and Groar were more easily hidden than some of their cousins who lived in Northern Africa, for, being South Africans themselves, they were of a much darker color, and therefore not so noticeable.
It was in this way that they saved themselves one day, when, followed by hunters. These hunters were mounted on good, fleet horses, and had traced the pair of giraffes by their spoor, or footmarks. These footmarks were ten or eleven inches in length, pointed at the toe, and rounded at the heel, so that it was quite easy to find which way the giraffes had gone.
Accordingly, the hunters followed the spoor, which went across miles of rough, uneven ground—for giraffes know perfectly well that they always have the advantage on rough ground, being able to leap over obstacles without diminishing their speed—and finally led them to a wood.
Here the hunters paused, and, finding it impossible to ride through the thick growth, tethered their horses and left them in charge of some natives, while they, creeping cautiously forward, with guns in hand, tried to find out in which direction the animals had gone.
But this was a very difficult matter, for there were no footmarks now, owing to the thick undergrowth, and, moreover, the giraffes were on guard. For this was their great object in living in low woods; it was quite easy to see an enemy approaching.
Groar's long neck and small head had appeared at the top of some of the bushes just before the hunters entered the wood, and he knew perfectly well what it all meant. With a swift movement he withdrew his head, and, telling Gean to follow him, he led her to a nice, tall tree, and when she had settled herself comfortably, with her head under the branches, betook himself to another tree near by, and hid his own head in the same manner.
So wonderfully did the giraffes blend with the bark and foliage of the trees, that, although the hunters passed close by, they were unable to find them. Little did they think while moving cautiously along that the very animals they were looking for were silently watching them, with gentle eyes, from between the branches of trees quite close to them.
Not a muscle did either Groar or Gean move until they made quite sure the hunters had gone, and then, Groar declaring it to be quite safe, they withdrew their heads and necks from the branches, relaxed their stiffened limbs, and, moving their sloping[Footnote: The slope in a giraffe's back is caused by its elongated shoulder-blades. The fore and hind legs are exactly the same length.—Author.] backs from the trees, walked softly and quietly in another direction.
They were both so stiff from standing in the same position for so long a time that they were obliged to go slowly at first, and it was a very good thing they did so; for suddenly they came to a deep pit, so cunningly and cleverly hidden, that it was a great wonder Gean had not walked straight into it. The pit was nearly ten feet deep, and a hard bank of earth had been built from one side to the other, about six or seven feet high. Had Gean fallen into it, her forelegs would have been on one side of the wall and her hind legs on the other, and she would have been balanced in such a manner that, in spite of any amount of kicking and struggling, it would have been quite impossible for her to obtain a foothold, and she would have been obliged to stay there until the natives came and killed her.
As it was, she stopped just in time; but two such frights, in one day, were enough to make any giraffe nervous, and so they both rejoined the herd, and let the old leader keep guard while they had their evening meal in peace.
Gean wandered off a little way by herself that night, and, as she seemed to wish to be alone, Groar did not bother her, but kept a strict lookout all the time. And in the morning she called him to look at something, and this something was a soft, helpless, little, baby giraffe, with delicate limbs and small body, a funny, scraggy, long neck and small head, with the very same sort of gentle, pathetic eyes that Gean herself had.
And Groar thought it was the very finest baby he had ever seen, and was fonder and prouder of Gean than ever. As for Gean, she was sublimely happy, and was never tired of fondling and caressing her little one and attending to its many wants.
For it was a delicate baby, and for some time after its birth it seemed very doubtful whether it would live or not. But Gean tended and nourished it, kept it nice and warm, and in due course of time it grew strong and healthy.
And here we must leave Gean. She had a good home, plenty to eat, a kind husband and pretty little baby, and what more could any giraffe want?
KEESA, THE KANGAROO
The first thing that Keesa remembered was waking up in a dark, warm place, and feeling very hungry and a bit chilly.
With a little shiver he feebly gathered himself together and crept closer to the warm side of his small prison.
There was a curious something inside this warm part of his prison, which kept up a continuous, methodical beating, sometimes faster and sometimes slower, but never stopping.
Keesa did not think much about it then. His tiny, flexible, little mouth was seeking instinctively for something to satisfy his hunger, and, having found it, he troubled himself no further about the little, throbbing sound that never stopped. He was too young then to know that it was the beating of his mother's heart; but as he grew older he learned to regard it as a very barometer for danger signals. He knew that whenever it began to beat quicker than usual his mother was scenting danger; and that when it throbbed very, very quickly the danger had come, and was causing his mother great anxiety on his account.
All this he learned as he grew larger, but at this time he was only a few days' old; a tiny, soft, helpless thing, only about an inch and a half in length; and all he could do was just stay quietly in his mother's pouch—where she had carefully put him as soon as he was born—rest against her heart, and drink as much as he could.
He stayed in this nice, warm place for several months, and his weight increased so gradually that his mother did not notice it.
After a time, however, he began to find pouch-life rather monotonous, and so, one day, he poked his funny, little head out of the pouch and had his first peep at the world.
It seemed to be a very pleasant world, but he had no idea before that his mother was so big, or that she could hop such tremendous distances.
When he looked up at her he saw two little paws above him hanging down in just the position that a dog puts his paws when begging. Above these little paws he saw a small, graceful head, long and somewhat oval, with outstanding ears, soft, gentle eyes, and a flexible mouth, with cleft lips which opened every now and then and showed white but savage teeth which looked as though they could bite very sharply when their owner liked.
Having scrutinized his mother from below, Keesa turned his attention downwards, and then noticed what extremely long hind legs she had, and that she was sitting on them and her tail in a very comfortable manner.
Glancing instinctively round, Keesa saw that it was a very pleasant country, and that there were a good many others like his mother, sitting or moving softly about with long leaps, one and all keeping a sharp lookout for danger while munching the tender leaves and grass.
Once having had this peep at the world, Keesa became very interested in it, and every day poked his little head out of the pouch and watched his mother's proceedings.
One day, when she let herself drop on her forepaws to nibble the nice, green grass, Keesa, on peeping out, found his own mouth close to the ground. Out of mere curiosity he tasted a little bit of the herbage, sniffing it very carefully, first of all, with his funny little nose, and behaving, unknown to himself, in the way that all kangaroos behave when they first begin to eat green food.
Having tasted the grass, Keesa found it extremely good, and the very next day, when his mother dropped on her forefeet to feed, his head came out of the pouch and down went his little mouth too.
But this time out went one of his little, short, front paws and rested on the earth. One quick movement, and, to his astonishment, he found himself really in the world. Just for a moment he felt so terribly frightened that he leaped straight back into the pouch again, and his little heart beat as fast as ever his mother's did in time of danger.
But the next moment curiosity got the better of him, and he was so proud of himself in being able to move about so nimbly that he was out of the pouch again, and this time, not feeling half so frightened, hopped and skipped about until even his mother looked at him with surprise.
From that time Keesa always jumped out of his mother's pouch and ran about while she was feeding. He felt perfectly safe now, because at the least sign of danger all he had to do was to hop back again, pull down his small head and hide it, and everything was all right.
But as time went on Keesa began to realize that although. Australia is such a beautiful country the life of a kangaroo is full of danger.
Some peculiar beings called men had found out, it seemed, that the flesh of the kangaroo was very good eating; and once having realized this, they had no pity, but, whenever they wanted kangaroo flesh, hunted the animals and killed as many as they possibly could.
Once Keesa's mother, and a number of other kangaroos, were having a comfortable feed on the plain, when suddenly numbers of men called hunters came from all parts and attacked the poor kangaroos with spears, clubs and horrible fire things.
The poor animals looked wildly around with their pathetic eyes, and then swiftly and silently—for, like the giraffe, the kangaroo never makes a sound—tore backwards and forwards, wild and bewildered with fear, assailed on all sides by sharp arrows and spears, and by heavy things which struck terrible blows.
Only two kangaroos escaped at this dreadful time; they were Keesa's mother and another kangaroo mother, both of whom had fought fiercely and desperately for the sake of their little ones.
Away went the two kangaroos at breakneck speed, leaping from twelve to fifteen feet at a time. But the hunters were prepared for this, and in a few minutes the kangaroo dogs were after them.
This was a terrible time. The terror and agony of Keesa's mother communicated itself in some way to him, and he shivered inside his pouch half dead with fear.
On and on went the kangaroos, and close behind came the dogs. But the mother kangaroos, when too exhausted to run further, turned, only too ready to die, if need be, for their young ones.
Keesa's mother was fortunate enough to find a fairly large tree, and against this she put her back, her little nose and mouth working wildly and agonizingly, her sharp, little teeth showing fiercely, and her usually gentle eyes looking fierce and desperate.
Only two dogs had been sent after them: one faced Keesa's mother somewhat uneasily; the other followed the second kangaroo to the water's edge, only to be taken in her front paws and held under the water until he was drowned.[Footnote: A fact, and a common thing among kangaroos.—Author.]
Keesa's mother, meanwhile, faced her enemy bravely, and for a few moments the dog could not make up his mind to attack her or not. But as he wavered the hunters' voices were heard urging him on, and, with a fierce yelp and a quick leap, he flew at the kangaroo.
But Keesa's mother was prepared, and with a well directed blow from one of her hind feet her sharp, knife-like claws ripped him up, and the next moment he was lying on the ground panting his life away. The mother kangaroo waited no longer. She had done for her enemy, she must now look out for herself. A few long, swift strides and she caught up with the other kangaroo, and, having been told that the other dog was drowned, the two mothers went swiftly on, and on, and on, getting more and more weary with the weight of their little ones, for they were now growing very heavy, but never stopping until they reached a place where they knew they would be safe.
This was only one of the many adventures that Keesa, as a baby, went through, and he no longer wondered that his mother was always looking about with frightened eyes, as though dreading some new danger.
Keesa spent very little time in the pouch now, for he was nearly eight months old. After a while he did not care to stay in it at all, but he often went to it for a little drink. He was very much surprised one day, when he went to get that drink, to find another little head in the pouch, and another tiny, soft body nestled in the very place where he had so often nestled himself.
Keesa was a handsome kangaroo, somewhat lighter in color than his mother, swift and agile, healthy and strong, with long, well marked hind legs, a straight, strong tail, that acted as a sort of stool whenever he wanted to sit down, and nimble little forepaws on which he rested occasionally when he wanted to feed; at other times they hung down as his mother's had done the first time he had made her acquaintance.
There was one sad day when Keesa and his mother, with some kangaroo friends with whom they had become acquainted, were chased by men on horses. But the horses were not particularly good ones, and with their long, swift leaps the kangaroos got safely away.
All, alas! but Keesa's mother. She, like all of her tribe, was addicted to a habit of looking backward, still, she would have got safely away now, if, while running at her swiftest speed, she had not looked behind her to see how close the hunters were. As it was she leaped violently against a tree stump and killed herself.
Keesa had been very fond of his mother, and her death was a great grief to him, but he dared not stay, and so leaped on and on. Remembering her experience, he never once looked back or stopped until he had reached a place of safety.
After this Keesa had to shift for himself, but he was now a hardy animal and got on remarkably well.
His beautiful, light, tawny coat changed, as the cold weather came on, to a thick and woolly fur, which was very comfortable during the damp, cold weather. But, when the summer came again, the thick, woolly fur began to drop off and he resumed his summer coat once more.
By this time Keesa was a fully grown kangaroo, and very handsome. His coat was a beautiful, tawny brown mingled with grey; the tawny part predominating on the upper portions of his body, and the grey on the under part; his clean, well shaped, little forefeet were quite black, as also was the tip of his tail; and his small, well shaped head, with its bright eyes and quick, sensitive ears, not to speak of the mobile little mouth showing its occasional glimpses of white teeth, and his newly sprouted little whiskers, made him a typical specimen of a well- grown, well-built, male kangaroo.
He was a regular Boomer[Footnote: A Boomer is the only kangaroo which provides really good sport, and is much sought after and hunted for this reason. He is a dangerous foe to man and dog, and generally proves more than a match for them both. A boomer at bay is one of the most dangerous of animals, for he will not only attack the dogs, but the very hunter himself; oftentimes nearly cutting him to pieces with the terrible claws in his hind feet.—Author.] now, and prided himself on it. He had no fear of man or beast, and, although he had already afforded good sport in one or two hunts, he always had the best of it.
At one time he ran for fourteen miles at one stretch, and, although he hated swimming, on coming to a little stretch of sea, and being pressed by the hunters, in went Keesa, and, notwithstanding a fresh breeze, he got safely over, shook himself, and then fell into his long leaps again as though nothing had happened.
Altogether he covered nearly twenty miles that day, and, as he still seemed as fresh as ever and the land began to slope down, the hunters gave up the chase.
Had they been going up hill they might have caught him, for in going up hill dogs always gain on a kangaroo, and no one knew this better than Keesa; therefore it was only to be expected that he should deliberately lead the way to where the land was in his favor.
His leaps down hill were terrific, and the dogs, however much they tried, could not overtake him; and so Keesa always gained the day, and although he had many exciting hunts he was never caught.
Strong and healthy and hardy, he lived on, and lived up to his name of Boomer, and is still living in New South Wales to this day, with a gentle, brown-eyed wife and a little baby kangaroo, who peeps out of his mother's pouch just as Keesa himself used to do when he was a baby.
CARA, THE CAMEL
The hot, red sun was sinking behind the hard, straight outline of one of the sandy deserts of Arabia. The Arabs had pitched their tents, unloaded and fed their camels, and were now making their evening meal from dried meat and a preparation of camel's milk, which had been mixed with meal and then allowed to become sour.
Many of the camels were lying down—not that they were tired, for they had been taking their journey by easy stages, and among them were several with baby camels.
Cara was one of the babies, and an extremely ugly baby he was, for a thin body, long, spidery limbs, homely head and funny little tail gave him a curious, unfinished look.
Another baby was Camer. But she was as yet only an hour old, while Cara was a week and a day old, and stood three feet high on his thin legs. He was a sturdy little fellow in spite of his thinness, and had already given proof that he inherited the irritable, morose and grumbling nature of his race to a very marked degree; for from the first hour of his birth Cara had grumbled. Grumbled when his mother rested—as her kind master allowed her to do, for a few days after Cara's birth; grumbled when the Arabs and camels moved on; grumbled when any one touched him with a pat or caress, and grumbled when let alone. In fact, the only time when Cara did not grumble was when he took his meals, and this was simply because his mouth and tongue were occupied with getting his food.
At the present moment he was feeling very discontented indeed. He had rather enjoyed following the caravan, trotting by his mother's side, and, except that he had been getting hungry, would have kept on trotting for some time longer, but they had all stopped quite suddenly, and Cara's mother, instead of giving her baby his evening meal, had sunk down instantly on the sand, and with a series of grunts and groans settled herself comfortably for a good rest.
The Arabs had been very busy with their camels, and it was not until they had pitched their tents and settled to their supper that Cara had noticed with great astonishment that there was another baby camel a little way off. He began to wonder how it was they had not met before, and in his funny, camel-baby talk tried to speak to the newcomer; but Camer did not seem inclined for conversation. Her mother was lying down, and Camer was nestling as closely as possible to her with her odd-shaped little head almost hidden in the shaggy masses of woolly hair which grew on her mother's forelegs.
This annoyed Cara, and he pranced awkwardly about, making queer, discontented noises, until his mother, noting his restlessness, rose up, felt and caressed him with her long, cleft, upper lip, and allowed him to have the meal he longed for.
After the meal he found that Camer had risen up and was moving with feeble steps towards him. Cara at once went forward, and, after examining her with a superior air, gave a curious little grunt, which meant that he wished to be friends. Camer said she should like it, too, but here her mother, who was feeling irritable and nervous, thinking Cara was going to hurt her beloved one, came forward and gave him a good bite, to which Cara responded in true camel fashion by groaning and grumbling and making as much fuss as he possibly could.
But Camer comforted him in baby fashion by caressing him, and then went to her mother, who had lain down again. And this is how the friendship between Cara and Camer began.
The next day the Arabs once more packed up their tents, loaded their camels and continued their journey; very slowly and carefully, though, for the Arabs are invariably kind, thoughtful and fond of their camels; not like the Indian camel-owners, who, because they know they will receive payment for every camel that dies, sometimes purposely overload and ill-treat them.
Away they went over the desert, the camels swinging slowly, clumsily, and yet easily along, although many of them carried from five to eight hundred pounds on their backs, and had already been traveling for three days without water. But their backs were made for burdens, and their feet specially adapted to walking on the loose sand; for each of the broad toes had a soft, wide cushion, and this cushion enabled them to have a grasp on the sand, and at the same time kept them from sinking into it.
In his clumsy way, Cara trotted beside his mother, continually bumping against her as she walked slowly and heavily along, and having almost miraculous escapes from being kicked by the other camels. But he was getting stronger each day, and looked in amazement, not unmixed with contempt, at the new calf who had appeared the night before, and who was straggling feebly along, doing its best to keep up with the others. But the journey that day was a short one, for, as the sun grew hotter and hotter, Camer, the new calf, grew more and more feeble, and once more the Arabs dismounted and rested in the desert.
But as the days went on Camer gained strength, and in a week's time was as lively as Cara himself. They were great friends by this time, and played together in a most awkward and ungainly manner, but one which their mothers greatly admired. Their friendship and gambols continued for many happy months, and then the Arabs prepared for a long journey across the desert in another direction.
It took some time to prepare the camels. In the first place, their masters fed them until the humps on the camels' backs grew large, plump and fat. Then each camel was made to store as much water as its stomachs would hold, for a camel, like all ruminants, has four stomachs. Most of them could store as much as five or six quarts of water, which would last several days.
After this the camels were loaded, and this was what Cara and Camer enjoyed most of all. It was such fun to watch some camel, who was particularly ill-natured, kneel down with a series of groans and grumbles in deep, bubbling tones, open his mouth savagely whenever his master came near him, and do his best with his big teeth and flexible, cleft lips to catch hold of some part of his master's body. But grumbling was of no use. The loads were strapped on in spite of it, and when all the camels were carefully loaded the caravan started on its long, wearisome journey across the desert.
Cara and Camer rather enjoyed it at first. They had no loads to carry; had their usual good, warm food, and, what was better than all besides, youth and strength. But, on the second day, the heat grew appalling; not for the camels, for they love the broad glare of the sun, but for the Arabs, who, in spite of their hardihood, grew faint and weak as the sun, like a ball of fire, poured its scorching rays on the white, glistening sand.
Then came a curious silence: a silence in the midst of silence; so deep and intense that it could almost be felt, while the air grew red like blood, and in a moment, with one accord, masters, servants and animals threw themselves on the sand. The Arabs lay with their faces downwards and their cloaks thrown over their heads; the camels, not even stopping to grumble, stretched their necks straight out along the sand, closed their curious, oblique nostrils and lay absolutely motionless.
Cara's mother had often told him about this, and taught him how to close his nostrils when caught in a simoom. At first Cara wondered what had happened, and even when he saw his mother lay down and stretch her neck along the sand did not realize what it meant; but in another instant his mother had warned him, and as he lay down and closed his little nostrils he noticed a huge, curious cloud sweeping across the desert.
And that was all he did notice, for the next instant he felt scorched and suffocated, while a heavy weight was on his limbs and body and head. How long he lay there quivering all over with fright and gasping for breath he never knew, but he was aroused by the groans and grumbles of the camels and the cries of the Arabs. He struggled up at last, and for a moment thought he too had been loaded for a journey, for the simoom had covered him with a small mountain of sand.
After a few snorts and groans, Cara shook himself and looked round. Most of the camels were on their feet by this time, and their masters were preparing to go forward again. At last they started, but before they had gone many yards the caravan stopped to wait for a camel who had lingered behind and was making cries of distress.
It was Camer's mother. On the sand, lying in a limp, unnatural position, was Camer. No longer the bright, little baby-camel that Cara had known, but a quiet, inanimate thing, which neither answered nor moved in response to its mother's pitiful entreaties.
One of the Arabs, seeing that Camer was dead, tried to lead the mother away with gentle pats and caresses, but the mother-camel would not leave the little one. It was true that she had been thinking for the last few weeks of relaxing some of her motherly duties, and insisting on her baby getting its own food with the other camels, for Camer was then ten months old, and no mother-camel cares to keep her babies trotting after her for a much longer time than that.
But the sight of the little, dead body aroused all her motherly feelings, and she yearned after her baby as though it had just been born. In vain she fondled and caressed it; in vain she felt its head, its limbs, and the small body which was fast growing cold, but no response came to her motherly cries and no notice was taken of her tempting offers of food. The little camel lay limp and still, and when the Arab, finding that coaxing and caressing were of no use, tried harsh words, Camer's mother turned savagely on him and bit him through the arm.
The Arab knew camels too well to attempt further persuasion, and, with angry words, for his arm burned and smarted, walked off and left mother and baby in the desert. There was every probability that the mother-camel would starve to death, for, although able to eat the hard, sharp thorns which are found in the desert, and even pieces of dry wood or other hard substances which are found occasionally, the camel cannot live long on this sort of food. But there was nothing to do but leave the camel behind, and this the Arab did with much regret, not only for the loss, but because he loved the animal more than any other that he owned.
Cara grieved and fretted over the loss of his little companion, but his mother told him, in camel language, that had Camer's mother taught her to close her nostrils in a proper manner during a simoom, she would not have died. As it was, the hot, acrid sand had suffocated the poor little thing.
Cara listened to all this, but made the most of the opportunity for grumbling, and fretted, fumed and fidgeted until his mother gave him a sharp bite as a reproof. This was the first time Cara had ever been punished, but his mother was beginning to tire of him now, and, instead of liking him always near her, seemed much more satisfied when he wandered off with the other camels.
Then came an eventful day in Cara's life. This was when they reached the end of their long journey, and very thankful Cara was to get to it; for all the camels, in spite of their endurance, were weak and haggard for want of food and water. Five long, weary days had the poor animals carried their loads, going sometimes twenty-five to thirty miles a day, and all that time not one drop of water had they been able to get. Moreover, they scarcely looked like camels, for their nice, plump humps had almost entirely disappeared, and this was something that the Arabs noted with anxiety.
But, oh, how they grumbled and groaned! And how savagely their mouths opened at the least provocation! But their poor mouths and tongues were dry and cracked with the heat, and they extended and retracted their flexible lips in the vain effort to get a little moisture.
But the journey was over at last. Arrived at their destination, the camels sank wearily down, and once relieved of their burdens lay at full length, while the Arabs were bringing them food and drink.
Cara looked round in surprise; there were strange men and women about, and strange animals that he had not seen before. There was a great deal of noise, too, which he did not approve of, and he, himself, appeared to attract a good deal of attention. He was made to turn round and show himself so many times that at last he lost his temper completely, and snapped and snarled in the most savage manner. But finally a rope was thrown over his head, and he was led away, much against his will, by a strange man. Cara would not have gone at all, only that the cord around his neck hurt so much when the man pulled it, that he found that it was much better to follow him.
From that day Cara never saw his mother again. But as he had plenty of food in the shape of green vegetables and roots, and had a nice, comfortable place in which to lie down, Cara—I grieve to say—soon forgot all about his mother, and made himself perfectly at home in his new surroundings. He was quite happy—although he never forgot to grumble—as there were many young camels with him, and fine times they had together. But he often thought of Camer and her nice little ways.
So things went on until Cara was four years old, and then his troubles began, for he was no longer to be an idle animal, spending all his time in gamboling about, but was taught to wear first, a halter, then a bridle, and finally a thing was put on his back, which nearly frightened him to death. Not that it was so very heavy, but because he had never had anything on his back before, and he did not like the feeling of it. He made as much trouble as he possibly could, and grumbled to his heart's content, but it was of no use. The horrible thing turned out to be a saddle, which was strapped on in spite of kicks and groans and snappings of his strong, white teeth, and finally, finding that it was of no use, Cara gave in and carried his burden patiently, as all other camels do.
But all this training took some time, and it was not for another year or two that Cara was really of much use. But he was a particularly strong, well-grown young animal, and, in spite of his grumbling, was a valuable animal.
He reached his full growth when he was sixteen years old, and was then a fine specimen of an Arabian camel. He had good, broad feet, with well-developed cushions; sinewy limbs; a strong body, and a very fine hump, of which he was extremely proud.
He changed masters again at this time, and, to his astonishment, found that he was the chief camel, and was to carry the master of the tribe, preceding the others, attended by horses and servants. Cara now had a fine time of it. He had very little to do except to carry his master and a very handsome saddle. His journeys were short, and altogether he had about as easy a time of it as it is possible for a camel to have. His master was fond and proud of him, for he was wonderfully handsome for a camel and of abnormal size.
At one time he rendered his master a great service, for there had been a long drought, and no water could be found anywhere. Cara, however, had the acute sense of smell which all camels have, and one day when very thirsty broke out of his stable, and, smelling water about a mile off, set forth to get some. He was followed by some of the servants, who guessed what had happened, and, to their great joy, Cara led them to a spring of fresh water.
No doubt he would have lived to a good old age—say forty or fifty years—but that one day, breaking out of his stable again—a thing Cara was rather fond of doing—he wandered about, and, coming across a nice-looking, green plant, he promptly proceeded to eat it. But, alas! the nice-looking plant was a deadly poison called by the Arabs "camel poison," and, soon after eating it, Cara became very ill, and was scarcely able to get back with slow and weary steps to his comfortable stable, where, after a few short groans, he lay down and died.
And this was the end of Cara.
It was very sad, and his master shed bitter tears over his handsome camel. But, you see, it was Cara's own stupidity, for, like the rest of his tribe, he would always eat anything that was green, no matter where it grew or what it looked like.
SICCATEE, THE SQUIRREL
Poor Siccatee was in great trouble.
She had been very busy for some time past laying up food for the winter, and it had taken many weeks' hard work. She had selected the very best nuts, acorns, corn, berries and seeds, and all through the beautiful autumn days had scarcely rested for a moment, so eager had she been to lay in a good stock.
Not a single unsound, worm-eaten or empty nut had she allowed to go into her stores. She had taken each one in her little fore paws, looked it carefully over, turning and twisting it about and examining it from every point of view with her keen little eyes; and then, when she had made quite sure that it was a good one and perfectly sound, she had trotted off with it in her quick way, which was something between a hop and a gallop, and hidden it in a nice place at the root of some old tree, or in some cleverly hidden crevice.
Her husband had helped her as much as he could, and had contributed many dainties.
Their beautiful home was in a wood by the side of the sea, and the people in the big house at the bottom of the wood sometimes threw out dainties in the shape of fruit, scraps of meat and bread, and many kinds of berries.
But Siccatee herself was too frightened to go down on the beach, for she was a very nervous little thing. Sentre, her husband, was quite daring, and not easily frightened. They had worked very hard together, and their children, who were now getting quite strong and big, had done their best to help them. Only that morning Siccatee woke up feeling quite bright and cheerful, for she had accumulated nearly enough winter food for herself and her little ones; but then, that very afternoon, just as she was taking two big beechnuts to one of her secret hiding-places, she saw two Horrible Humans standing close to it.
Siccatee suddenly stopped, hugging the two nuts tightly to her breast with her funny little paws, and whisking her tail nervously up and down, making waves in the pretty, gray fur, while her nervous little mouth worked convulsively. For, oh, what should she do if they found her treasures?
Quick as a flash she bounded behind a tree, for, with her wonderfully quick eyesight and senses always on the alert, she scented danger in a moment.
Once behind a tree, nothing could be seen of Siccatee but her bright eyes and just the tip of her bushy tail. And even these were not noticed by the Humans.
After all, the Horrible Humans were only a little boy and a little girl. But, oh, what mischief they did in the next few moments! They seemed to be picking ferns and flowers, and for a few moments Siccatee hoped that they would pass her hoarding-place unnoticed. But, alas! just as they were turning away, the little boy caught sight of the hollow in the tree, and, having a boy's natural curiosity, he straightway went to investigate.
Siccatee's little heart beat and throbbed and thumped until she felt nearly suffocated. Her bright little eyes almost started out of her head with fear, and her tail waved, and waved, and waved—a true index of the agitation of its owner.
She remembered that she had hidden her treasures in the tree as far back as she could go, and had carefully covered them with some powdery earth. Perhaps they would think there was only earth in the hollow and not disturb it.
But in another moment the boy gave a scream of delight. For a moment Siccatee could not see what he was doing, as his body was bent over the hole. Then he suddenly stood up and called to his sister, and there, dragged out on the ground and strewn all about, was one of Siccatee's beautiful winter hoards!
She did not know herself, until she saw it thrown out, what a quantity of food she and her family had collected.
The Humans did not seem to want the things after all, for the boy kicked them about, which made Siccatee very angry. And the little girl, after picking them up, threw them down again.
It was so dreadful to see her precious treasures strewn about in this fashion, and kicked and bruised, that Siccatee, in spite of her self- control, gave a little, sobbing cry.
The children heard it, and suddenly caught sight of her, and then, oh, what a chase began! The boy began to throw stones and pieces of wood, and actually dared to throw some of her own nuts at Siccatee.
By this time she was at the top of the tree, and now her grief changed to anger—real anger—and she sat on one of the boughs and scolded as hard as she could. Her funny little "prit, prit, p-r-i-t," amused the children, and the more she scolded the more they laughed.
At last Siccatee grew disgusted and left that tree to go to another, and then another, and still another; springing such distances and at such a height that the children thought she would be dashed to pieces every moment. But not a bit of it. Siccatee, like all squirrels, was very sure-footed, and rarely made a false step. If, by any chance, she should loose her foothold, she would spread out her legs and funny, bushy tail, drop lightly to the ground and bound away as though nothing had happened. But she took care not to lose her foothold now, with those Horrible Humans so near. All she thought about was to get away from them as quickly as possible, and to lead them away from her other hiding-places.
Luckily they had found but one. She had several others near the big tree—for this was her home tree, and there she and her husband had lived for two or three years, and reared several families.
But while all this was going on, Siccatee called to her husband, and in a very few minutes he joined her. He was much bigger than Siccatee and not so nervous, and on hearing what had happened flew into a great rage, and dared and defied his enemies in the same way that his wife had done—that is, by sitting on a bough and scolding them.
The children pelted the two squirrels with everything they could find, but they dodged so quickly and so cleverly that not a single thing touched them.
But after a time the children grew tired of throwing stones and sticks, and as it made their necks ache to look up so high, they gave up the chase and went home, and that was the last that Sentre and Siccatee saw of them for a long time.
But this unpleasant incident had upset them both very much, and when their children joined them a few minutes later, they gave them many warnings and cautions about always keeping a sharp lookout for danger.
At last all ventured down, and, while keeping a sharp lookout with their bright little eyes, gazed on the ruin the children had wrought. Fortunately, it was not the most valuable of their hoards, for it contained no eggs or insects.
After much consultation and discussion, the squirrels decided not to use this hiding-place again—at any rate, not that winter—for it would never do to run the risk of having it disturbed a second time.
So they set to work, found a nice crevice in a big rock, and worked hard all day long collecting another store.
Siccatee would not allow her family to eat too many nuts just then. She knew that the time was coming when young birds, mice and insects would be very scarce. So she impressed it upon them to make the very most of their time, and eat as much of that kind of food as they could get. They might have a nut or two, occasionally, she said, and meanwhile she would teach them the proper way in which to eat a nut or an egg.
Siccatee had found an egg in some hay in a little wooden hut, next to the house at the foot of the wood, and this she had carried very carefully to one of her stores. She considered that this would be a good time to teach her children—there were two of them, fine young specimens of American squirrels—their first important lesson.
So she stood up, holding the egg firmly with her fore paws, then, with a crisp snap of her sharp little teeth, she broke the shell, and cleverly sucked out the inside of it; not all, because she wanted her little ones to taste and see how good an egg really was. And very good they thought it—so good that in a few moments the egg was empty and the two young squirrels were quarreling over the shell. But Siccatee soon settled that by a scolding and several sharp pats.
But she had not finished her lesson yet, and next showed them how to eat a nut. She held the nut very much in the same way that she had held the egg. First of all, she bit off one end of the nut with her teeth, then broke away the rest of the shell, carefully pulling off the little brown husk on the kernel, then munched it in her funny little way as though it was the greatest dainty she had ever tasted.
The young squirrels grew quite excited over this, and kept breaking and peeling nuts until their mother told them they had had enough, and sent them off to bed for the night.
Soon after this winter suddenly appeared, covering the earth and trees and bushes with a thick, white mantle—so thick and white that all the paths in the woods were hidden and all the trees and bushes looked alike, but Sentre and Siccatee and their children knew their home, and, having wonderful memories, never made a mistake about finding either their home or their stores of food.
Some of their storehouses were quite a distance off, and in various directions, but never by any chance did either Sentre or Siccatee forget where they were. And, although the soft, white mantle had covered all the little hiding-places, neither were in the least uneasy, but, when one or the other wanted something for dinner, they trotted off lightly and nimbly, making straight for one of the hoards; scratching away the snow, and having taken out a few nuts, or berries, or dried scraps of meat, or bread, scrambled off to eat it at his or her leisure.
It was a very hard winter, and had it not been that these little American squirrels were such good housekeepers they would have fared very badly, and their young ones would probably have died from cold and want. But they had plenty of food and a nice, warm nest—the very same nest in which they had lived for several seasons.
This nest was made of leaves, moss, grass, little twigs, hair, feathers, little scraps of wool which the sheep had thoughtfully left on the brambles—anything, in fact, that was soft, and comfortable, and warm. It was woven so carefully that neither rain nor snow could get into it, and was so firmly wedged in its place that no wind could blow it away. Therefore, when they had all taken a little exercise, had a good meal, and trotted home again, they nestled down in their warm, cozy home, and were just as happy as they could be.
But when Christmas was over and January had come and gone, the young squirrels got restless and tiresome, and began to behave very badly— so badly that sometimes they did not come home for a couple of nights and days, and at last they went away altogether.
But the parent squirrels did not seem to mind it, and it was rather a relief to be quiet and peaceable, and not have so much noise and quarreling, and as Mother Earth was beginning to look green again, Sentre and Siccatee felt very happy and were scarcely ever apart.
They began to find mice, young birds and insects again, and very glad they were, for they were tired of dried roots and odd scraps.
All that spring they were very busy, as usual, for squirrels always seem to be busy, no matter what time of the year it may be. They are busy in the spring getting ready for the little baby squirrels; busy all the summer attending to them and feeding them; busy all the autumn collecting their winter stores, and busy all the winter finding their food and teaching their children the manners and customs of squirreldom.
As the spring went on the two squirrels grew more busy, if possible, than ever, and by the beginning of summer, in the old nest which they had done up and renovated, were four, tiny baby squirrels, and both Sentre and Siccatee were fully convinced that they were finer babies than they had ever had before. They both took the greatest care of them all through that summer, and when autumn came round once more began the same thing over again—collecting food for the winter and teaching their little ones how to eat eggs and nuts; how to climb trees, and leap from bough to bough, and how to drop in time of danger on their outspread little feet and bushy tails, and so save themselves from injury.
And, curiously enough, one day Siccatee came across the same Horrible Humans that had caused her so much trouble the year before. They were both a little taller and broader, but that they were the same there could be no doubt. Siccatee found out that they came to the house at the foot of the hill every year, and very sorry she was, for it was only last year that they had spoiled one of her best storehouses.
This year something far more terrible happened. Of all her four children, Siccatee loved best of all little Graycoat, who was certainly a very beautiful baby squirrel. He was so soft and fluffy; had such a beautiful, silvery gray tail; such pretty, delicate feet and limbs, and neat, small head, with bright little eyes that were never still for a single moment.
Now, Graycoat was fond of wandering off by himself—being a bit of a dreamer—and one beautiful day he happened in some extraordinary way to jump right into the lap of one of the Humans, who were sitting there in the woods.
It was the lap of the little girl, and in an instant she had thrown her apron over Graycoat and he was a prisoner.
In vain he cried and shrieked for his mother, and in vain she answered from the bough above, chattering and scolding and calling him beseechingly in most piteous tones. But the little girl kept tight hold and carried poor Graycoat to the house at the foot of the hill, and here, after being petted and stroked, and looked at until he was nearly dead with fright, Graycoat was put into a horrible prison with iron bars; and although he climbed and climbed and worked hard all day, he never seemed to get any further up and could see no chance of getting out. The children, wishing to be kind, but not realizing how dreadfully cruel it was to keep him in the cage at all, put his little prison out on the veranda, and it was with an aching heart and tears of agony that Siccatee saw her beloved little one shut up in that cruel cage.
She crept close and talked to Graycoat in a soft, guttural tone, and when night drew on, and all was still and silent outside the house, Siccatee would go to the prison and bite and gnaw with her little teeth, and scratch with her little paws, straining every nerve in her poor little body to set her darling free.
Graycoat's poor little heart would beat with hope every time his mother came, and, when she hopped swiftly and softly away in the early morning, Graycoat's little heart would sink again, and he would send forth a pitiful little cry after his mother—a cry that went to her very heart.
From the time that Graycoat was taken prisoner Siccatee scarcely ate or slept. Carefully hidden behind the nearest tree, her bright little eyes would peep out, and her soft tail wave up and down while she watched every action and incident in the new life of her little one.
As night crept on, she would once more steal forth to the cage, and try again and again at the same useless, hopeless task of breaking those cruel bars.
She had not forgotten her other children, but she knew they could now look out for themselves, had plenty to eat, and a good, comfortable home in the old tree. So she paid little attention to them, and devoted all her thoughts and energies to her unfortunate, little Graycoat.
Then came one cold, frosty night—so cold that the poor little baby squirrel shivered and shook as though with an ague. Siccatee sat as close to the bars of the prison as she could sit, and did her best to warm Graycoat with the heat from her own little body. But Graycoat missed the nice, warm nest in the tree, and although the side that was nestling against his mother was fairly warm, his other side felt cold and stiff.
In fact, he felt stiff all over, for the unnatural life, the different food, the cruel prison bars, and last, but not least, the cold, frosty night were too much for him, and quite suddenly he left off leaning against his little mother, and lay on the floor of his prison cold and stiff.
Poor Siccatee was in great distress. She ran round and round the cage, calling him, scolding him and beseeching him to speak to her. Her bright eyes were full of tears, and her poor little body shook with cold and distress.
In vain she put first one tiny paw through the cage and tried to arouse him, and then the other. It was no use. Graycoat neither moved nor answered, and at last with a pitiful little cry Siccatee lay down by the cage, put one little paw through the bars as though in a last appeal to her darling, and, shivering with cold and anguish, drew one long sobbing breath, and lay just as still as Graycoat.
And when the children came in the morning, they were greatly surprised and deeply distressed to find two dead squirrels—one baby squirrel inside the cage, and one mother squirrel outside.
But even then they did not seem to realize how dreadfully cruel they had been in suddenly taking away a wild, free creature from the fresh, open air, beautiful woods and trees, and, best of all, joyous freedom, and putting him in a tiny, narrow cage, where there was only just room enough for him to turn round.
They could not realize that nothing they could do or give him could ever make up to the active, little creature the loss of his beautiful, woodland home and his free life.
LEO, THE LION
Leo was a full-grown, African lion, and one of the finest specimens of his race. Not only was he the king of beasts, but he was the king of all other lions for miles and miles around the country in which he lived.
From a little, tawny cub, when he had played and frolicked with his brother and sister, he had given proofs of his extraordinary strength. His mother had at last decided he was too rough to play with the others, so bruised and knocked about were they on more than one occasion after romping with him.
The muscles of his thick paws and sturdy limbs stood out like knotted cords even as a cub; his claws cut like little sickles, and his hard, rope-like tail could give a blow that would knock his brother or sister head over heels.
As he grew up he gave promise of the magnificent animal he eventually became. Added to his wonderful strength he had marvelous daring, even for a young lion, being absolutely fearless.
Long before his mane had fully grown the other lions stood in awe of him; for, although at times he was indolent and lazy, like the rest of his kind, and would not exert himself unless obliged to do so, there were other times when he allowed nothing to stand in his way.
His favorite food happened to be buffalo and giraffe, and although they were both extremely troublesome things to get hold of, Leo cared not. He liked buffalo and giraffe, and he intended to have them. The other lions would never go out of their way if they could get an antelope or a jaguar, because they were easy to strike down and were very good eating; but to obtain a buffalo or a giraffe meant running long distances, and this is what a lion does not care to do.
With his great strength he can give tremendous springs, but, owing to his indolent nature, he dislikes a long-continued race, which is apt, before it is finished, to be somewhat tiring, even to a lion.
Buffaloes and giraffes are made for running and think nothing of it, but the lion is built in a different manner, and, moreover, he knows that these animals are so wonderfully quick of hearing that they generally obtain a good start to begin with.
But Leo cared nothing for this: if he wanted a buffalo he had it, even if he raced half the night through for it. As a matter of fact, the longer the race the more he enjoyed the feast. What could be nicer than, after racing for miles after a nice, fat buffalo, to pull it down with his strong paws, to tear open its throat, and drink the warm blood?
Sometimes he ate a part of the flesh, but not always; he was somewhat fastidious, and so that he had the warm blood, he more often than not left the carcass for the wolves and hyenas, or any other animal who cared to have it.
There was perhaps even more delight in obtaining a giraffe than a buffalo. For a giraffe can skim over the ground at an amazing pace—so swiftly, so silently, that not a sound can be heard except the soft, gentle swish of its funny little tail.
The stately carriage of the giraffe does not appeal to the lion, and the graceful neck, with its pretty head and round, gentle eyes, has no effect on him; all he thinks of is the tender flesh and delicate flavor which belong peculiarly to a giraffe.
There is no struggle as with the buffalo when the lion springs upon the giraffe. There is no roar or noise of any kind, for the giraffe is absolutely dumb, and makes no sound even when dying.
But Leo was fastidious even about the giraffe: he only ate the parts he liked best, and left the rest for the lower animals.
At other times, when the indolence of his nature overcame him, Leo would content himself with a young antelope or any other animal which was easy to capture. When food was scarce he would use the lion's tactics to get it.
In the first place, he would be very careful to go against the wind, so that the peculiar odor, which all animals that belong to the cat tribe have, should be blown behind him, and so not convey any warning to the animals he was approaching. If he failed to find anything, he would resort to tactic number two. He would put his huge mouth close to the ground and roar, moving his head in a half-circle all the time; by doing this it was impossible for the animals to tell from which direction the sound came, and, wild with terror, the foolish creatures would rush out in all directions, very often into Leo's very mouth.
After this he would creep indolently back to his comfortable lair and have a good, long sleep. For sleep is one of a lion's greatest enjoyments. He sleeps after a night hunt; sleeps during the heat of the day; in fact, when there is nothing else to do, and whenever he has an opportunity. Belonging to the cat tribe, he has the cat's love of sleep and ease very strongly developed, and is about as indolent an animal on occasion as can be imagined.
When Leo was fully grown he was a magnificent animal, and even the other male lions stood in awe of him. He looked what he was—a very king of lions, when, after a long sleep, he rose up in all his majesty of strength, shook his magnificent mane and lashed his tail, with its curious little black tuft, to and fro as though eager for a fight.
He was acknowledged by all his brethren, almost before he had reached his maturity, to be the king of them all; and Leo took the honor as a matter of course, and kept up his reputation to the very letter.
He was the terror of the villagers by night, for he had already become known, and the animal creation lived in deadly fear of him.
He would stalk into the villages in the coolest and most daring manner, passing under the very noses of the guns, take up some lamb or sheep or other small animal, and walk coolly off with it, growling in his most impudent manner the while. In vain did the guns blaze forth fire and smoke; in vain were traps set in all directions. Leo was not to be caught: he eluded them all, and went his way, and became more and more a living terror and a dread.