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The red book of animal stories online

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to be petted as a heroine to the end of her days.



PROBABLY no wild beast that ever lived has caused such
deadly terror to so many people as that inspired by snakes
of all kinds. With a lion or a tiger a man feels that he
knows pretty well what the creature will do, and how he
must defend himself. The animal springs, and bounds,
and bites, and men can spring, and bound, and bite, too,
if they want to, though not so far, or so well. As regards
a snake it is quite different. His ways are not our ways ;
his method of getting along is totally unlike ours ; he
does not display a great row of gleaming teeth to frighten
you and tear your flesh ; his head darts at you like
lightning, and is as quickly withdrawn ; but in that instant,
unless strong remedies are at hand, your death-blow has
been struck.

It is this sense of mystery and strangeness that hangs
round serpents which makes them the object of such dread,
though of course there are many kinds which are perfectly
harmless. Dark tales, too, are told of their strength
and power of fascination, by which their victims are
not only prevented from making their escape, but even
forced to advance towards their fate. As a i'ule, however,
snakes, unless they are very hungry, only attack in self-
defence, and act on the principle that ' if you do not hurt
me, I will not hurt you.' Still, without meaning to hurt
them, they sometimes look so like a dead branch that
they get trodden upon ; then woe be to the creature who
has roused them from sleep !


Snakes are usually largest and most dangerous in hot
countries, and Dr. Livingstone tells of one in South Africa
that is over eight feet long, and has an immense amount
of poison in its fangs at once. He has seen it attacked
by a herd of dogs, and all four of them stung to death.
Of course the poison gets weaker the oftener it is used,
and while the first dog dies at once, and the second in
five minutes, the one who has received it last may linger
for some hours. He mentions a snake that he saw killed,
which contained in itself such vast supplies of poisonous
fluid that, even after its head was cut off, the fangs con-
tinued to drop it for many hours. This particular snake
has, according to the natives, a horrid trick of spitting its
poison straight into the eyes, with the result of blinding
its victim ; but we are not told whether it can cause
death without a distinct bite.

In cold countries snakes generally seek out a warm
place when the air begins to grow chilly, and stay there
till the summer comes back. Long ago, a strange thing
occurred in the house of an English gentleman living in
the country, with a servant who had been with him from
a boy. Now this servant, says the chronicler, ' grew
very lame and feeble in his legs, and thinking he could
never be warm in his bed, did multiply his clothes, and
covered himself more and more, but all in vain, till at
length he was not able to go about, neither could any
skill of physician find out the cause.

' It happened on a day as his master leaned at his
parlour window, he saw a great snake slide along the
house side, and to creep into the chamber of this lame
man, then lying in his bed (as I remember) for he lay in
a low chamber, directly against the parlour window afore-
said. The gentleman, desirous to see the issue, and
what the snake would do in the chamber, followed, and
looked into the chamber by the window ; where he espyed
the snake to slide up into the bed-straw, by some way
open in the bottom of the bed, which was of old boards.


Straightway his heart rising thereat, he called two or
three of his servants, and told them what he had seen,
bidding them go and take their rapiers, and kill the said
snake. The serving men came first and removed the
lame man (as I remember) and then the one of them
turned up the bed, and the other two the straw, their
master standing without at the hole, whereinto the said
snake had entered into the chamber. The bed was no
sooner turned up, and the rapier thrust into the straw,
but there issued forth five or six great snakes that were
lodged within. Then the serving men, bestirring them-
selves, soon despatched them, and cast them out of doors
dead. Afterward the lame man's legs recovered, and became
as strong as ever they were ; whereby did evidently
appear the coldness of these snakes or serpents which
coming close to his legs every night, did so benumb them
as he could not go.'

It is often supposed that snakes are unable to make
any sound but the terrible hiss they utter when they are
angry ; but there is one African kind that imitates the cry
of a kid so exactly that it is impossible to tell one from
the other, and many is the animal which, thinking to find
a goat, has fallen into the trap set for it by the serpent !

Another species, that has a sort of voice in its tail, (as
well as one in its throat), is the rattle-snake. The famous
' rattle ' that it sets up whenever it sees an enemy ap-
proaching, comes from the shaking together of a loose,
horny, jointed substance at the end of its tail, and when
a man or animal hears this he knows what awaits him,
and can get out of the way if he chooses. If he does not
choose, but prefers to attack the rattle-snake, which
twists itself straight up in a wreath of many coils, its eyes
gleaming from the centre, he runs the risk of a speedy
and painful death. The teeth that the snake uses as his
weapon of defence are two very small and sharp ones in
his upper jaw, which have each a little bag at its root,
containing the poisonous, greenish fluid. This fluid spreads


itself through the blood with wonderful quickness, and a
chill instantly strikes the whole body. Then the spot


where the poison entered begins to swell and get dis-
coloured, and soon the whole frame shows the same signs.
The poison takes effect most quickly in hot weather, or if


the wound is just above the heel ; but, strange to say, it
never affects the wild hog, who can even eat rattle -snakes
without suffering.

Luckily, certain remedies are known to the Indians
for the bite of one of the deadliest of all serpents, the
rattle-snake, and the surest of these is a small kind
of plantain which, when rubbed on the wound and
swallowed, gradually destroys the poison in the blood.
Now-a-days, too, people are given strong doses of whisky
or ammonia, which act in the same way, and they are kept
walking up and down for many hours. If they are once
allowed to fall asleep they never wake again. Still, what-
ever remedy may be used, when the time of year comes
round in which the man was bitten, he will, we are told,
feel some return of the symptoms to the end of his life.

A traveller in North America, in the middle of the last
century, says that in the neighbourhood of the Fox Eiver
he found an immense number of rattle-snakes hiding in
the grass which covered a sort of swamp. One of these
snakes had been captured by an Indian, who managed to
tame it, and earned it about with him everywhere in a
box, calling it his ' Great Father.' The man and the snake
had wandered about together for many summers, when
they were met by a French trader, who found the
Indian making ready to start for his winter hunting-
grounds. He and the Indian soon became friends, and
one day the Frenchman was much surprised to see the
Redskin put the box containing his Great Father on the
ground, and, pushing back the lid, tell the snake, as he
did so, that he was to meet him at that very place the
following May. The Frenchman laughed when he heard
the Indian's words, and said that as this was only October
he hardly thought it likely that the Great Father would
remember so long. However, the Indian was so certain
of the snake's affection that he offered to pay the French-
man two gallons of rum should the Great Father not turn
up at the time appointed.


When May came round, the French trader set out for
the place, and found the Indian there before him, the box
in his hand. He laid it on the ground, and called to the
Great Father, but the Great Father never came. After
waiting some time, he acknowledged that he had lost his
bet ; but he still felt so certain of the snake's return that
he offered to pay, not two gallons, but four, if the Great
Father did not appear within two days. The Frenchman
agreed to this, and the second morning saw both men on
the spot.

Some hours passed, and the Frenchman was already
counting on the gallons of rum, when, about one o'clock,
a motion was seen in the grass, and the Great Father glided
rapidly towards them. He made straight for his box, as
a man would make for his house, and without waiting to
be told, he curled himself up snugly inside, and the door
was shut on him.



IT was early in the month of November that Baker went
down to the last cataracts of the White Nile, about six
miles to the south of his camp.

The country was everywhere very rich, and covered
with villages, and the people were very friendly, and
ready to give the new comers all they wanted in the way
of food.

One day a troop of Baker's soldiers had been sent to
some distance to fetch corn, and while their commander
was quietly sitting smoking on the deck of the boat the
leader of the party came galloping back to say that a
herd of elephants was coming up from the west of the

Baker did not pay much attention to this news, as he
expected that the moment the herd caught sight of the
people, who had from curiosity climbed on the rocks or
squatted on the roofs of the huts, they would turn off
in some other direction. But the elephants did nothing
of the sort.

On they came, eleven in number, swinging their trunks
and flapping their ears, not seeing or not heeding the
crowd of boats and people.

When they arrived within about four hundred yards
of the river, Baker mounted his horse Greedy Gray first
telling his servant Suleiman to send on his two elephant
rifles, witb plenty of powder and ball. He then posted
some of his men, dressed in red shirts, on the low hills


close by, with orders to come down behind the elephants
so as to prevent their turning. This done he galloped
up the slope, taking care to keep well above the herd.

By this time the elephants had reached the river
bank, and at sight of the grey horse they stopped sus-
piciously and stood closer together. While they were
standing thus the men came down from the slopes and
formed a long line, surrounding them on that side. The
elephants remained quiet, though they still flicked their
ears, with the boats in front and the river behind them.
Here the stream was broken, about a hundred yards from
the shore, by an island, with a steep bank of hard earth.
Before a shot could be fired they had swum across and
gained the island, but then their progress was stopped.
The banks were fully six feet high, and the river was too
deep below to give them a footing. The only thing they
could do was to pull down the bank with their trunks and
tusks, so as to form a slope for them to pass up, and they
at once set about it.

Hard as the whole eleven worked, it took some time ;
and Baker, standing on the shore, watched closely for the
moment when one of them should turn round, for it was
difficult to shoot with any certainty from such a distance.
However, he did fire a few bullets in among them, which,
though they did no real damage, bothered the elephants a
good deal, and caused them, in their confusion, to tumble
over each other. But by this time part of the bank had
given way under their hard labour, and they were enabled
to get some sort of footing above the water, so that more
of their bodies were exposed to view. At last, with a
prodigious amount of tumbling and struggling, one large
animal reared itself half out of the river, and received a
ball behind its shoulder. It fell over into the stream,
which swept it quite near to where Baker was standing,
so that it was easy to put a ball right into the brain.

When his rifle was loaded for the second shot an
elephant had scrambled right to the top of the bank, and


gave an excellent mark, which Baker did not fail to
take advantage of. This animal was killed on the spot,
and like the other rolled into the river, and boats were
sent at once down the stream to tow them both back.

But luckily for the rest of the herd there was no more
ammunition left, so the elephants were allowed to climb
up the bank without any more disturbance. They took
counsel together as to what was best to be done, and at
length agreed it was safer to cross to the further side. A
few stray shots from a field gun hastened their movements,
though the shells burst without touching them, and the
whole nine were soon out of reach on the eastern shore.

As for the two which had been killed, the current was
so strong that the boats sent after their bodies had to go
two miles before they came up with them. Unlike a
hippopotamus, which sinks for two hours after he is
dead, the elephant always floats, for he is like a great
football, on which two or three people can stand. The
hippopotamus, on the other hand, is solid all through,
and his skin is far thicker and heavier than the

The two heads and the tusks were all that Baker
wanted, so he was pleased to gratify the villagers who
crowded round begging for the meat, which they are very
fond of. Hundreds of them came flocking, while some
of the tribesmen, who had shown themselves unfriendly,
looked on in disgust, watching the preparations for the
feast. They were very much awed, too, by the way in
which the animals had been killed, and dreading, like all
savages, anything they did not understand, they at once
sent messengers to beg for peace, which was cheerfully
granted them.

Elephants are very particular what they eat, and
prefer roots, bulbs, or the branches of trees containing
sweet, gummy juice like mimosa to anything else. In
their turn their flesh is much prized by the people, partly
on account of the fat, which is not only eaten but



smeared over their bodies. The ivory tusks are, of course,
used as an article of trade.

Along the course of the Zambesi river elephants are
to be found in vast herds, or were to be found, sixty years
ago, when Livingstone explored that country. One way
of killing them is to make platforms high up in the trees,
under which the elephants must pass. As soon as the
animal is right under the trees a man aims a spear,
measuring four or five feet, with a sharp blade twenty
inches long, straight at the elephant's ribs, and a well-
directed blow causes death very soon. Sometimes they
use instead of this a spear fixed to a beam of wood and
hung on a dangling cord tied to a tree. The head of the
spear is poisoned, and when the animal treads on the
cord the spear wounds him in the foot, and he dies in a
few hours.

In these regions men are forced to do their hunting on
foot, for horses fall victims to the terrible tsetse fly, from
whose bite neither ox, horse, nor dog ever recovers,
though it never touches either wild animals or men. It
is, therefore, very difficult to kill an elephant with one
shot placed in the brain, as is done in countries where
horses can be used, and, besides, the climate makes hunt-
ing a very tiring sport, and only fit for very strong men.

In 1850 a friend of Livingstone's, named Oswell, was
tracking an elephant along the banks of a river, and
saw him with disgust take refuge in a thicket of thorny
bushes, which did not hurt his hard skin, but were
very unpleasant to a white man. Here the country was
comparatively free from tsetse, so Oswell was riding,
and at once put his horse into the narrow path, forcing his
way as well as he could through the dense branches.
When he was well into the midst of the tangle, keeping
his eye steadily fixed on the elephant's tail, the creature
turned suddenly round and charged. Oswell tried to
break away in another direction, but found it was hope-
less, and in leaping from his horse caught his foot in a



branch and fell to the ground, touching in his fall his
horse's side with his spur. The animal plunged and
bolted, and before Oswell could rise the elephant was
upon him. He expected every second to be crushed by
the weight of its enormous feet, but the elephant, in its
wild rush, had not seen his fall, and passed him by, posi-
tively placing his foot between Oswell's legs, which he
had instinctively parted. Few men have had such a
narrow escape, and indeed he had been saved from more
than he .knew, for these thorn bushes cut like knives, and
few horses will face them.

It is the custom of the Bechuanas to dig pits for the
animals to fah 1 into, after the manner of the Scotch at
Bannockburn. The shape they have found to answer
their purpose best is a kind of long square, seven or eight
feet deep, but only one foot wide at the bottom, while the
breadth at the top is at least three or four feet. When
finished the pits are carefully covered up, and all traces of
disturbance removed by a sort of framework of reeds and
grass, held together by sand. In leaving the banks of a
river, where they often go at night to drink and w T ash
themselves, an old elephant will be placed in front so as
to examine the ground, lest pitfalls should beset their
track. And if sometimes, in spite of ah 1 the care of the
leader, a young and foolish creature blunders into a hole,
the strongest among them will join together and by
means of their tusks and trunks will drag him out of his
death trap.

Indeed, elephants, like many other animals, have
strong affections, and will often attach themselves to
one of their own herd, defending it from all dangers, as
the following story will show.

Colonel Gordon Gumming was hunting elephants in the
country north of the Limpopo river, and they frequently
led him a long dance, fpr if they suspect a man's presence
in their neighbourhood they will go miles to get out of
his way. They even seem somehow to tell one another,


for if one has been shot all the herds in the district hear
about it, and in a day or two there is not an elephant to
be found anywhere. When the sun is hot they will
shelter during the day in dense jungles of ' wait-a-bit '
thorns, only coming out every third or fourth day to
drink and wash in some pool or river, very often thirty or


forty miles away. This done they go back to a sheltered
place and lie comfortably down to sleep, with their backs
to an ant-hill, which shows an odd taste in beds.

Well, early one morning Colonel Gordon Gumming left
the hole in which he had been sleeping, and climbed up
a high rock to see if there was any chance of an elephant.
Yes, sure enough, there were nine or ten huge creatures


having their breakfast not a quarter of a mile away. It
seems strange that so many people can see no animal,
however harmless, without wishing to kill it ; but
Colonel Gordon Gumming had travelled thousands of
miles for no other reason, and his heart beat high. He
quickly clambered down from his rock to warn his men
to keep quiet and out of sight, and sent back to the camp
for a fresh horse, his dogs, and his big rifle. Then he
returned to his watch-tower to make out the lie of the land.

The first herd he knew, from the size of the beasts, to
be made up entirely of females, with some young ones
following closely at their heels ; but further away was
another troop, consisting of five males, also grazing
quietly. These he resolved to leave till the horses and
dogs came up, and to hunt the others on foot.

Very cautiously he moved along the rocky ridge
where the females were feaitng on the young branches
of the trees, till he got within a hundred yards of them.
As the wind was blowing straight at him the elephants
scented nothing, but continued to approach, munching as
they walked. The sportsman picked out the largest and
fired. The elephant uttered a cry of surprise more than
of pain, and turned sharp round, receiving as she did so
a second ball in the shoulder. Growling and muttering,
the whole herd set off at a sharp trot northward, flapping
their huge dangling ears as they went, the wounded
female bringing up the rear with a friend by its side.
When they reached a clump of trees they stopped, and
not having scented man they thought they were safe.
Meantime the horses and dogs had come up, and the
hunters rode slowly towards the grove.

They had not gone far when the elephants caught
sight of them, and started off afresh. But the poor
wounded one could not keep up with the rest, and was
easily cut off. Gordon Gumming dismounted, and,
throwing his bridle over one arm, tried to aim steadily at
the elephant. He found this, however, almost impossible


to do ; his horse Colesberg was in mortal terror of the
huge, strange creature, and plunged wildly. A shot was
at length fired, but without much result, and the noise
at such close quarters ended by upsetting Colesberg's
nerves completely. In vain his master attempted to get
near enough to jump on his back; Colesberg only plunged
and reared and swung round towards the wounded ele-
phant. At this moment a loud trumpeting noise was
heard from behind, and out from the trees came a
stone-deaf old dog, followed, unknown to himself, by the
friend of the wounded elephant, who had come to the
help of his comrade. The men looked on from afar ;
but, less loyal or brave than the elephant, they did nothing,
and Colonel Gordon Cumming's hunting days would have
ended there and then had it not been for the dogs who
yapped at the knees of the elephants, and took off their
attention for elephants are horribly afraid of dogs.
When their trunks were almost touching him he
managed, goaded by the danger, to spring into the saddle,
and dashed off to where the men were standing for a
second rifle. Then, aiming as well as his frightened steed
would let him, he soon ended the sufferings of his first
victim, which fell to the ground, bringing down a huge
tree in her fall.

Her friend, seeing the case was hopeless, charged
straight at the murderer, who was forced to fly for
several hundred yards before he could contrive to get
a shot. At last he was able to turn and place a ball in
her shoulder, when, evidently hard hit, she gave it up
and made for cover.

Some old writers have left us very curious stories
of the elephants which were first seen in Europe in
the wars of Pyrrhus with Eome. 'The beast which
hath between its eyes a serpent for a hand,' was much
used in battles in those days, and when steady and
well-trained, was most useful, both in charging the
enemy, and in carrying a kind of fort filled with light


armed men on its back. In the wars between Carthage
and Eome, Hannibal is said to have ranged his elephants
in the front of his lines, to break the shock, and to trample
down the advancing foe. But in the end, the Eomans
got accustomed to these tactics, and learned how to foil

A number of these tales not always true or even
likely were collected about two hundred and fifty years
ago by a man named Topsel, who published them in a
book called ' The History of Four-footed Beasts and
Serpents,' illustrated with some very funny pictures.
Topsel assures us that in their wild state old elephants
are cared for by the young ones, who gather food for them
and fight for them when they are not able to fight for
themselves ; and that when they are dead, green boughs
are laid over them by the rest of the herd. He further
declares that they have been known to pull darts and spears
out of each other's bodies, and that when Porus, king
of the country beyond the Indus, was defeated by
Alexander the Great, his favourite elephant drew the
javelins out of his wounds with his trunk, and then
knelt down very gently, so that if the king was still
alive, he might not be shaken. Topsel does not tell
us whether it was Porus, or another Indian king, who
had a bodyguard of elephants, which were trained to
watch him by turns while he was asleep, and never
failed to appear at their appointed hours, like sailors on

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Online LibraryAndrew LangThe red book of animal stories → online text (page 14 of 22)