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Francis C. Woodworth.

Stories about Animals: with Pictures to Match online

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of our crew had observed."

In Egypt they have a singular mode of catching the hippopotamus. They
throw large quantities of dried peas on the bank of the river along
which the animal is expected to pass. He devours these peas greedily.
The dry food disposes the animal to drink; and after drinking, the peas
swell in his stomach, and the poor fellow is destroyed.

"I have seen," says a traveler, "a hippopotamus open his mouth, fix one
tooth on the side of a boat, and another on the second plank under the
keel - that is, four feet distant from each other - pierce the side
through and through, and in this manner sink the boat." When the negroes
go a-fishing, the same traveler informs us, "in their canoes, and meet
with a hippopotamus, they throw fish to him; and then he passes on,
without disturbing their fishing any more. Once, when our boat was near
shore, I saw a hippopotamus get underneath it, lift it above the water
upon his back, and overset it, with six men who were in it."

"We dare not," says another traveler, "irritate the hippopotamus in the
water, since an adventure happened which came near proving fatal to the
men. They were going in a small canoe, to kill one of these animals in a
river, where there were some eight or ten feet of water. After they had
discovered him walking at the bottom of the river, according to his
custom, they wounded him with a long lance, which so greatly irritated
him, that he rose immediately to the surface of the water, regarded them
with a terrible look, opened his mouth, and with one bite took a great
piece out of the side of the canoe, and very nearly overturned it, but
he plunged again almost directly to the bottom of the river."




The Weasel.


Great numbers of weasels, it seems, sometimes unite together, and defend
themselves pretty resolutely against the attacks of men. A laborer in
Scotland was one day suddenly attacked by six weasels, who rushed upon
him from an old wall near the place where he was at work at the time.
The man, alarmed, as well he might have been, by such a furious onset,
took to his heels; but he soon found he was closely pursued. Although he
had in his hand a large horse-whip, with which he endeavored to frighten
back his enemies, yet so eager were they in pursuing him, that he was on
the point of being seized by the throat, when he fortunately noticed the
fallen branch of a tree, at a little distance, which he reached, and
snatching it up as fiercely as possible, rallied upon his enemies,
and killed three of them, when the remainder thought it best to give up
the battle, and left the field.

[Illustration: THE FERRET WEASEL.]

A similar case occurred some years ago near Edinburgh, when a gentleman,
observing another leaping about in an extraordinary manner, made up to
him, and found him beset and dreadfully bitten by about fifteen weasels,
who still continued their attack. Both of the men being strong and
courageous, they succeeded in killing quite a number of the animals, and
the rest escaped and ran into the fissures of a neighboring rock. The
account the unfortunate man gave of the beginning of the affray was,
that, walking through the park, he ran at a weasel which he saw, and
made several attempts to strike it, remaining between it and the rock,
to which it tried to retreat. The animal, in this situation, squeaked
loudly, when a sudden attack was made by the whole colony of weasels,
who came to the rescue of their companion, determined to conquer or die.

Mr. Miller, in his Boy's Summer Book, tells us a little about what he
had seen and heard of the habits and disposition of this family. He
says, "They are a destructive race of little savages; and one has been
known, before now, to attack a child in his cradle, and inflict a deep
wound upon his neck, where it clung, and sucked like a leech. They are
very fond of blood, and to obtain this, they will sometimes destroy the
occupants of a whole hen-roost, not caring to feed upon the bodies of
the poultry which they have killed. They will climb trees, attack the
old bird on its nest, suck the eggs, or carry off the young; for nothing
of this kind seems to come amiss to them. They are great hunters of
mice; and their long, slender bodies are well adapted for following
these destructive little animals in their rambles among the corn-stalks
in the field. In this way, the weasel renders the farmer a good service
occasionally, though he never asks to be rewarded with a duck or
chicken, always choosing to help himself without asking, whenever he can
get a chance. Oh! if you could but see a weasel attack a mouse, as I
have done. By just one single bite of the head, which is done in a
moment, and which pierces the brain before you can say 'Jack Robinson,'
the mouse is killed as dead as a red herring, before he has time to
squeak or struggle. It is no joke, I can tell you, to be bitten by a
weasel; and if you thought, when you caught hold of one by the back,
that you had him safe, you would soon find your mistake out; for his
neck is as pliable as a piece of India rubber. He would have hold of
your hand in a moment."

[Illustration: THE HAWK POUNCING UPON THE WEASEL.]

I have just come across a funny story about the adventure of a weasel
and a hawk. It seems that a hawk took an especial fancy to a weasel that
he saw prowling about a farm-yard. His hawkship happened to be pretty
hungry at the time, and concluded he would carry off the weasel, and
make a dinner of him at his leisure. So he pounced upon the fellow, and
set out on his journey home. I should not wonder if he had a nest in the
woods not far off. The weasel, however, submitted to his fate with no
very good grace. He thought that two could play at that game. He twisted
around his elastic neck - to use the language of the writer I
mentioned - poked up his pointed nose, and in he went, with his sharp
teeth, right under the wings of the hawk, making such a hole in an
instant, that you might have thrust your finger in. The hawk tried to
pick at him with his hooked beak, but it was no use.

The weasel kept eating away, and licking his lips as if he enjoyed
himself; and the hawk soon came wheeling down to the ground, which he no
sooner touched, than away ran the weasel, having got an excellent dinner
at the expense of the hawk. He was not a bit the worse for the ride;
while Mr. Hawk lay there as dead as a nail. The biter was bitten that
time, wasn't he? It was a pretty good lesson to the hawk family not to
be so greedy, though whether they ever profited by it is more than I can
say. From the account that a little girl gave me of the incursions
recently made upon her chickens, I judge that they did not all profit by
it.

[Illustration: CHAPTER END DECORATION]




The Squirrel.


I had a pretty little red squirrel of my own, when I was a little boy.
My father bought a cage for him, with a wheel in it; and Billy, as we
used to call him, would get inside the wheel, and whirl it around for a
half hour at a time. It was amusing, too, to see him stand up on his
hind feet, and eat the nuts we gave him. Billy was a great favorite with
me and my brother. By and by, we let him go out of the cage, and ramble
wherever he pleased. He became as tame as a kitten. He would go out into
the corn-field in autumn, and come home with his mouth filled with corn,
and this he would lay up in a safe place for further use. Once the old
cat caught him, and the poor fellow would have been killed, if some one
had not been near and rescued him from the grasp of his enemy.

We indulged Billy a good deal. We had a box of hickory nuts in the
garret, and he was allowed to go and help himself whenever he pleased.
He was pleased to go pretty often, too; and he was not satisfied with
eating what he wanted out of the box. The greedy fellow! One day he
carried off nearly all the nuts there were in the box, and hid them away
under the floor, through a hole he had gnawed in the boards.

He was a great pet though, for all that. We could not help loving him,
mischievous as he was. He used to climb up often on my shoulder, and
down into my pockets; and if there was any thing good to eat thereabout,
he would help himself without ceremony. Sometimes, when he felt
particularly frolicksome, he leaped from one person's shoulder to
another, all around the room.

The more we petted this little fellow, and the more good things we gave
him, the more roguish he became. At length he exhausted all my father's
patience by his mischief. One of his last tricks was this. He gnawed a
hole in a bag of meal, and after eating as much as he could (and this
was but little, for we fed him as often as he needed to eat, and
oftener too) he carried away large quantities of the meal, and wasted
it. He never worked harder in his life, not even when he was trying to
get away from the jaws of the old cat, than he did when he was
scattering this meal over the yard. Well, we had a sort of a court about
Billy, after this. My father's corn-house was the court room, and my
father himself was the judge. We all agreed that Billy was guilty,
though we differed as to the punishment that ought to be inflicted. The
question seemed to be, according to the language they use in courts of
law, whether the theft was a _petty larceny_ or a _grand larceny_. Alas
for Billy and Billy's friends! My father decided, in his charge to the
jury, that the crime must be ranked under the head of grand larceny, and
the jury brought in a verdict accordingly. My father pronounced the
sentence, which was that the offending squirrel must die that same day.
Billy seemed to be aware of what was going on, for he did not come near
the house again till almost night; and when he did come, one of my
father's men shot him, and just as the sun was going down he died. For a
long time after that, I cried whenever I thought of poor Billy.

Among the many juvenile friends with whom I have had more or less
correspondence, as the editor of a young people's magazine, is one who
resides at Saratoga Springs. I passed a few days at this watering-place
last summer, and called on Master William, for that is the name of my
friend - who introduced to me a pet squirrel of his, called Dick. Dick
did not perform many very surprising feats while I was present, though I
did not at the time set that circumstance down as any evidence of a want
of smartness on the part of the squirrel; for I well remembered that it
was a very common thing for pets sustaining even a much higher rank in
the scale of intelligence, to disappoint the expectations of those
persons who think all the world of them, when they - the pets - are
ushered into the presence of strangers, for the purpose of being
exhibited, and, indeed, I have some faint recollection of thus
disappointing an over-fond nurse, not unfrequently, on similar
occasions. There are some propositions the truth of which it is quite as
well to assent to, when one hears them stated, without waiting for
proof; and among these propositions I class those which relate to the
unheard-of sagacity and genius of a darling pet. I make it a point to
admit, without demonstration or argument, that there never was another
such a creature in all the world. Moreover, I saw plainly enough in
Dick's keen, black eye, that he knew a thing or two, and I could easily
understand how he might greatly endear himself to his little patron. Nor
was I at all surprised when I recently heard of the death of this
favorite, that my young friend cried a great deal; and I am sure I
shared in some measure his grief. Poor Dick! I immediately wrote to
Willy, to solicit a short biography of his favorite, for my stories
about animals. The request was kindly responded to by Willy's aunt, from
whom I received the following sketch:

"When Dick first became a member of the family, he was shy, resentful,
and very capricious; but by degrees all these faults gave place to a
sort of playful drollery, that called out many a laugh. His cage was a
fine, large, commodious place, well lined with tiers, and furnished with
every convenience that he could have desired in a habitation, not
excepting a big wheel, which is by general consent esteemed a great
luxury for a squirrel. But he often liked a change, and when the door
was left loose, he would soon find his way out. Then he had many
hair-breadth escapes - sometimes from dogs, who looked upon him as lawful
prey; sometimes from frolicsome and thoughtless boys, who forgot how
much a squirrel suffers who is worried almost to death. Sometimes he has
been nearly abducted by strangers, who saw with surprise so small an
individual at large, and quite unconscious of the perils of a public
street in a watering-place. On one of these occasions, when he was
playing with his little master, and skipping from bough to bough on the
large trees that sheltered his home, he bounded from a branch to the
roof of a three-storied house adjoining, and running across, jumped from
one of the angles to the court below, landed on all fours, stopped a
second or two to decide if he were really alive or not, then quietly
trudged home to his cage. If he wanted a change, Dick had odd ways of
showing himself dissatisfied with his condition. In the summer, when his
house was too much exposed to the rays of the sun, he would give a queer
little cry, which, if no one heeded, he would lie down flat, all
extended, and gasp, as if each moment was his last; and no coaxing could
bring him to himself, until he was removed, cage and all; then
immediately he would jump up, frisk about, sit on his haunches, and
laugh out of his eye as merrily as if he had said, 'I know a thing or
two - don't I, though?' These manoeuvres were a clear sham; he could
fall into one in a twinkling, at any time. How many times he has led
the children of the family, and the big children too, through beds of
beans, beets, and cucumbers, and through the tomato vines and
rose-bushes; and when we were in full chase, just ready to believe that
he had eluded us quite, and was gone forever, lo! there sat Dick in his
wheel, as demure as a judge, and looking as wise as possible at those
very silly people, who would be running about so fast, on such a warm
day. He never liked any infringement upon his personal liberty; this he
always resented; but he would pretend to hide away, and come and peep at
you, or jump up behind you, stand on the top of your head or shoulder,
play all manner of pranks about your person, get clear into the pocket
of any friend, who was likely to have a supply of nuts. He would answer
to his name, follow when called, in the house, out of the house, any
where, play all about the large house-dog, Tom - pat him on the ear,
gently pinch his tail, poise himself on his back, and pretend to sleep
by the side of him. But if any one caught him, or held him, as if he
were imprisoned - alas! what a struggle ensued - and then, I grieve to say
it - he would _bite_."

[Illustration: THE SQUIRREL.]

The most common squirrels in this country are the gray, the red, and the
striped, or chipping squirrel. The latter is the smallest of the three;
and as that species are not hunted so much as the rest of the genus,
they are very abundant in the woods. Many and many a time, when a child,
have I been deceived by the cunning of the chipping squirrel. The little
fellow has a hole and nest in the ground. The hole is very frequently
either directly under or very near the stump of a tree which has been
cut down or was blown over by the wind. Well, the little fellow is
accustomed, or he was accustomed, when I was a little boy, to sit
good-humoredly on this stump, and sing for hours together. His song has
nothing very exquisite in it - it is simply "chip, chip, chip," from the
beginning to the end; and his notes are not only all on the same key - a
monotony which one might pardon, if he was particularly
good-natured - but they are all on the same point in the diatonic scale.
However, like many other indifferent singers that I have met in my day,
our striped vocalist goes on with his music, as if he thought there
never was another, or certainly not more than one other quite as
finished a singer as himself. Well, the boy who is unacquainted with the
tricks of this little fellow, as was once my own case, steals along
carefully toward the stump, thinking that the squirrel is so busy with
his music, that he is perfectly unconscious of any thing else that is
going on, and that it is just the easiest matter in the world to catch
him. Half a dozen times, at least, I have tried this experiment, before
I became satisfied that I was not the only interested party who was wide
awake. "Chip, chip, chip," sings the squirrel. He does not move an inch.
He does not vary his song. His eyes seem half closed. The boy advances
within a few feet of the squirrel. He reaches out his hand to secure his
prize, when down goes the striped vocalist into his hole, always
uttering a sort of laugh, as he enters his door, and seeming pretty
plainly to say, though in rather poor Anglo-Saxon, it must be confessed,
"No, you don't."

Whoever takes the pains to dig into the earth, where the striped
squirrel has made his nest, will find something that will amply repay
him for his trouble. The hole goes down pretty straight for some feet;
then it turns, and takes a horizontal direction, and runs sometimes a
great distance. Little chambers are seen leading out from this
horizontal passage, each chamber connected by a door with the passage,
and sometimes with other chambers. In each of these rooms, the squirrel
stores up different varieties of nuts and other provisions. In one you
will find acorns; in another hickory nuts - real shag-barks, for our
chipping squirrel is a good judge in these matters; and in another
chestnuts, a whole hat-full of them, sometimes. There is quite as much
order and regularity in the store-houses of the chipping squirrel, as
there seems to be about the premises of some lazy and careless farmers
one meets with occasionally.

Accounts are given of the ingenuity of the squirrels in Lapland, which
would be too astonishing for belief, were they not credited by such men
as Linnæus, on whose authority we have them. It seems that the squirrels
in that country are in the habit of emigrating, in large parties, and
that they sometimes travel hundreds of miles in this way, and that when
they meet with broad or rapid lakes in their travels, they take a very
extraordinary method of crossing them. On approaching the banks, and
perceiving the breadth of the water, they return, as if by common
consent, into the neighboring forest, each in quest of a piece of bark,
which answers all the purpose of boats for wafting them over. When the
whole company are fitted in this manner, they boldly commit their little
fleet to the waves - every squirrel sitting on its own piece of bark, and
fanning the air with its tail, to drive the vessel to the desired port.
In this orderly manner they set forward, and often cross lakes several
miles broad. But it occasionally happens that the poor mariners are not
aware of the dangers of their navigation; for although at the edge of
the water it is generally calm, in the middle it is always more rough.
The slightest additional gust of wind often oversets the little sailor
and his vessel altogether. The entire navy, that perhaps but a few
minutes before rode proudly and securely along, is now overturned, and a
shipwreck of two or three thousand vessels is the consequence. This
wreck, which is so unfortunate for the little animal, is generally the
most lucky accident in the world for the Laplander on shore; who gathers
up the dead bodies as they are thrown in by the waves, eats the flesh,
and sells the skins.

I read an interesting story, awhile ago, which came from the Gentleman's
Magazine, about a squirrel who was charmed by a rattle-snake. The
substance of the story was something like this: A gentleman was
traveling by the side of a creek, where he saw a squirrel running
backward and forward between the creek and a large tree a few yards
distant. The squirrel's hair looked very rough, showing that he was very
much terrified about something. His circuit became shorter and shorter,
and the man stopped to see what could be the cause of this strange
state of things. He soon discovered the head and neck of a rattle-snake
pointing directly at the squirrel, through a hole of the tree, which was
hollow. The squirrel at length gave over running, and laid himself down
quietly, with his head close to the snake's. The snake then opened his
mouth wide, and took in the squirrel's head; upon which the man gave the
snake a blow across the neck with his whip, by which the squirrel was
released. You will see by this story, which comes to us well
authenticated, that snakes possess the power of charming, whatever some
people may think or say to the contrary. This is only one among a
multitude of facts which I could relate in proof of the existence of
such a power among many of the serpent race. But we are conversing about
quadrupeds now, and we must not go out of our way to chase after snakes.

A squirrel, sitting on a hickory-tree, was once observed to weigh the
nuts he got in each paw, to find out which were good and which were bad.
The light ones he invariably threw away, retaining only those which were
heavier. It was found, on examining those he had thrown away, that he
had not made a mistake in a single instance. They were all bad nuts.




[Illustration: THE GIRAFFE]


The Giraffe.


Leaving our friends the squirrels, to whom we have certainly devoted
quite sufficient attention, we pass along to quite a different race of
animals - that of the giraffe or camelopard. This is a noble-looking
animal, as you see plainly enough by the engraving. The tongue of the
giraffe is exquisitely contrived for grasping. In its native deserts,
the animal uses it to hook down branches which are beyond the reach of
its muzzle; and in the menagerie at Regent's Park, many a fair lady has
been robbed of the artificial flowers which adorned her bonnet, by the
nimble and filching tongue of the rare object of her admiration. When
attacked, notwithstanding the natural defence of horns and hoofs, the
camelopard always seeks escape in flight, and will not turn to do
battle except at the last extremity. In such cases, he sometimes makes a
successful defence by striking out his powerful armed feet; and the king
of beasts is frequently repelled and disabled by the wounds which the
giraffe has thus inflicted with his hoofs. His horns are also used with
effect, and a side-long sweep of his neck sometimes does fatal
execution.

Some years ago, a giraffe was sent from Egypt to Constantinople. His
keeper used to exercise him in an open square, where the Turks flocked
daily, in great crowds, to see the extraordinary animal. Seeing how
inoffensive he was, and how domestic he became, the keeper took the
animal with him through the city; and wherever he appeared, a number of
friendly hands were held out of the latticed windows, to offer him
something to eat. When he came to a house where he had been well
treated, if no one was at the window, he would tap gently against the
wooden lattice, as if to announce his visit. He was extremely docile and
affectionate; and if left to himself, he always frequented the streets
where he had the most and best friends.




The Monkey Tribe.


Of course my readers are in some measure familiar with the tricks of
this large and notorious family of animals. But one is not easily
wearied with their antics. They afford us, the most sober and sedate of
us, an immense amount of material for amusement. I confess I have
stopped in the street, many a time, to see a sage monkey go through his
grotesque manoeuvres, under the direction of a tutor who ground out
music from a wheezing hand-organ, and have been willing to undergo the
penance of hearing the music of the master, for the sake of witnessing
the genius of the pupil. I can conceive of nothing more excessively
ludicrous than many of these exhibitions. But I must not detain the
reader from the stories any longer.

A foreign gentleman of distinction having to attend the court of Louis
XVI. of France, took with him his favorite monkey. Soon after his
arrival, he was invited to attend a great ball at Versailles; and
anxious to perform his part with credit in that fashionable country, he
engaged one of the first dancing-masters in the city to teach him the
latest mode. Every day he employed several hours in practicing his
lessons with the tutor, so as to be _au fait_, as the French people have


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Online LibraryFrancis C. WoodworthStories about Animals: with Pictures to Match → online text (page 11 of 12)