Francis C. Woodworth.

Stories about Animals: with Pictures to Match online

. (page 7 of 12)
Online LibraryFrancis C. WoodworthStories about Animals: with Pictures to Match → online text (page 7 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

have a gun too, and he held it like a regular militia man. What a fine
comrade they had found! - and so they marched about the room - 'one, two!
one, two!' Presently, however, the door opened. It was the children's
mother. You should have seen her - her face as white as a sheet; her
half-opened mouth, her staring eyes. The smallest of the children ran
up to her mother, and shouted with all her might, 'Mama, we are playing
at soldiers!'"


Bears have frequently been taught a great many funny tricks. I remember
seeing one, when a boy, that would stand on his head, and dance, and
perform sundry other feats of skill. His master was an old man, who
passed himself off among the little folks as a conjurer. He was dressed
in a most grotesque manner, and played on a drum and some kind of wind
instrument at the same time. Besides the bear, who seemed to be the hero
in the different performances, the juggler had some dogs, which he had
trained to dance to his music, and a cock which would walk and dance,
after his fashion, on stilts. But I should not care to witness any such
performances now. I should not be able to keep out of my mind the
thought that the different animals engaged in these exhibitions must
have been subjected to a great deal of pain and ill treatment before
they could have arrived at such a stage of proficiency, and that thought
would imbitter the entertainment, I imagine.

The Rat and Mouse.

Every body, almost, entertains a sort of hostility to the rat family,
and considers himself licensed to say all manner of hard things about
them. They are a set of rogues - there is no doubt about that, unless
they are universally slandered. But they are shrewd and cunning, as well
as roguish; and many of their exploits are worth recording.

There were several slaughter-houses near Paris, where as many as thirty
worn-out horses were slaughtered every day. One of these
slaughter-houses was regarded as a nuisance, and a proposition was made
to remove it at a greater distance from the city. But there was a strong
objection made to its removal, on account of the ravages which the rats
would make in the neighborhood, when they had no longer the carcasses
of the horses to feed upon. These voracious creatures assembled at this
spot in such numbers, that they devoured all the flesh (that was not
much, perhaps, in many cases) of twenty or thirty horses in one night,
so that in the morning nothing remained of these carcasses but bare
bones. In one of these slaughter-houses, which was inclosed by solid
walls, the carcasses of two or three horses were placed; and in the
night the workmen blocked up all the holes through which the rats went
in. When this was done, the workmen went inside with lighted torches and
heavy clubs, and killed two thousand six hundred and fifty rats. In four
such hunts, the numbers destroyed were upward of nine thousand. The rats
in this neighborhood made themselves burrows like rabbits; and to such
an extent was the building of these underground villages carried, that
the earth sometimes tumbled in, and revealed the astonishing work they
had been doing.

That is rather a tough story, but I guess we shall have to believe it.
It comes to us on the authority of Mr. Jesse, who, in his excellent work
on Natural History, is pretty careful to say nothing which cannot be
relied upon as true. As to the battle which those men had with the rats
in the slaughter-house, it must have been a desperate one. I should not
have fancied it much. I had a little experience in fighting with rats
once, when I was a boy. They were in a room occupied with meal and
flour. The door was closed, so that they could not get out. I was armed
with a fire shovel, or something of that sort, and I fought, as I
thought at the time, with a good deal of bravery and some skill. But the
rats got the better of me. They won the victory. They would jump upon a
barrel, and from that upon a shelf, and then down they would fly into my
face, ready to gripe me with their teeth. I was glad to beat a retreat
soon, I assure you.

They are a shrewd set of fellows, these rats. Some years ago, the cellar
of the house in which I resided was greatly infested with them. They
devoured potatoes, apples, cabbages, and whatever came in their way; for
they are not very particular about their diet, you know. Well, we set a
trap for them. It was a flat stone set up on one end, with a figure
four. We scattered corn all about the trap, and placed a few barrels on
the end of the spindle under the stone. The first night these midnight
robbers ate up all the corn around the trap, but did not touch a morsel
under it. This they repeated several nights in succession; and all at
once, there was not the trace of a rat to be found in the cellar. They
no doubt held a council (rats are accustomed to hold councils, it would
seem; they once held a council to deliberate upon the best mode of
protection against their enemy, the cat, and concluded to put a bell on
her ladyship - so the fable says) - they held a council, as I said before,
and came to the unanimous conclusion that those quarters were no longer
safe. So they decamped forthwith; and the very next day after we missed
them, one of our neighbors complained that they were suddenly besieged
by a whole army of rats.

A German succeeded in training six rats so that they would go through
astonishing exercises. He kept them in a box, which he opened, and from
which they came out only as their names were called. This box was placed
on a table, before which the man stood. He held a wand in his hand, and
called by name such of his pupils as he wished to appear. The one who
was called came out instantly, and climbed up the wand, on which he
seated himself in an upright posture, looking round on the spectators,
and saluting them, after his own fashion. Then he waited the orders of
his master, which he executed with the utmost precision, running from
one end of the rod to the other counterfeiting death, and performing a
multitude of astonishing feats, as he was bidden by his master. After
these performances were finished, the pupil received a reward for his
good behavior, and for his proficiency in study. The master invited him
to come and kiss his face, and eat a part of the biscuit which he held
between his lips. Immediately the animal ran toward him, climbed up to
his shoulder, licked the cheek of his master, and afterward took the
biscuit. Then, turning to the spectators, he seated himself on his
master's shoulder, ate his dinner, and returned to his box. The other
rats were called, one by one, in the same manner, and all went through
the several parts with the same precision.

I have read a pretty tough rat story in the "Penny Magazine," but it is
said to be authentic. "An open box," says the narrator, "containing some
bottles of Florence oil, was placed in a room which was seldom visited.
On going into the room for one of the bottles, it was perceived that the
pieces of bladder and the cotton, which were at the mouth of each
bottle, had disappeared; and that a considerable quantity of the
contents of the bottles had been consumed. This circumstance having
excited surprise, some of the bottles were filled with oil, and the
mouths of them secured as before. The next morning the coverings of the
bottles had again been removed, and part of the oil was gone. On
watching the room, through a small window, some rats were seen to get
into the box, thrust their tails into the necks of the bottles, and
then, withdrawing them, lick off the oil which adhered to them."

Another story about these animals, almost as wonderful, I have upon the
authority of a clergyman in England. He says that he was walking out in
the meadow one evening, and he observed a great number of rats in the
act of emigrating. He stood perfectly still, and the whole army passed
close to him. Among the number he tells us was an old rat who was blind.
He held a piece of stick by one end in his mouth, while another rat had
hold of the other end of it, and was conducting him.

The Chicago Democrat tells the following, prefacing it with the remark
that the rats of Chicago are "noted for their firmness and daring." A
few nights since, a cat belonging to a friend, while exercising the
office of mother of a family of kittens, was attacked by a regularly
organized band of rats, which, sad to relate, contrived to kill the
parent, and make a prey of the offspring. In the morning the cat was
found bitten to death by the side of nine of her assailants, whom she
slew before she was overpowered by superior numbers.

The following story about a rat extremely fond of good living, was told
me by a clerical friend residing in the city of New York. The family in
which this rat lived, had just purchased some round clams, and they were
placed in the cellar. One night all the inmates of the house were
alarmed by an unusual noise. It appeared as if some one was stamping
about the house with heavy boots on. It was a long time before they
found out how the matter stood; but when they did find out, an old rat
was discovered dragging one of these clams about with him. It appeared
that this fellow, thinking it would be nice to have a supper from one of
the clams, which he saw open, thrust in his paw, and got caught.

This story reminds me of a French fable about the rat who got tired of
staying at home, and went abroad to see something of the world. "A rat
with very few brains" - so runs the fable - "got tired of living in
solitude, and took it into his head to travel. He had hardly proceeded a
mile, before he exclaimed, 'What a grand and spacious world this is!
Behold the Alps and the Pyrenees!' The least mole-hill seemed a mountain
in his eyes. After a few days, our traveler arrived at the sea-coast,
where there were a multitude of oysters. At first he thought they were
ships. Among these oysters, was one lying open. The rat perceived it.
'What do I see?' said he. 'Here is a delicate morsel for me, and if I am
not greatly mistaken, I shall have a fine dinner to-day.' So he
approached the oyster, stretched out his neck, and thrust his head
between the shells. The oyster closed, and master Nibble was caught as
effectually as if he was in a trap." I believe the moral of this fable
is something as follows: "Those who have no experience in the world, are
often astonished at the smallest objects, and not unfrequently become
the dupes of their ignorance."

In 1776, one of the British ships engaged in the war with this country,
became infested with rats to such a degree, that they at last devoured
daily nearly a hundred weight of biscuit. They were at last destroyed,
by smoking the ship between decks, after which several bushels of them
were removed.

In the Isle of France rats are found in prodigious swarms. There were
formerly so many, that, according to some accounts, they formed the
principal cause for abandoning the island by the Dutch. In some of the
houses, thirty thousand have been known to be killed in one year.

In Egypt, when the waters of the Nile retire, after the annual overflow,
multitudes of rats and mice are seen to issue from the moistened soil.
The Egyptians believe that these animals are generated from the earth;
and some of the people assert, that they have seen the rats in a state
of formation, while one half of the bodies was flesh and the other half

The following anecdote is related by a correspondent of one of the
English newspapers: "This morning," says he, "while reading in bed, I
was suddenly interrupted by a noise similar to that made by rats, when
running through a double wainscot, and endeavoring to pierce it. The
noise ceased for some moments, and then commenced again. I was only two
or three feet from the wall whence the noise proceeded; and soon I
perceived a great rat making his appearance at a hole. It looked about
for awhile, without making any noise, and having made the observations
it wished, it retired. An instant after, I saw it come again, leading by
the ear another rat, larger than itself, and which appeared to be much
advanced in years. Having left this one at the edge of the hole, it was
joined by another young rat. The two then ran about the chamber,
collecting the crumbs of bread which had fallen from the table at supper
the previous evening, and carried them to the rat which they had left at
the edge of the hole. I was astonished at this extraordinary attention
on the part of the young rats, and continued to observe all their
motions with a great deal of care. It soon appeared clear to me that the
animal to whom the food was brought was blind, and unable to find the
bread which was placed before it, except by feeling after it. The two
younger ones were undoubtedly the offspring of the other, and they were
engaged in supplying the wants of their poor, blind parent. I admired
the wisdom of the God of nature, who has given to all animals a social
tenderness, a gratitude, I had almost said a virtue, proportionate to
their faculties. From that moment, these creatures, which I had before
abhorred, seemed to become my friends. By and by, a person opened the
door of the room, when the two young rats warned the blind one by a cry;
and in spite of their fears, they did not seek for safety themselves,
until assured that their blind parent was beyond the reach of danger.
They followed as the other retired, and served as a sort of rear-guard."

[Illustration: FIELD MICE.]

There are several species of mice. The engraving represents the field
mouse, an animal which sometimes makes great havoc with the farmer's
grain. The common domestic mouse is perhaps better known. He is
generally, and I think I may say justly, regarded as a pest in the house
where he becomes a tenant. But he is an interesting animal, after all. I
love to watch him - the sly little fellow - nibbling his favorite cheese,
his keen black eye looking straight at me, all the time, as if to read
by my countenance what sort of thoughts I had about his mouseship. How
much at home he always contrives to make himself in a family! How very
much at his ease he is, as he regales himself on the best things which
the house affords!

A day or two ago, a friend of mine was telling me an amusing story about
some mice with which he had the pleasure of a slight acquaintance. He
lived in the same house with a gentleman who kept a sort of bachelor's
hall, and who was a great lover of pets. This gentleman took him into
his room one day to see a mouse which he was educating to be a companion
of his lonely hours. The bachelor remarked that he had been a pensioner
for some time, that he fed him bountifully every day, and that he had
become very tame indeed. "But," said the mouse's patron, "he is an
ungrateful fellow. He is not content with eating what I give him; he
destroys every thing he can lay hold of." A short time after this, my
friend was called in again, when he was told by the bachelor, that, the
mouse having become absolutely intolerable by his petty larcenies and
grand larcenies, he set a trap for him and caught him. But still the
larcenies continued. He set his trap again, and caught another rogue,
and another, and another, till at last he found he had been making a pet
of thirteen mice, instead of one, as he at first supposed.

The field mouse, represented in the engraving, lays up a large store of
provisions in his nice little nest under ground, which he keeps for
winter. These mice are very particular in stowing away their winter
store. The corn, acorns, chestnuts, hickory nuts, and whatever else they
hoard up, have each separate apartments. One room contains nothing but
corn, another nothing but chestnuts, and so on. When they have exhausted
their stock of provisions before spring, and they have nothing else to
eat, they turn to, and eat one another. They are regular cannibals, if
their manners and customs have been correctly reported. Sometimes the
hogs, as they are roaming about the pasture, in the autumn, soon after a
family of field mice have laid in their provisions, and before the
ground has frozen, come across the nest, and smell the good things that
are in it. Then the poor mouse has to suffer. The author of the Boy's
Winter Book thus graphically and humorously describes the misfortunes of
such a mouse: "There he sits huddled up in a dark corner, looking on, as
the hog is devouring the contents of his house, saying to himself, no
doubt, 'I wish it may choke you, you great, grunting brute, that I do.
There go my poor acorns, a dozen at a mouthfull. Twelve long journeys I
had to take to the foot of the old oak, where I picked them up - such a
hard day's work, that I could hardly get a wink of sleep, my bones ached
so. And now that great glutton gobbles them all up at once, and makes
nothing of it! What I shall do in the winter, I'm sure I don't know.
There goes my corn, too, which I brought, a little at a time, all the
way from the field on the other side of the woods, and with which I was
often obliged to rest, two or three times before I reached home; and
then I sometimes had to lay my load down, while I had a battle with
another field mouse, who tried to take the corn away from me, under
pretence of helping me to carry it home, which I knew well enough meant
his own nest. And after all this fighting, and slaving, and carrying
heavy loads from sunrise to sunset, here comes a pair of great, grunting
pork chaps, and make a meal from my hard earnings. Well, never mind, Mr.
Pig. It's winter now; but perhaps by next harvest time, I shall creep
into some reaper's basket, and have a taste of you, when he brings a
part of you, nicely cured and cooked, and laid lovingly between two
slices of bread and butter. I'll be even with you then, old fellow - that
I will, if I am only spared!' And so he creeps out, scarcely knowing
whether he should make up his mind to beg, borrow, or steal, half
muttering to himself, as he hops across the way, to visit some neighbor
for a breakfast, 'I declare such infamous treatment is enough to make
one dishonest, and never be industrious and virtuous any more!'"

The Rabbit.

Friend reader, did you ever see the rabbit bounding along through the
bushes, when you have been walking in the woods? When a boy, I used
often to be amused at the gambols of the rabbits, in the woods near my
father's house. They do not run very gracefully or very fast, and a dog
easily overtakes them. It seems cruel to hunt them, and set snares for
them; and yet if they are wanted for food, doubtless there is no harm in
taking their life. The way in which I used to catch them, years ago,
when the sources of my enjoyment were widely different from what they
are at present, was by means of a box-trap with a lid to it, so adjusted
that the poor rabbit, when he undertook to nibble the apple, attached to
the spindle for a bait, sprung the trap, and made himself a prisoner.
Another method we used to employ to catch the rabbit, was something like
this: a fence was made of brush-wood, about three feet high, and
reaching some rods in length. The brush in this fence was interlaced so
closely, that rabbits and partridges could not get through except at
intervals of a few yards, where there was a door. At this door was a
noose connecting with a flexible pole, which was bent down for the
purpose. The unsuspecting rabbit, in his journeyings from place to
place, comes to the fence. He could leap over, if he should try. But he
thinks it cheaper to walk through the door, especially as there is a
choice bit of apple suspended over the entrance. Well, he attempts to go
through, stopping a minute to eat that favorite morsel; he thrusts his
head into the noose; the trap is sprung, and the elastic pole twitches
the poor wayfarer up by the neck. It is rather barbarous business, this
snaring innocent rabbits; and I should much rather my young friends
would adopt either of a hundred other sports of winter, than this.

[Illustration: THE RABBIT TRAP.]

[Illustration: THE RABBIT.]

The father of a family of rabbits is said to exercise a very respectable
discipline among the children. Would it not be well for some of our
fathers and mothers to attend school, a quarter or so, in one of their
villages? The father among rabbits is a patriarch. Somebody who owned
several tame ones, tells us that whenever any of them quarreled, the
father instantly ran among them, and at once peace and order were
restored. "If he caught any one quarreling, he always punished him as an
example to the rest. Having taught them to come to me," says this man,
"with the call of a whistle, the instant this signal was given, I saw
this old fellow marshal up his forces, sometimes taking the lead, and
sometimes making them file off before him."

The Hare.

Probably most of my readers are so well acquainted with natural history,
that they do not need to be told that the hare and the rabbit are very
like, in their appearance, as well as in most of their habits. The two
animals, however, are sufficiently unlike to be entitled to a separate
introduction in our stories.

Hares have been known to possess a good deal of cunning, which is a
fortunate circumstance for them, as they often need not a little of this
trait of character in their numerous persecutions. "I have seen," says
Du Fouilloux, a French naturalist, "a hare so cunning, that, as soon as
it heard the huntsman's horn, it started from its place, and though at
the distance of a quarter of a league from it, leaped to a pond, and
there hid itself among the rushes, thus escaping the pursuit of the
dogs. I have seen a hare, which, after having run above two hours before
the dogs, has dislodged another hare, and taken possession of its
residence. I have seen them swim over three ponds, of which the smallest
was not less than eighty paces broad. I have seen others, which, after
having been warmly chased for two hours, have entered a sheep-cot,
through the little opening under the door, and remained among the
cattle. Others, again, when the dogs have chased them, have joined a
flock of sheep in the field, and, in like manner, remained with them. I
have seen others, which, when they heard the dogs, have concealed
themselves in the earth, or have gone along on one side of a hedge, and
returned by the other, so that there was only the thickness of the hedge
between the dogs and the hare. I have seen others, which, after they had
been chased for half an hour, have mounted an old wall of six feet high,
and taken refuge in a hole covered with ivy."

An English hunter tells a very affecting anecdote about two hares which
were chased by a pack of dogs. A hare which they had pursued for some
time was nearly exhausted. On the way, he came across another hare,
doubtless a personal friend of his. The latter, after a short
conversation with the former - for there was not time for many
ceremonies - took the place of the poor weary one, and allowed himself to
be chased by the dogs, while the other, who must soon have fallen a
victim to the dogs, was left to shift as best he could, and try to find
a place of shelter.

The hares in Liberia exhibit much foresight. In the month of August they
cut great quantities of soft, tender grass, and other herbs, which they
spread out to dry. This hay, early in autumn, they collect into heaps,
and place either beneath the overhanging rocks, or around the trunks of
trees, in conical heaps of various sizes, resembling the stacks in which
men sometimes preserve their hay in winter. The stacks which the hares
make are much smaller, however, not usually more than three feet high.
In the winter these stacks are covered with snow, and the animals make a
path between them and their holes. They select the best of vegetables
for their winter store, and crop them when in the fullest vigor, and
these they make into the best and greenest hay.

Dr. Towson, while in Gottingen, succeeded in getting a young hare so
tame, that it would play about his sofa and bed. It would leap upon his
knee, pat him with its fore feet, and frequently, while he was
reading, it would jump up in his lap, and knock the book out of his
hand, so as to get a share of his attention.

[Illustration: TAME HARES.]

One Sunday evening, five men were sitting on the bank of the river
Mersey, in England, singing sacred songs. The field where they were had
a forest on one side of it. As they were singing, a hare came out of
this forest, and ran toward the place where they were seated. When she
came up very near the spot, she suddenly stopped, and stood still for a

1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12

Online LibraryFrancis C. WoodworthStories about Animals: with Pictures to Match → online text (page 7 of 12)