Andrew Lang.

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have our anxieties. I can call to mind being able to
walk over dykes on the snow wreaths, and days of drift
when one could not see the course of the Teviot lying
just below us. Such was a great storm on Old Year's night
in 1874, when six trains were snowed up for two days at
the head of Gala Water. Such, again, was a short sharp
storm in March 1889. It came on very suddenly, the
wind being so violent as to overturn two loaded trucks
on the railway near our farm in Liddesdale. The poor
sheep just ran before the blast on this farm, going to the
head of a deep cleuch or glen for shelter ; there they
could get no further, and were ' smoored,' or buried in
the soft snow. We lost 31 on that occasion ; but close
by, on the Northumbrian border, losses were heavier, for,
as ill-luck would have it, the storm took place on the


very day the shepherds had all gone to Eothbury for
their dog-licences ; so the sheep were not gathered, and


on one farm eleven score were lost ! The track of that
storm was only about five miles broad.

Again, in 1894, we had a disastrous storm, and all the
sheep on our hill farms had to be driven in to our home

farm on the Teviot. There they remained for six long
weeks, while the ground was caked completely with
ice not a blade of grass or tuft of heather to be seen.
They were all, 2,400, fed twice a day by hand on hay.
It was curious to see how, when the first breath of ' fresh '
came into the air, all the hill sheep stopped eating, and
every nose turned in the direction of home with loud and
prolonged ' baas ; ' and I do not know whether shepherds
or sheep were most delighted to return to their wilds.

When the joyful day came, it reminded one of the
flight out of Egypt to see the long line of sheep and
shepherds wending over the hills. Little do our friends,
who come to us in summer days, like the swallows,
understand how different our winter life is. It has its
discomforts, its many anxieties ; but it also brings one
face to face with nature in a way which does one good.
It is grand to force one's way up the hill after a wild
storm, and see the snow piled up and blown into all
kinds of queer shapes and caves, till one can believe
oneself in the Arctic Circle. It is good to see master, and
men, and dogs all working together on the quest for
buried sheep, feeling about with long poles in likely places
till the dogs come to the rescue and scent out the sheep.
If the snow is dry and powdery, sheep can live three
weeks easily beneath it; but if it is soft it will very
soon smother them ; in which case great is the anxiety
to get them to the light of day.

Such are some of the not uncommon events of Border
life not very remarkable, not very blood-curling ; but
bringing with them more of hardship than most things
in every-day life.



IT is always very difficult for us really to feel that people
in other places are working and playing exactly as we are
doing ourselves, and that when we are dead everything
will go on as if we had never been alive at all. But it
is even harder for us to believe that for more thousands of
years than anyone can count, the earth went on its way
round the sun without numbering one single man among
its inhabitants.

Not that our little planet was empty and silent,
because men were not there to shout and clamour. Any-
one looking down from the moon would have seen our
world very much as we see it now. There were moun-
tains and seas, trees, and flowers ; there were wet days
and fine days, high tides and low ones. To be sure, the
observer sitting in the moon would not have been looking
at the very same mountains and seas that we gaze at now.
At one time, countries, which are now dry land, were
covered by an ocean ; at another, great tracts, that are at
present islands, were joined to the continent itself, while,
on the other hand, peninsulas (such as India) were
divided by a sea from the mainland. In some cases,
mountain ranges had not been formed at all, and the
rivers ran in very different courses from what they do

Well, all these seas and continents were the homes of

vast numbers of creatures, some bearing a strong likeness

to the animals and reptiles with which we are familiar,

others that would be absolutely strange to our eyes.



They did not all live at the same time either. One race
would hold sway for more ages than we can guess, and
then would die out, perhaps affected by some change of
climate, and by-and-by another would take its place, also
to disappear when its turn came.

Now, how can we know anything at all about animals
which died thousands of years ago ? In two ways. From
their bones (long since become like a stone in substance),
or the impressions of them which have been preserved in
the rocks, and from the bodies which have sometimes
been found quite complete, with skin, hair, and even eyes,
in the frozen marshes of Northern Asia.

But the discovery of creatures in this condition is
very rare. In general, scientific men who study the sub-
ject have to be satisfied with the skeleton, or with de-
tached parts of the frame, and with this help they have
worked wonders. One of the most important things in
building up the history of fossil animals is the teeth,
and with the aid of these it is possible to find out whether
the dead monster fed upon flesh, or upon herbs and leaves,
or even if it preferred the wood of the branches. A
lightness in the upper part of the body, combined with a
small head and short forelegs, tells us that the quadruped
could rear itself up on its hind legs, like a kangaroo, while
in creatures of the elephant kind, which own a long nose
or proboscis, we shall find that the neck is so short that it
could not reach its food in the trees or on the ground with-
out help of this sort.

Most of these animals lived long long ago, thousands
of years before we have any idea of ; but one or two sur-
vived till a race of men inhabited the earth, or at any rate
some parts of it. The best known of these great creatures
is the mammoth, which was very like an elephant
in shape, and like him had huge ivory tusks, curving
inwards and upwards, instead, of being comparatively
straight. Sometimes the curve nearly made a com-
plete circle, as in the case of a mammoth skeleton now in



the St. Petersburg Museum, where the tusks measure
nine feet six inches ; hut a semicircle was more common.
The mammoth skeletons are usually over nine feet in
height, and fifteen feet in length, and when we add muscles
and skin, we shall have a very large beast indeed.

The modern elephant is only to be found in hot coun-
tries, and is confined to Africa and to India. The mam-
moth, on the contrary, preferred a cold or temperate
climate, and roamed all over Europe, North America,
Siberia, and the northern part of Africa. There is scarcely
a single English county, except perhaps Cornwall, where
its bones have not been found, in the soft clays and gravels
and soil washed down by the rivers in the far-off days,
when the earliest race of man appeared on the earth.

How strange it would seem to us now, taking a
walk along the wooded banks of the Thames near Ox-
ford, to stumble suddenly on a gigantic mammoth, tearing
down the sweet young branches with his trunk ! He
must have looked a huge monster, indeed, with his
powerful tusks, often nearly eleven feet long, and his thick
coat adapted to face the snows of England and Eussia,
and the still greater cold of North Siberia. Over his dark
grey skin the soft brown wool curled closely, and, above
that, was an outer garment of long, almost black hair. Big
and clumsy as an elephant is, a mammoth was bigger and
clumsier still ; but he was by no means the only great
animal that found England in those times a pleasant
place to live in ; for, in many instances, the bones of the
hippopotamus and a woolly rhinoceros are to be seen
buried beside him, while lions, tigers, and hyenas had
not yet wandered to the south.

In those days, as in these, the elephant tribe, of which
the mammoth was one, fed on vegetable substances, and
even in Siberia, where such enormous numbers of their
frozen remains have been discovered, there was obviously
some sort of food for them. Birches, willows, and fir
trees of various kinds, grew then, as now, in those bleak


countries, and when the creatures became tired of eating
soft things, they had only to uproot a tree, or tear off one
of the branches, and crunch up the wood between their
strong teeth. Of course, in African forests, the size of the
trees often baffles even the strength of an elephant ; but
in northern climates, such as Siberia, few could stand
against a mammoth, the weight of whose tusks commonly
amounted to 320 Ibs. 1

Now it seems wonderful to us that, after so many ages
have passed, we can still find the skeletons of these
animals, and, indeed, this can only happen in certain
ways. In order to preserve a skeleton or even a whole
body, it is absolutely needful that it should be kept
shut off from either air or water, or not only its flesh,
but its bones, will in time crumble away and vanish.
This occurs w r hen the animal dies above ground, or
is drowned in some lake or river with a sandy, gravelly
bottom ; and in rocks made up of these substances we
shall find but few fossils, or traces of plant and animal
life. But if the bed of the lake should happen to
be made of mud or clay, or something into which
neither air nor water can penetrate, the body of the
creature which has got stuck in swimming, or has been
somehow caught fast and held, will gradually sink down
till he is entirely covered. By-and-by the mud which
wraps him round will have become solid rock, keeping
within it one of the secrets of a world gone by. Peat
will also preserve bodies that have fallen into it, to be dug
out, ages after, fresh and young, and in the case of men
and women with even their clothes undecayed ; but one
of the most usual means of preservation consists in
freezing the bodies, and thus excluding the air.

The great frozen marshes of the north of Siberia teem
with remains of mammoths, which have either died on the
spot or been carried down by the floods of the mighty
rivers. In warm summers, or during heavy gales, these
marshes become thawed or broken up, and sometimes one


of the huge creatures that has been lying buried, for any-
thing we know, since the days of the Great Pyramid, or
even of the first Emperor of China, may be seen floating
on the stream. On one occasion a fat, comfortable
mammoth, thirteen feet high, with a thick hairy coat, and
wide open eyes, was found standing where the earth had
given way under him in one of the marshes in north-east
Siberia. He had been frozen in the spot where he fell,
and had remained there, no one knows how long, till the
whole surface of the land had been torn up by the raging
waters of the swollen river. The Eussian who discovered
the mammoth longed to bring it home ; but the body, when
exposed to the warm air, soon began to fall away, and all
he could do was to cut off the tusks, and examine his
food, of which traces were still existing in the stomach.
By these he made out that the mammoth had feasted
for the last time on young fir cones and pine needles,
and then, well fed and happy, had gone to his death.
The same fate very nearly befell his discoverers too ; for,
in their excitement, the men did not notice that the
ground was giving way under them also, and had not
the boat been luckily at hand, the river Indigirka would
have carried men as well as mammoth out to sea. 1

In searching for remains of fossil animals, we must
never forget that the topmost rocks are always, except
where they have been heaved up by accident, the newest
and latest formed, and, from this fact, it is possible to
tell which creatures lived at the same time, and which
succeeded the other. Now, ages before there were any
mammoths on the earth there existed a monster very like
him in appearance, but differing from him in three ways.
First, he had no hair on his body ; then his teeth were
simpler than those of the mammoth, and though, like him,
the animal lived on branches and trees of various kinds, he
could grind rougher and coarser food. Lastly, instead of

Extinct Monsters.


one pair of tusks, many of the species had two, one in
each jaw.

This variety of proboscis-bearing or long-nosed
quadruped of the elephant tribe was called the Masto-
don. He lived in America as well as in Europe, Asia,
and Africa, and could suit himself well to any climate,
though, from the many remains that have been found in the
temperate zones, he seems to have disliked extremes,
either of hot or cold. The mastodon was a huge creature,
the skeleton measuring as much as eleven feet in height,
with long straight tusks that have been known to stand
out as much as ten feet beyond its head. From the fact
that stone arrow-heads have been discovered lying round
the skeleton in America, and from stories told by the
Indians, it seems likely that the mastodon was living in
the New World, at any rate when the earliest men peopled
the land ; but on our side of the Atlantic it had probably
died out long before.

Anyone who examines the skeletons that have been
pieced together by those who have made bones their
study, will be struck by two things the immense size
and clumsiness of the dwellers both on earth and in the
sea, ages and ages before man was dreamed of, and also by
certain resemblances with several forms that survive up
to the present moment. Besides the animals with long
trunks, there are monsters with long heads, all stuck with
bony nobs, and in shape like the rhinoceros. These
skeletons are mostly found in North America, and teach
us that the beasts to whom they belonged must have
been very nearly as big as elephants, to whose legs theirs
bear some likeness. Their bodies were very heavy and
awkward, and their eyes small ; they had an odd number
of toes on their hoofs, and very small brains. Altogether,
it is easy to understand how, when the rain descended,
and the floods came, in those far-off times, long before the
w T oolly rhinoceros was feeding with the mammoth on the



banks of Siberian rivers, the stupid, awkward animals
should have been unable to place themselves in safety,
and got swallowed up in the mud of the lake.

Then, too, but much later in date, the great pampas
or plains of South America were the home of the ances-
tors of the Sloth tribe Megatheria by name animals
eighteen feet in length, whose bones are found in the
river deposits. As in all animals that can stand on their
hind legs, the lower limbs and back were immensely
strong, while the thick tail acted as ballast ; the very thigh
bone is three times as thick as that of an elephant. Like
the modern Sloth, the Megatherium had no teeth in front,
but it probably possessed a long and flexible tongue, which
it used to curl round branches of trees and tear them down.
It was also able to dig its sharp, powerful claws into the
trunk of a tree, and with a mighty heave of its body to
loosen the roots, and by repeating this process three or four
times the tree would fall to the ground, and the particular
morsel on which the Megatherium had set its heart would
be within its reach.

Further back still w r e find that birds and mammals
have not yet come into being, but, instead, their places
are taken by a strange kind of flying reptile, whose wings
were more like those of a bat than a bird, and often
measured twenty-five feet. The name of Pterodactyl
has been given to this extraordinary creature, which
resembles some of the queer fancies men used to carve
on churches rather than anything we ever see now. The
pterodactyl had teeth, but no feathers, and could swim as
well as fly. As to its food, we guess from its teeth that
it lived chiefly upon fish, though it may sometimes have
swooped down, when flying, on little animals, or even
have pecked at fruit.

But besides the pterodactyls, there existed at the same
period, which has been called the Age of the Beptiles,
vast swarms of creatures whose forms seemed to be made
up of a large number of other species. In many ways


they were most like crocodiles, but in other respects,
again, they remind us of ostriches. To this class
Naturalists have given the name of Dinosaurs, from two
Greek words, which mean ' terrible lizards.'

All the tribe were alike in one way, for they had four
legs ; but in some the structure of the bones shows that
the Dinosaur could, when it chose, stand upright, while
other varieties, such as the Brontosaur, must have been
compelled, or at any rate must have preferred, to walk
on all fours. This monstrous beast was about sixty feet
long, its skeleton has always been found on the bank
of a lake or river, and it probably fed on water plants. It
had a long neck, which would enable it to rear its head
out of the water and see whether the coast was clear of
its enemies, and a long tail, which was a great help in
swimming. But when on land it must have been difficult
indeed for an animal of such huge bulk to get out of the
way when attacked, and still more difficult for it to escape
detection, as every one of its tracks measures a whole
square yard.

About the same time that the Brontosaurus was
wallowing among the reeds of the lakes and rivers which
covered the tract of country now called Colorado, one of
his distant cousins might have been met with any day in
the Weald of Sussex, had there been anyone living on the
earth to take a walk ! This particular reptile has been
given the name of Iguanodon, from a peculiarity of its
teeth. The largest kind known is thirty feet long, from
its nose to the end of its powerful tail, and when walking, as
it always did, on its hind legs, was as tall as a very big
elephant. Trom the hollowness of its limb bones it was
able to move more lightly than some of the other animals
whose bones were solid throughout, and this was very
necessary, as, unlike many of these old lizards, the
Iguanodon had no sharp knots or spines on its skin to
ward off the attacks of its flesh-eating foes. So, when
standing as high as it did, it saw one of these huge


monsters in the distance, it had time to get out of the
way, either in the water, where its strong tail and hind
legs would soon carry it out of reach, or it could find
shelter in some hiding-place on land. The Iguanodon
itself was quite a harmless creature, with a smooth skin.

It had hands with four fingers, and a sharp, spiky sort of
thumb, whose use has not yet been discovered. The toes
on its back feet were only three, but they made up in size
and strength what they wanted in number.

A great contrast to the smooth-skinned Iguanodon
was the Stegosaurus, traces of whose skeleton have been


unearthed at Swindon, but are found far more fre-
quently in the Kocky Mountains. It is, perhaps, quite
the most curious in shape of all these strange old animals.
Its body forms an arch, with a pair of long solid legs not
far from the centre, and another pair of quite little ones
near its small head. Bight down the middle of its back,
stretching from its head to its spiny tail, was a ridge of
huge bony plates, like colossal ivy leaves, the centre ones
measuring two or three feet across. It seems to have been
about twenty-five or thirty feet long ; its sense of smell was
very acute, its eyes were large, and could absorb much light,
and it ought to have been very clever, as it had two sets
of brains, one in the usual place, and the other, ten times
bigger, near the thigh. As may be imagined, the
Stegosaurus (or ' lizard with a roof ') was very heavy to
move, and most likely found it pleasanter to pass most of
its time in the water, which, being of more weight than
the air, would support its great bones better. But when
on land it could defend itself from its enemies by the help
of its tail, which had four pairs of strong sharp spikes,
calculated to keep the most bloodthirsty animal at bay.
Its own food, as shown by its teeth, was soft juicy plants.

There is no time to say much of the largest of all
the Dinosaurs, which has been found in America, and
measured more than eighty feet. Its thigh bone alone
was taller than a man, and if it walked upright it would
certainly have been thirty feet high. Nor can we linger-
over the fish lizards, which came before all these, or ihe
lobster-like creatures that lived before them, or over the
crocodiles, some eighteen feet long, found in the new
red sandstone and later rocks, or over the tapirs, or
many more. But we must just glance at a few birds
which are now extinct, partly through the merciless
hunting down by man, and partly owing to natural
causes, with which he has nothing to do.

As far as can be gathered from the rocks, the birds
(which did not come into being till the great order of


the reptiles had mostly died out) \vei-e a good deal less
numerous than the creatures who had gone before
them. But this may be partly accounted for by the
fact that their bodies, being lighter, would more easily
float on the surface of lakes and rivers, and would be
eaten by fishes, or decomposed by the air, instead of being
sealed up in mud, like those of larger and heavier

The very earliest kind of bird that has so far been
found at all it was in a Bavarian rock of late limestone,
and is known as the Archaeopteryx resembles, in many
respects, the family of reptiles. It has, to be sure, a long
jointed tail, and teeth in its jaw r s, and other features in
common with them ; but then it possesses feathers, even on
its tail, and the brain of a bird. Teeth were not at all un-
common in the jaws of these early birds, and the long-
billed, fish-eating, Hesperornis, of North America, had a
whole set that grew afresh when the old ones fell away.
The Hesperornis was between five and six feet high,
and is found in the chalk rocks. It was a famous diver,
and had wings of a sort ; but whatever use they may have
been on land, they certainly could have been of none
either in air or water.

In New Zealand there existed, until comparatively
lately, several ' running ' birds, of the kind of which the
ostrich, the cassowary and the emu are the last specimens
surviving in the world. The most celebrated of these is the
Moa, whose bones are found only along the banks of streams
at present flowing, showing that the surface of the land has
not changed since they were buried there. The Moa could
not have been less than fourteen feet, as its leg bone is
nearly three times as long as that of a man. Some of the
tribe were slight and swift, others like the Dinornis
Elephantopus, shorter and stronger. The wing bones of all
were so small as to be hardly noticeable, and their bills
were invariably short. Whether they could sing or not
we do not know probably not. In some cases a few


bones, with feathers attached to them, have been dis-
covered, and from these feathers, combined with a long
neck and small head, we gather that the Moa must have
resembled an emu or cassowary in appearance.

When New Zealand was first discovered the Maoris
found the country, greatly to their surprise, to be nearly
empty of land animals belonging to the mammal class,
although it swarmed with running birds. Some of them,
like the great Dinornis, were as tall as an elephant ; but,
large or small, their wings were always very tiny and
quite useless, and their bones, developed by much running,
particularly strong.

The nearer we get to the history of the earth as we
know it, the more numerous become the birds, some of
which, though now extinct, have lived on till recent years.
The remains of a huge bird, called the Epiornis, which in
size rivalled the great Dinornis, have been found among
the soil brought down by the rivers of Madagascar.
Very often a huge egg has lain beside these bones,
measuring thirteen or fourteen inches across. This must
surely have been the 'roc's egg,' which the Genius refused
to give to Aladdin, which was six times as big as that of
an ostrich, and capable, says Professor Owen, of containing

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Online LibraryAndrew LangThe red book of animal stories → online text (page 11 of 22)