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Title: Wilderness Babies
Author: Schwartz, Julia Augusta
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Internet Archive)



[Illustration: THE SQUIRREL.

“They sat on the branches with their bushy tails curving over their
backs.” _Frontispiece. See page 104._]



  Wilderness Babies

  By
  Julia Augusta Schwartz

  _Illustrated from Drawings by John Huybers
  and from Photographs_

  School Edition

  Boston
  Little, Brown, and Company



  _Copyright, 1905, 1906_,

  BY LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY.

  _All rights reserved_


  Printers

  S. J. PARKHILL & CO., BOSTON, U. S. A.



CONTENTS


                                              PAGE

  INTRODUCTION                                  ix

     I. THE ONE WITH A POCKET                    1

    II. THE ONE THAT EATS GRASS IN THE SEA      17

   III. THE BIGGEST ONE                         27

    IV. ONE OF THE FLEETEST                     43

     V. THE BEST BUILDER                        57

    VI. THE TIMID ONE                           77

   VII. THE ONE WITH THE PRETTIEST TAIL         93

  VIII. ONE THAT SLEEPS ALL WINTER             107

    IX. THE WISEST ONE                         121

     X. THE FIERCEST ONE                       135

    XI. THE ONE THAT DIGS THE BEST             149

        CONCLUSION                             161



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


  THE SQUIRREL
    “They sat on the branches with their bushy tails curving
    over their backs”                                     _Frontispiece_

  THE OPOSSUM                                                       PAGE
    “In a few minutes another and another baby followed
    the big brother and clung there on the mother’s
    furry back”                                                        5

  THE MANATEE
    “The old mother manatee held him close to her”                    19

  THE WHALE
    “The old mother whale came tearing back to the rescue”            39

  THE ELK
    “Grazing over the upland meadows”                                 48

  THE BEAVER
    “Across the pond to feast in the woods”                           65

  THE RABBIT
    “It was pleasant there in the underbrush of the woods”            84

  THE FOX
    “Now and then the fox stopped to listen”                         131

  THE WOLF
    “It was the father wolf coming in”                               137

  THE MOLE
    “The greedy young ones shoved and pushed and fought
    as if they were starving”                                        152



INTRODUCTION


THIS book tells the stories of some of the baby mammals of the
wilderness,—how they grow and learn day by day to take care of
themselves. In hollow trees or down under water among the lily leaves,
in the cool sea or on the rugged mountains, on the grassy plains or
among the waving tree-tops, in the dark caves and burrows or hidden in
the tangles underfoot,—all the world is alive with young creatures.

Bright eyes glitter and small paws patter, little noses sniff the
air and sharp ears twitch. There is a rustling of leaves above and a
crackling of twigs below, a splashing in the swamp and a silent bending
of the grasses. In the sunshine or the rain, in the daytime or at
night, life is busy everywhere on this beautiful old earth.

All the mammals are alike in having hair on some part of their bodies,
in having teeth at some time in their lives, and in feeding the young
with milk. But there are many, many kinds of mammals, of different
shapes and sizes and colors. There are all sorts of babies, from the
tiny mouse that could sleep in an eggshell to the big baby whale, twice
as long as an ox. Some can swim like fishes; others can fly like birds.
Some dig homes under the ground; others make their nests in hollow
trees or caves. Some live in the mountains and some on the plains. Some
live in the woods and some in the sea. Some eat grass, and others eat
flesh; some eat nuts, some eat fruit, and some eat anything they can
find.

Many of the mammals are alike in some ways. Squirrels and mice have
strong teeth to gnaw with; the cow and elk eat grass and chew a cud,
and the bear, wolf, and fox eat flesh.

Those mammals that are most alike are said to belong to the same order.
For example, every animal with hoofs belongs to the Order of Hoofed
Mammals. Every animal with four gnawing teeth in the front of its mouth
belongs to the Order of Gnawing Mammals. Every animal that lives on
flesh belongs to the Order of Flesh-Eating Mammals.

There are eleven of these groups, but the animals of North America
belong to only eight of them. All the animals in the first group have
pouches or pockets, of their own skin, in which to carry the young.
The opossum belongs to this Order of Pouched Mammals. When he is a baby
he is carried around in his mother’s furry pocket. Later he learns to
hang by his feet and tail to a branch while he eats fruit. At night he
trots through the woods and roots for insects with his pointed nose.

The manatee belongs to the Order of Sea-Cows. Sea-Cows are fishlike
creatures that eat vegetable food in the sea or in rivers. The fat baby
manatee lies in his mother’s arms as she balances herself on the end of
her tail in the water. He learns to crawl about on the sandy bottom and
munch water-plants.

The whale belongs to the Order of Whales. Though he lives in the deep
ocean and looks like a monstrous fish, he is really a mammal. He has
warm blood and a few bristles for hair. The baby whale is fed on milk
at first. When he grows older he is taught to catch and eat water
animals.

The wapiti, called the American elk, belongs to the Order of Hoofed
Four-Foots. They eat grass and chew the cud. The story of an elk
roaming over the mountains is almost the same as the story of any of
the swift deer family.

The beaver and the squirrel and the rabbit belong to the Order of
Gnawers. The beaver cuts down trees with his strong teeth, and builds
dams and houses of sticks. The squirrel scampers along the branches,
and sits up to nibble nuts in the shadow of his own bushy tail. The
rabbit scuttles over the ground from one hiding-place to another, in
his daily search for green grass and tender twigs to eat. Rats and mice
are also Gnawers. Indeed, there are many more animals in this Order
than in any of the others.

The bear and the wolf and the fox belong to the Order of Flesh Eaters.
They are all mighty hunters. The swift wolf, the tricky fox, and the
strong-armed bear all have many long, cutting teeth to tear their prey
to pieces.

The mole belongs to the Order of Insect-Eaters. He lives underground,
and learns to dig with his shovel-like hands. When his pointed teeth
grow out he chases worms up and down and around, and gobbles them as
fast as he can.

The bats belong to the Order of Wing-Handed Mammals. The baby bat is
rocked to sleep in his mother’s wings. He learns to fly in the dark and
to hunt the swift insects that hover above the roads and ponds. When
winter is near he finds a gloomy cave. There he hangs, head downward,
by the hooks on his claws, and sleeps till spring brings the warm
weather again.

It is now countless years since the earth was new. It has changed from
a bare, hot gloomy ball, covered with black rocks and muddy water, to
a green, beautiful world. There are all kinds of living things in the
ocean. In the forests insects hum above the flowers; birds fly from
branch to branch; reptiles crawl beside the rivers. And everywhere—in
the air and beneath the ground, on the land and under the water—live
the mammals.

The opossum is the one with a pocket. The manatee is the only eater
of grass in the sea. The whale is the biggest of all animals. The elk
is the handsomest of the swift deer family. The beaver is the best
builder. The squirrel has the prettiest tail. The rabbit is the most
hunted by all its hungry enemies. The bear is the surliest one. The
wolf is the fiercest. The fox is the shrewdest. The mole can dig better
and faster than any of the others.



I

THE OPOSSUM

“THE ONE WITH A POCKET”



_Wilderness Babies_



THE ONE WITH A POCKET


FOR days and days the new baby opossums lay crowded close together in
their mother’s furry pocket. They slept and drank milk, and grew and
grew till their eyes began to open. It was dark all around them, but up
above their heads a faint gray line showed where light was stealing in
over the edge of the pocket.

The biggest baby opossum looked and looked with his little bright eyes.
He wanted to see more. So up he crawled, clambering over the soft, tiny
bodies of the eleven other babies. Some of them wriggled and squirmed
under his bare little feet. After slipping back once or twice he
reached the edge and poked his pointed white snout outside.

He could not see anything because he was under his mother, and her long
fur hung down over him. She was lying on a nest of grasses in a hollow
tree. That was where she stayed all day long when the sun was shining
without. Every night at dusk she climbed down the rough trunk and went
to hunt for something to eat.

When she felt the tiny claws of her baby clutching her fur she looked
down between her fore-paws at the little mouse-like fellow. Then with
her smooth pink hands she gently pushed him back into the pocket and
closed the opening. He was not big enough yet to come out of the warm,
dark nursery.

So for a week longer he cuddled down beside the others, while they all
slept and drank more milk and grew stronger every hour. The biggest
baby was so restless that he scrambled around and crowded the others.
Once he caught hold of another’s tail between the thumbs and fingers of
his hind-feet, and pulled till the little one squeaked. His fore-feet
were like tiny hands without any thumbs.

At last, one day, he saw the edge of the pocket open a crack. He was
so glad that he climbed up as fast as he could scramble, and pushed
outside. He held on to his mother’s fur with all four feet. When she
reached down to smell him the bristles on her lips tickled his nose.
Then he climbed around upon her back and twisted his tail about hers to
hold him steady.

[Illustration: THE OPOSSUM.

“In a few minutes another and another baby followed the big brother and
clung there on the mother’s furry back.” _Page 5._]

He looked like a mouse, with his long tail, his black ears erect, his
bright eyes twinkling in his little white face, and his pointed nose
sniffing at the strange odors in the hollow tree. It was much lighter
there than inside the pocket. Higher up over his head there was a
hole leading out of the hollow. Queer small shadows were dancing and
flickering across the opening. He did not know that they were only
green leaves.

In a few minutes another and another baby followed the big brother
and clung there on the mother’s furry back. It must have seemed a
noisy place to them, for while in the pocket they had noticed only the
softest muffled rustling and scratching of the old one’s feet in the
nest. Now they could hear a chirping and a squeaking and a rattling
of branches. They crowded close together in fright at the scream of a
blue jay, as it chased a chattering red squirrel through the tree-top.
Then a sudden loud thump-thump-thump of a woodpecker hammering on the
bark outside sent them scuttling back to the safe nursery in a tumbling
hurry.

After this the whole family climbed out every day to play about on the
mother’s back. The biggest baby liked to curl his small tail about her
large one, and then swing off head downward. Sometimes he pushed the
others down just for the fun of seeing them scramble up again, hand
over hand, clutching the long fur.

Of course he was the first one to poke his head out every day. Once
he woke from a nap in the pocket and started to climb outside. But
he stopped half-way, hanging to the edge with both fore-feet. It was
nearly evening, and the old mother opossum was clambering down the
trunk to go hunting for her supper.

The baby held on tightly, while she trotted away through the woods.
Now and then a leaf rustled or a stick cracked under her feet. Sleepy
birds were twittering in their nests. The mother pricked her ears and
listened, for she ate eggs and young birds whenever she could find them
within reach. She had not tasted an egg this spring, because she could
not climb very nimbly with her pocket full of babies.

Presently she came to a swamp, and splash, splash, splash! the mud went
flying. It spattered the baby’s white face and made him sputter and
cough. Then he heard the dreadful croaking of hundreds of frogs. In a
terrible fright he slid back into the nursery to hide beside the others.

The old one was trying to catch a frog to eat. Now she jumped this way,
and now she jumped that way. Such a jostling as the babies felt when
she finally gave a great spring for a big green fellow sitting on a
log. She caught him, too, but the jolt almost knocked the breath out of
the twelve soft little bodies in her pocket.

On another evening the babies awoke to find themselves swinging to and
fro in dizzying jerks. They rolled and tumbled from side to side. They
bumped their heads and noses against one another. When the biggest
baby tried to push his way out he found the edge of the pocket close
shut. Though he scratched and squeaked the mother did not open it. She
was afraid that they would all fall to the ground, for there she was
hanging upside-down by her tail to a branch of the tree.

Down below on the ground a big black bear was hugging the trunk and
shaking it as hard as he could. He was trying to shake the old opossum
off so that he might catch her and eat the whole family. But she held
on so long that finally he became tired of waiting. So away he walked
to find something else for supper. Then the mother swung down to the
nest in the hollow and rested there while her babies played around her.

Every day the babies stayed outside the nursery for a longer time,
though they were always ready to scurry back at the mother’s first
warning grunt. They kept growing bigger, till one night they found that
they could not all crowd into the pocket. Then they huddled together on
her back, with their tails twisted around hers.

In this way they rode through the woods when she went hunting. They
watched with their bright eyes while she turned over rotting logs with
her snout to catch the grubs underneath. Sometimes she rooted in the
ground for sprouting acorns, or nipped off mouthfuls of tender grass.
Once she caught a young rabbit. Then how excited the little opossums
were! And how they all squeaked and hissed together as they rode
trotting home!

By this time they had cut their teeth,—fifty sharp little teeth in
each hungry mouth. It was time for them to be weaned. When they tried
to drink milk the mother pushed them away. Then she picked some sweet
red berries, and taught the hungry babies how to eat them. They learned
to chew the juicy roots that she dug in the fields.

The babies were greedy little things. When the old one caught a mouse
or a mole or a toad, the young ones all rushed and snatched. Once the
biggest baby gobbled up a beetle before the others could get a taste.
They were so angry that they tried to bite his nose and ears. He
squeaked, and ran as fast as he could to hide under the mother.

She was a good and patient mother. Of course, as long as they were
small enough to stay in her pocket she carried them everywhere with
her. Even when they grew as large as rats they rode on her back
through the woods. These twelve fat babies were so heavy that
sometimes she staggered and stumbled under the load.

One night, when all the babies were trotting along on their own feet,
they saw two gleaming red eyes in the dark thicket before them.
Something round and furry snarled and sprang at them. They all ran
under their mother as quick as a wink. She ruffled her long grayish
hair above them. When the animal jumped at her she growled and hissed
and scratched and bit furiously, till he ran limping away into the
shadowy wilderness.

On another evening a big dog came galloping up before they could
scramble into a tree. His red tongue was hanging out of his mouth
between his white teeth. As soon as he caught sight of the opossums
he made a dash to catch them. Instantly they all fell down and rolled
over, just as if they were dead.

There they lay, with their eyes shut, their paws limber, their tails
limp. They seemed to stop breathing. The dog smelled them and pushed
them with his cold nose. But they kept perfectly still and did not move
even an eyelash. They were pretending to be dead. It was the one trick
that they all knew without being taught.

The minute the dog walked away up they all jumped and scampered into a
tree as fast as they could scurry. When the dog turned his head and saw
them he ran back and leaped up to reach them. But all the opossums were
safe enough now. While he was jumping and barking below they clung fast
in the tree with their hand-like feet. They wound their tails about the
branches above to hold more securely.

The little opossums learned to climb all sorts of trees, rough or
smooth. It was easier to climb the rough trees because they could dig
their nails farther into the bark. The biggest baby could walk along
the springiest limb, even if it kept teetering up and down in the wind.
When he felt like it he swung by his tail for the longest time without
getting dizzy.

All summer long the twelve little opossums stayed with their mother.
During the day they slept cuddled in the hollow tree. The old father
opossum never came home, for the mother had driven him away before the
babies were born. She wanted all the room in the nest for them. She
could take care of them better than he could, because she was bigger
and knew how to fight her enemies more fiercely. Every night, after
sunset, the mother and her twelve children set off on their hunting.
Down through the woods to the marsh they trotted. There some waded into
the mud to catch frogs, while others chased mud-turtles over the shore.
Some hunted for berries and others nosed for acorns under the oaks.

It was beautiful there in the woods at night. When the stars twinkled
overhead and the soft wind rustled in the tree-tops the little ones
frisked and frolicked. They hid under the shadowy bushes or jumped
hither and thither to snap at the fluttering moths. But on stormy
evenings they plodded on in the rain, their wet fur drooping. With
their noses close to the ground they hunted till they found a few
mouthfuls to eat. Then back to the cosy hollow for a longer nap, after
licking their pink hands clean and washing their white faces, just as
kittens do.

One night, in autumn, the old mother opossum felt the nip of frost in
the air. Then she knew that the persimmons were ready to be eaten.
Away through the woods she hurried, with the young ones trotting after
her. Past the marsh and over the blackberry hills she led the way
to a thicket of trees tangled with wild grapevines. There above on
the branches the round little persimmons were shining yellow in the
moonlight.

Up the trees eleven of the babies scrambled hungrily, and, hanging
by their tails, stuffed the fruit into their wide mouths. Ah! but
wasn’t it delicious! Better than anything they had ever tasted before
in all their short lives! Then the biggest baby, who had stopped to
gobble ripe grapes, heard them munching so greedily. One look sent him
clambering after the others. He was sorry enough that he had wasted any
time eating wild grapes.

Night after night, till the persimmons were gone, the opossums hurried
away to the thicket, and ate and ate till they could eat no longer.
They grew so fat that they puffed and panted when trotting home again
in the gray light of frosty dawn.

As the weather grew colder the opossums roamed farther through
the woods in search of food. Once in a while one of them found a
pawpaw-tree. Then from far and near opossums gathered under the low
wide-spreading branches to feast on the banana-shaped fruit. That was
the last good dinner that the little fellows had for many weeks.

Soon the ground was frozen hard over the juicy roots. All the fruit
left in the woods hung wrinkled and frost-bitten. The worms and toads
crawled into their holes for the winter. The beetles disappeared, and
the spiders curled up in their hiding-places to sleep through the cold
weather. Most of the birds flew away south.

One by one each little opossum wandered off by himself, and made a nest
in a cosy hole or a snug hollow stump. There he drowsed away the days,
and often slept through the nights without stirring out. Now and then
one of them caught a mouse or dug up a frozen root to nibble. Sometimes
they tore rotten logs apart to get at the torpid grubs within. The
biggest baby found a heap of nuts hidden away under a stone by a
thrifty chipmunk.

In the beginning of the winter the little opossums were so fat that
they could live three or four weeks without eating or drinking. When
the cold winds blew, and the snow fell silently, they cuddled down in
their warm nests and slept the time away. But many a night they woke up
hungry. And every day their round furry bodies were a little thinner,
till at last spring melted the snow and ice everywhere.

There was plenty to eat by that time, with all the green things
growing. The little creatures of the woods and ponds were waking to
new life. There were buds to nibble and beetles to catch. There was
many a nest of birds’ eggs, too, and broods of tender young field-mice
squeaking in the grass. There were frogs croaking in the marsh, and
berries were ripening in the fields.

The twelve little opossums were grown up now, and knew how to take care
of themselves. Their mother had another family of babies in her furry
pocket. Sometimes she met her other children roaming beside the marsh
to catch frogs. One evening they saw, just as plain as anything, a
little pointed nose and two twinkling bright eyes peeping over the edge
of her pocket.



II

THE MANATEE

“THE ONE THAT EATS GRASS IN THE SEA”


[Illustration: THE MANATEE.

“The old mother manatee held him close to her.” _Page 19._]



THE ONE THAT EATS GRASS IN THE SEA


DOWN among the lily-leaves, under the river, the baby manatee was being
rocked to sleep on his mother’s breast. He looked like a roly-poly
fish, with a puffy dog-face. He was covered all over from his broad
tail to his round head with thick and wrinkly gray skin. His tiny eyes
were shut, and his flippers were folded together as he slept.

The old mother manatee held him close to her, bending her short
flippers, which were really her arms. The fingers at the ends of her
hands were so hidden under the skin that they looked as if covered with
mittens. She was balancing herself on the end of her tail, and swaying
gently to and fro in the water.

The baby’s nap did not last very long. One of the annoying things about
being a manatee and living under water was the trouble in breathing.
Every two or three minutes the mother flapped her tail and rose to the
top of the river to breathe. That always woke the baby. He opened his
eyes, blinking in the bright sunlight.

All around him the water sparkled and dimpled in the sunshine. Here
and there dragon-flies glittered as they skimmed over the ripples.
Butterflies were fluttering over the golden centres of the floating
lilies. Graceful reeds bordered the shore. The juicy grass, that
manatees love to eat, grew green, trailing underneath. Far up above it
all the summer sky was blue.

The baby manatee did not seem to care for all these beautiful sights.
Very likely he could not see well above water, and he did not enjoy the
dry, warm feeling of the air. His sense of smell must have been too
dull to notice the fragrance of the lilies or the spicy scent from the
swamp. Creatures living under water do not use their noses much.

But the little manatee could hear the least soft plop of a leaf falling
in the river. The sudden splash of a frog’s jump made him squirm and
twist in terror. He wriggled out of his mother’s hold, and sank down,
down, down, with the bubbles eddying over his roly-poly body.

Of course he was not afraid, for he could swim as soon as he was born.
He paddled with his tail and flapped with his flippers as he went
swimming around over the clean white sand of the river-bottom. At first
he could not steer very well, and so he bumped into the stems of the
lily-plants and tangled his flippers among the roots of the reeds.

Through the pale green of the water all around him he caught sight
of his father and big brother. They were creeping about on their
flippers and tails, while they munched the weeds and grasses. When they
stretched out their heads, toward a bite of something, each one grasped
the food between two horny pads in the front of his jaw, tore it free,
and then chewed it with his few grinding teeth in the back. Their faces
looked like monstrous caterpillars sucking and chewing.

The baby champed his small jaws and sucked with his split upper lip as
he watched. The sight of them eating made him so hungry that he wanted
his mother to come and feed him with her milk. Manatees are mammals
that live in shallow water. Of all the animals in the sea and salt
rivers manatees are the only ones that eat only grass and weeds. All
other sea-mammals, and fishes, too, eat living creatures.

Sometimes the baby manatee had great fun in rolling over and over on
the sand and pebbles at the bottom of the river. The old ones liked to
scratch and clean their wrinkled skins by plunging and scraping over
the gravel. It was easy enough for them to roll, because they were so
round and had no legs to get in the way.

After the tumbling he followed the others as they went paddling to
the top of the river. There he twitched apart his lip-lobes and blew,
spouting up spray and water. Then, drawing in a long breath, he closed
the stoppers in his nostrils and floated down to the sandy bottom to
sleep or eat again.

All summer the manatees lived there in the pleasant river. On misty
mornings sometimes they swam up to a mud flat, and crawled out to
take a nap in the soft warm slime. Out in the air they could sleep
and breathe at the same time, without waking up every few minutes.
When the baby was tired of staying still he slid down the slippery
bank—splash!—into the water.

His splashing sent a snake wriggling away through the swamp. The crabs
on the sand below went scuttling wildly hither and thither to escape
the flapping of his tail. Fishes darted out-stream, and mussels closed
their shells to keep out the stirred-up gravel. The frogs sitting in
the mud turned their round eyes to look at the funny little fellow with
the wrinkled dark skin.

Away he paddled to the bottom and tried to munch the water-grasses.
His few teeth were cutting through his gums by this time, and he was
hungry for something besides milk. The green leaves tasted so salty and
stringy that he did not like them at first. It was easier to suck warm,
rich milk, without needing to chew and chew till his jaws really ached.

One night the manatees lay down on the clean sand, folded their
flippers under them, and closed their eyes. They fell fast asleep. Now
one and now another woke to swim to the top for a good long breath.
About mid-night the old mother suddenly felt a chill stealing through
the water. She shivered all over, and hurried to wake the others. She
knew that cold weather had come. If they did not take care they would
all catch cold and die.

So away they started, as fast as they could paddle, down the river
to the sea. Then south along the shore they travelled to find warmer
waters. They kept so near land that they could hear the waves breaking
on the beach. The ocean washed to and fro in swinging billows over
their heads. When the baby lifted his head above the surface, bits of
foam blew in his eyes from the curling crests of the waves.

Down below, where the old ones stopped to munch the seaweeds, he saw
wonderful things. There were starfish crawling along with their five
rays spread out. There were transparent jellyfishes, with long threads
streaming down from their quivering bodies. There were mussels in their
hinged shells lying on the bottom. There were sponges growing on the
rocks. There were trees of branching coral, each tiny coral animal
waving the fringe around its open mouth.

Of course there were fishes—hundreds and hundreds of them—flashing
everywhere. Once a fat porpoise came rolling and tumbling through the
shallow water. He was a mammal, and belonged to the same group as the
whales. When he was a baby he fed on milk, just in the same way as the
little manatee and all other mammals.

On and on travelled the manatees toward the warm south seas, now
swimming on swiftly, now stopping to munch the weeds. Sometimes they
stood on the tips of their tails and nodded their heads as if bowing.
Sometimes they folded their flippers under them to sleep, then woke to
breathe, and fall asleep again.

After days and days they reached the southern river, where they were
to spend the winter. There they found another family of manatees with
a little one just the size of the baby. While the old ones munched the
weeds, or dozed on the mud islands, the two youngest slid down the
slippery banks and splashed and dived together. They took naps side by
side. Sometimes they tried to balance themselves on their tails, as the
old ones did.

This southern river was different from that one at home. The plants
had broader leaves and larger flowers. The swamp was tangled and
shadowy even at noonday. Strange animals tramped through the
underbrush; monkeys swung on the branches, and brightly-colored birds
flew overhead. Hairy spiders crawled over the ground, and big snakes
wriggled into the water.

When spring came, away the manatees swam on their way back to the
pleasant river, where the baby first opened his little eyes in the cool
green nursery among the lily-leaves. Of course he never knew that some
sailors once saw his mother rocking him to sleep at the top of the
water. They thought that she was a mermaid with a baby in her arms.



III

THE WHALE

“THE BIGGEST ONE”



THE BIGGEST ONE


HE was the very biggest baby in all the world. He looked like a
monstrous fish as he lay beside his mother in the middle of the bay.
But he was not a fish. He breathed with lungs instead of gills. On his
thick skin he had a few bristly hairs instead of scales such as fishes
have. The blood rushing through the great veins in his body was warm
instead of cold. And finally he was drinking milk in mighty gulps that
sent gallons and gallons down his baby throat at every swallow. He was
a whale, and belonged to the class of mammals.

The big body of the mother whale looked like a dark rounded island as
she lay on her side almost out of water. She was the largest mother
animal that ever lived. When she opened her enormous jaws her mouth
seemed like a gloomy cave. Fastened along its floor was an immense
cushiony white tongue as big as a feather-bed.

The baby whale himself was twice as long as an ox. His smooth skin
glistened like shiny leather when he heaved his back above the waves
for an instant. Once in a while he flapped his forked tail or wriggled
his front fins. Though his eyes were bigger than a cow’s they looked
very small while he lay, half asleep, rocking lazily to and fro in the
swell of the sea.

The baby whale knew how to swim alone from the very first day. The
earliest thing he remembered was the water lapping over his eyes and
tickling in the tiny holes of his ears. On top of his head there were
two blow-holes, or nostrils, closed with valves, to keep the water from
trickling into his lungs.

When he rose to the top of the sea, to fill his lungs with air, away
he swam, up and up, easily and lightly, through the pale-green water,
toward the sunlight twinkling on the surface above. The mother whale
swam beside him, almost touching him with her flippers. Her flippers
were really her arms. When he was tired she helped him by holding him
up.

As soon as his head pushed above the waves he opened the valves in the
blow-holes and drew great breaths of sweet, fresh air deep down into
his lungs. How good it felt! Then arching his back, with a flourish of
his tail down he dived after his mother. They sank swiftly into the
cool depths, while the sea closed silently over their shining sides.

The baby whale did not go down very far. The air in his lungs buoyed
him up. His bones were light and full of oil. Under his dark skin a
layer of fat, called blubber, kept him floating, almost as if he were
wearing a life-preserver wrapped around him.

The new air in his lungs grew warm and damp. After a few minutes he
wanted to breathe again. So with a flap-flap-flap of his tail up he
paddled. Puff, piff! out through the blow-holes rushed the warm air
from his lungs. In the cold outside air it changed to spray, and went
spouting up like a fountain. Down it came showering, with silver drops
splashing and tinkling.

That must have been fun. The baby could not stay under water so long
as his mother could. Often he left her swimming around over the rocky
bottom of the bay while he paddled up to get a fresh breath. Sometimes
he was in such a hurry that he blew out before reaching the top. Then
the water above him went spouting up, and sprinkling back noisily about
his glistening head.

For days and days the baby whale lived there in the bay with his
mother. It was the whole world to him, for he had seen no other place.
Of course he did not know how it looked from above, with its blue,
sparkling water, and its tall cliffs casting long shadows over the
ripples at dawn.

To him the bay was a delightful playground. Its oozy floor was covered
with rocks under the cool green water. Long fringes of seaweed floated
deep down under there. In dark caves sponges and sea-lilies grew, and
crabs scuttled backward into slimy crannies. There were big fishes and
little fishes darting to and fro. At times they hung motionless, with
glistening scales, their round eyes unwinking, their tails quivering
now and then.

Every day, after the baby whale drank all the milk he wanted, he took
a nap, lying beside his mother on the surface of the bay. Every day he
grew a little bigger, and swam a little faster, and stayed below a
little longer without rising to breathe.

When he was old enough to stop drinking milk he learned to eat the food
which his mother liked. He often watched her swimming around the bay,
with her great mouth hanging open. There were millions of the tiniest
kind of creatures living in the water. They flowed into her mouth at
the same time with the water. When she felt them tickling and wiggling
over her tongue she closed her jaw almost shut. A sieve of long elastic
strips of bone fell like a curtain from the roof of her mouth. Then the
water drained out between the strips of bone, leaving the tiny animals
inside to be swallowed.

Instead of teeth the baby whale found such a fringe of whalebone strips
growing on the roof of his mouth. When it was long enough to use he
began to swim around with his jaw hanging down. Every day, in this way,
he caught and ate thousands of tiny shrimps and crabs and mussels. He
could not swallow any large fish because his throat was only a few
inches wide.

He did not know that there are different whales in a different part of
the sea. These other whales have teeth instead of whalebone sieves. In
the tops of their heads they have great holes filled with sperm oil.
Their throats are wide enough to swallow a man. They are called sperm
whales, but the whales with whalebone strips in their mouths are called
true whales.

When the baby stopped drinking milk the mother set out with him to
leave the bay, and find the father whale in the deep sea without. The
young whale could swim almost as fast as the old one now. He could stay
under water without breathing quite as long as she could. The warm
blanket of blubber under his skin had grown thicker. It kept him warm
and helped him to float.

Perhaps he was afraid to leave the safe bay for the wide ocean. He
kept close beside his mother as they went rushing on, with their tails
slapping up and down and around. The tail sent each one ahead, just
as the screw of a steamer drives it forward. With their flippers they
steadied their round bodies so that they would not roll over and over
like logs.

Out between the rocky cliffs, at the mouth of the inlet, they rushed
through the green water. After travelling some distance out to sea the
baby noticed that the water looked black below them, reaching down
and down and down. He could not see the oozy, shell-covered floor, as
in the bay. Above him the waves were larger, and swayed to and fro,
cresting in foam. The big fishes were darting hither and thither before
the great round, rushing bodies of the mother and the baby whale.

Very likely the old whale had been lonesome in the bay. She swam on in
a hurry to find her mate and the rest of the herd. The baby followed
as hard as he could paddle. This was a wonderful new world to him.
Probably he wanted to stop and look around, especially when he rose to
breathe. Once he gave a mighty jump and shot out far above the waves.
He could not see well, except directly behind him. But while above
there in the air he twisted in a curving leap. Everywhere water, water,
water, stretching on and on and on.

He could not see a single sign of any other whales being near. Yet
somehow or other the old mother knew that they were not far away. It
may be that she could hear through the water, as if telephone-wires
were spread under the waves. Sure enough! soon the baby heard the
splashing of heavy bodies turning over and over in slow rolling. When
he rose to breathe he caught sight of spouting fountains, where the
other whales were blowing in the sea.

When the strangers came swimming toward him he hung back behind his
mother. They glided about him, now and then touching him with their
fins, noses, or tails. They twisted around so as to see him with their
dull little eyes. Then they went on with their eating and lazy rolling
on the surface of the sea.

The baby and his mother belonged to the herd now. It was time for them
all to start north to colder waters, as summer was near. Food was
growing scarce in that part of the ocean. When the whales stayed too
long in one place barnacles and limpets fastened on the huge bodies,
and made them uncomfortable. One day the baby felt a tickling barnacle
on his throat. He scratched so hard against a jagged rock that he tore
a rent a foot long in the blubber. But it did not hurt much, and in a
few days it was healed.

There were a number of other young whales in the herd. The biggest old
father whale took the lead while the rest followed, on and on, moving
through the sea all day long. Sometimes they stopped to swim around and
around with their mouths hanging open. The tiny crabs and other animals
flowed in upon the great satiny white tongues. Sometimes they all took
pleasant naps while floating on the surface. Once a sea-bird flew down
and pecked at a barnacle on the baby’s head.

At night the herd lay still, sleeping beneath the stars. All around
them the ocean glimmered and twinkled. The ripples shone with fiery
light. Now and then one or another big whale blew out his warm breath
slowly and drowsily, his great sides heaving in a tremendous sigh.
Then, when the morning came, and the sky grew bright at the horizon,
they woke and plunged below for breakfast. They did not even look at
the beautiful colors in the sky.

Nearly every day the young ones had a race. Off and away! their bodies
bending like bows, their broad tails churning the water into foaming
waves behind them. Many a time the baby dived down, down, down, till
the water looked black around him. Then, when he was almost smothering
under the heavy weight of the sea, he turned in a hurry, and went
rushing up with a bound and a puff. He shot out into the sunshine with
a mighty leap. What a tremendous splashing he made as he fell back on
his side, while all the other baby whales slapped the water with their
tails under the shower of spray!

One morning he had a terrible fright. It happened that he lagged behind
the herd to catch one more mouthful of breakfast. When at last he was
ready to follow the rest he saw three strange animals hurrying after
him. They were almost as big as he was, and they had fierce little eyes
and sharp white teeth. He was so afraid that he swam as fast as he
could.

[Illustration: THE WHALE.

“The old mother whale came tearing back to the rescue.” _Page 39._]

They were really a kind of small whale that eats the tongues of large
whales. They were called killers. All three raced after the baby.
One caught hold of his lip and tried to drag his mouth open. The
other two pulled and bit at the other side of the poor frightened
fellow. Just as they had his mouth almost open, and were snapping like
wolves at sight of his tongue, they heard the old mother whale come
tearing back to the rescue.

Before they had time to dart away she dived head foremost. Raising her
great tail she swept it around and around, churning the water into
foam. One dreadful blow crushed a killer, and the others rushed away.
Seizing the trembling baby between her flippers and neck the mother
hurried on to catch up with the herd again.

This was excitement enough for one day. Indeed, it was the greatest
adventure of the year, except for the narrow escape from the ice-floe.
This last adventure happened when the herd was just leaving the north
to swim south again. The baby whale was quite a big fellow by this
time. By some accident he found himself shut into a bay by a floating
mass of ice.

The ice-floe covered the water and was driving closer and closer to
the shore. The young whale swam ahead of it till he was almost on the
beach. Still it kept pressing nearer and nearer. Again and again he
tried to swim under it, but he could not hold his breath long enough to
get through to the open sea. If he could not breathe he would drown,
just like any other mammal.

Finally, just as the ice was rubbing against the big black sides, he
raised himself high in the air and threw his heavy body with a crash
down on the floe. Luckily, he happened to strike a thin place. The
immense cake of ice cracked and split. The whale gave a plunge and
broke his way through to safety. He was glad enough to find the herd
again and swim on with them toward the southern waters.

So down along the shore the huge beasts went frolicking together. They
leaped out of the sea, turning summersaults and tumbling over and over.
They patted one another with such resounding smacks of their flippers
that the noise was like thunder. Now they darted ahead, leaving a wake
of dancing foam; now they dived, arching their backs, and flirting
their tails high in the air. And through the quiet nights they lay with
the waves lapping softly against them, with the starlight glistening
upon the great black bodies rolling in the swell.



IV

THE ELK (WAPITI)

“ONE OF THE FLEETEST”



ONE OF THE FLEETEST


IT was the most interesting thing! The big brother elk, who was just
a year old, peered in through the branches, his ears pointed forward.
His great soft eyes were shining, and his nostrils were quivering with
excitement. There, on a bed of leaves in the mountain-thicket, lay a
new little baby elk.

He looked like the big brother, except for the white spots on his
satiny brown coat. With his slender legs doubled under him he lay
perfectly still, not even twitching his ears, as old deer to catch the
slightest sound. He was looking up at his big brown mother standing
beside him.

The brother elk edged nearer and nearer, till a branch crackled under
his hoofs. Instantly the old mother raised her head and pricked her
ears in the direction of the sound. When she caught sight of the
brother she drew back her lips from her teeth and squealed angrily. Her
eyes gleamed. She began to walk toward him, squealing and shaking her
head to drive him away. He was so surprised that he snorted out loud.
Then backing off, first one foot and then the other, he hid among some
trees close by.

He must have felt very lonesome as he waited there by himself on the
mountain. He listened to every rustle of a leaf or crackle of a twig in
the thicket where the baby was lying. Before this his mother had always
been kind to him. He did not know why she drove him away,—when he was
not doing any harm. The reason was because every little noise made her
nervous. She was afraid wolves or panthers might come prowling around
there, where the baby lay helpless on the leaves.

After a few days the baby scrambled to his feet and went staggering
a bit unsteadily after his mother as she led the way out from the
thicket. The big brother came timidly up to them. He smelled the little
one very gently, nosing all over his soft dappled body. The mother did
not pay much attention, and the baby was not afraid. He stood quite
still, looking around with his shining eyes.

It was a beautiful world in May. All around him there were groves of
aspens twinkling their silvery leaves in the early sunlight. Farther up
the mountain-side dark evergreens grew thick among the rocks. Down the
valley a brook splashed and gurgled over stones on its way to a lake
lying in the cool shadow of the pines.

Very likely, although the baby elk could see well enough, he cared
more for the things which he could smell. There was such a delicious
fragrance everywhere of spicy evergreens and the damp sweet breath of
mosses and blossoming flowers. Of course he was too young to taste the
juicy grasses and tender twigs, but he surely enjoyed the tempting odor
of it all. The world smelled very good to eat.

Like all little mammals he drank milk till his teeth cut through his
gums later in the year. Like the buffaloes the older elk had horny
pads instead of teeth in the front of their upper jaws. They tore off
a mouthful of grass or leaves with a jerk of the head and swallowed it
half chewed. Then, during the heat of the day, when they were lying
down to rest in the shade, or standing in pools of water, they drew up
the fodder from their stomachs and chewed it again.

All summer long the little elk lived in the mountains with his mother
and brother. At night he slept nestled close to them in some safe
thicket. In the daytime he trotted beside them as they roamed grazing
over the upland meadows and along the brooks. Though they were fond of
feeding near the water they did not care so much as some other kinds of
deer to eat lily-leaves.

In the early part of the summer the mother and brother looked very
ragged. Their thick winter coat began to fall out. It was so matted
that it clung to the body like a torn blanket. Every time they rubbed
against a bush or thorny tree their old hair was torn in long strips
and tatters. When at last it had all been rubbed off their fresh short,
summer fur shone out bright and glistening in the sunshine.

Little by little the white spots on the baby’s coat were fading. By
the end of August he was all in plain brown like the older ones, with
only a patch of white around his tail. Probably he did not notice the
difference himself because he could not turn his head far enough to
see many of the spots on his sides and neck.

[Illustration: THE ELK.

“Grazing over the upland meadows.” _Page 48._]

Indeed he was astonished enough one day, while still in the spotted
coat, to see another little spotted elk come timidly out of a thicket
of aspens. At first both babies stood still, with their ears pricked
forward and their big soft eyes wide open. Then the first one bravely
walked up to the other and smelled him all over. After that they were
friends and played together. They could both say ba-a-a, and drink
milk, and gallop over the grass, with their little hoofs kicking out
behind.

The next day another mother elk with a baby and a big brother joined
the band. Then another family came, and another, till there were dozens
and dozens of them all together. Such scampering frolics as the little
ones enjoyed! While the old mothers were quietly grazing over the steep
slopes the babies raced from one rock to another. Each one tried to
push up first to the highest point, and then stand there, looking down
at the others. Once the roughest little fellow butted another off a
high rock and almost broke his leg.

When a baby butted with his round little head it did not hurt much. But
the big brothers all had sharp antlers sprouting from their foreheads.
In the spring the knobs above their eyes had begun to swell and grow
out into bony spikes covered with a velvety network of skin and veins.
These antlers were different from the horns worn by the buffaloes.
Every buffalo had a pair of horns that lasted all his life. The mother
buffaloes had horns, but the mother elk did not have antlers. The
antlers were solid bone instead of hollow like the horns. Each of the
father elks and the big brothers had a new pair every spring to replace
the old pair that dropped off during the winter.

By mid-summer the antlers stopped growing. Then the big brothers in the
band pounded and rubbed their antlers against bushes and young trees,
so as to strip off the velvety covering. When they had sham fights they
could butt hard enough to hurt. They bumped their heads together, and
pushed with all their might to see which was the strongest.

Autumn was not far off now, and the band of mother elk and young ones
began to move down from the mountains to the foot-hills. In winter the
snow lay so deep in the high valleys that they could not walk far or
find enough to eat. Farther and farther down they wandered every day.
The babies were learning to eat grass like the older ones.

One morning the smallest baby elk was picking his steps along the
edge of a cliff. He halted and raised his pretty head to look far up
the canyon before him. There, away off against the pine-woods on the
mountain-side, he caught sight of a spot of brown moving toward him.
Nearer and nearer it came, till he saw that it was an animal even
bigger than his mother. It was an old father elk coming down from his
summer retreat in the highest gorges.

In all his short life the baby had never seen such a stately and
beautiful creature. His mother was not nearly so large as this elk, and
she wore no antlers at all. The big brother’s antlers were only short
spikes without any prongs. On strode the newcomer, leaping over fallen
trees and wading through the brooks to join the band. His long black
mane was waving on his neck; his nostrils were quivering; his great
eyes were flashing; his splendid antlers rose, branching high above his
graceful head.

The fine stranger stalked among the others and smelled them, in their
way of getting acquainted. Then he began to feed with them all. The
mother elk and little ones followed meekly when he started to lead the
band down the mountain. He did not pay much attention to the babies.
Sometimes he pushed them out of his way, or drove them hither and
thither, as he pleased. He was a selfish old fellow and never thought
of taking care of the others. Whenever he found a delicious tuft of
juicy grass he hurried to munch it all by himself.

As the frosty days passed by another father elk appeared, and then
another and another. Each one wanted to be leader of the band. Many a
snowy night the baby elk huddled close to his mother as he listened to
the noise of the old father elk roaming through the woods. He could
hear them snuffing the frosty air. They beat the bushes with their
antlers and stamped on the crackling branches underfoot. The snow lay
thick on their bristling manes. Now here in the valley, now there high
on the ridge, the sound of their whistling came pealing down through
the still white woods in the moonlight.

Often and often the baby trembled as he heard the shrill squealing of
two old elk fighting together. Each one was trying to drive the other
away from the band. They rushed together with a crash, and pushed and
strained, with their antlers locked tight. Though the prongs could not
cut through the tough skin of their shoulders, still the weaker one
always had to give way and run. The other chased him off and then came
back, whistling and barking in triumph, to be leader of the band.

In a few weeks the old elk became tired of fighting. The band settled
down to spend a peaceful winter together. Their fur grew long and
thick to keep out the cold. On they travelled mile after mile. They
were looking for a sheltered spot to be their home during the coldest
weather.

The old elk walked so fast that the babies had to gallop to keep from
being left behind. Up hills and down gorges they went crashing through
thickets and over the rocks. They climbed steep cliffs and went leaping
down narrow trails. Even the little ones were sure-footed. They never
stumbled or slipped as they bounded over the dead logs and tangled
vines between the trees.

At last they found a wooded spot where the hills sheltered them from
the bitterest winds. There was grass on the ground. There were plenty
of young trees with twigs and buds and bark for them to eat. A swift
little brook ran over the rocks not far away.

Here in this place the band of elk spent the winter. When the snow fell
deeper they trod it into narrow paths by walking from tree to tree to
feed. These paths led to and fro, criss-crossing, and around in uneven
curves all through the yard, as it may be called. With every storm the
snow beside the paths piled higher and higher, till the baby could not
see over the edges, even when he stretched up his neck.

It must have been a dreary winter for the little fellow. Night after
night he huddled beside his mother to keep warm. Sometimes the stars
sparkled above the white earth, and sometimes the wind sifted the icy
flakes over their brown bodies. Day after day of cold and storm he
walked along the paths from tree to tree. Here he could reach a bunch
of dead leaves, there a cluster of twig-ends, or a mouthful of bark.

The older elk were so much taller than he was that they could reach
the higher branches by standing on their hind-legs and stretching out
their necks. Often he went hungry, for the fodder near the paths was
all eaten before spring. The snow was so deep outside the yard that he
could not touch solid ground with his feet. Sometimes he pawed through
the icy crust, and dug away the snow from over the grass.

Once a pack of wolves came prowling near and tried to drive the elk out
into the deep snow. Though the elk, like all deer, are the fleetest of
mammals, the wolves could run better over the snow, for their broad
paws did not sink in so far as the elk’s slender hoofs. Instead of
running away all the mother elk rushed squealing after the wolves and
tried to stamp them to death. The mother elk were always very brave in
taking care of their little ones. The cowardly old fathers were afraid
to fight anything, now that they had lost their sharp antlers.

Spring came at last, and the snow melted from the hill-tops and then
from the valleys. The first tender grass began to sprout in the
meadows. The elk left their winter home and scattered over the plains
in search of food. The sun shone and the soft winds blew.

The baby elk followed his mother, when she left the others, and started
up toward the mountains. He wandered after her, grazing as he went,
till he lost her in a mountain thicket. While he was looking for her he
heard a rustling of twigs. He peered through the branches, and there he
saw a new little baby elk lying on a bed of leaves. The old mother was
standing over him, and licking his satiny spotted coat with her long
red tongue.



V

THE BEAVER

“THE BEST BUILDER”



THE BEST BUILDER


OUT in the woods rain was pouring down steadily from the black sky. It
beat against the leaves and trickled over the trunks of the trees and
spattered into the pond. Now and then a flash of lightning glimmered
over the water and twinkled in through the hole at the top of the
little round house where the beavers lived.

From the outside this house looked like a heap of old brush-wood on a
tiny island in the middle of the pond. But inside of it there was a
little room, like a cave, with a smooth floor and an arched roof. Along
the sides of this room there were five beds of leaves and grass. On one
of these beds lay three baby beavers fast asleep in the dark.

The other beds were all empty. The big one at the end belonged to the
father beaver. Before the babies were born in May he had gone away for
the summer. He had started off with all the other old fathers in the
beaver village to have a good time in the woods up the brook. They
played and feasted on roots and plants, while the mother beavers stayed
home to take care of the babies.

The other three beds belonged to the mother and to her two older
children. On this rainy summer night they had gone out to eat their
supper under the trees by the pond.

Suddenly the three baby beavers opened their eyes with a start, and
rolled off their bed. They had been awakened by the sound of a loud
whack on the water outside. It was a noise made by the mother’s flat
tail as she dived down toward the door of her house. Her front hall was
a tunnel that led from the bottom of the pond to the floor of the dark
little room. Through this she went swimming, while the waves bubbled
and splashed around her.

When the babies saw her round head poke up through the door in the
floor they squeaked and ran to meet her. She was carrying a bundle of
small sticks between her chin and her fore-paw. Each little beaver sat
up on his hind-legs, with his tail propping him steady from behind.
Then he took one of the sticks in his hands and began to nibble the
bark with his new yellow teeth.

They were wonderful teeth. After the babies were too old to live on
milk, four curved teeth grew out in the front of each little mouth. Two
were in the upper jaw and two in the lower jaw. It was the strangest
thing! The more these teeth gnawed the sharper they became. The inner
side of each tooth was softer than the outer side. In biting together,
the inner edge wore down faster, and left the outer edge as sharp as a
knife.

The beaver belongs to the _Order of Gnawers_. Squirrels and rabbits
and rats and many other mammals belong to this order. They all have
these chisel-shaped front teeth, which keep on growing all their lives
long. If any one of them is too lazy to gnaw every day his teeth grow
so long that he cannot bite anything at all. Beavers are the largest of
the gnawing animals, except the water-hog of South America. They have
stronger teeth than any of the others.

Not long after this stormy night the mother beaver decided to take the
three babies out with her into the woods. She chose another rainy
evening because then their enemies were not likely to be wandering
under the dripping trees. Bears and foxes and wild-cats hate to get
wet, but beavers enjoy feeling the cool water trickle over their fur
and splash on their tails.

Except for their broad, flat tails, the three little beavers looked
like rats covered with silky brown fur. The mother seemed like a giant
rat, about three feet long from her round nose to the root of her tail.
Instead of fur her tail was covered with thick skin. This skin was so
creased and dented that it looked like scales.

What an exciting evening it was for the babies! One behind the other
they trotted down the dark tunnel after their mother. At first the
floor was dry and hard. After a few steps their feet touched something
wet. Soft mud oozed between the fingers on their fore-paws. Their
hind-feet were webbed up to the toe-nails, and so did not sink in so
deep as their fore-paws. Beavers are the only mammals which have webs
on one pair of feet, and not on the other pair. They are half land
animals and half water animals.

This was not the first time that the three little beavers had ventured
into the tunnel. More than once before they had crept down as far as
the water and waded about at the edge. But now they kept right on,
splashing in farther and farther. The water grew deeper and deeper.
In the dark they felt it wash up to their knees, and then up to their
chins, and finally away over their backs and their heads to the roof of
the tunnel.

Away went the three babies swimming after the old mother. They held
their breaths, and shut their ears tight. Their small fore-paws hung
down by their sides. They paddled with their webbed hind-feet, and used
their broad tails as rudders, to send them now this way, now that.

It seemed the longest time to the last little beaver before his head
popped up into the fresh air above the pond. He blinked his light-brown
eyes, and winked away the drops on his eyelashes. Now and then a flash
of lightning glimmered on the trees around the pond. Of course he did
not know yet that his food came from those tall, shadowy things at the
edge of the water.

Half-way to the shore a round, dark spot was ploughing through the
water, with two ripples spreading out behind it. It was the head of the
mother beaver. Behind her followed another head, and then another. The
last little beaver swung his tail around and started after them. He
puffed and sputtered when a wave washed over his nose. But he did not
mind that at all, because this cool water was much pleasanter than the
stale air in the warm room at home.

There, under a bush on the bank, he saw his older brother and sister
sitting on their tails, while they nibbled the bark from some sticks
beside them. When the baby reached his hand toward the pile they
grunted and sniffed at him. Just then a flash of lightning gleamed on
their long, yellow teeth, and frightened the little fellow so much that
he scampered after his mother and the two other babies.

They followed a path into the woods. The father beavers in the village
had made it by cutting down trees and bushes and dragging them out of
the way. It was a straight path, and more than wide enough for the
fattest old beaver. But the last baby was so much afraid of being
left behind that he ran without looking on the ground. He stumbled over
two low stumps, and bumped into a trunk at one side, before he caught
up to the others.

[Illustration: THE BEAVER.

“Across the pond to feast in the woods.” _Page 65._]

He saw the mother beaver standing on her hind-legs under a tree. She
reached up as high as she could with her mouth and gnawed off a branch.
When it fell crackling and rustling she called the three babies to come
and learn how to cut their own sticks to eat. She showed them how to
set their teeth against the bark, and tear off a chip with a jerk of
the head. Another chip and another was gnawed out till the branch was
cut in two. The mother could bite through a small stick with one snip
of her jaws.

After that, every night all summer long, the three babies followed
their mother out through the tunnel and across the pond to feast in the
woods. They ate tender grasses and roots as well as bark. Sometimes
they went out before dark to romp and play tag in the pond. The biggest
little beaver thought that it was the greatest fun to push the others
off floating logs. He chased them round and round, splashing water in
their faces and making them duck their heads. They enjoyed the fun as
much as he did, especially after they all scrambled upon the bank to
rest.

On land, the biggest baby was too fat and clumsy to move as fast as the
other two. They danced about on their hind-legs, and pretended to step
on his tail or pull his fur. It was beautiful fur, so fine and thick
and soft that water could not soak through to the skin. The babies did
not have a coat of coarse outer hair like the old beavers. When tired
of play they sat up and scratched their heads and shoulders with the
claws on their hairy fore-paws. Then, after combing their sides with
their hind-feet, they curled down in the grass for a nap.

There were plenty of other little low houses in the pond, and in each
one lived a family of beavers. The three babies made friends with all
the other babies. Together they explored every corner of the pond, from
the brook at the upper end to the dam at the lower end.

Very likely the little fellows believed that the dam had always been
there. But in fact the old beavers had built it themselves. When they
first came to that spot in the woods they found only a brook flowing
over a hard, gravelly bottom. They first cut down a bush and floated it
along till it stuck fast between a rock and a clump of trees. Next they
cut other bushes, and carried down poles and branches, till they had a
tangle of brush stretching from one bank to the other. Upon this they
piled sticks and stones and mud, and then more sticks and stones and
mud, and then still more sticks and stones and mud.

At last the dam was so high and solid that the water could not flow
through. So it spread out in a pond above the dam till it was deep
enough to trickle over the top and tinkle away in a little brook under
the trees.

Tiny islands were left here and there in the pond. The old beavers
built their houses on the islands or on the bank. First each mother and
father dug two tunnels from the bottom of the pond up through the earth
to the floor of their house. One tunnel was to be used when going in
and out during the summer. The other tunnel led to their winter pantry
under the water. This pantry was to be a pile of fresh sticks cut in
the woods every autumn.

Around the two holes in the floor the beavers laid logs and stones in
a circle. Upon this foundation they piled sticks and sod to form walls
and a roof. Then they plastered the house all over with mud. At the
top of the roof they left a small hole, covered only with a tangle of
sticks. This was for fresh air. Last of all they swam inside and made
the walls even by gnawing off the sharp ends of the wood. Then the
house was ready to be furnished with beds of leaves and grasses.

Perhaps during the happy summer the babies believed that play was the
most delightful thing in the world. But soon the father beavers came
strolling back to the village to cut down trees for the winter. Then
the little fellows found that work was even better fun than play.

One night the three babies followed their parents into the woods and
watched them cut down a tree. The father stood up on his hind-legs,
propping himself with his tail, and began to cut a notch around the
trunk. The mother helped on the other side. They gnawed upward and
downward, digging out huge chips with their chisel teeth. The circle
grew deeper and deeper, till the father’s head was almost hidden
whenever he thrust it in to take a fresh bite.

When finally the wood cracked and the tree-top began to sway all the
family scampered away to the pond. They dived for the tunnel and hid in
the house for a while. There was danger that some hungry wild-cat had
heard the crash of the branches and had hurried there to catch them for
its supper.

As soon as it seemed safe to do so the beavers paddled out again and
trotted away to the fallen tree. The parents trimmed off the branches
and cut the trunk into pieces short enough to carry. The father seized
a thick pole in his teeth and swung it over his shoulders. As he
dragged it toward the pond he kept his head twisted to one side, so
that the end of the pole trailed on the ground.

The biggest little beaver tried to drag a smaller branch in the same
way. When he rose on his hind-legs, so as to walk along more easily,
he forgot to brace himself with his tail. The branch caught on a stone
and tipped him backwards, heels over head. The two other babies were
rolling a short log by pushing it with their noses. At the sound of
their brother’s surprised squeals they gave the log a last wild poke.
It seemed to make a jump over a bump, and then tumbled into a hole.
There it stayed, though they pushed and pulled and puffed and grunted
in trying to get it out again.

It happened that the father beaver reached the pond just in time to
help mend the dam with his thick pole. A pointed log had jammed a hole
in the dam. The water was beginning to pour through the hole with a
rush. If the pond should run dry the doors of the tunnels would be left
in plain sight. Then probably a wolf, or some other enemy, would hide
there to catch the beavers on their way from the woods to their houses.

The old father pushed his pole into the water; then he jumped in, and,
taking hold of it with his teeth, he swam out above the hole. When he
let go the water carried the pole squarely across the break in the dam.
The other beavers cut bushes and floated them down to weave across the
hole. After that they scooped up mud and stones to plaster the dam
till not a drop trickled through the mended places.

The next work to be done that autumn was to gather food for the winter.
Some of the trees with the juiciest bark grew too far away to be
easily dragged to the pond. All the grown-up beavers set to work to
dig a canal. They dug and scooped and gnawed off roots, and dragged
out stones, till they had made a long canal more than a foot deep. The
water flowed into this from the pond. Then it was easy enough to float
wood from the juicy trees down to the beaver village.

Even the babies could help in towing the wood down the canal and across
the pond to the different houses. Some of the wood became so heavy
with soaked-up water that it sank to the bottom beside the doors, and
could be packed in a solid pile as easily as on land. Most of the wood,
however, kept light enough to float. Instead of heaping new sticks on
top, the beavers pushed them under the top branches. Then more was
pressed under that, and more under that, till the pile reached to the
bottom. In the winter, of course, the top sticks could not be eaten,
because they would be frozen fast in the ice.

The autumn days were growing frostier and frostier. After mending the
dam and gathering their woodpiles, the beavers plastered a last coat of
mud all over the outside of their houses. The mud froze hard and made
the little rooms inside as safe as a fort, with walls two feet thick.
The babies carried leaves and grasses for their fresh beds. With a
bundle tucked between his chin and fore-paw, each one hobbled along on
three legs, “working like a beaver,” as the saying is.

One cloudy night, when the beavers were busy out in the woods,
something soft and cold began to float down through the chilly air.
The biggest baby felt a sting on his nose. When he put out his tongue
to lick it he touched only a speck of water. Bits of white sifted
on his fur and melted in drops. Presently the ground began to look
lighter colored. Something fluttered about his head and settled on his
eyelashes. He winked and sneezed and squeaked to the other babies. They
had never seen a snowstorm before.

When they jumped into the pond to paddle home something sharp and
brittle cracked and snapped in the icy black water. One of the little
fellows caught a bit in his mouth. It smarted on his tongue and then it
was gone. It was the first time that he had ever tasted ice.

The next night, when the beavers swam to the top of the pond, they
bumped their heads against something hard. It cracked all around them.
They pushed on, with the water lapping at the jagged edges. After they
reached the shore they found it very tiresome to wade through the snow.
Before the night was quarter past the old father hurried back to the
pond. He was afraid that the ice might freeze too thick for them to
break their way home again. He arched his back and slapped his tail on
the water with an echoing whack to call the babies after him.

All winter long the beavers lived quietly in their little homes under
the snow. Most of the time they slept, each on his own soft bed in the
dark. Whenever they were hungry they paddled down the tunnel which
led to the woodpile. Gnawing off some sticks they swam back with the
bundles under their chins. They used the middle of the room for a
dining-table. There they nibbled the bark. Then they carried the peeled
sticks back into the pond. They did not like to have rubbish left on
the floor.

Sometimes the babies grew restless and tired of staying still in the
room. They swam out into the pond and moved about under the ice. They
hunted for roots of the yellow water-lily. It must have been hard to
hold their breaths long enough to dig up the roots and paddle away back
into the house. Once the biggest baby almost had a fight with one of
his playmates over a juicy root. They pulled at it so roughly that it
was torn to pieces.

So the winter months slipped away. At last spring melted the ice on the
pond. Here and there in the black water little brown heads came popping
up. They went plowing toward shore, leaving v-shaped ripples stretching
out behind. Up the banks scrambled the beavers,—mother beavers and
father beavers, big brother beavers and big sister beavers, and all the
little beavers who had been babies the year before.

Away roamed the fathers up the brook, to have a good time travelling
all summer long. The grown-up brothers and sisters started out to build
dams and houses of their own. The little fellows wandered into the
woods to find their dinners of tender buds and twigs. The mothers ate
the bark from fresh sticks, and then hurried back to carry milk to the
new baby beavers, asleep on their soft beds at home.



VI

THE RABBIT (HARE)

“THE TIMID ONE”



THE TIMID ONE


THE nest was a small hole scooped out of the turf and lined with bits
of fur from the mother bunny’s breast. The five baby bunnies lay packed
close together. Their long ears were pressed flat on their furry backs,
and their hind-legs were doubled up under their round, little soft
bodies.

Over them rested a blanket of dry grass and fur matted together. The
sunlight outside shone through tiny holes here and there. Once the
bravest bunny poked up the cover and tried to look out. All he could
see was a little roof of green grasses interlacing above the nest. The
grasses rustled in the summer breeze.

During the day the babies cuddled down fast asleep. Sometimes a red ant
wandered into the nest. It clambered down from wisp to wisp of dead
grass and scurried across the bunnies’ faces. That tickled so that they
screwed up their pink noses and opened their round bright eyes for a
drowsy minute. Once a big spider crawled upon the edge and stared at
them with all its eyes, till the bravest bunny scared it away with a
flap of his ears. Another time a bird flew down to the nest and pecked
at the blanket till its bill stuck through and almost pricked one of
the babies.

Toward evening the bunnies began to wake up for the night. They
squirmed about, curling their toes, stretching their long legs, and
cocking their ears to listen for the mother bunny’s step. At last they
heard the soft thump-thump-thump of her furry paws as she came leaping
over the grass from the bushes where she had been dozing. How joyfully
the babies wriggled at sight of her! As soon as she had lifted the
blanket and crept underneath they snuggled close to her. They were
hungry for the warm milk which she had always ready for them to drink.

As the days passed the little bunnies began to grow too big for the
nest. Their hind-legs felt stronger and stronger for jumping. Indeed,
the bravest bunny had a naughty way of kicking his brothers and
sisters. He set his heels against their soft sides and pushed in hard
jerks, for the fun of making them squirm and squeal. Sometimes they
kicked back, but not very often, because they were afraid to make much
noise.

Their mother taught them to be as still as they could while she was
absent. The only way for such helpless little creatures to escape being
eaten by their many enemies was to keep out of sight. Snakes would not
notice them if they stayed quiet in the nest. Hungry hawks and owls
could not find out where they were hidden if they did not move. The bit
of a blanket looked like a patch of dead grass. Foxes and wild-cats and
the rest could not smell them so long as they lay still.

They were timid little things, and their ears seemed to be always
twitching to catch the least sounds. On some warm afternoons they
woke up early, and waited for the mother to bring their supper of
milk. Outside they heard the plop of grasshoppers jumping from stem
to stalk. The flutter of butterflies and the buzzing of bees over the
clover-blossoms sounded loud enough. The shrill whirring of a locust
made them tremble and quake. Perhaps they were afraid that it was
something coming to eat them up.

When the bunnies were strong enough to leave the nest they went to
live in the brush with their mother. Away they all galloped over the
grass. Their long ears flapped up and down, and the furry soles of
their hind-legs twinkled behind them. They did not stop to look around
till they were safe in the shelter of the bushes. Then every one of
them turned, and sat up on his haunches with his little fore-paws in
the air. With their ears pointed forward, and their round eyes shining,
they looked back at the grassy spot where they had lived in the hidden
cosy nest.

At that very minute, when they were all so excited and happy, the old
mother caught sight of a fox stealing after them. At a sign from her
the little bunnies sat as still as if they were made of stone. They
were almost the same color as the sticks and dry leaves around them.
Nobody would notice them unless they should move.

But that sly old fox was not looking for them with his eyes; he was
following their tracks, with his nose close to the ground. He smelled
his way nearer and nearer. The trembling babies could see the sharp
white teeth between his lips. His narrow eyes gleamed hungrily.
Finally he crept so near that he could smell them in the air. They saw
him lift his head and snuff in their direction, one of his fore-paws
raised for the next step.

Suddenly the mother bunny sprang out before his face and darted off
helter-skelter into the woods. She wanted to lead the fox away from
her little ones. Away she dashed under the bushes and over the logs,
up slopes and down gullies, dodging now this way now that. Once he was
so close that he opened his jaws to seize her. At that she turned like
a flash, and ran right between his legs. Then into a swamp she went
bounding in great leaps. There the fox lost sight of her, and could
not find her scent in the water. She left him nosing hungrily back and
forth, while she hurried back to her babies. They were sitting as still
as stones just where she had told them to stay.

Almost the first thing the mother bunny did, after gathering her family
in the woods, was to find different holes for hiding-places. One hole
was in a hollow stump, and another was in an old woodchuck-burrow. She
told the little ones that they must not go near the holes, except when
they could not escape in any other way. If they went often they would
make a path, and then their enemies could find out their hiding-places.

It was pleasant there in the underbrush of the woods. They felt almost
safe with briers above them to keep away their hungry enemies. The
smell of the mossy earth was warm and sweet. The buds and leaves and
bark were spicy and fragrant. The bunnies sniffed hither and thither,
twitching their noses and jerking their ears.

When they stopped living on milk they learned to feed on grasses and
juicy roots and twigs. The old mother showed them what was good to eat.
Like the beavers and squirrels the bunnies belonged to the _Order of
Gnawers_. Each one had four little nibbling teeth in the front of his
mouth, and grinding teeth in the back. They did not have such strong
teeth as the beavers, who could cut down trees, or the squirrels, who
gnawed hard nuts.

[Illustration: THE RABBIT.

“It was pleasant there in the underbrush of the woods.” _Page 84._]

Though the bunnies could not fight well, because they had no sharp
claws and teeth, they could jump higher and farther and faster than
any of their cousins. They soon found out that the best way to escape
when chased by their enemies was to trust in the nimbleness of their
legs.

Of course when they saw any hungry animal looking for something to
eat it was best for them to lie perfectly still so as to avoid being
seen. But if the animal caught sight of them they must run and dodge
and double and hide for their lives. It was generally wiser to keep on
running till the other lost the scent rather than to creep into a hole.
If the hungry hunter happened to be a mink or a weasel he could crawl
in after them and kill them.

The bunnies did not try to dig their own holes. They were really hares,
though they were so much like rabbits, who were true burrowers. Once in
the woods the bravest bunny saw a true rabbit. This rabbit had a family
of little ones in a deep burrow. They had been born blind and naked,
but the little hares had been born with their eyes open and fur on
their bodies. True rabbits were brought to America from across the sea.

In spite of their dangerous adventures the bunnies enjoyed the long
summer. Every morning at earliest dawn up they hopped from the forms.
The spot of flattened grass where each furry body had been resting was
called a “form.” Away to the clover-field they went leaping, one by
one. There they drank the dewdrops, and ate a breakfast of sweet green
leaves. They took a nibble here and a nibble there. Then they sat up
on their haunches and looked around to spy out a possible enemy. Their
round eyes twinkled this way and that, and their long ears twitched
nervously at every sound.

The twittering of the birds did not frighten them. They seemed to know
that there was no danger-signal in the rustling of leaves on the trees,
or the splashing of frogs in the pond. Even the crackle of twigs under
the footsteps of a deer did not send them running. They must have known
that grass-eating animals would not harm them.

But the stealthy wriggling of a snake in the grass sent them scurrying
wildly into the thickest underbrush. When they heard a stick crack
under the trees they seemed to know at once what kind of animal was
creeping near. At the soft tread of a fox or a wild-cat they sat as
still as stones, unless they knew that they had been seen. If that
happened they bounded away in a race for life.

When the sunshine fell bright on some sandy hillside the bunnies went
there, and stretched out like kittens in the pleasant warmth. They
squirmed and blinked and turned slowly over and over. They lay on
their backs and waved their paws in the air. They had five toes on
each fore-paw and four on each hind-paw. Even then, while twisting and
stretching in enjoyment, they were on the alert. At the sound of a caw
from a neighboring tree, or at the sight of a hawk hovering far above,
they all leapt to their feet, and scampered out of sight in a twinkling.

Then for hours they sat on their forms in the shade of the bushes
and dozed, half asleep, but ready to bound away at the first hint of
danger. The scream of a blue jay startled every bunny wide awake in
an instant. The jays always saw everything in the woods. The bunnies
waited, without stirring, till they could find out what the trouble
was. Sometimes it was a dog hunting for rabbits; sometimes it was
a snake coiled in the sun, or a baby fox playing with his own tail;
sometimes it was only a red squirrel chattering and scolding at the
blue jay.

On warm afternoons the winged ticks hovered about, biting the bunnies
on the tips of their ears and sensitive noses. Then the bunnies hid
under skunk cabbages in the marshy spots. The bad smell kept the ticks
away. It was cool and pleasant there. The five babies lay still,
listening to the soft whirring and drowsy buzzing of insects, in the
hot sunshine beyond the marsh.

After the sun went down the bunnies scattered to find their supper of
tender twigs or grasses or roots. Always, while they nibbled, they kept
twitching their ears forward and back. Every minute or two each one
paused to sit erect, and roll his bright eyes in all directions. All
the time his little jaws were working busily. Then perhaps they dressed
their fur coats, combing their ears with their paws, and biting the
burrs from their vests and socks.

Off with a hop, skip, and jump for a frolic in an open space in the
woods! What a gay time the five little bunnies had there with their
friends! They went leaping, one after another. Some tore through the
ferns and hopped over the logs, with their long ears flapping. They
sprang straight up into the air, kicking out their hind-legs. They
jumped over each other, and scurried wildly round and round. One
whirled about like a kitten, chasing his own short tail. The bravest
bunny danced on his hind-legs all alone in the moonlight.

When summer was over the cool days of autumn found the bunnies friskier
than ever. They had half a dozen smaller brothers and sisters by this
time, because the old mother had two or three nestfuls of little
ones in a year. There was plenty for everybody to eat in the woods
and fields. The little creatures feasted on roots and apples and
soft-shelled nuts till they grew round and sleek. The bravest bunny
became so fat and lazy that he hated to run. Whenever he was being
chased by any enemy he slipped into the first hole he saw. He would
certainly have been caught one day if the weasel behind him had not
happened to have a lame foot from his last fight. When he stopped to
untangle it from a strawberry-vine the bunny had time to escape.

Winter was hard on the bunny family. They could not run so fast through
the soft snow as on the firm ground. Their enemies could see their
footprints, and follow more easily. Often and often, when a little
fellow had gone out to nibble twigs and buds, he heard something move
behind him. And there, not far away, he saw a fox ready to spring on
him.

The bravest bunny slept under a rotten log. He always slept with his
legs doubled under him, fixed for a great jump away, in case any hungry
animal came nosing around. He did not mind the cold, for his fur was
fine and thick and warm. Even inside his mouth the soft fur grew, as
well as on the soles of his feet.

When spring came the bunnies were more glad than any of the other small
creatures in the woods. It was a joy to feel the warm breezes blow
their fur. They did not care so much for the warmth as for the tender
buds which it opened on the trees. Green leaves came peeping out of
the ground, and flowers blossomed in sheltered nooks.

Birds were singing, and frogs began their croaking in the meadows. The
woods were busy with the hurry-skurry of little feet. Now once more
there was plenty for everybody to eat. The bunnies were glad because of
that. But perhaps they were even more glad, because now their hungry
enemies could hunt many other animals besides the timid bunnies.



VII

THE SQUIRREL

“THE ONE WITH THE PRETTIEST TAIL”



THE ONE WITH THE PRETTIEST TAIL


THE four baby squirrels were tired of staying in their soft nest in the
hollow tree. They wanted to find out what was going on in the world
outside. As they cuddled together in the shadowy hole they could hear
the queerest sounds. They cocked their heads curiously at the rustling
and whispering of the wind among the leaves. They heard chirping and
singing and a silvery tinkle, tinkle from the brook. Once a bee flew
buzzing right over their heads, and made them clutch one another in
terror.

One morning, when the old mother squirrel was away hunting for birds’
eggs to eat, the smallest baby crept to the mouth of the hole and
peeped out with his round bright eyes. All around and above him there
were wonderful green things flickering and fluttering. Twinkles of
sunlight danced through the leaves and dazzled him. Something soft and
cool blew back the new bristles on his lips and ruffled his satiny red
fur. He was so much interested that he sat there, staring and staring,
till the other little ones began to squeak and scold him for shutting
out the light.

After he crept down again to the nest the others climbed up, one by
one, and looked out. They winked and blinked at each wonderful sight;
they sniffed the strange odors, and twitched their eager little heads
at every new sound. The scream of a blue jay in the tree-top above sent
them scampering inside again, to cuddle close together in the darkest
corner. It was fun to see something new and exciting, even if it did
make them shiver all over.

Soon the mother squirrel came springing from branch to branch to reach
the hollow. How the babies squeaked and chattered in welcome! Very
likely they told her about the wonderful sights and sounds and smells
in the strange world outside the hole. The smallest one clasped his
fore-paws around her neck, and coaxed her to let them all go out to
find more interesting things. It was stupid there in the dark nest,
with nothing to watch except the patch of light across the opening
above them.

The old squirrel knew that the little ones were not strong enough yet
to leave the nest. To be sure, they had grown and changed very much
since the first days. Then they had been ugly little creatures, like
tiny pug-dogs, with big heads, no fur, and their eyes tight shut. Now
they were half as big as she was herself. Their eyes were like jewels,
and their red fur was smooth as satin.

But their tails, with only fringes of hair along the sides, were not
nearly so fluffy as the mother’s. Her tail was long and plumy. It
curved so gracefully over her back that she seemed to be sitting in its
shadow. One name of the squirrel is “shadow-tail.”

For a few weeks longer the four babies scrambled about the doorway and
looked longingly out at the wonderful green tree-world. They did not
dare to step out upon the slender branches, for fear of falling off. It
made them feel dizzy to look away down to the ground below. They did
not know how to cling to the limbs with their feet while they balanced
themselves with their tails.

When the young squirrels were almost strong enough to learn to run and
climb in the tree, the mother began to build an airier home higher up
the trunk. The old nest was growing too warm for comfort, as summer
brought the long sunny hours. The squirrel father was not there to
help his mate. She had driven him away before the babies came. She
thought the tree belonged to her, and that she needed all the room in
the hollow for her little ones. She chased him off to live in the woods
with all the other squirrel fathers till the babies were big enough to
take care of themselves.

The mother squirrel worked on the new nest in the early morning. She
bit off leafy twigs and carried them to the top of the tree. There,
where two branches forked, she packed the sticks and leaves together
in a loose ball. Then she pushed a doorway through, at one side or
another, just as she happened to be standing. This was not such a neat
home as one in the next tree. That other mother squirrel built her new
nest of strips of bark tied together with ribbons of soft fibre. Over
the doorway she hung a curtain of bark, and lifted it up carefully
whenever she went inside.

At last the new home was ready. The old mother hurried down to the
hollow and called the babies to come out and follow her. They stepped
out, one after another, just as carefully as they could. The smallest
baby came last. He dug his claws into the bark and hung on. The branch
seemed so narrow that he trembled from fear of falling. The tree swayed
in the wind. The branch bounced up and down, and a leaf blew in his
face. The poor little fellow shut his eyes, because everything seemed
to be whirling round and round.

When he opened his eyes again he saw the three other little ones
climbing up the trunk above him. They clutched the bark with their
claws and moved forward, one paw at a time. The mother was running on
ahead of them. Every few steps she turned around to coax them on faster.

Finally they reached a narrow branch which led over to the new nest.
They crawled out on it, lifting one foot and then setting it down
before lifting another. The farther they crept the narrower the branch
grew under them. Their little paws began to slip over the smoother
bark. The one in front tried to turn around, but he was afraid of
losing his balance. So they all three scrambled backwards to the safe
trunk.

The mother ran back to them, and chattered and scolded. Again and again
they started out over the branch, and then went scrambling back. When
at last the mother had coaxed them across to the nest she looked around
for the smallest baby. There he was away down at the door of the old
nest. The old squirrel was tired out. Her fur was ruffled and her ears
drooped. She ran down to the nest and began to scold the little fellow.
He sat up and put his paws around her neck, as if he were begging her
to let him stay there. But she started him up the trunk and pushed him
along to the branch. Then she took hold of him by the neck and carried
him across to the new home.

After that the little ones were taken out every morning to practise
climbing. Little by little they learned to balance themselves on the
branches. Their tails were fluffy enough by this time to be of use in
balancing. First to one side, then to the other, each baby tilted his
tail as he crept along, step by step. Every day they could move a
little faster. Finally they were able to chase one another up and down,
from branch to branch. They went running around the trunks, skipping
and leaping from slender twig to twig, and jumping from one tree to
another, even through the air.

Sometimes one or another missed his footing after a reckless jump.
Often he caught hold of a branch below by a single toe and lifted
himself up to a firmer foothold. Or if there was no branch within
reach, he spread out his fur, and flattened his tail, and went sailing
down to the ground, almost as if he could fly. They never seemed to get
hurt.

The little squirrels appeared to be always doing something. They turned
summersaults in the grass, or swung by one paw from the tip of a tough
branch. There was always something to do or to see. Now they chattered
at a blue jay, or chased a toad for the fun of watching him hop. Now
they caught beetles to look at, or, safe in a tree, they scolded at
some fox slinking along through the woods. And every day there was the
excitement of finding something to eat.

The babies lived on milk till they were almost as heavy as their
mother. Then she began to feed them with fruit and buds and grubs,
which she first chewed for them. Like the beavers and the hares and
rabbits each had four chisel teeth in the front of its mouth. They
needed to gnaw hard nuts or bark every day to keep these teeth from
growing too long.

When the young squirrels were three months old in July they were big
enough to take care of themselves. Away they scampered from the old
home tree and found new homes in stumps and hollows. The smallest one
used to curl up in an old robin’s nest to sleep at night. All day long
they were just as busy as they could be.

There were cones to be gathered from the evergreens. The little
squirrels ran up the trees in a hurry, and, cutting off the cones
with their sharp teeth, tossed them over their shoulders to the
ground. Every few minutes they scurried down to bury the cones under
the pine-needles for the winter. Sometimes a drop of sticky pitch
from the cut stems was rubbed against their fur. That made them so
uncomfortable that they had to stop and lick it off.

The squirrels loved to be clean. Ever since they were tiny babies, with
their new red fur, they always helped one another with washing their
faces, and combing their tails with their claws. They were careful to
run along logs over a muddy spot. If one happened to get wet he dried
himself with his fluffy tail.

When they were tired of eating seeds and twigs they hunted for grubs.
Clinging to the bark of a dead tree they listened till they heard
something gnawing beneath the surface ever so softly. Then, tearing
off the bark in ragged pieces, they pounced upon the flat whitish grub
beneath and ate it up. They were fond of mushrooms, too, and seemed to
know which were poisonous and which were good to eat.

But the best time of all came in the autumn when nuts were ripe. Then
what fun the little squirrels had! Early every morning out popped
the little heads from the hollow stumps and logs. The big round eyes
twinkled eagerly in every direction. Then, whisk! they were out, with
a bark and a squeak! Scampering to the top of a tree each one took a
flying leap to a branch of the next. Up and down, on and across, they
followed the squirrel-paths through the woods till they reached the
grove, where the nuts were ripening.

It was a busy place, with little wings fluttering and little feet
pattering, and yellow leaves drifting down in the sunshine. All the
squirrels scurried to and fro, picking one nut here, and another there.
They sat on the branches, with their bushy tails curving over their
backs, and held the nuts in their fore-paws to nibble. The smallest
baby could open the hardest walnut, and clean it out in less than a
minute. In the oddest way he seemed to know exactly where to bore
through the shell so as to strike the broad side of the kernel.

All the while the blue jays and the thrifty chipmunks were gathering
nuts and corn, and hiding their stores away for the winter. That seemed
so interesting that the squirrels gathered some too. The smallest one
stuffed his cheeks full of nuts and scampered back to his latest home
in a hollow stump. The next mouthful he brought was hidden in a fork
of a tree and covered with leaves. Then he tucked away a few chestnuts
in the cracks of the bark on an oak-tree. By that time he was tired of
working at this, so he scurried around to find out how many nuts the
other young squirrels were saving for the winter.

Autumn passed away, and the days grew colder. In the woods the leaves
were all fallen and the branches were stripped bare of nuts. Every
morning when the squirrels poked out their heads the air nipped their
noses. Frost sparkled on the dead grass. The chipmunks had crept into
their holes for the winter, and most of the birds had flown away south.

The squirrels were not quite so gay now as in the autumn days, when
they danced upon the branches and whistled and chuckled over the good
things to eat and the curious sights to see. They slept with their
warm tails wrapped over their noses. They still ran busily through the
tree-tops, except when snow or icy rain kept them shut within their
holes. They ate all the nuts they could find, and dug up the buried
pine-cones. They climbed the hemlock-trees and ate the seeds. Sometimes
they found a delicious frozen apple or some forgotten acorns. Once the
smallest squirrel happened to dig up a heap of chestnuts from between
two stones under the snow. He could not remember whether he had hidden
them himself or not. How he snickered and danced when he saw them!

Late in the winter the squirrels had eaten all the nuts and cones
within reach. They were so hungry on many a day that they tried to
creep into a chipmunk’s hole and steal his store of food. However he
was smaller than they were, and he had wisely made one bend in his
tunnel too small for them to pass. Then they had to live on buds and
barks and seeds as best they could till spring started the tender green
plants to growing.

The squirrels gnawed the bark of the maple-trees and drank the sweet
sap that came oozing out. Later there were elm buds to nibble and
birds’ eggs to suck. The woods were once more green with juicy leaves.
All the squirrels went to housekeeping. Soon in almost every tree there
was a new family of wondering little squirrels peeping out of their
hollow with their round, bright eyes.



VIII

THE BEAR

“ONE THAT SLEEPS ALL WINTER”



ONE THAT SLEEPS ALL WINTER


OUT in the woods the snow fell deeper and deeper. It piled higher and
higher around the hollow tree in which the mother bear and her two
little bears were sleeping. The snow had drifted over the opening and
made it all dark inside.

Once in a while the two babies woke up and whimpered for more milk, as
they tumbled clumsily about on the bed of leaves. Then the old bear
opened her sleepy eyes and licked their glossy little black bodies
while she nursed them. After that they all fell drowsily quiet again,
and slept and slept.

So the weeks slipped away while the babies sucked milk, or slept,
snuggled close to their big, warm, furry mother. She had been sleeping
all winter. The autumn before she had crept into the hollow tree to
stay until spring. She did not eat a mouthful in all that time.

Now as the days grew warmer outside the old mother bear began to feel
more wide awake. One morning she pawed a hole through the snow at the
opening of the hollow and crawled out to find something to eat. The two
little bears had their eyes open at last. They lay still on the nest
and blinked at the light that shone dimly in through the hole.

Now and then they heard the soft plop of a bunch of snow dropping from
the evergreen trees in the woods. The bare branches of the aspens
clicked together in the March wind. They heard the gurgle of water
lapping over melting ice. The tap-tap-tap of a woodpecker on the bark
of their hollow tree sounded like thunder inside. Once a red squirrel
ran squeaking over the snow outside.

Before very long they heard footsteps thumping softly up to the hole,
and their mother’s big black body came scrambling in. The two cubs
whined for joy, and rubbed against her legs. They were hungry again,
and wanted their dinner. The thin old bear had not found much to eat
herself. It was too early in the year for berries, and the ants were
still in their underground homes. She had caught a frog in the brook,
and found a few blades of grass to munch.

After that she went out every day, for it seemed as if she grew
hungrier and hungrier. Once she found a frozen deer. After eating all
she could of it she covered the rest with leaves until the next day.
Sometimes she caught a chipmunk under a log. It was only in the early
spring that the old black bear ate much meat, for usually she liked
fruit and roots and nuts better.

Meanwhile the two little bears stayed safe in the den till their teeth
were cut and the claws grew sharp and strong. Then they played outside
for a little every day. They wrestled together and tumbled about in the
sunshine, like clumsy puppies. They were careful not to creep too far
away from the den. At any strange sound or smell away they scampered
head first into the hole, with their little wrinkled black feet kicking
out behind them.

At last they were strong enough to set out on their travels with the
old mother. Very likely she gave them each a good washing and combing
before they started. She could use her fore-paws like hands. When the
cubs squealed and tried to bite, while she was brushing them, she
slapped them with her big paw. She could use her paws for digging, and
for carrying food to her mouth. With the sharp claws she could tear
meat or logs to pieces.

The two little ones must have been delighted to think of leaving the
tiresome den in the hollow tree. Like all bears they loved to travel.
Down the valley they ambled, stepping clumsily on the flat soles of
their feet. Bears do not walk lightly on their toes, as do the graceful
animals who belong to the cat family.

The old mother moved on with her head held low, while the babies
waddled after her. They did not look around much at the wonderful
mountains, with the dark evergreens and rocks scattered over the yellow
gravel. They did not notice the blue sky above, for their close-set
eyes were rather nearsighted. Though they could not see very well they
sniffed keenly at every strange smell.

There were many new delicious smells of warm earth and green plants
and furry rabbits and squirrels and birds and strawberry blossoms. The
cubs imitated their mother in everything she did. They stepped in the
same foot-tracks, and jumped over the same logs at the same places.
Whenever she stopped to sniff they rose on their little hind-legs and
twitched their pointed brown noses in the air.

Once they came to a footprint in the gravel. It was a footprint of a
grizzly bear ever so much bigger than the old black bear. The cubs
looked at their mother to see how she was acting. Then they copied
her. They drew back their lips from their white teeth and growled baby
growls, while their little eyes gleamed, and the hairs on their backs
ruffled up stiffly. Grizzlies sometimes killed black bears.

Soon they reached the spruce grove where the red ants lived. Scattered
over the gravel there were rounded hills, with tiny red creatures
hurrying in and out of their holes, and around and to and fro. The
little bears looked at the ants and then watched their mother as she
sat down beside a hill and licked up a mouthful. After a minute down
they sat, and scraped their pointed tongues over the ant-hills.

The ants tasted as sour as vinegar, and made the young ones wrinkle
their noses just at first, because they were used to drinking sweet
milk. More than once a fierce little ant gave a nipping bite to the
red tongues that squirmed over the gravel. That made the babies squeal,
and rub their mouths with their paws. When some ants crawled up on
their fur the bears licked them off without getting any gravel mixed in.

As the morning sunshine grew warmer the cubs began to feel tired and
sleepy. It had been such an exciting day ever since starting out from
the old den at sunrise! The mother walked off to a shady spot under
thick evergreens, and they all curled down for a nap. The babies
snuggled close together, curling their paws and tucking their noses
into their fur. Closing their eyes, while their fat little sides heaved
in a long sigh of content, they fell fast asleep. Those ants had tasted
so good!

Very early every morning the two cubs set off with their mother to find
something to eat. In the heat of the day they took a nap. Late in the
afternoon they went out again and feasted till dark, or even later,
when berries were plenty. Sometimes they slept in a hollow log, or in a
cave, or in a sheltered thicket.

Before lying down the old bear was always careful to walk several
hundred yards in the same direction in which the wind was blowing. If
any enemy happened to follow their trail while they were asleep they
could smell him in the wind and get away in time. One night they really
did smell a wolf coming nearer and nearer. They stole off through the
woods. The old mother showed the cubs how to step softly, setting down
each big padded foot where it broke no stick and rustled no leaf.

The bears learned to eat all sorts of food. There were the delightfully
sour ants in their hills or hidden under rocks and old logs. The cubs
soon grew strong enough to turn over the rocks and logs for themselves.
Leaning on one fore-leg, each little fellow raised the stone with the
other fore-leg, and gave it a shove backward, so that it would not fall
on his toes. Away rolled the stone, and down went the greedy head to
lick up every ant in sight. Then a sweep of a paw uncovered the beetles
and worms and crickets that had run to hide deeper. Sometimes the old
mother gripped her claws in both sides of a rotten log and tore it
open. The little bears gobbled up the worms and insects inside as fast
as they could.

All the spring and early summer the three bears hunted for worms and
insects in this way. They dug up wild roots with their noses, just
as pigs do. One day the cubs smelled a delicious smell near a flat
stone. They hurried to push the stone away, and there they found a
heap of nuts. They stuffed their mouths full at once, while the little
chipmunk, to whom the nuts belonged, squeaked angrily at them from
under a heavy rock.

Later in the summer the berries were ripe. That was the time for little
bears to be happy! First the fragrant red strawberries grew red in the
fields. The berries were so small, and the hungry mouths were so large,
that many a bite was mixed with leaves and grass. However, the cubs did
not object to that, even when a fat white grub or two was pulled up
with the roots of the strawberry plants.

After the strawberries other berries ripened along the bank of the
river at the edge of the woods. The mother bear knew just where the
biggest ones grew. Many a happy day they spent picking the fruit.
When the weather was cloudy and cool they did not stop for naps. Each
one walked along from bush to bush, raising his head and wrapping his
tongue around a branch. Then with a downward pull he stripped off
leaves and berries and all, and munched and munched. They could stand
on their hind-feet to reach the higher branches.

The bears had broad grinding teeth in the sides of their jaws, and
so they could chew their food. Animals like the cat and the dog have
only cutting teeth. They tear their food into pieces small enough to
swallow, and then gulp it down without chewing.

At noon they went down to the river for a drink. First they snuffed
around carefully, and then lapped up the water. If the day was very
warm the cubs waded in and lay down to cool off. Sometimes the old
mother took her nap lying in the water. Once in a while they caught a
frog or a live fish by giving a jump and quick slap before it could
swim away.

In late summer the wild plums ripened in the woods. The old bear shook
the trees and sent the red fruit hailing down upon the scrambling
cubs. On one specially delightful day they found a hollow tree in which
bees had been storing honey for the winter.

They saw the bees buzzing around a hole high up on the trunk. One of
the cubs climbed up. Wrapping his hind-legs around the tree he held on
with one fore-paw, while with the other he dipped out the honey and
stuffed it into his mouth. All about him the air was gray with bees.
They stung him on his nose and ears and eyelids. He did not mind that
much, except when one bit his tongue. Then he thrust out his tongue and
mumbled and growled for a moment. He had never before eaten anything so
delicious as honey.

After the pleasant summer came the frosty autumn with its ripening
nuts. The cubs climbed trees and sat on the branches, with their black
legs dangling. The old bear shook the trees to bring down the nuts.
Once she shook so hard that one of the little bears lost his hold and
fell. He tumbled down in such a limp soft heap that he was not hurt at
all, but bounded up again like a rubber ball.

At another time the mother saw a big grizzly bear coming through the
woods. When the cubs heard her warning grunt they shot up the tree
like jumping-jacks, and hid in the thick leaves near the top. There
they were safe, for the grizzly was too heavy, and its claws were too
long, for climbing. Grizzly bears are the largest beasts of prey in
the world. Sometimes when very hungry they will eat their cousins, the
black bears.

The days kept growing colder little by little, and twilight came a few
minutes sooner every evening. The air was frosty at night, and somehow
the three bears felt drowsier and drowsier. Their naps lasted longer
every afternoon. On some cold days they curled up on dry ledges in the
sunshine and slept from morning to night. They were sleek and fat from
their feasts of acorns and nuts.

All this while the old mother bear was becoming more and more cross.
When the cubs tried to play with her she slapped them, and pushed them
away whimpering. It was time for them to take care of themselves. Very
likely she did not want to be bothered with them all winter long.

So one day the two little bears walked off by themselves. They roamed
through the woods, looking for some place which would be a warm den.
One of them dug a cosy hole under a big root and curled down for his
winter’s sleep. The other crept between two rocks that almost touched
over his head.

Outside the snow began to fall. It blew in through the cracks and
powdered down upon the little bear’s thick fur. Very soon it had
stuffed all the cracks and drifted higher over the rocks and logs. It
went whirling from the ledges into the valleys; it fell deeper and
deeper over the three dens and shut out the cold.

The little bears breathed more and more slowly, with their noses warm
in their furry fore-arms. Their little fat sides rose and fell ever so
faintly. Their hearts beat more softly. They were fast asleep for the
winter, while the snow fell and the icy winds blew on the mountains
without.



IX

THE FOX

“THE WISEST ONE”



THE WISEST ONE


ALMOST the first thing that the smallest baby fox remembered was being
carried in his mother’s mouth from one den to another. His woolly
little red body hung limp between her long white teeth. That was the
safest way; for if he had held stiff or wriggled she might have closed
her jaws tighter and pinched him.

It was very early in the morning, and the rising sun was just lighting
up the tops of the trees. The birds were singing their gayest May
songs. Here and there dewdrops sparkled, where the level sunbeams
glinted across the leaves. Under a bush a rabbit sat up very still, and
stared with round, frightened eyes at the mother fox.

The mother fox did not see the rabbit. She stepped along swiftly. Her
slender paws hardly rustled a leaf or snapped a twig. She looked like a
graceful red dog, with pointed ears and yellow eyes and beautiful plumy
tail. This plumy tail seemed to float out in the air behind her, as if
she were blowing lightly before the wind.

When she reached the new den she did not stop an instant at the front
door. The freshly dug earth was scattered around there in plain sight.
In digging this new burrow she and the father fox had left the dirt
there on purpose, to make their enemies think that this hole was the
real entrance to the den. A few feet underground they had closed the
tunnel with a heap of earth. At the other end they had made a new
opening hidden behind gray rocks in a thicket.

To this secret door the mother fox carried the baby, and set him down
on his four thick legs. He looked like a little red lamb with yellow
eyes. Into the hole he scrambled, and crept through the tunnel to the
dark den at the end. On the nest of leaves inside he found his four
brothers and sisters snuggling together. The old mother had carried
them there one by one.

The day before, when a big dog came nosing about the old den, the
father fox led him away through the woods. He could run the faster,
and so he kept on, with the dog chasing him, till the dog was tired
out. Then he and the mother hurried to dig this new den and move the
babies before the dog came back to the old place again.

In going from one den to the other the old foxes were careful not to
walk in a straight path. If they did that of course the dog could
follow them by smelling their trail. They took a roundabout path every
time. They trotted around a swampy meadow and crossed a brook by
stepping from stone to stone. The wet ground hid the scent of their
paws.

This journey to the new den was the first time that the young foxes had
been outdoors. As they were carried by the neck they could not twist
their heads around to see very much. But still, they must have enjoyed
the light and the fresh air. They did not want to keep on staying all
the time in the dark den. So early one morning they came scrambling out
after their mother.

The smallest baby fox crawled out last of all. For a moment he stood
very quiet on all four paws. Then he sat down and cocked his little
head on one side while he looked around. The old father was lying down
in the sunlight just outside the thicket. Two of the babies trotted
over to him and began to play with his tail. Two others climbed upon
the mother’s back and pushed each other off. There they wrestled,
rolling over and over in each other’s paws.

The smallest baby wanted to make the others pay him some attention. He
lifted his sharp little black nose and opened his mouth and began to
bark—bow-wow-wow, bow-wow-wow—till the others stopped playing. They
came running over to ask what was the matter. He told them something
in the fox language by rubbing his cool wet nose against theirs. Then
they all five trotted about and explored the thicket by smelling of
everything within reach.

They poked their noses into the grass and against the trees and bushes
and over every stick and stone and leaf on the ground. To their keen
nostrils everything had a different smell. When the smallest baby
smelled a stick he could tell which little brother or sister had been
smelling it just before him.

As the sun rose higher and the air grew warmer the little fellows sat
down and rested, with their tongues lolling out of their mouths. Like
all foxes and wolves and dogs they perspired through the tongue and the
soles of their feet. After a while the mother gave a low growl to say
that it was time to go back into the den. In they scampered head first,
and curled up for a nap, with their fluffy tails over their noses.

When the babies cut their teeth the mother stopped feeding them with
milk. After that she and the father fox were kept busy hunting for food
for the hungry young ones. Sometimes they hunted in the daytime as well
as at night. Oftener, however, the old mother stayed near the den to
keep guard when the little foxes came out to play every afternoon.

Such fun as the five little ones had together! They ran round and
round, chasing their tails. One hid behind a tuft of grass and jumped
out to scare the others. Another climbed upon a rock and then was
afraid to slide down. One went rolling down a small hill while another
capered beside him and pretended to snap at him.

Once the smallest baby saw a grasshopper whizz past. He saw where it
was hiding under a leaf. He crouched down as low as he could and crept
toward it. Without making a noise he crawled from bush to stone, from
stone to tuft of weeds, till he was near enough to spring and catch it
in his paws. All the others ran to see what he had caught. The mother
came, too, from the place where she had been watching him. She was
proud of him because he was learning to hunt while so young.

As evening came on and the shadows lengthened under the trees the
mother fox sent the babies into the den and walked away to hunt for a
supper. The smallest fox happened to be the last one in. He turned when
just inside and poked his pointed nose out to watch her as she trotted
away into the woods.

A few hours later, when they heard her low call at the mouth of the
burrow, out they came tumbling. Sometimes she had a rabbit hanging in
her mouth, with its long legs on one side and its long ears on the
other. Sometimes she had a young turkey thrown over her shoulders, or
a fringe of field-mice hanging by the tails from her lips. Once she
brought a wood-chuck, and at another time a string of little chickens
held by the necks.

The babies always ran and snatched for a piece. Then each trotted
off alone to eat it. When they were not hungry they played with the
food. They nibbled the bits, first tossing them into the air and then
springing to catch them. They could not use their fore-paws so freely
as animals like the cat. They growled and shook the mice to and fro in
their mouths. Sometimes they snatched from one another and snapped and
snarled crossly. Once the smallest fox had a fight. Every time he flew
at his brother the other whisked his bushy tail in front of his face,
and all the little one got was a mouthful of fur.

By and by the young foxes were taken out to learn to hunt for
themselves. There was ever so much to learn because every different
animal must be hunted in a different way. The main lesson was to keep
their eyes open and their ears alert and their noses keen for smelling.
They must be quick to jump and wise at all sorts of tricks.

They learned to catch chickens by hiding near the place where the flock
was feeding. When a chicken strayed near enough quick as a flash out
jumped the fox and caught it by the neck. They chased rabbits and
pounced on busy squirrels. They hunted meadow-mice in the grass, and
stole silently upon careless woodchucks.

The smallest baby caught a chipmunk in almost the same way as he had
caught the grasshopper. He saw the little brown animal feeding near its
hole. Very slowly and carefully the fox began to walk up to it. Every
few moments the chipmunk sat up and looked around. When he did this the
fox stood still, and so the chipmunk did not notice him. As soon as
the chipmunk dropped down on all four feet and began to nibble again,
the young hunter crept several steps closer. He held his tail pointing
out straight behind. At last, with a rush and a jump, the fox had the
chipmunk between his teeth.

All summer long there was plenty to eat in the woods. The five young
foxes grew as strong and tall as their parents. They left the old home
and scattered to dig new dens here and there in the woods and fields.
They all knew how to take care of themselves.

[Illustration: THE FOX.

“Now and then the fox stopped to listen.” _Page 131._]

Even as babies they had learned to hold still as a stone at any strange
sound. If they heard it again they ran to the den as fast as they could
scamper. More than once while they lay blinking comfortably in the
sunlight they saw the old father fox spring up with his ears pricked
forward and his eyes gleaming. With his tail erect, his fore-feet
planted in front, and his hind-feet on the spring, he listened to the
sound that had startled him. Perhaps it was the bark of a dog or the
scream of a blue jay over a newcomer in the woods. It was always safer
for grown foxes to run from an enemy than to try to fight, for they
were swift-footed creatures.

Once the smallest fox was really chased by a dog. The dog smelled his
trail near a flock of chickens. He ran on with his nose to the ground
till he saw the fox sitting under a tree with his tongue hanging out of
his mouth. At the sound of the bark the fox looked back. Then off and
away he ran lightly over the hills and through the fields. His fluffy
tail floated in the wind.

Now and then the fox stopped to listen to the baying of the dog far
behind him. Two or three times he whirled around, chasing his tail
and capering. He knew that he could run the faster. He picked his way
from stone to stone across a brook because he did not like to wet his
feet. Then he ran up a tree that had fallen in a slant. He jumped from
the end far over to a dead log and scampered across a rocky field. From
the top of a hill he looked back and watched the dog trying to find the
scent over the brook and around the slanting tree. When he was tired he
hid in a hole.

When autumn came the young foxes gathered on many a frosty night for a
romp before going to their hunting. They galloped to and fro, jumping
over one another and springing from log to log. It was almost the same
as if they were puppies again, frisking before the old burrow. They
wrestled and rolled and whirled around after their tails. Then away to
their silent hunting!

When the snow fell and the cold winds blew life was harder for the
foxes. Through the day generally they slept in their dens, with their
tails curled over their noses and fore-paws. Out they crept at sundown
to hunt for a rabbit or unwary squirrel, to trap a partridge, or
snatch a squeaking mouse at the edge of a stone.

Many a night some young fox went home hungry. Often he lay in the snow
hour after hour till his legs were stiff, while he waited for a rabbit
that stayed safe in its hole. More than once he made a dive into the
snow after a partridge, only to see the bird flutter up before his very
nose and fly into a tree. Very likely, as he sat looking hungrily up
to the branches, he wished that he could climb trees. Undoubtedly the
partridges and the squirrels did not wish any such thing.

Before spring came at last the foxes were hungry enough to eat
anything. Indeed one day in early March, while the smallest one was
roaming through the woods, he happened to spy a garter-snake coiled on
a rock in the sunshine. He jumped for it and gulped it down in a hurry.
The next day he caught a turtle and a frog. The frog was so stiff and
sluggish from its winter’s sleep that it could not hop at all.

By that time it seemed that spring was really at hand. As the foxes
never ate grass or leaves they did not care about the fresh green
plants and buds through the woods. Nevertheless they knew very well
that rabbits liked roots, and squirrels nibbled twigs, and field-mice
were hungry for the sprouting seeds. When these small animals came out
to eat, the foxes could hunt them more easily than in winter.

Once more the soft winds blew among the branches and the leaves
flickered in the sunlight. The birds were singing overhead in the
tree-tops. And here and there in the hidden thickets new broods of
little red foxes were frisking together at the mouths of the burrows.



X

THE WOLF

“THE FIERCEST ONE”


[Illustration: THE WOLF.

“It was the father wolf coming in.” _Page 137._]



THE FIERCEST ONE


THE old mother wolf came home from her hunting, licking her black lips.
Her four woolly babies scrambled out of the den among the rocks, and
ran to meet her. They wagged their little tails, and barked joyous baby
barks. They rubbed against her legs, and reached up their little faces
to kiss her on her cool nose.

After smelling them all over the old wolf lay down beside them in the
den to give them their dinner. The strongest little wolf was getting
tired of milk. When he had nursed for a few minutes he began to play,
climbing up his mother’s shaggy back and rolling down again, with his
legs waving in the air.

Soon he pricked up his ears at the sound of a footstep outside the den.
Then he sniffed the air. Sure enough! It was the father wolf coming in
with something furry in his mouth. The cubs ran to smell it. Somehow
the smell made the strongest little fellow feel so hungry that he tried
to bite it with his new sharp teeth. He snapped and snarled when the
old wolves dragged it away from him.

Very likely this reminded the parents that they must now teach the
young ones to eat meat. So on the next evening they left the babies
safe asleep in the den and trotted away together. They looked like two
fierce dogs, with shaggy gray and black hair, pointed ears, and bushy
tails. Their yellow eyes were set more slanting than the eyes of dogs.

They caught a rabbit by taking turns in chasing it till it was tired
out. Then they trotted home. At the mouth of the den the mother gave
a low call. There was a rustle of woolly bodies over the leaves and
grasses of the nest back in the dark. And out tumbled the cubs,
wriggling with joy. The father wolf, with his big teeth glittering
behind his whiskered lips, tore the rabbit into pieces, and showed the
young ones how to eat. Each snapped at his piece, and ran to one side
alone to gnaw and pull it into bits small enough to swallow. They did
not chew their food, because like other flesh-eating animals, except
bears, they did not have any grinding teeth.

After the strongest baby had finished his piece he tried with a rush
and a snap and a snarl to snatch from another little fellow. But the
other cub held on tight with his little jaws. Then, growling and
rolling his yellow eyes to watch his greedy brother, he dug a hole with
his nose in one corner and buried the rest of his piece. He did this
without being taught at all. Every wolf that ever lived knew enough to
bury his food when he did not want to eat any more.

After their dinner the mother led the babies down the valley to lap
water from the brook. It was dark by this time. Stars were twinkling
in the sky. The shadowy trees swayed to and fro in the night wind. One
little cub sat down on his haunches, pointed his nose at the sky, and
howled. The little ones trotted here and there, smelling every stick
and stone. The scream of a far-away panther on the mountain made the
old wolf growl and bristle the hairs on her back. She hurried back to
the den and sent the cubs in to sleep, while she stole off to hunt for
her own supper.

In the morning the little wolves crept out to play about in the
sunshine. They rolled and tumbled and wrestled in much the same way as
the young foxes. Like the foxes the wolves belonged to the dog family
of flesh-eaters. The little wolves were stronger and larger and fiercer
than the little foxes. They did not have such bushy tails.

One young wolf found bits of the rabbit’s fur. He tossed and worried
them, and gnawed so hard that the fur flew in his throat and nose and
made him sneeze. Another saw a butterfly, and went plunging after it
on his unsteady little legs. He jumped up at it, and opened his mouth
to snap at it. He did not try to slap at it, as a little panther might
have done, for he could not use his fore-paws like hands so easily as
animals of the cat family.

All summer long there was plenty to eat. The deer in the mountains were
fattening on the green grass. They could not fight very well then,
because their new antlers were too soft. There were flocks of sheep on
the plain. The old parent wolves prowled about every night, and often
hunted in the daytime. It kept them busy enough to supply the four
hungry cubs.

The two hunted together. Sometimes one hid beside a deer trail, while
the other chased the deer nearer and nearer. When the deer passed
the spot where the first wolf was hiding he sprang out and caught it
from behind. Sometimes they took turns in chasing a deer till it was
tired out. The deer could run the faster, but it always lost time by
looking around to see how near the wolf was getting. Once in a while
one escaped by running into the middle of a patch of cacti. The wolves
could not follow there without getting their feet full of thorns. But
the deer’s tough hoofs protected its feet.

Later in the summer the young wolves were taken out to learn to hunt
with their parents. Their legs were so long that they were good
runners, though they could not climb or spring very well. The nails on
their toes were short and blunt from walking, for they could not be
drawn back and so kept sharp, like the claws of animals belonging to
the cat family.

The cubs wore thick coats with soft under-fur beneath the coarse shaggy
hair. Their yellow eyes were keen, and their sensitive noses were quick
to catch every smell of the wilderness. Their jaws were strong for
snapping, and their many teeth were sharp for biting and tearing. They
could scent the wind and howl when a storm was coming.

About sunset, one summer day, the little wolves followed the old ones
away from the den. Down the canyon they trotted silently, winding in
and out among the rocks like gray shadows. Far up the mountain-side a
flock of wild sheep went leaping away in terror at sight of the wolves.

On the plain below rabbits scurried off, bounding from hillock to
hillock. Prairie-dogs dived, squeaking, into their holes. A fox looked
around in fright, and dodged into a clump of underbrush. A small herd
of buffaloes, on their way to the river, ran close together and stood
with their horns outward, while the wolves skulked past.

Perhaps, just at first, it seemed strange to the cubs to see all other
animals afraid of their parents. At home the two shaggy old wolves were
gentle and warm and soft toward the little ones. They fed them and
watched over them and taught them all they knew. The babies whimpered
when the old wolves left them alone in the den; and they barked and
frisked with joy to see them come home again.

Out here on the plain it was different. The sight or smell of a wolf
sent all the timid wild creatures flying in a scramble and hurry-skurry
to get safely out of the way. The sound of the hungry howling made them
tremble with fear, for they knew what it meant. It meant something
shaggy and gray, with gleaming eyes, galloping swiftly nearer and
nearer. It meant the glitter of long teeth behind grim black lips. It
meant a spring and a snarl and tearing pain, and then a crunching of
bones.

The first lesson that the young wolves learned was to take the trail
and run it to earth. The father wolf showed them how to do it. He led
them over the plain toward a cluster of trees along the river. He
lifted his nose and snuffed the air. He smelled something in the wind
that was blowing toward him from the woods. It was not the smell of
trees or grass or flowers or birds or squirrels. It was the smell of
deer.

The four cubs followed the old one as he galloped under the trees.
They saw him stop and go sniffing here and there with his nose to the
ground. Yes, he could smell the place where the slender hoofs had
been pressing the grass a few minutes before. He ran on, with his nose
to the ground. The others galloped after him, their heads low, their
tongues hanging out, their tails held straight behind.

Once the father wolf howled. The young ones looked up for an instant.
There, far away in the dusky woods, the deer were bounding lightly
over the dead logs. They turned their pretty heads now and then to
look back, till they vanished from sight. The wolves kept on for a few
miles, learning to pick up the scent on the run. Then they found a
half-eaten buffalo in a hollow, and stopped there for supper.

Through the late summer and early fall the young wolves hunted with
their parents. During the day they stayed up in the mountains and slept
in sheltered places. Sometimes they were scattered miles apart. At
nightfall they called to one another with piercing howls, till they
finally gathered about the old father wolf. Then they all set out to
hunt together.

Sometimes they moved single file, stepping in one another’s tracks.
They swam across the river and stole noiselessly through the woods.
The timid sheep were easiest to kill because they could not fight. When
they found a calf or sick old buffalo one sprang at his head while
the others attacked from behind and bit his hind-legs. If the wolves
went too near a herd the old buffaloes tried to hook them. Once a cub
started to catch a young elk, but he was chased away by the old mother
elk. They butted at him with their heads and struck at him with their
sharp hoofs, while he ran with his tail tucked under him.

Autumn was pleasant enough with its bright days and frosty nights.
The busy little creatures of the woods were gathering in their winter
stores. Buffaloes and deer were fat from their summer’s feeding,
and could not always run fast to get out of the way when chased by
the wolves. Plump rabbits and prairie-hens were everywhere for the
catching. Many a night the cruel wolves killed more than they could eat.

But soon winter came with its shortening days and gray storms lowering
above the horizon. Snow fell, and icy winds blew across the frozen
land. The deer and elk and antelope gathered in sheltered valleys.
The wolves wandered down from the mountains, and roamed far and wide,
hunting for food.

So long as the fresh snow lay soft and powdery in the gullies they
could not run fast enough to catch anything, but when the snow packed
hard, and an icy crust formed over the drifts, their spreading feet did
not sink in deeply. Then they could go out and hunt the elk and the
deer, whose small hoofs cut through the crust at every bound.

The young wolves felt hungry all the time. Sometimes, when a blinding
storm shut them into their den among the rocks, they went without
eating day after day. The fine snow sifted down upon their glossy
winter coats as they lay close together, snuggling their cold noses
into one another’s fur. Many a night they dreamed of eating, and
snapped and swallowed greedily in their short, uneasy sleep. Once, in
nosing about hungrily, the strongest little wolf happened to find a
bone that he had hidden and forgotten weeks before. With a spring and
a snarl he crunched it between his white teeth and gulped it down in a
hurry.

One winter evening the four cubs, with their parents and five or six
others, were following a herd of buffaloes. On galloped the buffaloes
over the frozen plain. Behind and around them the dark forms of the
wolves seemed to rise from the bushes and follow noiselessly. There was
not a sound of a snap or a snarl. Now on this side, now on that, now
lost in the shadows, the wolves galloped tirelessly on and on.

Here and there two eyes gleamed in the dim circle of a head, or bared
white teeth glittered for an instant. Then again lost in the dusk,
without the patter of a footfall on the snow, they edged nearer and
nearer. Finally there was a sound of snarling and yelping. The wolves
were fighting together over a dead buffalo. They ate him, and then
broke away over the plain at a full jump, howling as they went.

Winter was over at last. The wolves were thin and fiercer than ever.
Their grim black lips were always ready to curl back over their teeth
at the smell of food. They felt such a dreadful gnawing emptiness
inside that they were frantic to eat anything. When they began to grow
weaker and weaker from hunger the welcome spring brought them new life.

Now in the time of pleasant weather and the plentiful food it was no
longer necessary for the pack of wolves to hunt together. They were
strong enough to look out for themselves. So the wolves scattered to
make their summer homes in the loneliest spots among the mountains.

The weeks passed by, and soon there was many a new family of woolly
little cubs frisking about the rocky dens. The fathers and mothers
watched them lovingly. The black lips seemed almost smiling and the
fierce eyes grew soft. They were gentle and happy there together,
though so cruel and hateful to all the world outside.



XI

THE MOLE

“THE ONE THAT DIGS THE BEST”



THE ONE THAT DIGS THE BEST


DEEP down in their dark room underground the five mole babies lay
fast asleep on a soft bed of leaves and grasses. The bed was not much
bigger than a robin’s nest. The little moles cuddled together, with
their pointed pink snouts resting on one another’s satiny bodies. Their
little hind-feet sprawled behind them, and their big flat hands, with
the pink palms turned outward, were spread close to their necks.

Presently the fattest little mole opened his black specks of eyes,
though they were not of much use down there in the dark. He wriggled
his pointed snout as he sniffed the air. The faintest of breezes
floated toward him through one of the round openings in the wall. It
was a breeze caused by something running toward the nursery. Tiny feet
came galloping nearer and nearer. There was a light rustle of fur
brushing along the tunnel. It was the mother mole hurrying back from
her hunting.

All the little moles jumped wide awake in an instant when their
sensitive bodies felt the quiver around them. It seemed to them that
the earth shook under the mother’s pattering feet. Of course they were
not afraid, because they knew from the smell who was coming. And then,
just as soon as they smelled the worm that she was carrying in her
mouth, they began to tumble over one another to snatch at it.

The greedy young ones shoved and pushed and fought as if they were
starving. They pulled at the worm with their claws, and snipped off
bits with their sharp teeth. Even after it was all eaten they went
nosing around in the dark and squeaked for more. The fattest little
fellow crawled so far into one of the tunnels that he almost slipped
into the tiny well which the parent moles had dug when they made this
underground home.

The poor old mother lay down to rest for a few minutes. It seemed as
if she did not have time to eat or sleep since the babies had cut
their teeth and learned to eat worms. They were always hungry. As
for herself, though the old father helped her hunt she was really
growing thinner every day. The young moles were six weeks old now, and
it was time that they learned to hunt for themselves.

[Illustration: THE MOLE.

“The greedy young ones shoved and pushed and fought as if they were
starving.” _Page 152._]

The babies were eager enough to learn to dig and hunt. They were tired
of staying in that dark nursery, even if it was so comfortable, with
its domed roof and soft, dry bed. Perhaps they wished to poke their
heads above ground just once and find out what the world was like. They
did not know the difference between day and night yet, for where they
lived it was always dark.

When at last the five young ones started out to learn to dig they
followed the mother in single file along the main tunnel. This main
tunnel was long and straight. Its walls were pressed smooth by the
bodies of the old moles in their many journeys to and fro. Branching
off in every direction from the main road there were side tracks
zigzagging and curving hither and thither. These side tracks had been
dug by the parents when they were chasing worms or hunting for grubs
and beetles.

The babies scampered on to the end of the main tunnel. There the ground
happened to be soft enough for their little claws. They crowded against
one another, and squeaked and twitched their short tails impatiently.
Their pink snouts were already bending and twisting in eagerness to be
a-digging.

The fattest little fellow was in such a hurry to begin that he did not
wait to be told. He nosed along the wall till he found a good place to
start. Then planting his small hind-feet down flat, to brace himself,
he set his tough snout against the dirt and pushed as hard as he could.
At the same time he dug his claws into the wall and shovelled away with
both his big broad hands.

There they went—the five babies—digging five little tunnels in five
different directions. The dirt flew thick and fast as they shovelled
it out and tossed it aside. But the specks of eyes were safely hidden
under the fur, and the invisible ears and nostrils were kept closely
covered too. When the dirt clung to their satiny gray fur they shook
it off clean with a quick shrug of the skin. The hairs of the fur grew
straight out, and so it made no difference whether it was rubbed one
way or another. It was never bristly or rough.

It must have been fun to go scrambling through earth almost as birds
fly through air or fishes swim through water. The moles had such tough
snouts and strong arms and powerful hands that they could burrow better
than any of the other mammals.

One little mole burrowed on till his arms were so tired that he gave
it up. He crept backward down his new tunnel to the spot where the old
mother was waiting. Another kept on digging faster and faster till he
ran his pink snout bump against a stone, and almost made it bleed. A
third pushed on and on till he reached a patch of slimy mud that caved
in over his back and sent his feet slipping and sprawling. The fourth
dug till he came plump upon a fat white grub curled among some roots of
grass. The little mole gave a jump and gobbled it down quick as a wink.

The fattest baby burrowed farther and farther till he felt the soil
crumbling above him. Something warm was shining on his gray fur. He
lifted his head and poked his long snout up into the sunlight. He
blinked his twinkling, tiny eyes and sniffed the strange fresh air. But
he stayed there only for a minute, because he did not like it the least
bit. The light dazzled him, and the warmth dried his cool, pink hands
and made his head ache and his snout twitch uneasily. So after that one
disagreeable minute he turned and kicked up his little hind-feet as he
dived back into the moist, cool, dark, delightful places underground.

After this first lesson in digging the five young moles were running
in and out of the nursery every few hours, night and day. It was easy
enough to burrow away in search of the stupid white grubs or the
beetles lying sleepy and still in the soil; but it was harder and much
more exciting to hunt earthworms, because they always tried to wriggle
off as fast as they could go.

Then how the dirt flew as the little hunter burrowed madly in pursuit!
Now in this direction, now in that, he chased, pushing with his snout
and tearing with his claws. Once in a while he stopped quiet to listen
and feel the ground for the faint quivering caused by the worm in its
squirming hither and thither.

An hour or so of such lively work was enough to tire even a stout young
mole. After eating what he had caught, sometimes he ran back to take a
nap on the soft bed in the nursery. Sometimes he lay down in the main
tunnel to rest; but that was not so pleasant, for it seemed as if one
or another of his brothers and sisters was forever trying to scramble
over him.

The busiest time for hunting was at night, or in the early morning,
because then the worms began to move about after lying quiet all day.
In dry weather the worms went deeper into the ground to find moisture.
In wet weather they wriggled toward the surface, swallowing bits of
dirt as they went. The little moles liked rain best because it was much
easier to push through the light soil above than to tunnel through the
hard ground below.

After the young ones learned to hunt for their own food it was not
long before they had found and eaten every worm and grub and beetle
anywhere near. The old and new tunnels ran in every direction, curving,
zigzagging, and criss-crossing through the ground. There was hardly a
spot of solid earth under all the grass in that meadow.

Now and then on cool nights the whole hungry family crept outside and
prowled about, looking for lizards, snails, or frogs. Once in a while
one of them found a dead bird or mouse or small snake. He sprang on it
and tore it to pieces in an instant. The moles always ate as if they
were starving. Drawing back their heads and hunching their backs they
stuffed the food into their mouths with their clawed hands.

As summer passed on the young moles began to grow discontented. They
were tired of staying at home. They were too big to crowd upon the nest
in the nursery. Whenever two met in any of the narrow tunnels one had
to back into a side track to let the other pass. The water was stagnant
in the wells. Food was getting more and more scarce. Many a time there
was a sound of scratching and fighting in the long dark halls of that
underground home.

Soon each little mole began to think of having a home of his own,
where there would be nobody else to crowd him, or quarrel with him, or
snatch the best of everything to eat. So presently, one by one, they
wandered away to find pleasanter places. One prowled into a garden, and
tunnelled ridges all over the green lawn. One stumbled into a pond,
but he did not drown, for he could swim with his webbed feet. He swam
across to a small island and dug his house under a bank where he could
catch plenty of frogs.

The three others strolled into a field that had been freshly ploughed.
The soil was not wet nor hard nor stony, but just what they liked best.
Each one chose a corner, and ran his main tunnel from end to end of the
space to be used for his hunting-ground.

The five new homes were much like the old one. Each had a domed
underground room with a nest of leaves and grasses in it, and several
outlets to allow escape in case of danger. Each had one or more main
tunnels, with smooth-pressed sides and many zigzag side tracks leading
in all directions. Each one had tiny wells of water, and little
storerooms for the winter supply of earthworms.

When winter came, and the ground was frozen hard above, each little
mole, alone by himself, dived down into his safe deep nest and stayed
there till early spring softened the soil. Then, livelier than ever,
he shovelled his way out to the surface to find a mate. Soon in every
pleasant little home under the ground there was a new family of soft,
round babies, with their specks of eyes deep hidden in their satiny
gray fur.



CONCLUSION



CONCLUSION


COUNTLESS years have passed since that day, long, long ago, when the
first tiny living creature began to grow in the new world of rocks
and water. All this time things have been moving and changing. The
earth keeps whizzing around the sun, while the sun itself rushes
blazing through space. Brooks are rippling; rivers are flowing; seas
are rolling their waves against the shores. Now the trees toss their
branches in the wind; now the rain sprinkles down from gray clouds, or
snow drifts silently over the prairie.

In the spring all the wilderness is green with growing leaves and
flowers and grasses. The world is alive with animals. In the water sea
creatures are feeding in their places, or floating and swimming here
and there. On land there are worms and insects, creeping reptiles and
flying birds.

From inland ponds beavers scramble ashore in the dusk to nibble fresh
twigs for supper. In southern rivers the manatee crawls over the white
sand among the reeds. On island beaches little seals go paddling in
safe pools. Out at sea great whales glide through the waves.

On the plains buffalo calves kick up their heels near the grazing
herd. Elk, with ears twitching at every strange sound, wander down
from upland meadows. In the woods rabbits hop away under the bushes.
Little shrews dart from leaf to leaf among the shadows. In wilder spots
pointed noses sniff and bright eyes twinkle from the dens of wolves and
foxes. Bears shuffle softly through the underbrush, and panthers steal
out on tiptoe to their hunting.

In the trees squirrels scamper from branch to branch. Now and then a
mother opossum trots by with her pocket full of young ones. Bats fly
this way and that in hungry pursuit of insects dancing in the twilight
air. Under the ground moles dig busily after worms.

All these mammals and, many others live wild in the United States, and
there are many others still, more or less like them, in foreign lands.



TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES:

  Text in italics is surrounded with underscores: _italics_.

  Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

  Inconsistencies in hyphenation have been standardized.





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