Andrew Lang.

The red book of animal stories online

. (page 12 of 22)
Online LibraryAndrew LangThe red book of animal stories → online text (page 12 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


148 eggs of a hen. !

Travellers in the Indian Ocean during the seventeenth
century have left us some interesting tales about a short
fat bird, then inhabiting Mauritius and the neighbouring
islands, known as the Dodo. And it might have been
living there yet, had it not been for men's insane passion
for killing. The Dodo was rather bigger than a swan,
with a short stumpy tail, decorated, like the little wings,
with a bunch of soft feathers like those of an ostrich.
Its legs were very short also, and this fact, combined with
the weight of its body, rendered it difficult for the Dodo to
escape from its pursuers. The flesh seems to have been
more appreciated by Dutch sailors than English ones, if
we are to judge from the description of our explorer, who



WHEN THE WORLD WAS YOUNG 193

declares it ' was better to the eye than to the stomach.'
The last Dodo was seen in 1681.

When we visit a zoological gardens, it is impossible
not to be struck with the fact that certain of the animals
that we are looking at seem strange to our minds, as ii
they had come from a world of which we know nothing,
and belonged to a state of life we could never understand.
We may be gazing at all the beasts equally for the first
time, but we know exactly what to make of a lion, a
puma, or a zebra ; while an elephant, a rhinoceros, or a




PTERODACTYL

kangaroo, fills us with thoughts that we can hardly explain
even to ourselves.

Now, perhaps these vague feelings arise from these
creatures really representing the life of such ages ago
that nobody can even venture to guess at a date. As will
be seen, from the short account given above, of animals
that are now extinct, they none of them were exactly like
the beasts and birds to be met with now, but they were
like enough to them to show that they belonged to the
same race. We all have felt a curious sensation when
we have met an old gentleman or lady who persists in
a o



194 WHEN THE WORLD WAS YOUNG

wearing the dress of their youth, or in clinging to habits
long out of date. Well, this is precisely the impression
produced by animals who have modified their ways and
appearances as little as possible in conformity to a new
state of things. Nature, as we learn if we study her, never
works in jumps. She takes into consideration the kind of
world the creature has to live in, the kind of food he has
to eat, the kind of enemy he has to fight with, and every-
thing about him is fitted for this special life, and this
only. If conditions change, he slowly and gradually, but
surely, changes with them. Some animals take much
longer to adapt themselves than others, just as the
Chinese have stuck to their own ways for thousands of
years, while, in a quarter of a century, the Japanese have
made themselves more European than the dwellers in
Europe. Now, the badger, the elephant, and many
more, are the Chinese of the kingdom of animals. The
very sight of them makes us put our clocks back, and
try to fancy what the earth was like in those far-away days.
As we have seen, the elephant race lived under various
names, in different regions from those where it dwells now,
and developed a suitable skin-covering to protect it from
the cold. At one time a great beast, in shape like an
elephant, but with a certain relationship, too, to the Tapir
family, wandered about a large part of Europe, and passed
much of its existence in rivers or lakes. The lower jaw
of this Dinotherium bent downward, and ended in two
heavy tusks, which would only have been an encumbrance
on land, but may have been very useful in grubbing up the
roots of plants from the bottom of the river. Or he may
have dug his tusks firmly into the bank and pulled
himself out of the water with their help.

Then, as soon as the rhinoceros quitted the cold regions
of the north, and went to live in Africa, he dropped the
woolly coat that had protected him, and appeared from
henceforward in his dark grey skin, which is much less
becoming. As to crocodiles, the oldest known form, found



WHEN THE WORLD WAS YOUNG 195

in the new red sandstone, could have looked but little
different from our friends of to-day. 1

It is an established fact that large animals more
quickly become extinct than small ones. Their families
are fewer, to begin with, and they need more food and
water ; it is also more difficult for them to hide, and to
escape from their enemies. For these reasons, among
others, vast hordes of huge monsters have died out, and
given place to smaller ones, both in land and sea. And
no doubt, if the world goes on long enough, other changes
will take place ; the old order of things will be swept
away, and men will some day be puzzling over the
skeletons of cats and the bones of canary birds.

1 From Owen's Paleontology ; Manual of Paleontology, by
Nicholson and Lvddeker, and Hutchinson's Extinct Monsters.



196



BATS AND VAMPIRES



IT would ba difficult to find any collection of Ghost
stories which did not contain one or two tales of Vam-
pires horrid creatures that steal out of their graves at
night to suck the blood of human beings. They make
one's flesh creep to read about, but of course they are
not alive, and never were.

Now, among the great bat tribe there are most likely
several kinds who really do what the stories tell of the
Vampires. Indeed, there is one species of big bat, with
wings two feet wide, and a horny, prickly tongue, which
is known to people who study natural history as the
Spectre Vampire. Poor bat, it suffers, as is not uncom-
mon, for the faults of others, for in reality it cares nothing
for human blood and has never sucked anybody.

Still, even if we cannot believe all the blood-curdling
stories told by travellers in South America and some of
the Pacific Islands, as to the proceedings of the Vampire
bat, they are very interesting to read, and are true to a
great extent about others of the tribe. It is not every-
body, fortunately for themselves, that could be sucked by
a bat, and no doubt the creatures soon find this out, and
fly off to a more promising victim. A curious account
is given of their ways by a certain Captain Stedman, who
spent five years on the north coast of South America,
a long while ago, and he declares that he himself had
fallen a prey to their bloodthirsty appetite. According
to Captain Stedman, when a bat intends to suck you, he
flutters slowly to the ground, and stands by your feet,
fanning his wings slowly all the while, to keep you cool
and comfortable, and to prevent your waking. Then he



BATS AND VAMPIRES 199

bites a tiny little hole in your toe, not bigger than a pin's
head, and from this he sucks till he can suck no more,
sometimes after his meal he finds himself too heavy to
fly ; and sometimes when the morning dawns the sleeping
victim is found to be dead.

Cattle, says Captain Stedman, these blood-suckers
prefer to attack in the ear, and the best remedy for the
wounds is to plaster on the ashes of tobacco.

The common bat which we see darting about in
summer evenings, so rapidly that it is difficult to be sure
anything has passed at all, goes to sleep all through the
winter. In this state it needs no food, but lies in some
dark place, hanging head downwards by one of its feet.
When the warm weather begins and insects are heard
humming round, the bat wakes up too, and flies after them.
For though bats will sometimes eat other things, insects
are what they like best. Many of them are full of
intelligence, and can easily be tamed. They will attach
themselves to their masters, rub their heads against
them, and even lick their hands. But in general they
are not welcome guests inside houses, and are certainly
very disturbing to have in one's room at night.

Most bats are of a dark colour, but strange stories are
told of their being found of a brilliant scarlet. In each of
these cases that have been noted the animal had chosen an
odd place for its winter sleep, for it was found inside a tree
which was perfectly smooth all round it, and there was
nothing whatever to show how the bat came there. One
of the trees was a wild cherry, in a wood on the Haining
Estate in the county of Selkirk, and was cut down by a
woodman, who was felling trees for fences, in the year
1821. The other tree was a pear, cut down near Kelsall
five years later, but in both trees the place where the bat
was hanging was just large enough to hold him, without
much room to spare. Neither bat seemed in the least
put out at his rough awakening, but spread its wings and
sailed gaily away in search of its breakfast.



200



THE UGLIEST BEAST IN THE WOULD

MOST people would agree, if they were asked to vote, that
the ugliest and clumsiest of all animals is the rhinoceros.
Even the hippopotamus shines by comparison, frightful
though it is, because, for one reason, it is a water beast,
and a water beast can never manage to look so nasty as a
land one.

To begin with, the rhinoceros' shape is heavy and awk-
ward, and the horn, right in the middle of its face, does
not add to its beauty. Then its eyes, instead of being large
and soft, as they so often are in a wild animal, look mean
and small, though they are several times the size of those of
a man. But, worst of all, its skin is hard and hairless, and
looks as if it would come off in scales. Oh, there is no
doubt that a rhinoceros is a very ugly beast indeed !

The tribe is divided broadly into two kinds, and is
now seldom seen north of the Zambesi river. The white
rhinoceros, who must look even more unwholesome
than her black fellow, is timid, gentle, and fat, and eats
nothing but grass. The black rhinoceros is thin, fierce,
and very cautious ; but both alike take care never to stray
more than seven or eight miles from a river, as they can-
not go for months without water, like the eland and some
kinds of gazelles.

But whatever we may think of them, even rhinoceroses
are not without their friends and admirers; and chief
among these are a race of birds, which are never happy
unless they are sitting on their broad backs. If by any
chance the bird misses its rhinoceros, while the great



THE UGLIEST BEAST IN THE WORLD 201

creature is feeding, as he always does at night, it will call
until the clumsy form appears in the first rays of the
dawn. The bird also keeps a sharp look-out for any
possible danger ahead, for though the rhinoceros's ears
are very sharp, his eyes are not, so it is lucky for him
that there is somebody at hand who can make up for
his deficiencies. In fact, so closely are both bound
up together, that when the Bechuanas wish to describe
a person they cannot do without, they call him ' my
rhinoceros.'

The black rhinoceros is smaller than the white, and,
in spite of his heavy body, can run faster than a horse.
He is given to sudden fits of passion, nobody knows what
for, and then he will burst out into loud snorts, and dash
at the nearest bushes with his horn, sometimes digging
for hours at the ground round the roots, till he has
pulled them up and worked off his bad temper both at
once. Perhaps his favourite food, the branches of the
tree called the 'wait-a-bit' thorn, which grows to the
height of twenty feet, may be irritating. Unlike other
animals, the two horns of the rhinoceros do not grow
into the skull, but are attached to the skin, one behind
the other, and w r hen the animal is dead can easily be
taken off with a knife. Ehinoceroses are dirty creatures
and love to roll in mud, as their skins constantly show.
They stand or lie about in the shade all day long, and in
the evening steal out somewhere between nine and twelve
to the nearest fountain, and after they have drunk their
fill, they go for a long walk. It is very funny to see them
taking out their young. The little rhinoceros always
walks in front, and if the mother gets the scent of an
enemy, they both break into a sharp trot, and the mother
guides her child by keeping her horn against its side,
and pressing it in the direction she wishes to go. In the
case of a white rhinoceros, this horn is about three feet
long, but that of its black cousin is much smaller.

Fifty or sixty years ago, rhinoceroses were a great



202 THE UGLIEST BEAST IN THE WORLD

deal more common in the South of Africa than they are at
present, as they have been forced by hunters further and
further north. The natives used to chase them with stones
and assegais, and so hungry or greedy were they, that even
a dinner of the beast's tough flesh was acceptable. Like
all animals with hoofs, the rhinoceros feeds on bushes
and plants, but this does not prevent his being very fierce
when attacked, or from trampling under his great feet
anything or anybody that happens to cross his path.

The Namaquas are very cruel in their manner of
hunting the rhinoceros, but when once the animal is
wounded, and they think it can safely be approached, they
try, if possible, to climb on its back, and to thrust a lance
into a fatal spot behind the shoulder.

One day a man had just succeeded in getting on to a
wounded black rhinoceros above its tail, when the creature
started up with a roar, scattering its enemies, who fled
for shelter behind a tree. But the tree was not large
enough to hide them all, and in a moment the rhinoceros
was rushing towards them, tearing up the ground with
its horns. The men sped away in all directions, till one
of them, getting angry, stopped, and looking the rhino-
ceros full in the face, called it by an ugly name. The
rhinoceros, surprised at this behaviour, stopped too, and
stared at the Namaqua, who, gaining courage, became still
more abusive. His words seemed to have a power that
all the stones had lacked, for the animal turned round
and began to beat a retreat, when the Namaqua seizing
its tail, sprang on its back, and aimed a deadly blow on
its shoulder.

It is wonderful how well the men can aim with their
assegais, which are light-throwing spears, with long iron
heads. Some bushmen, going on a hunting expedition in
their own country, found the fresh trail of two rhino-
ceroses, and at once set about making their preparations.
They first built up a rough stone hut near the place, where
one of the men could lie hidden, with two assegais at



THE UGLIEST BEAST IN THE WORLD 205

hand, while the other went off in search of the animals.
After ' becreeping ' them, as it is called in that district,
for some distance, the bushman saw two clumsy forms
lying asleep under a grove of trees, which proved to be
a young rhinoceros and its mother. He threw a stone
to wake them, and when they jumped up in a rage, he
threw a second. The mother looked round to see who
the rude person could be that was disturbing her midday
nap, and perceiving the bushman, made a dash for him.
He had barely time to rush to the nearest tree, and had
hardly begun to climb it, when the enraged beast came
up, and drove her horns right into the tree and straight
between the man's legs, thus giving him time to draw
himself higher up out of her reach. She then turned and,
followed by the calf, made off toward the stone hut where
the other bushman lay hidden. As she passed his
assegai touched her shoulder, and after staggering a few
steps, she fell dead. The man then aimed his other assegai
at the calf, and as it too dropped instantly, he came out
of his shelter, while his friend, running up, jumped on the
back of the old rhinoceros, and exclaimed, shouting for
joy : ' Now I see you are your father's son this day.'



206



THE GAMES OF ORANG-OUTANGS, AND
KEES THE BABOON



THE first Europeans who visited some of the large islands
lying close to the Equator Borneo, Sumatra, and several
more were astonished at finding the w r oods full of a
huge creature which they took for some time to be a man.
It was very shy, and disappeared into the thick, dark
depths of the forest directly it caught sight of a human
being, so it was not very easy to make out exactly what
it was like. However, the white men were curious, and
also persevering, and at length they were rewarded by
seeing one of the largest kind pass by, while they were
peeping from behind a bush. No, it certainly was not a
man, not even a savage ; but how very like one ! To begin
with, the animal as often as not walked on two legs, and
had no tail, while the palms of its hands and the soles of
its feet were hairless. The arms were immensely long,
and could be used as legs, and the height of a full-grown
specimen was sometimes as much as eight feet. This is
the animal now known as the Orang-outang.

The whole tribe are wonderfully quick in their
motions, and when they are put on board ship can swing
themselves about the ropes and rigging in a way that
surprises even a skilful sailor. They are affectionate and
good-natured, and very intelligent, being able to copy the
actions of their masters so closely that, at a little distance,
you could not tell which was which. A small orang-
outang was brought over to Holland in 1776, but died



THE GAMES OF ORANG-OUTANGS 207

when it was seven months old, most likely finding the
climate too cold for it. Her appetite was very good, and
she was seldom known to refuse any thing offered to her; but
her favourite food was carrots, parsley, and strawberries.
Still, she would accept meat, fish and eggs, which she ate
very neatly, and was very fond of wine, particularly of
Malaga, sometimes drinking a whole bottle at a sitting.
During the voyage this clever little lady would make her
own bed as well as any housemaid, first shaking up the
hay and then getting it all smooth before arranging the
bed clothes.

Another of the tribe which was brought from Borneo
about forty years later, seems to have been stronger, and
to have had a longer life. His captors did not know any-
thing about orang-outangs, and instead of leaving him
loose on board the ship, where he would have been per-
fectly happy, they cooped him up in a cage. However,
like other prisoners, he managed by cunning and per-
severance, to break through his bars, and ran joyfully up
to the top to the mast-head, but by-and-by hunger
brought him down, and he was chained up to a strong
stake. But one is not a monkey for nothing, and the
knot which fastened the chain to the staple was soon
undone, and flinging the chain round his shoulder, and
taking the end in his mouth, he was off again to his place
of refuge.

At last they decided that he had better be left alone,
and then there was no end to the games he had with the
sailors. None of them could run up the rigging as far as
he, or if by good luck or a trick one of them did catch
him up, it was nothing for him to fling himself across to
a rope hanging thirty feet away ; and let the sailors shake
the rope as hard as they could his wrists never gave way.
Voyages in those days were very slow, and there was
plenty of time to play. Besides, the ships often waited some
time at the various ports to take in fresh provisions, and
how thankful everybody must have been to get on shore



208 THE GAMES OF OEANG-OUTANGS

again ! The first place that this particular ship put into
on its way home was Java, where the orang-outang took
up its quarters in a huge tamarind tree. There he at
once proceeded to make a comfortable nest for himself by
plaiting twigs together, and then twisted in leaves to
make it soft. Here he would sit all day long, with his
head just peeping out, and if any one passed by with
fruit in his hands our friend always went down at once
to beg for a bit. At sunset, which comes at six o'clock
on the Equator, he punctually went to his own quarters,
and at six next morning, when the sun rose, he knocked
at the door of his master's hut to ask for breakfast.

Being accustomed to sleep on top of a tree, the
moment he was left to himself on board ship he looked
about for a place high enough to please him, and of
course nothing short of the mast-head would do. Having
decided on his bedroom, the next thing was a bedstead
and coverings, and for this purpose he got hold of a sail,
which he was very careful to spread perfectly smooth,
and in this sort of hammock he lay down, drawing the
upper part of the sail over his body. Sometimes it hap-
pened that all the sails were in use, and then the clever
creature would either take the blankets from one of
the sailor's hammocks or steal one of their jackets.
When the ship got as far south as the Cape of Good
Hope the poor thing began to feel very cold, and when he
woke in the morning would fling himself shivering into
the arms of the sailors, and stay there till he got warm
again.

It seems odd to find a monkey drinking tea and coffee,
and indeed preferring them to any kind of liquid ; but
during the voyage, if he could get hold of them, he would
take nothing else. This taste, however, died away as
soon as he came on shore, for in London he showed a
decided liking for beer and milk, though, at a pinch, he
would accept wine, or even brandy.

All the long months at sea his master amused himself




ORANG-OUTANGS EATING OYSTERS ON THE SEA-SHORE



THE GAMES OF ORANG-OUTANGS 211

by trying to play tricks on the monkey, with a view to
discovering how much sense and cleverness he had. To
test this his captor would put some fruit in his pocket, and
climb up to the mast-head as if to take observations. But
anyone who attempts to match himself with a monkey is
sure to get the worst of it. As if by instinct, up came the
orang-outang, and grasping the ropes with the long toes
of one of his feet, he would hold fast his master's legs
\vith the other, and with one of his hands, while the other
hand was searching in every pocket. On other occasions
he would drop on his master from a height, which must
have been very dangerous, or meet him at the bottom,
from which there was no escape. Once the man really
seemed too clever for the animal, and that was when he
tied an orange to the end of a rope, and jerked it up and
down, out of the creature's reach. After clutching at it
repeatedly without success, the orang-outang pretended
complete indifference, and, turning his back, climbed
slowly up the rigging. Then he suddenly turned, and
springing forward, seized the rope. When this failed, he
lost his temper and shrieked w T ith rage, and at length
dashing at the man who held the rope, he held his arms
tightly, till the coveted treasure was hauled up.

The boatswain was his chief friend on board, and they
used to ' mess ' together, although neither gratitude nor
good manners hindered the guest from sometimes stealing
his host's grog and biscuit. After dinner he left the
table and sat at the door of his cabin, like a Frenchman
on the boulevards enjoying the coffee.

Towards some little monkeys that came on board at
Java the orang-outang gave himself great airs at least
as long as any of the sailors were by. Indeed, it was
generally thought that he felt a great hatred towards
them, especially after he had been one day caught (just
in time) in the act of throwing a cage, with three of them
in it, overboard. But that was most likely because he
could not get hold of some food that had been given



212 THE GAMES OF ORANG-OUTANGS

them. If he could get the cabin boys to play with he
was perfectly happy, but if not (and nobody was looking
on) he would put up with the little monkeys, though the
games on his side were rather half-hearted. The little
fellows, on their part, were much flattered at his notice,
and whenever they were let out at once went to wherever
their big cousin might be.

In general the orang-outang took all the strange
sights and sounds that met him in his new life very
coolly, but eight big turtles that were taken in off the
Island of Ascension were too much for his courage. As
soon as he caught a glimpse of them he tore up to the
highest part of the rigging, uttering a squeak of fear, and
though at length his curiosity brought him down low
enough to catch a peep of them, nothing would persuade
him to come quite close. The only other time that he
showed any of the same sort of fear was when he saw
white men naked (which was quite new to him) bathing
in the sea.

Many are the stories of pet monkeys, both orang-
outangs and other kinds putting their masters to shame
by sitting over their heads in church, while they were
preaching, and imitating every movement, till the congre-
gation was nearly beside itself with laughter. But per-
haps no anecdote ever told about the species shows so
much intelligence as one related by an Italian traveller
of some orang-outangs who had had no intercourse with
man. When tired of the mountain fruits, or there


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryAndrew LangThe red book of animal stories → online text (page 12 of 22)