Infomotions, Inc.Children of the Wild / Roberts, Charles G. D., 1860-1943



Author: Roberts, Charles G. D., 1860-1943
Title: Children of the Wild
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): uncle andy; andy; babe; uncle; young grumpy; dagger bill; teddy bear
Contributor(s): Whittelsey, Mrs. A. G. [Editor]
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Title: Children of the Wild


Author: Charles G. D. Roberts



Release Date: June 16, 2005  [eBook #16077]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII)


***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK CHILDREN OF THE WILD***


E-text prepared by Al Haines



CHILDREN OF THE WILD

by

CHARLES G. D. ROBERTS

Author of "Kings in Exile," "The Feet of the Furtive," etc.

New York
The MacMillan Company

1922







CONTENTS

    I.  THE LITTLE FURRY ONES THAT SLIDE DOWN HILL

   II.  THE BLACK IMPS OF PINE-TOP

  III.  YOUNG GRUMPY AND THE ONE-EYED GANDER

   IV.  LITTLE SWORD AND THE INKMAKER

    V.  ROCKED IN THE CRADLE OF THE DEEP

   VI.  TEDDY BEAR'S BEE TREE

  VII.  THE SNOWHOUSE BABY

 VIII.  LITTLE SILK WING

   IX.  A LITTLE ALIEN IN THE WILDERNESS

    X.  WHAT HE SAW WHEN HE KEPT STILL

   XI.  THE LITTLE VILLAGER AND HIS UNFRIENDLY GUESTS

  XII.  THE BABY AND THE BEAR

 XIII.  THE LITTLE SLY ONE

  XIV.  THE DARING OF STRIPES TERROR-TAIL

   XV.  DAGGER BILL AND THE WATER BABIES





CHAPTER I

THE LITTLE FURRY ONES THAT SLIDE DOWN HILL

In the brown, balsam-smelling log cabin on the shores of Silverwater,
loveliest and loneliest of wilderness lakes, the Babe's great thirst
for information seemed in a fair way to be satisfied.  Young as he was,
and city-born, the lure of the wild had nevertheless already caught
him, and the information that he thirsted for so insatiably was all
about the furred or finned or feathered kindreds of the wild.  And here
by Silverwater, alone with his Uncle Andy and big Bill Pringle, the
guide, his natural talent for asking questions was not so firmly
discouraged as it was at home.

But even thus early in this adventurous career, this fascinating and
never-ending quest of knowledge, the Babe found himself confronted by a
most difficult problem.  He had to choose between authorities.  He had
to select between information and information.  He had to differentiate
for himself between what Bill told him and what his Uncle Andy told
him.  He was a serious-minded child, who had already passed through
that most painful period of doubt as to Santa Claus and the Fairies,
and had not yet reached the period of certainty about everything.  He
was capable of both belief and doubt.  So, naturally, he had his
difficulties.

Bill certainly knew an astonishing lot about the creatures of the wild.
But also, like all guides who are worth their salt, he knew an
astonishing lot of things that weren't so.  He had imagination, or he
would never have done for a guide.  When he knew--which was not
often--that he did _not_ know a thing, he could put two and two
together and make it yield the most extraordinary results.  He felt it
one of his first duties to be interesting.  And above all, he felt it
his duty to be infallible.  No one could be expected to have implicit
faith in a guide who was not infallible.  He never acknowledged
insufficient information about anything whatever that pertained to the
woods and waters.  Also he had a very poor opinion of what others might
profess to know.  He felt convinced that so long as he refrained from
any _too_ lively contributions to the science of animal life, no one
would be able to discredit him.  But he was conscientious in his
deductions.  He would never have permitted himself to say that blue
herons wore gum boots in wading, just because he had happened to find
an old gum boot among the reeds by the outlet of the lake, where the
herons did most of their fishing.  He remembered that that gum boot was
one of a pair which had been thrown away by a former visitor to
Silverwater.

Uncle Andy, on the other hand, knew that there was an astonishing lot
_he didn't_ know about animals, and he didn't hesitate to say so.  He
was a reformed sportsman, who, after spending a great part of his life
in happily killing things all over the earth, had come to the quaint
conclusion that most of them were more interesting alive than dead,
especially to themselves.  He found a kindred spirit in the Babe, whose
education, along the lines of maiming cats and sparrows with sling shot
or air gun, had been absolutely neglected.

Uncle Andy was wont to say that there was only one man in all the world
who knew _all_ about all the animals--and that he was not Andrew
Barton, Esq.  At this, Bill would smile proudly.  At first this modesty
on Uncle Andy's part was a disappointment to the Babe.  But it ended in
giving him confidence in whatever Uncle Andy told him; especially after
he came to realize that when Uncle Andy spoke of the only man in the
world who knew _all_ about animals, he did _not_ mean Bill.

But though the whole field of animal lore was one of absorbing interest
to the Babe, from the day when he was so fortunate as to witness a
mother fish-hawk teaching her rather unwilling and unventuresome young
ones to fly, it was his fellow babes of the wild that he was most
anxious to hear about.  In this department of woods lore, Bill was so
deeply ignorant that, not caring to lean _too_ heavily on his
imagination, lest it should break and stick into him, he used to avoid
it quite obstinately.  He would say--"Them youngsters is all alike,
anyhow, an' it ain't worth while to waste no time a-studyin' 'em!"  So
here Uncle Andy had the field all to himself.  Whenever he undertook to
enlighten the Babe on any such subject, Bill would go off somewhere and
scornfully chop down trees.

     *     *     *     *     *     *

Silverwater was fed by many brooks from the deep-wooded surrounding
hills.  Toward one of these, on a certain golden afternoon, Uncle Andy
and the Babe were betaking themselves along the shadowy trail, where
the green-brown moss was soft under foot and their careful steps made
no noise.  When they spoke it was in quiet undertones; for the spirit
of the woods was on the Babe, and he knew that by keeping very quiet
there was always the chance of surprising some fascinating mystery.

The two were going fishing--for Uncle Andy, with a finely human
inconsistency, was an enthusiastic fisherman, and the stream toward
which they were making their way was one of deep pools and cool
"stillwaters" where the biggest fish were wont to lie during the hot
weather.  Uncle Andy had a prejudice against those good people who were
always sternly consistent, and he was determined that he would never
allow himself to become a crank; so he went on enthusiastically killing
fish with the same zest that he had once brought to the hunting of
beast and bird.

While they were yet several hundred yards from the stream, suddenly
there came to their ears, unmistakable though muffled by the
intervening trees, the sound of a brisk splash, as if something had
fallen into the water.  Uncle Andy stopped short in his tracks,
motionless as a setter marking his bird.  The Babe stopped likewise,
faithfully imitating him.  A couple of seconds later came another
splash, as heavy as the first; and then, in quick succession, two
lighter ones.

For a moment or two the Babe kept silence, though bursting with
curiosity.  Then he whispered tensely--"What's that?"

"Otter," replied Uncle Andy, in a murmur as soft as the wind in the
sedge-tops.

"Why?" continued the Babe, meaning to say--"But what on earth are they
doing?" and trusting that Uncle Andy would appreciate the
self-restraint of the monosyllable.

"Sliding down hill," muttered Uncle Andy, without turning his head.
Then, holding up his hand as a sign that there were to be no more
questions asked, he crept forward noiselessly; and the Babe followed at
his heels.

After two or three minutes the sounds were repeated in the same
succession as before--first two heavy splashes, and then two lighter
ones.  Unable to ask questions, the Babe was obliged to think for
himself.

He had only a vague idea what otters were like, but he knew a good deal
about sliding down hill.  He pictured to himself a high, rough bank
leading down to the water; but as not even Bill's daring imagination
would have represented the gamesome beasts as employing toboggans or
hand-sleds, he thought it must be rather bumpy and uncomfortable work
coasting over the roots and rocks on one's own unprotected anatomy.

The sounds continued, growing louder and louder, till the two
adventurers must have been within thirty or forty feet of the stream;
and they were creeping as noiselessly as a shadow slips over the grass,
in the hope of catching the merrymakers at their game.  But suddenly
there came one great splash, heavy and prolonged, as if all the sliders
had come down close together.  And then silence.  Uncle Andy crouched
motionless for several minutes, as if he had been turned into a stump.
Then he straightened himself up with a disappointed air.

"Gone!" he muttered.   "Cleared out!  They've heard us or smelt us!"

"Oh!" exclaimed the Babe in a voice of deep concern; though, as a
matter of fact, he was immensely relieved, the strain of the prolonged
tension and preternatural stillness having begun to make him feel that
he must make a noise or burst.

Two minutes later they came out on the banks of the stream.

The stream at this point was perhaps twenty-five feet in width, deep,
dark, and almost without current.  Only by noting the bend of the long
watergrasses could one tell which way it ran.  The hither bank was low
and grassy, with a fallen trunk slanting out into the water.  But the
shore opposite was some twelve or fifteen feet high, very steep, and
quite naked, having been cut by the floods from a ridge of clay.  Down
the middle of this incline a narrow track had been worn so smooth that
it gleamed in the sun almost like ice.

As he stared across the water a dozen questions crowded to the Babe's
lips.  But he realized in time that the answers to them were fairly
obvious to himself, and he heroically choked them back.  Had he not
that very morning been rebuked by his uncle for asking too many of what
he called "footy" questions?  But one burst forth now, in spite of
himself.

"What do they do it for?" he demanded--having perhaps a vague idea that
all the motives of the wild creatures were, or ought to be, purely
utilitarian.

Uncle Andy turned upon him a withering look; and he shifted his feet
uneasily, convicted of another "footy" question.

"What do you slide down hill for?" inquired Uncle Andy sarcastically.

"Oh!" said the Babe hastily.  "I see.  And now are we going to catch
some fish?"

But Uncle Andy had stood his rod in a bush and sat down on the fallen
tree; and now he was getting out his old black pipe.

"Well now," he answered presently, "I don't think it would be much use
trying.  What do you think?"

"Of course not," answered the Babe.  "Otter have scared 'em all away."

"You really are doing very well," said Uncle Andy, "if you _did_ ask
that one fool question.  When we were creeping up on the otter, to try
and get a look at them while they were playing, you did very well
indeed.  You stepped as light as a cat, and that's not easy mind, I
tell you, when one's not trained to it.  You didn't even breathe too
hard--and I know you must have been just bursting with excitement.
You've got the makings of a first-rate woodsman in you, if you take
pains."

The Babe's small chest swelled with pride; for commendation from Uncle
Andy was a scarce article.  He too sat down on the fallen trunk and
began digging at the bark with his knife to hide his exultation.

"I suppose now," went on Uncle Andy presently, when his pipe was
drawing well, "you know quite a lot about otter."

"Nothing at all but what Bill's told me," answered the Babe with fine
diplomacy.

"Forget it!" said Uncle Andy; and went on smoking in thoughtful
silence.  Presently he remarked--"This otter family appears to have
been having a pretty good time!"

"Great!" said the Babe laconically.

"Well," continued Uncle Andy, regarding him with approval, "there was
once another otter family, away up on the Little North Fork of the
Ottanoonsis, that used to have such good times till at last they struck
a streak of bad luck."

"Did you know them?" asked the Babe.

"Well, not as you might say intimately," answered Uncle Andy, with a
far-away look in his grey eyes.  "You see, they had no way of knowing
how nice I was, so they never admitted me into their family circle.
But I knew a lot more about them than they ever guessed, I can tell
you.  When the flies weren't too bad I used to lie by the hour behind a
thick bush, never stirring a finger, and watch them."

"My, but how tired you must have got!" interrupted the Babe feelingly.

"I don't _have_ to twiddle my fingers, and scratch my head, and jump up
and down every two minutes and a half," said Uncle Andy rather
severely.  "But, as I was going to say, they also got used to seeing me
sitting on the bank, quiet and harmless, till they no longer felt so
shy of me as they did of Jim Cringle, my guide.  They knew Jim was an
enemy, and they gave him a wide berth always.  But they seemed to think
I wasn't of much account."

"Oh!" protested the Babe politely.  It did not seem to him quite right
that Uncle Andy should be regarded lightly, even by an otter.

"Well, you know, I _wasn't_ of much account.  I was neither dangerous,
like Jim Cringle, nor good to eat, like a muskrat or a pickerel.  So I
don't appear any more in this yarn.  If you find yourself wondering how
I came to know about some of the things I'm going to tell you, just
make believe I got it from the chickadee, who is the most confidential
little chap in the world, or from the whisky-Jack, who makes a point,
as you may have observed, of knowing everybody else's business."

"Or from Jim Cringle?" inquired the Babe demurely.

But Uncle Andy only frowned.  He always discouraged the Babe's attempts
at raillery.

"The two Little Furry Ones," he continued, after pressing down the
tobacco in his pipe, "were born in a dry, warm, roomy den in the bank,
under the roots of an old birch that slanted out over the water.  The
front door was deep under water.  But as the old otters had few enemies
to dread, being both brave and powerful, they had also a back entrance
on dry land, hidden by a thicket of fir bushes.  The two furry 'pups'
were at first as sprawling and helpless as newborn kittens, though of
course a good deal bigger than any kittens you have ever seen.  And
being so helpless, their father and mother never left them alone.  One
always stayed with them while the other went away to hunt trout or
muskrat."

"Why, what _could_ get at them in there?" interrupted the Babe.

"You see," explained Uncle Andy graciously, "either a fox or a weasel
_might_ come in by the back door--if they were hungry enough to take
the risk.  Or what was much more likely, that slim, black, murderous
robber, the mink, might come swimming in by the front entrance, pop his
narrow, cruel head above the water, see the youngsters alone, and be at
their throats in a twinkling.  The old otters, who were very devoted
parents, were not running any risks like that, I can tell you."

"I guess not!" agreed the Babe, wagging his head wisely.

"Well," went on Uncle Andy, "just _because_ those level-headed old
otters were always ready for it, nothing happened.  You'd better make a
note of that.  If you are always ready for trouble when the other
fellow makes it, he will be pretty shy about beginning.  That's why the
foxes and the weasels and the minks never came around.

"When the Little Furry Ones were about the size of five months' kittens
they were as handsome a pair of youngsters as you are ever likely to
set eyes upon.  Their fur, rich and soft and dark, was the finest ever
seen.  Like their parents, they had bodies shaped for going through the
water at a tremendous speed--built like a bulldog's for strength, and
like an eel's for suppleness."

"Not _slimy_!" protested the Babe, who had hated eels whole-heartedly
ever since the day when he had tried to take one off the hook.

"Of course not!" answered Uncle Andy impatiently.  "As I was going to
say, they were shaped a good deal like those seals you've seen in the
Zoo, only that instead of flippers they had regulation legs and feet,
and also a tail.  It was a tail worth having, too, and not merely
intended for ornament.  It was very thick at the base and tapering,
something like a lizard's, and so powerful that one twist of it could
drive its owner through the water like a screw."

"Wish I could swim that way!" murmured the Babe, trying to do the
movement, as he imagined it, with his legs.

"But though the Little Furry Ones were just built for swimming,"
continued Uncle Andy, graciously overlooking the interruption, "they
were actually afraid of it.  They liked to see their father or their
mother dive smoothly down into the clear, goldy-brown water of their
front door, and out into that patch of yellow sunlight shimmering on
the weedy bottom.  But when invited to follow, they drew back into the
corner and pretended to be terribly busy.

"One fine morning, however, to their great delight they were led out by
the back door, under the bush, and introduced to the outside world.
How huge and strange it looked to them!  For a few minutes they stole
about on their absurdly short, sturdy legs, poking their noses into
everything, and jumping back startled at the strange smells they
encountered; while their parents, lying down nearby, watched them
lazily.  At last, beginning to feel more at home in this big, airy
world, they fell to romping with each other on the sunny bank, close
beside the water.  Presently their parents got up and came over beside
them.  The father slipped gracefully in, and began diving, darting this
way and that, and throwing himself half-way out of the water.   It was
most interesting, I can tell you, and the two little Furry Ones stopped
their play, at the very edge of the bank, to watch him.  But when he
called to them coaxingly to come in with him and try it, they turned
away their heads and pretended to think it wasn't worth looking at
after all.  They would rather look at the trees and the sky, and kept
staring up at them as if perfectly fascinated.  And _while_ they were
staring upwards in this superior way, they got a great surprise.  Their
mother slily slipped her nose under them and threw them, one after the
other, far out into the water."

"Ow!" exclaimed the Babe with a little gasp of sympathy.  He himself
felt the shock of that sudden, chill plunge.

Uncle Andy chuckled.

"That's just the way they felt," said he.  "When they came to the top
again they found, to their surprise, that they could swim; and feeling
most indignant and injured they struck out straight for shore.  But
there, between them and the good dry ground, swam their mother, and
would not let them land.  They did not see how mothers could be so
heartless.  But there was no help for it; so they swam out again very
haughtily and joined their father in mid-stream.  And before they knew
it they were enjoying themselves immensely.

"And now life became much more interesting to them.  For a bit it was
harder to keep them out of the water than it had been to get them into
it.  They had their first lessons in fishing.  And though they were too
clumsy at first to catch even a slow, mud-grubbing sucker, they found
the attempt most interesting.  The stream just opposite their home was
deep and quiet, but a little way below, the current ran strong; and
once, having ridden down it gaily for a couple of hundred yards, they
found themselves unable to swim back against it.  At first they battled
bravely and were most surprised to find themselves making so little
progress.  Then they grew tired; and then frightened, and they were
just being carried off down stream by this strange, soft, irresistible
force when their mother arrived.  The current was nothing to her.  She
took them on her back, and shot off up stream again with them.  After
that they would ride on her back, or on their father's whenever they
got tired.  And their parents began to take them on long trips up and
down stream.  You see, their housekeeping being so simple, they didn't
mind going away even for a couple of days at a time, and leaving the
house to look after itself."

"I don't think I'd like to be wet like that _all_ the time, even in
summer," remarked the Babe, shaking his head thoughtfully.

"Oh, they weren't that.  They used to go ashore and, in spite of their
ridiculously short legs, make most respectably long journeys through
the woods to some other stream, pretending, I suppose, that the fish
over there had a different flavor.  Sometimes, too, when they came upon
a patch of smooth, mossy ground, they would have a wild romp, as if
they had just been let out of school--a sort of game of tag, in which
the father and mother played just as hard as the youngsters.  Or they
would have a regular tug of war, pulling on opposite ends of a stick,
till the moss was all torn up as if a little cyclone had loafed along
that way.  Then one day they came to a clay bank, something like that
one across yonder.  The old ones had been there before, but not for
some time, and the clay had got all dry and hard.  But the father and
mother knew very well how to fix that.  When they had slid down a
couple of times with their fur all dripping the track was smooth as
oil.  As for the youngsters, you may depend upon it they did not need
any coaxing or persuasion to make them believe _that_ was a good game."

"I should think not!" murmured the Babe, looking longingly over the
stream to where the wet slide glistened in the sun, and wishing that he
might try it without any regard whatever to the seat of his little
trousers.

"Taking it all together it was a pretty jolly life, I can tell you,
there in the sweet-smelling, shadowy woods and sunny waters.  Then one
day all at once, as quick as falling off a log, everything was changed."

Uncle Andy paused to relight his pipe.  After a few seconds the Babe's
impatience got the better of him; and before he could stop himself he
blurted out "Why?"  The moment he had spoken he knew it was a fool
question to ask, and he flushed.  But to his grateful relief Uncle did
not seem to hear.

"A hunter from the city came that way.  He had a good eye, a repeating
rifle, and no imagination whatever.  With the luck that sometimes comes
to those fellows, he was sitting under a tree near the bank, staring
across at the otter-slide (which did not mean anything whatever or
suggest anything to him, but was merely a strip of bare clay), when the
otter family came to slide.  The father started down.  It was most
interesting--so the stranger under the tree, who was as spry as a
sparrowhawk, shot instantly; and the otter came down in a crumpled
heap.  The mother might have escaped; but for just one second she
hesitated, glancing round to see if her little ones were out of danger.
That second was enough for the smart shot across the water.  She
dropped.  It was good shooting, of course.  The two little ones,
horrified by the spiteful noise, and quite unable to understand what
had happened, shrank away into some thick bushes and lay very still,
waiting for their mother to come and tell them the danger was past."

"And she could never come!" murmured the Babe thoughtfully.

"Well, she didn't," snorted Uncle Andy, the discourager of sentiment.
Fairly reeking with sentiment himself, at heart, he disliked all
manifestation of it in himself or others.  He liked it left to the
imagination.  "They never stirred for an hour or more," he went on.
"Then at last they stole out and began looking everywhere for those
lost parents.  All about the slide they hunted--among the bushes at the
top, in the water and the rushes at the bottom--but they found nothing.
For the man had come in his canoe and carried off his victims.

"All day long the two Little Furry Ones continued their search.  But
you would not have known them for the same creatures as those which had
started out that morning.  Then they had played carelessly and gone
boldly, thinking not of enemies and fearing none.  Now they crept
noiselessly, sniffing this way and that, and never showing their noses
outside a thicket without first taking observations.  For life was now
a very different matter with them.  Never in all their lives before had
they come across so many hostile and threatening smells as they
encountered this one afternoon.  But then, to be sure, they had never
looked for them before.  They were all the time running into trails of
mink, or weasel, or wildcat; and it seemed to them as if the world had
suddenly become quite full of foxes.  They were painfully surprised,
for they had never thought there were so many disagreeable creatures in
the world.  You see, being so young and inexperienced, it never
occurred to them that one fox or one weasel could make quite a lot of
trails.  So they kept having palpitations every other minute.

"It was just as well, however, that they got such an exaggerated idea
of the numbers of their enemies.  For it was astonishing how quickly
the news got around that the old otters were dead.  Toward sunset that
evening, when the two lonely youngsters, puzzled and miserable, stole
back to their old den under the bank, they found that a mink had dared
to kill a big trout in their own pool.  There were the remains, and the
presumptuous intruder's tracks, almost at their very door.  They were
indignant, and the thick hair bristled on their necks.  But, realizing
suddenly how hungry they were, they did not scorn to eat the stranger's
leavings.  Then they dived into their den; and after sniffing about and
whimpering lonesomely for a while, they curled themselves up close
together and went to sleep.  It had been a strange and dreadful day.

"As you may imagine, these two youngsters had never yet been trained to
the useful habit of sleeping with one ear open.  They had left that to
their parents.  But to-night, even while they slept most soundly,
something within them seemed to keep watch.  Whatever it was, suddenly
it woke them.  And instantly they were tremendously wide awake.  Before
they knew why they did it, they were uncurled from the ball in which
they slept and, crouching side by side, glaring savagely up the narrow
passage that led to their back door.

"There they saw a pair of cruel eyes, small and flaming, and set very
close together, which seemed to float slowly down towards them."

Here Uncle Andy was so inconsiderate as to pause, as if he wanted to
think.  The Babe could not hold himself in.

"Was it a snake?" he demanded breathlessly.

"There you go again, interrupting," growled Uncle Andy, most unfairly.
"And who ever heard of a snake's eyes flaming?  But the Little Furry
Ones knew what it was at once; and the hair stood straight up on their
necks.  Of course they were frightened a little.  But most of all were
they in a rage at such an impudent intrusion.  There was no sign of
fear, I can tell you, in the low growl which came from between their
long, white, snarling teeth.  And those stealthy eyes halted.  For half
a minute, motionless, they studied the crouching and defiant
youngsters, evidently surprised to see how big and strong they had
grown.  Then, very slowly and with dignity, they withdrew and presently
disappeared.  For the weasel, though perhaps the most fearless assassin
that prowls the woods, is no fool.  And he saw that the otter children
had grown too big for him to handle.

"The youngsters were a good deal set up, of course, by this
unexpectedly easy rebuff of so venomous an enemy; but there was no more
thought of sleep for them.  It made them terribly anxious, the idea of
anything stealing in on them that way, by the back door.  For a long
time they lay there motionless, their wide eyes staring into the dark,
their ears straining to every faint, mysterious sound, their sensitive
noses questioning every scent that came breathing in to them from the
still night forest.  At last they heard a stealthy footfall outside the
back door.  It was as light--oh, lighter than a falling leaf.  But
_they_ heard it.  If you and I had such ears as that, maybe we could
hear the grasses growing."

"_That_ would be fun," muttered the Babe.

"And then," continued Uncle Andy, "they smelt a faint, musky scent.  I
_don't_ think it would be fun if we had such noses as that.  We'd smell
so many smells we did not want to.  Eh?  And I tell you, the youngsters
did not want to smell that smell.  It was a fox.  They couldn't fight a
fox.  Not yet.  With their hearts in their throats they backed softly
down to the front door, and waited, ready to slip into the water.

"But fortunately the fox was cunning, and proud of it.  He had heard a
rumor that the old otters were dead.  But he was much too cunning to
believe all he heard.  It would be just like them, he thought, to
pretend they were dead, so that he might come in and get caught.
Assuredly there was a good, strong, live otter smell coming up out of
that hole.  He poked his nose down and gave a very loud sniff, then
cocked his ear sharply and listened.  Nothing stirred.  Had it been
only the little ones, down there all by themselves, he thought, they
would have been frightened enough to jump.  So, it was plainly a trap.
Waving his great bushy tail complaisantly, he tiptoed off to hunt
rabbits, pleased with the notion that somebody else was going to get
taken in.

"The youngsters stayed where they were, close beside the water.  The
first glimmer of dawn, striking on the misty surface of the pool
outside, struggled up into the den.  The youngsters turned to greet it,
with the thought, perhaps, that it was time to go fishing.  Just at
this moment the mink, who had been looking for the remnants of his
trout where he had left them on the bank (he was a fool, of course,
ever to have left them there), came diving into the deep front door of
the den to avenge himself on the unprotected little ones.  His slim
black form was visible as it rose through the greying water.  As the
pointed head popped above the surface, it was confronted by two
grinning heads which snarled savagely in its face and snapped at it in
fearless defiance.  The mink was surprised and pained.  He had expected
to find those two youngsters huddled together and already half
frightened to death just at being alone.  He had _not_ expected to find
them half so big.  In fact, there at home, and guarding their own
domain, they looked to him much bigger than they really were.  A very
small man, you know, may look about seven feet high when he stands in
his own door and tells you to keep out.  Eh, what?  Well, the mink
suddenly felt sort of bashful about intruding.  He discreetly withdrew,
without thinking to make inquiry about the fish.  And his sudden
diffidence was very fortunate for the two Little Furry Ones.  For the
mink, let me tell you, would have been a tough proposition for them to
tackle.

"This sudden departure of the terrible mink made the two youngsters
feel almost bigger than was good for them.  But the otter, fortunately,
is born cautious, no matter how courageous he may be.  So the
youngsters were not spoiled by their good luck.  They waited a few
minutes, to give the mink a chance to get good and far away.  Then they
dived forth into the misty pool.  Never before had they seen one
quarter so many fish in it.  They breakfasted very well on a couple of
plump, silvery chub--though they would have preferred trout, of
course--and then, just for sport, began killing as many as they could,
only swallowing a bite out of each, from the thick, flaky meat behind
the head.  They were young, you see--though not more foolish than lots
of sportsmen we hear about.  In a very few minutes, of course, every
fish that could get away had got away as far as possible from that
deadly pool.  And then the two reckless fishermen crawled ashore and
began a tug of war with a stick.  They could just not help playing, you
see, any more than kittens or puppies could; though they were still
lonely and anxious.  And in their play they kept very close to the
water's edge, in case the fox should happen along to inquire after
their parents.

"The fox did not turn up.  But after some time they caught sight of a
great, dark bird winnowing his way slowly above the tree tops.  Just to
be on the safe side, they got into the water so quickly that one of
them, to save time, threw himself in backwards.  They did not know that
it was only a fishhawk, an amiable soul, quite indifferent to such
delicacies as young otters.  Another thing they did not know was that
if the fishhawk _had_ wanted them, he could have caught them more
comfortably in the water than on shore.

"When the great bird was well out of sight they started off down
stream, partly to have another look for their lost parents, partly
because they had nothing better to do.  But they did not go very far
that day, or have any more very exciting adventures.  They spent most
of their time in the water, where they had no foe to watch out for
except the mink.  And, as the fish had now learned to beware of them,
they had enough to do in satisfying their lively appetites.  That night
they slept in the den, lying close to the water's edge, lest the fox
should come.  And they had no visitors.

"The next day they were feeling more confident, more sure of
themselves.  So they set out on a longer expedition.  In the course of
the morning they killed a big muskrat, after a sharp fight, and felt
terribly proud of themselves.  They got bitten, of course, and had
their fur all mussed up, so it meant a long, elaborate toilet in the
warm grass by the water's edge.  And it was not till early in the
afternoon that they came once more to the fateful slide where their
parents had so mysteriously vanished.

"At the sight of it, as they came upon it suddenly around a bend of the
stream, their fur bristled and they crouched flat, glancing angrily
this way and that.  Then they stole forward, and once more explored the
whole place minutely.  At last, finding nothing to alarm them, in an
absent-minded way one of the two went down the slide, splash into the
cool brown water.  The other followed at once.  The temptation was
simply not to be resisted, you know.  And in a minute more they were
both hard at it, having the time of their lives--hawks, foxes, minks,
and vanished parents alike forgotten."

"Oh!" protested the Babe in a shocked voice.

"You may say 'Oh!'" retorted Uncle Andy, "but let me tell you, if the
wild creatures hadn't pretty short memories, they would have a very
unhappy time.

"Well, they had been enjoying themselves and forgetting their troubles
for some little time, when, just as it came down the slide, one of them
was grabbed and pulled under.  The mink had arrived and decided to
settle accounts with the youngsters.  He had probably been thinking it
over, and come to the conclusion that they were getting too bumptious.
Darting up through the water, he had snapped savagely at the careless
player's throat.

"But the latter--it was the female, and spry, I can tell you--had felt
that darting terror even before she had time to see it, and twisted
aside like an eel.  So instead of catching her by the throat, as he had
so amiably intended, the mink only got her leg, up close by the
shoulder.  It was a deep and merciless grip; but instead of
squealing--which she could not have done anyhow, being already under
water--the Little Furry One just sank her sharp white teeth into the
back of her enemy's neck, and held on for dear life.  It was _exactly_
the right thing to do, though she did not know it.  For she had got her
grip so high up on the mink's neck that he could not twist his head
around far enough to catch her by the throat.  Deep down at the bottom
of the pool the two rolled over and over each other; and the mink was
most annoyed to find how strong the youngster was, and how set in her
ways.  Moreover, he had been under water longer than she had, and was
beginning to feel he'd like a breath of fresh air.  He gave a kick with
his powerful hind legs, and, as the Little Furry One had no objection,
up they came.

"Now, the other youngster had not been able, just at first, to make out
what was happening.  He thought his sister had gone down to the bottom
for fun.  But when he saw her coming up, locked in that deadly struggle
with their old enemy, his heart swelled with fury.  He sprang clear out
into the deep water when the struggling pair reached the surface,
lashing and splashing, and the mink had only bare time to snatch a
single breath of air before he found another adversary on his back, and
was borne down inexorably to the bottom.

"Just about this time a perfectly new idea flashed across the mink's
mind, and it startled him.  For the first time in his life he thought
that perhaps he was a fool.  Young otters seemed to be so much older
than he had imagined them, so much more unreasonable and bad-tempered,
and to have so many teeth.  It was a question, he decided--while he was
being mauled around among the water weeds--that would bear some
thinking over.  He wanted to think about it right away.  There was no
time like the present for digesting these new ideas.  Seeing a big root
sticking out of the bank, close to the bottom, with a tremendous effort
he clawed himself under it and scraped off his antagonists.  Shooting
out on the other side, he darted off like an eel through the water
grass, and hurried away up stream to a certain hollow log he knew,
where he might lick his bites and meditate undisturbed.  The two Little
Furry Ones stared after him for a moment, then crawled out upon the
bank and lay down in the sunny grass."

Uncle Andy got up with an air of decision.  "Let's go catch some fish,"
he said.  "They ought to be beginning to rise about now, over by Spring
Brook."

"But what became of the two Little Furry Ones after that?" demanded the
Babe, refusing to stir.

"Well, _now_," protested Uncle Andy in an injured voice, "you _know_ I
ain't like Bill and some other folk.  I don't know everything.  But
I've every reason to believe that, with any kind of otter luck, they
lived to grow up and have families of their own--and taught every one
of them, you may be sure, to slide down hill.  As likely as not, that
very slide over yonder belongs to one of their families.  Now come
along and don't ask any more questions."




CHAPTER II

THE BLACK IMPS OF PINE-TOP

"I think I'd _like_ to be a bird," murmured the Babe, wistfully gazing
up at the dark green, feathery top of the great pine, certain of whose
branches were tossing and waving excitedly against the blue, although
there was not a breath of wind to ruffle the expanse of Silverwater.
"I _think_ I'd like it--rather."  He added the qualification as a
prudent after-thought, lest Uncle Andy should think him foolish.

"In _summer_!" suggested Uncle Andy, following the Babe's eyes toward
the agitated pine-top.

"Of _course_ in summer!" corrected the Babe hastily.  "It must be awful
to be a bird in winter!"  And he shuddered.

"You'd better not say 'of course' in that confident way," said Uncle
Andy rather severely.  "You know so many of the birds go away south in
the winter; and they manage to have a pretty jolly time of it, I should
think."

For a moment the Babe looked abashed.  Then his face brightened.

"But then, it _is_ summer, for _them_, isn't it?" said he sweetly.

Uncle Andy gave him a suspicious look, to see if he realized the
success of his retort.  "Had me there!" he thought to himself.  But the
Babe's face betrayed no sign of triumph, nothing but that eager
appetite for information of which Uncle Andy so highly approved.

"So it depends on what kind of a bird, eh, what?" said he, deftly
turning the point.  Then he scratched a sputtering sulphur match on the
long-suffering leg of his trousers.

"Yes," said the Babe, with more decision now.  "I'd like to be a crow."

Uncle Andy smoked meditatively for several minutes before replying,
till the Babe began to grow less confident as to the wisdom of his
choice.  But as he gazed up at those green pine-tops, so clear against
the blue, all astir with black wings and gay, excited _ca_-ings, he
took courage again.  Certainly _those_ crows, at least, were enjoying
themselves immensely.

And he had always had a longing to be able to play in the tops of the
trees.

"Well," said Uncle Andy at last, "perhaps you're not so _very_ far off,
this time.  If I couldn't be an eagle, or a hawk, or a wild goose, or
one of those big-horned owls that we hear every night, or a
humming-bird, then I'd rather be a crow than most.  A crow has got
enemies, of course, but then he's got brains, so that he knows how to
make a fool of most of his enemies.  And he certainly does manage to
get a lot of fun out of life, taking it all in all, except when the owl
comes gliding around his roosting places in the black nights, or an
extra bitter midwinter frost catches him after a rainy thaw."

He paused and drew hard on his pipe, with that far-away look in his
eyes which the Babe had learned to regard as the forerunner to a story.
There were some interesting questions to ask, of course; but though
bursting with curiosity as to why anyone should find it better to be a
wild goose, or even a hummingbird, than a crow, the Babe sternly
repressed himself.  He would ask those questions by and by, that he
promised himself.  But he had learned that to speak inopportunely was
sometimes to make Uncle Andy change his mind and shut up like an
oyster.  He was determined that he would not open his mouth till the
story should be well under way, till his uncle should be himself too
much interested to be willing to stop.  And then, to his horror, just
as he was recording this sagacious resolution in his mind, he heard
himself demanding:

"But why after a rainy thaw?"

It was out before he could choke it back.  There was nothing for him to
do but stick to it and gaze at his uncle with disarming innocence.
Uncle Andy turned upon him a glance of slow contumely.

"If you were going to be caught out in a blizzard, would you rather be
in dry clothes or in wet ones?" he inquired.

The Babe smiled apologetically and resumed his study of the agitated
pine-tops, whence, from time to time, a crow, or two or three, would
burst forth for a brief, whirling flight, as if to show how it was
done.  Then other flights were made, which seemed to the Babe extremely
brief and hesitating, as if the flyers were nervous when they found
themselves out clear of the branches and suspended on their own wings
over the empty deeps of air.  Presently there was a sudden tumultuous
outburst of _ca_-ing, the branches shook, and a whole flock, perhaps
two score or more, swarmed into the air.  After a few moments of
clamorous confusion they all flew off in the direction of the muddy
flats at the lower end of the lake.  The pine-tops subsided into
stillness.  But an occasional hoarse croak or muttered guttural showed
that a few of their occupants had been left at home.  The Babe wondered
what it had all been about, but he succeeded in holding his tongue.

In a moment or two this heroic self-restraint had its reward.

"Trying to show some of the youngsters how to fly, and jeering at the
timid ones and the stupid ones!" explained Uncle Andy.

"Oh!" said the Babe, with a long, appreciative inflection.

Uncle Andy paused, leaving an opening for more questions.  But the Babe
refused to be drawn, so presently, with a comprehending grin, he went
on:

"It's rather a small affair for crows, you know, this colony of theirs
here on Silverwater.  I suppose they've been crowded out from the
places they really prefer, along the skirts of the settlements on the
other side of the Ridge.  They would rather live always somewhere near
the farms and the cleared fields.  Not that they have any special
affection for man.  Far from it.  They dislike him, and distrust him,
and seem to think him a good deal of a fool, too.  His so-called
'scarecrows' are a great joke to them, and have been known at times to
afford some fine materials for the lining of their nests.  But they
find him so useful in many really important ways that they establish
their colonies in his neighborhood whenever they possibly can."

Here Uncle Andy made another long pause.  He looked at the Babe
suspiciously.

"Is anything the matter?" he demanded.

"No, thank you, Uncle Andy," replied the Babe politely.

"But you haven't asked a single question for at least seven minutes,"
said Uncle Andy.

"I was too busy listening to you," explained the Babe.  "But there's
one I'd like to ask, if it's all the same to you."

"Well, fire away," said his uncle.

"_Why_ did they all fly away like that, as if they had just remembered
something awfully important?  And why would you rather be a little tiny
humming-bird than a crow?  And why did it take the whole flock that way
to teach the young ones to fly?  And--and why are they afraid, when
they are _born_ to fly?  And why do they make fun of the stupid ones?
And why would you like to be a wild goose?  And, and--"

"Stop!  stop!" cried Uncle Andy.  "I didn't know you had a Gatling
about you when I told you to fire away.  You wait and shoot those
questions at Bill, just like that, to-night."

"Well, but why--"

"No, you must not interrupt," insisted Uncle Andy.

"But you _asked_ me!  I was just as quiet--"

"I didn't know what I was doing!" said his uncle.  "And I can't
possibly answer all those questions.  Why, I could never begin to
remember half of them."

"I can," interposed the Babe.

"Oh, you needn't mind," said Uncle Andy, hastily.  "But perhaps, if you
listen with great care, you _may_ find answers to some of them in what
I am going to tell you.  Of course, I don't promise, for I don't know
what you asked me.  But _maybe_ you'll hear something that will throw
some light on the subject."

"Thank you very much," said the Babe.

"There were only two young ones in the nest," said Uncle Andy, in his
sometimes irrelevant way, which seemed deliberately designed to make
the Babe ask questions.  "The nest was a big, untidy structure of
sticks and dead branches; but it was strongly woven for all its
untidiness, because it had to stand against the great winds sweeping
down over the Ridge.  Inside it was very nicely and softly lined with
dry grass, and some horse-hair, and a piece of yellow silk from the
lining of what had once been a ruffle or something like that that women
wear.  The nest was in a tall pine, which stood at one end of a grove
of ancient fir trees overlooking a slope of pasture and an old white
farmhouse with a big garden behind it.  Nearly all the trees had crows'
nests in their tops, but in most of the other nests there were three or
four young crows."

As Uncle Andy paused again at this point the Babe, who was always
polite, felt that he was really expected to ask a question here.  If he
did not, it might look as if he were not taking an interest.  He would
rather ask too many questions than run the risk of seeming
inappreciative.

"_Why_ were there only two young ones in the nest in the pine tree?" he
inquired.

It was very hard to know sometimes just what would please Uncle Andy,
and what wouldn't.  But this time it was quite all right.

"Now, that's a proper, sensible question," said he.  "I was just coming
to that.  You see, there ought to have been four youngsters in that
nest, too, for there had been four greeny-blue, brown-spotted eggs to
start with.  But even crows have their troubles.  And the pair that
owned this particular nest were a somewhat original and erratic couple.
When the mother had laid her last egg and was getting ready to sit, she
decided to take an airing before settling down to work.  Though her
mate was not at hand to guard the nest, she flew off down to the farm
to see if there was anything new going on among those foolish men, or
perhaps to catch a mouse among the cornstalks."

"Do _crows_ eat _mice_?" demanded the Babe in astonishment.

"Of course they do," answered Uncle Andy impatiently.  "Everybody that
eats meat at all eats mice, except us human beings.  And in some parts
of the world we, too, eat them, dipped in honey."

"Oh--h--h!" shuddered the Babe.

"Well, as I was going to say when you interrupted me, no sooner was she
well out of the way than a red squirrel, who had been watching from the
nearest fir tree, saw his chance.  It was a rare one.  Nobody liked
eggs better than he did, or got fewer of them.  Like a flash he was
over from the fir branches into the pine ones, and up and into the nest.

"His sharp teeth went into the nearest egg, and he drank its contents
greedily--and cleverly, let me tell you, for it's not so easy to manage
without getting it all over your fur.  He was just going to begin on
another when there was a sharp hiss of wings just above him and a loud
_ca-ah_ of alarm.  The father bird was back and swooping down upon him.
He threw himself clear of the nest, fell to a lower branch, and raced
out to its tip to spring into his fir tree.  At this moment the furious
father struck him, knocking him clean off into the air.

"The air was now full of black wings and angry cries, as the crows from
neighboring nests flocked to the help of their fellow citizen.  But the
little red robber was brave and kept his head.  Spreading his legs wide
and flat, he made a sort of parachute of himself, and, instead of
falling like a stone, he glided down to another branch.  Those beating
wings and terrible jabbing beaks were all about him, but they got in
each other's way.  And he was a wonder at dodging, I can tell you, now
that he was among the bigger branches, and, though he got several nasty
thrusts, which covered his fine coat with blood, he gained his hole,
halfway down the tree, and whisked into it safely.

"Into this narrow retreat, of course, none of the crows dared to follow
him, knowing that they would there be at the mercy of his teeth.  But
they gathered in fierce excitement about the entrance, scolding the
audacious thief at the top of their voices, and threatening him with
every kind of vengeance when he should dare to come out.  And from time
to time one or another of the boldest would alight on the very edge of
the hole, cock his head, and peer in, to bounce away again instantly
with a startled squawk as the squirrel would jump up at him, chattering
with rage.

"In the midst of all this excitement the careless mother came hurrying
back.  She had heard the row, of course.  One could hear it all over
the parish.  Unobserved, she flew straight to the nest.  Her big, dark,
cunning eyes blazed for an instant, but she knew it was all her fault,
and she thought it best to make no fuss.  Hastily she dropped the empty
shell over the side of the nest, and then took her place dutifully on
the three remaining eggs.  In a few minutes the rest of the crows got
tired of scolding the squirrel in his hole and came _ca_-ing back to
the pine tree to talk the matter over.  When her mate, all in a fume,
hopped onto the edge of the nest, the mother looked up at him with eyes
of cold inquiry, as much as to say: 'Well, I'd like to know what all
this fuss is about.  You ought to be ashamed of yourself, acting that
way about a wretched squirrel!'  Of course, she may not have said all
that.  But she certainly gave all the other crows the impression that
there was nothing wrong about _her_ nest, and that they had better go
and look after their own.  Thereupon they all said sarcastic things to
their fellow citizen and left him indignantly.  He, poor fellow, found
it impossible to explain or justify himself, because his mate was
sitting on the eggs; so he flew off in a huff to try and find a
sparrow's nest to rob.  When he came back he had taken pains to forget
just how many eggs there had ever been in the nest.

"Oh, yes, I know there were still three.  Well, three or four days
later a boy came up from the farmhouse and climbed the pine tree, He
was not the kind of a boy that robs birds' nests, but he was making a
collection.  He wanted just one crow's egg, and he had a theory that
birds cannot count.  He liked crows--in fact, on that farm no one was
ever allowed to shoot crows or any other birds except the murderous
duck hawk, and he felt that the crows owed him _one_ egg, anyhow, in
return for the protection they enjoyed on his father's property.

"Now, you must not think he chose the pine tree because it was the
easiest to climb," went on Uncle Andy hurriedly, seeing in the Babe's
eyes that this point had to be cleared up at once.  "In fact, it was
the _hardest_ to climb.  Any one of the fir trees would have been
easier, and they all had crows' nests in them.  But the boy knew that
he could not climb any of them without getting his clothes all over
balsam, which would mean a lot of inconvenient explanations with his
mother.  So he went up the pine tree, of course, and spared his
mother's feelings.

"The crows displayed no sense of gratitude whatever.  He might have
eggs, of course, that boy, but not _their_ eggs!  They flapped around
him savagely, and made so much noise in his ears that he could not hear
himself think.  But he kept his big straw hat pulled down well over his
eyes, and paid no attention whatever to the indignant birds.  And
because he was so quiet and positive about it, not one of them _quite_
dared to actually touch him.  The mother bird hopped off the nest
sullenly just as he was about to put his hand on her.  He took one egg,
put it in his pocket, examined the nest with interest, and climbed down
again.  Just as he was nearing the ground he broke the egg.  This, of
course, made him feel not only sticky but somewhat embarrassed.  He saw
that he might have some difficulty in explaining that pocket to his
mother.  Even a great deal of balsam would have been better than _that_
egg.  But he comforted himself with the thought that he would never
have been able to blow it, anyhow, on account of its being so advanced.

"And that's why there were only two young crows in that particular nest.

"But they were an altogether unusual pair, these two.  In the first
place, receiving all the food and all the attention that were usually
divided among four or five, they had grown and feathered
extraordinarily fast, till now they were ready for flight, while their
fellows in the neighboring nests were still ragged and 'quilly'
looking.  In the second place, they had inherited from their eccentric
parents an altogether surprising amount of originality.  Their feathers
were beautifully firm and black and glossy, their beaks sharp and
polished; and in their full, dark, intelligent eyes there was an
impishness that even a crow might regard as especially impish."

"What's _impish_?" demanded the Babe.

"Goodness me!  Don't you know what _impish_ is?" exclaimed Uncle Andy.
He thought a moment, and then, finding it a little difficult to
explain, he added with convenient severity:

"If you will listen, you'll find out, perhaps."

"Well, the two grew so fast that, before their parents realized at all
what precocious youngsters they were, they had climbed out upon the
edge of the nest and begun to stretch their fine wings.  With hoarse
expostulations their father tried to persuade them back.  But their
mother, who was not so conservative, chuckled her approval and flew off
to hunt young mice for them.  Thus encouraged, they ignored their
father's prudent counsels, and hopped out, with elated squawks, upon
the branch.  Whereupon the father, somewhat huffed, flew up to the very
topmost branch of the tree and perched there, swaying in the breeze,
and trying to forget his family cares.  From this high post of
observation he presently caught sight of an eagle, winging his way up
from the swamp at the lower end of the valley.  With a sharp signal cry
for volunteers, he dashed off in pursuit.  He was joined by two other
crows who happened to be at leisure; and the three, quickly overtaking
the majestic voyager, began to load him with impertinence and abuse.
With their comparatively short but very broad wings the crows could
dodge so nimbly in the air that if was quite impossible for their great
enemy to catch them.  He made no attempt to do so.  Indignantly he
changed the direction of his flight, and began to soar, climbing
gradually into the blue in splendid, sweeping circles; while the crows,
croaking mockery and triumph, kept flapping above him and below,
darting at his eyes, and dashing with open beaks at the shining
whiteness of his crown.  They dared not come near enough to actually
touch him, but they succeeded in making themselves most unpleasant.
The eagle glared at them steadily with his fierce, black-and-yellow
eyes, but otherwise seemed to pay them no attention whatever.  Only he
kept mounting higher and higher, till at last his impish
tormentors--_impish_, I said--dared follow him no farther.  They came
fluttering down hurriedly to more congenial levels, and flew back to
the grove to boast of their 'great victory.'"

"My, but that eagle must have felt awfully ashamed!" exclaimed the Babe.

"The _next_ day," continued Uncle Andy, without noticing the
interruption, "the two old crows began to think it would soon be time
to teach this independent pair of youngsters to fly.  And they thought,
too, that they'd be able to manage it all by themselves, without any
help or advice from the rest of the flock.  While they were thinking
about it, in the next tree, for they were not a great pair to stay at
home, you know, one of the youngsters, the female, gave an impatient
squawk, spread her wings, and fell off her branch.  She thought it was
flying, you know, but at first she just fell, flapping her wings
wildly.  In two seconds, however, she seemed to get the hang of it,
more or less.  With a violent effort, she rose, gained the next tree,
alighted, panting, beside her parents and looked at them with a
superior air, as if she thought that they could never have accomplished
such a thing at her age.  That was perhaps true, of course, but it was
not for her to think so."

"Huh!  I should think not, indeed!" agreed the Babe severely.

"Well," continued Uncle Andy, now quite absorbed in his narrative, "the
other youngster, not to be outdone, went hopping up in great excitement
from branch to branch, till he was some ten feet above the rest of the
family.  Then, launching himself boldly, he went fluttering down to
them with no difficulty at all.  He was less impetuous and more
sagacious than his sister.

"After this the parents continued to feed their independent offspring
for a number of days, just because they had been accustomed to feed
their nestling for a certain length of time, till at last the
youngsters started off to forage on their own account, and the family,
as a family, broke up.  From habit, however, or from good will, the
youngsters kept coming back to roost on the branches beside the nest,
and remained on the most friendly, though easy-going, relations with
their father and mother.

"In every crow flock, large or small, there seems to be some kind of
discipline, some kind of obedience to the wise old leaders of the
flock.  But the two black imps of Pine-Top were apparently, for the
time at least, exempted from it.  They did about as they liked and were
a nuisance to everybody but their two selves, whom they admired
immensely.  Being too young for the old crows to take seriously, their
pranks were tolerated, or they would soon have been pecked and beaten
into better manners.  Too big and too grown-up for the young
crows--whom they visited in their nests and tormented till driven away
by the indignant parents--they had no associates but each other.  So
they followed their own whims; and the flock was philosophically
indifferent as to what might happen to them.

"You must not think, however, that they did not learn anything, these
two.  They were sharp.  They listened to what was being said around
them, and the crows, you know, are the greatest talkers ever; so they
soon knew the difference between a man with a gun and a man without
one.  They knew that an owl in the daytime is not the same thing as an
owl at night.  They gathered that a scarecrow is not as dangerous as it
looks.  And many other things that a crow needs to know and believe
they condescended to learn, because learning came easy to them.  But
common caution they did not learn, because it did not seem to them
either interesting or necessary.  So it was often just luck that got
them out of scrapes, though they always thought it was their own
cleverness.

"It was just lucky, of course, that day when they went exploring in the
patch of dark woods down in the valley, that the big brown owl did not
get one or the other of them.  He was asleep on a big dead branch as
brown as himself, and looking so like a part of it that they were just
going to alight, either upon him or within reach of his deadly clutch,
when a red squirrel saw them and shrieked at them.  Two great, round,
glaring orange eyes opened upon them from that brown prong of the
branch, so suddenly that they gave two startled squawks and nearly fell
to the ground.  How the red squirrel tittered, hating both the owl and
the crows.  But the imps, when they got over their start, were furious.
Flying over the owl's head, they kept screaming at the top of their
voices something which probably meant 'an owl! an owl! an owl!'; and
immediately every other crow within hearing took up the cry, till in
two minutes half the flock were gathered in the patch of woods.  They
swarmed screaming about the owl's head, striking at him with their
sharp beaks and strong black wings, but always too wary to come quite
within his reach.  The great night prowler knew that in the daylight he
could not catch them--that, indeed, if he did succeed in catching one
in his claws the others would throw caution to the winds and all be
down upon him at once.  He sat there, straight and stiff, for a while,
snapping his terrible beak and hissing at them like an angry cat.  Till
at last, realizing that there was no more chance of a peaceful sleep
for him there, he spread his huge, downy wings and sailed off smoothly
to seek some more secluded neighborhood.  The whole flock pursued him,
with their tormenting and abuse, for perhaps a couple of miles; and
then, at some signal from their leaders, dropped the chase suddenly and
turned their attention to what looked like a sort of game of tag, in a
wide, open pasture where no enemy could steal upon them unawares.  The
imps felt themselves great heroes, but if it had not been for that red
squirrel, the owl, sleepy though he was, would certainly have got one
of them."

The Babe wanted to ask whether the squirrel had warned them out of
friendliness or just out of dislike to the owl, but before he could
frame his question quite satisfactorily, or get out anything more than
a hasty "But why--?"  Uncle Andy had gone on with an emphasis which
discouraged interruption.

"It was lucky for them, too, that no guns were fired on the big farm
below the grove--the crows were there believed to earn the corn they
stole by the grubs and cutworms and mice they killed.  That was _very_
lucky for the two imps, for they were forever hanging about the
farmyard and the big locust trees that ran along the foot of the
garden.  The farmer himself and his hired hands paid no attention to
them, but the boy, the one who had prevented there being three imps
instead of two, he was tremendously interested.  At first they were shy
of him, because, perhaps, they felt him watching them out of the
corners of his keen blue eyes.  But at last they decided he was no more
dangerous than the rest, and made sarcastic remarks about him in a
language which he couldn't understand.

"There was always food to be picked up around the farmyard when the men
were absent in the fields, the womenfolk busy in the kitchen, and the
boy somewhere out of sight.  And it was food doubly sweet because it
had to be stolen from the fussy hens or the ridiculous ducks or the
stupid, complacent pigeons.  Then there was always something
interesting to be done.  It was fun to bully the pigeons and to give
sly, savage jabs to the half-grown chicks.  It was delightful to steal
the bright tops of tin tomato cans--they _thought_ they were stealing
them, of course, because they could not imagine such fascinating things
being thrown away, even by those fool men--to snatch them hurriedly,
fly off with them to the tall green pine-top, and hide them in their
old nest till they got it looking quite like a rubbish dump, and good
pasture for a goat.  And most of all, perhaps, was it fun to tease the
lazy old kitchen cat, till her tail would get as big as a bottle brush
with helpless indignation."

"The _cat_?" exclaimed the Babe.  "Why, weren't they afraid of _her_?"

"Wait and see!" remarked Uncle Andy simply, with no apologies whatever
to the Prime Minister.  "Well, as I was about to say, their method was
simple and effective.  They would wait till they found the cat lying
along the narrow top of the rail fence, sunning herself.  It was her
favorite place, though it can hardly have been comfortable, it was so
narrow.  The He imp would alight on the rail, about ten feet in front
of her, and pretend to be very sick, squawking feebly and drooping his
black wings with a struggling flutter, as if it was all he could do to
keep his perch.  The cat, her narrow eyes opening very wide, would
start to creep up to him.  The She imp would then alight on the rail
behind her and nip her sharply by the tail, and go hopping clumsily off
down the rail.  The cat would wheel with an angry _pfiff-ff_, and start
after this new quarry.  Whereupon the He imp would again nip her tail.
This would be repeated several times before the cat would realize that
she was being made a fool of.  Then she would bounce down from the
fence and race off to the kitchen in a towering rage, and the impudent
youngsters would fly up into the nearest tree top and _ca_ about it
delightedly.

"Then there was the scarecrow, in the middle of the big strawberry
patch down at the foot of the huge garden.  It did not scare these two
young rascals, not in the least.  It was an excellently made scarecrow,
and did strike terror to the heart of many of the smaller birds.  But
its hat was packed with straw, and the imps found it was a pleasant
game pulling the straws out through a couple of holes in the crown, and
strewing them over the strawberry bed.  Incidentally, they liked
strawberries, and ate a good many of them as sauce to their ordinary
diet of grubs and mice and chicken feed.  And it was this weakness of
theirs for strawberries that led to their misunderstanding with the
Boy, and then with the big rat that lived under the tool shed.

"That strawberry patch was one of the things that the Boy took a
particular interest in.  When he saw that the imps also took such an
interest in it, eating the berries instead of the grubs, he began to
get annoyed.  From his window, which overlooked the garden, he had seen
what liberties the imps took with the scarecrow, so he realized there
was no help for him in scarecrows.  But _something_ must be done, that
he vowed, and done at once, or his strawberries were going to be mighty
scarce.  He didn't want to do any real harm to even such a troublesome
pair of birds as the imps, but he was determined to give them a lesson
that might teach them some respect, not only for strawberry patches,
but even for scarecrows.

"On the crown of the scarecrow's old hat, which he had observed to be a
favorite perch of the imps, he arranged a noose of light cord.  From
the noose he ran the cord down the scarecrow's single leg (scarecrows,
you know, have usually only one leg), across to the hedge, along the
hedge to the house, and up and into his room.  He fixed it so it ran
without a hitch.  He was very proud of it altogether.  Much pleased
with himself, he got a book and a couple of apples, and seated himself
at his window to wait for his chance.

"As it happened, however, the imps were just then away in the meadow,
hunting mice.  For a whole hour the Boy saw no sign of them.  Then,
being called away to go on an errand into the village, he tied the end
of the cord to his bedpost, and left it with a word of advice to do
what it could in his absence.

"Well, it did!  For a mere bit of string, all by itself, it didn't do
badly.  First the old brown rat, with his fierce little eyes and
pointed, whiskered nose, came out from under the toolhouse and began
exploring the strawberry patch.  He didn't think much of strawberries
in themselves, but he was apt to find fat grubs and beetles and sleepy
June bugs under the clustering leaves.  He came upon the string,
stretched taut.  He was just about to bite it through and try to carry
it off to his nest when it occurred to him it might be a trap.  He
turned away discreetly, and snapped up a plump June bug.

"Then the imps came sailing along.  The He imp, with a loud _ca-ah_,
perched in the top of a locust and reconnoitred the situation.  The She
imp alighted on the head of the scarecrow, cocked her head to one side,
and peered down upon the rat with a wicked and insulting eye.
'_Cr-r-r-r_,' she said sarcastically.  But, as the rat paid no
attention to her, she hopped up and down on her toes, half-lifting her
wings in the effort to attract his eye.  She hated to be ignored.  But
still the rat ignored her, though he saw her perfectly well and would
have loved to eat her.  At last, in her excitement, she caught sight of
the cord running over the edge of the scarecrow's hat.  Snatching it up
in her beak, she gave it an energetic and inquiring tug.  She learned
something interesting about it at once.  It grabbed her by one leg.

"Startled into a panic, as all wild things are at the least suggestion
of restraint, she squawked and flapped into the air.  The noose
tightened rebukingly and pulled her up short.

"For one astounded moment she settled back onto the scarecrow's head,
frightened into stillness.  Then she tweaked savagely at the cord on
her leg, but, of course, could do nothing with it.  As far as knots
were concerned, her education had been utterly neglected.  At last she
sprang once more into the air, determined to have nothing more to do
with the treacherous scarecrow who had stuck that thing on her leg.

"Of course, she didn't fly far--just about six feet--and she was again
brought up with a jerk.  And now she went quite wild.  Squawking and
flapping and whirling round and round, she made an amazing exhibition
of herself.  Her brother, in the top of the locust, stared down upon
her in astonished disapproval.  And the brown rat, interested at last,
came creeping stealthily to the scarecrow's foot and looked up at her
performance with cruel, glinting eyes.

"Now, as you may well imagine, this performance was something which
even the imp, strong as she was, could not keep up very long.  In about
a minute she had to stop and take breath.  She was going to alight on
the ground, when she remembered the rat.  Yes, there he was.  So she
had to take refuge once more on the hated and treacherous scarecrow.
But no sooner had she done so, alighting with open beak and
half-spread, quivering wings, than the rat came darting up the leg of
the scarecrow's ragged trousers and pounced at her.  She _just_
escaped, and that was all, leaping into the air with a squawk of terror
and flapping there violently at the end of those six feet of free cord.

"It was a horrifying position for her, let me tell you--"

"I guess _so_!" muttered the Babe in spite of himself, wagging his head
sympathetically.  He did not like rats.

"She was too frightened to save her strength, of course, and so kept
flapping with all her might, as if she thought to fly away with
scarecrow and all.  The rat, however, was impatient.  He clutched at
the cord with his handlike claws and began trying to pull the imp down
to him.  At first he couldn't make much out of it, but as the imp
weakened with her frantic efforts the cord began to shorten.  Just
about now the He imp, who had come down from the locust top and
fluttered over the scene in pained curiosity, realized what was
happening.  He was game, all right, however bumptious and
self-satisfied.  He set up a tremendous _ca-a-a-ing_, as a signal for
all the crows within hearing to come to the rescue, and then made a
sudden, savage side swoop at the foe.

"Taken thoroughly by surprise, the rat was toppled from his unsteady
perch and fell among the strawberries.  His head ringing from the
stroke of that sturdy black wing, his plump flank smarting and bleeding
from a fierce jab of that pointed beak of the imp's, he squeaked with
rage and clambered up again to the battle.  Mr. Rat, you know, is no
coward and no quitter.

"And now he was more dangerous, because he was ready.  He sat warily on
his haunches, squeaking angrily, and turning his sharp head from side
to side as he followed every swoop and rush of the He imp, snapping so
dangerously that the latter did not dare come quite close enough to
deliver another really effective blow.  At the same time, being very
clever indeed, the rat kept tugging, tugging, tugging at the cord.  And
the She imp, being quite gone out of her mind with the terror of that
clutch on her leg, kept flapping crazily at the end of the cord instead
of turning to, like a sensible crow, and helping her brother in the
fight.

"As she grew weaker and weaker in her struggles, the cunning rat drew
her lower and lower, till at last she seemed fairly within his reach.
He lifted himself on his hindquarters to snap his long teeth into her
thigh and spring to the ground with her, where he would have her
completely at his mercy.  But as he rose the He imp, at sight of his
sister's deadly peril, lost all sense of caution, and struck again with
all his strength of beak and wing.  And once more the rat, fairly
bursting with rage, was swept to the ground.

"He was back to the attack again in a moment, and now more dangerous
than ever.  And at the same time the She imp, utterly worn out at last
by her panic terror and her foolish violence, sank shuddering down upon
her perch.  Her brother struck the rat again frantically when the
latter was halfway up the scarecrow's leg, but this time failed to
dislodge him.  And it looked as if the poor She imp would never again
steal a strawberry or worry a pigeon.  But at this moment the Boy
appeared in the garden.  He came running up noiselessly, anxious to see
all that was happening.  But the rat heard him.  The rat had no use for
the Boy whatever.  He knew that the whole human race was his enemy.  He
dropped from the scarecrow's trouser leg and scurried off to his hole
beneath the toolhouse.  The Boy, his face a mixture of amusement and
concern, picked up the captive without noticing her feeble pecks, undid
the noose from her leg, and carried her over the hedge to rest and
recover herself.

"'Now,' said he, 'you little imp of Satan, maybe you'll not come
stealing any more of my strawberries or pulling any more straw out of
my poor scarecrow's head!'

"And she never did!" concluded Uncle Andy, rising and stretching his
legs.  "Those two were not _reformed_, you may be sure.  But they kept
clear, after that, of the Boy's strawberry patch, and of _all
scarecrows_.  It's time we were getting back to camp for supper, or
Bill will be feeling sour."

"But you haven't told me," protested the Babe, who had a most tenacious
memory, "why those crows all flew away out of the pine-top so suddenly,
as if they had just remembered something.  And you haven't told me why
you'd rather be a humming-bird than a crow.  And you haven't--"

But Uncle Andy stopped him.

"If you think I'm going to tell you all I know," said he, "you're
mistaken.  If I did, you'd know as much as I do, and it wouldn't be any
fun.  Some day you'll be glad I've left something for you to find out
for yourself."




CHAPTER III

YOUNG GRUMPY AND THE ONE-EYED GANDER

"My gracious!  What's that?" cried the Babe, and nearly jumped out of his
boots.  A gray thing had come right at him, with an ugly, scurrying rush.
The bushes and bracken being thick, he had not got a very clear view of
it--and he did not stop to try for a better one.  In two seconds he was
back at Uncle Andy's side, where the latter sat smoking on his favorite
log by the water.

The Babe's eyes were very wide.  He looked a bit startled.

"It ran _straight_ at me!" he declared.  "What could it have been?"

"A bear, I suppose!" said Uncle Andy sarcastically.

"Of course not," answered the Babe in an injured voice.  "If it had been
a bear, I'd have been _frightened_."

"Oh!" said Uncle Andy.  "I see.  Well, what was it like?  Seems to me you
didn't take much time to look at it, even if you weren't frightened."

"I _did_ look," protested the Babe, glancing again, a little nervously,
at the bushes.  "It was like--like a tre-_mend_ous big fat guinea pig,
with a fat tail and all kind of rusty gray."

"Now, that's not at all bad, considering you were in something of a
hurry," said Uncle Andy approvingly.  "That's really a very good
description of a woodchuck.  No one could possibly mistake it for a
lobster or a lion."

"Of course, I couldn't see it very _plain_," added the Babe hastily,
wondering if Uncle Andy was laughing at him.  "But why did it run at me
that way?"

"You see," said Uncle Andy seriously, repenting of his mockery, "the
woodchuck is a queer, bad-tempered chap, with more pluck than sense
sometimes.  Once in a while he would run at anything that was new and
strange to him, no matter how big it was, just to see if he couldn't
frighten it."

"Would he run at you or Bill that way?" demanded the Babe in a voice of
awe at the very thought of such temerity.

"Oh, he has seen lots of _men_," replied Uncle Andy.  "We're nothing new
to him.  But most likely he had never seen a small boy before, and he did
not know what kind of an animal it was.  The very fact that he did not
know made him angry--he's sometimes so quick-tempered, you know!"

"I'm glad he didn't frighten me--so _very_ much!" murmured the Babe,
beginning to forget the exact degree of his alarm.

"I noticed you got out of his way pretty smart!" said Uncle Andy, eyeing
him from under shaggy brows.  "But perhaps that was just because you were
in a hurry to tell me about it!"

"No-o!" answered the Babe, hesitating but truthful.  "I thought perhaps
he was going to bite my legs, and I didn't want him to."

"That seems reasonable enough," agreed Uncle Andy heartily.  "No sensible
person wants a fool woodchuck biting his legs."

"But would he _really_ have bitten me?" asked the Babe, beginning to
think that perhaps he ought to go back and find the presumptuous little
animal and kick him.

"As I think I've already said, you never can tell exactly what a
woodchuck is going to do," replied Uncle Andy.  "You know that old rhyme
about him:

  "'How much wood would a woodchuck chuck,
  If a woodchuck could chuck wood?
  He'd chuck as much wood as a woodchuck could
  If a woodchuck could chuck wood.'

"Now that goes to show what uncertainty people have about him.  And it's
no more than right.  For instance, I was traveling through a wild part of
New Brunswick once in a big red automobile, when, coming suddenly around
a turn, we saw just ahead of us two old woodchucks sitting up on their
fat haunches by the side of the road.  I was beside the chauffeur, and
could see just what happened.  How those woodchucks' eyes stuck out!  It
was not more than three seconds before we were right up to them.  Then
one of the two, frightened to death, fairly turned a back somersault into
the bushes.  But the other was a hero.  Perhaps he thought he was St.
George and the automobile a dragon.  Anyhow, he did all a hero could.  He
jumped straight on to the front wheel and bit wildly at the tire.  We
stopped so short that we almost went out on our heads--but too late!  The
wheel had gone clean over him.  We felt so sorry that we stopped and dug
a hole by the roadside and gave the flattened little hero a very
distinguished burial."

"Oh, but he must have been crazy!" exclaimed the Babe, rubbing his leg
thoughtfully and congratulating himself that he had not lingered to study
the being which had rushed at him in the underbrush.

"Perhaps," said Uncle Andy dryly.  "If I remember rightly, that's just
what has been said of lots of heroes before now."

He tapped his pipe on the log beside him to knock out the ashes, and
proceeded thoughtfully to fill it up again.  This second filling the Babe
had learned to regard as a very hopeful sign.  It usually meant that
Uncle Andy was in the vein.  Seating himself on the grass directly in
front of his uncle, the Babe clasped his arms around his bare little
brown, mosquito-bitten knees, and stared upward hopefully with grave,
round eyes, as blue as the bluebells nodding beside him.

"Speaking of woodchucks," began Uncle Andy presently, "I've known a lot
of them in my time, and I've almost always found them interesting.  Like
some people we know, they're sometimes most amusing when they are most
serious."

"_Amusing_!" exclaimed the Babe, with a world of meaning in his voice.
That was the last word he expected to apply to such a bad-tempered little
beast.

But his uncle paid no heed to the interruption.

"There was 'Young Grumpy,' now," he continued musingly.  "As sober-minded
a woodchuck as ever burrowed a bank.  From his earliest days he took life
seriously, and never seemed to think it worth his while to play as the
other wild youngsters do.  Yet in spite of himself he was sometimes quite
amusing.

"He had the good fortune to be born in the back pasture of Anderson's
Farm.  That was where the Boy lived, you know, and where no one was
allowed to shoot the crows.  Being a place where no one did any more
killing than was absolutely necessary, it was rather lucky for any of the
Babes of the Wild to be born there--except weasels, of course."

"Why not for weasels?" demanded the Babe.

"Well, now, you might know that without my having to tell you," replied
Uncle Andy.  "The weasels are such merciless and murderous little killers
themselves, killing just for the fun of it when they are already too full
to eat what they have killed, that both Mr. Anderson and the Boy had no
sympathy for them, and thought them better out of the way.  I don't want
to be too hard, even on a weasel; but I'm bound to say that most of the
wild creatures feel much the same way about that blood-thirsty little
pirate."

"I should think so!" agreed the Babe indignantly, resolving to devote his
future largely to the extermination of weasels, and hoping thus to win
the confidence and gratitude of the kindred of the wild.

"Young Grumpy's home life," continued Uncle Andy, "with his father and
mother and four brothers and sisters was not a pampered one.  There are
few wild parents less given to spoiling their young than a pair of
grumbling old woodchucks.  The father, who spent most of his time
sleeping, rolled up in a ball at the bottom of the burrow, paid them no
attention except to nip at them crossly when they tumbled over him.  They
were always relieved when he went off, three or four times a day, down
into the neighboring clover field to make his meals.  The little ones did
not see what he was good for, anyhow, till one morning, when the
black-and-yellow dog from the next farm happened along.  The youngsters,
with their mother, were basking in the sun just outside the front door.
As the dog sprang at them they all fairly fell, head over heels, back
into the burrow.  The dog, immensely disappointed, set to work
frantically to dig them out.  He felt sure that young woodchuck would be
very good to eat.

"It was then that Old Grumpy showed what he was made of.  Thrusting his
family rudely aside, he scurried up the burrow to the door, where the dog
was making the earth fly at a most alarming rate.  Without a moment's
hesitation he sank his long, cutting teeth into the rash intruder's nose
and held on.

"The dog yelped and choked, and tried to back out of the hole in a hurry.
But it was no use.  The old woodchuck had a solid grip and was pulling
with all his might in the other direction.  Panic-stricken and half
smothered by the dry earth, the dog dug in his hind claws, bent his back
like a bow, and pulled for all he was worth, yelling till you might have
thought there were half a dozen dogs in that hole.  At last, after
perhaps three or four minutes--which seemed to the dog much longer--the
old woodchuck decided to leave go.  You see, he didn't really want that
dog, or even that dog's nose, in the burrow.  So he opened his jaws
suddenly.  At that the dog went right over backward, all four legs in the
air, like a wooden dog.  But the next instant he was on his feet again,
and tearing away like mad down the pasture, ki-yi-ing like a whipped
puppy, although he was a grown-up dog and ought to have been ashamed of
himself to make such a noise.  And never after that, they tell me, could
he be persuaded under any circumstances to go within fifteen feet of
anything that looked like a woodchuck hole."

"I'm not one bit sorry for him," muttered the Babe in spite of himself.
"He had no business there at all."

"The mother of the woodchuck family," went on Uncle Andy, "was not so
cross as the father, but she was very careless.  She would sit upon her
fat haunches in the door of the burrow while the babies were nibbling
around outside, pretending to keep an eye on them.  But half the time she
would be sound asleep, with her head dropped straight down on her
stomach, between her little black paws.  One day, as she was dozing thus
comfortably, a marsh hawk came flapping low overhead, and pounced on one
of the youngsters before it had time to more than squeak.  At the sound
of that despairing squeak, to be sure, she woke up and made a savage rush
at the enemy.  But the wary bird was already in the air, with the prize
drooping from his talons.  And the mother could do nothing but sit up and
chatter after him abusively as he sailed away to his nest.

"You see, the mother was brave enough, as I said before, but very
careless.  She was different from the ordinary run of woodchucks, in that
she had only three feet.  She had lost her left hind paw."

"Was that because she was so careless?" asked the Babe.

Uncle Andy looked at him suspiciously.  Like so many other story-tellers,
he preferred to make all the jokes himself.  He was suspicious of other
people's jokes.  But the Babe's round, attentive eyes were as innocent as
the sky.

"No," said he gravely; "_that_ was something she could not help.  It was
an accident.  It has nothing to do with Young Grumpy, but since you've
asked me about it I had better tell you at once and save interruptions.

"You see it was this way.  Before she came to live on the Anderson Farm
she used to have a burrow over on the other side of the Ridge, where the
people went in for a good deal of trapping and snaring.  One day someone
set a steel trap just in front of her burrow.  Of course she put her foot
into it at the first chance.  It was terrible.  You know the grip of
those steel jaws, for I've seen you trying to open them.  She was game,
however--they're always game, these woodchucks.  Instead of squealing and
hopping about and losing her wits and using up her strength, she just
popped back into her hole and dragged the trap in with her as far as it
would go.  That was not very far, of course, because the man who set it
had chained it to a stump outside.  But she thought it better, in such a
trouble, to be out of range of unsympathetic eyes.  There in the hole she
tugged and wrenched at the cruel biting thing till even her obstinacy had
to acknowledge that it was impossible to pull herself free.  Then she
tried blocking up the hole behind her, thinking perhaps that the trap, on
finding itself thus imprisoned in the burrow, would get frightened and
let go its hold.  Disappointed in this hope, she decided to adopt heroic
measures.  With magnificent nerve she calmly set to work and _gnawed off_
the foot which had been so idiotic as to get itself caught.  She would
have nothing more to do with the fool thing.  She just left it there in
the trap, with her compliments, for the man--a poor little, crumpled,
black-skinned paw, with a fringe of short brownish fur about the wrist,
like a fur-lined gauntlet."

The Babe shuddered, but heroically refrained from interrupting.

"Of course the stump soon healed up," continued Uncle Andy, "but she
always found the absence of that paw most inconvenient, especially when
she was digging burrows.  She used to find herself digging them on the
bias, and coming out where she did not at all expect to.

"But to return to Young Grumpy.  While he was yet very young his
three-legged mother, who had seen him and his brothers and sisters eating
grass quite comfortably, decided that they were big enough to look out
for themselves.  She refused to nurse them any more.  Then she turned
them all out of the burrow.  When they came presently scurrying back
again, hoping it was all an unhappy joke, she nipped them most
unfeelingly.  Their father snored.  There was no help in that quarter.
They scurried dejectedly forth again.

"Outside, in the short pasture grass and scattered ox-eye daisies, they
looked at each other suspiciously, and each felt that somehow it was the
other fellow's fault.  Aggrieved and miserable, they went rambling off,
each his own way, to face alone what Fate might have in store for him.
And Young Grumpy, looking up from a melancholy but consoling feast which
he was making on a mushroom, found himself alone in the world.

"He didn't care a fig.  You see, he was so grumpy.  Not knowing where to
go, he strolled up the hill and into the fir woods.  Here he came upon a
very old, moth-eaten, feeble-looking woodchuck, who was very busy in a
half-hearted way digging himself a hole.  Suddenly he stopped.  Young
Grumpy did not think it was any sort of a hole for a woodchuck, but the
old fellow seemed satisfied with it.  He curled himself up in it, almost
in plain view, and went straight to sleep.  Young Grumpy strolled off
scornfully.  When he came back that way, a few hours later, he found the
old woodchuck still in exactly the same position as before.  He never
stirred or scolded even when Young Grumpy came up and squeaked quite
close to his ear.  Seized suddenly with a vague uneasiness, Young Grumpy
nosed at him curiously.  The old woodchuck's body was chill and rigid.
It created a most unpleasant impression, and, not knowing why he did so,
Young Grumpy hurried forth from the dark wood and down into the sunlit
pasture to which he was accustomed.

"For some days he wandered about the pasture, sleeping under stumps and
in mossy hollows, and fortunately escaping, by reason of his light,
rusty-gray color, the eyes of passing hawks.  At last chance, or his nose
for good living, led him down to the clover meadow adjoining Anderson's
barnyard.

"It was here that his adventures may be said to have begun.

"Just as he was happily filling himself with clover, a white dog, with
short-cropped ears standing up stiffly, came by and stopped to look at
him with bright, interested eyes.  Young Grumpy, though the stranger was
big enough to take him in two mouthfuls, felt not frightened but annoyed.
He gave a chuckling squeak of defiance and rushed straight at the dog.

"Now, this was the Boy's bull terrier, Major, and he had been severely
trained to let small, helpless creatures alone.  He had got it into his
head that all such creatures were the Boy's property, and so to be
guarded and respected.  He was afraid lest he might hurt this cross
little animal, and get into trouble with the Boy.  So he kept jumping out
of the way, stiff-leggedly, as if very much amused, and at the same time
he kept barking, as if to call the Boy to come and see.  Young Grumpy,
feeling very big, followed him up with short, threatening rushes, till he
found himself just at the open gate leading into the farmyard.

"Parading solemnly before the gate was a big gray gander with only one
eye.  That one eye, extra keen and fierce, caught sight of Young Grumpy,
and probably mistook him for an immense rat, thief of eggs and murderer
of goslings.  With a harsh hiss and neck outstretched till it was like a
snake, the great bird darted at him.

"Young Grumpy hesitated.  After the manner of his kind, he sat upon his
haunches to hesitate.  The gander seemed to him very queer, and perhaps
dangerous.

"At this critical moment the white dog interfered.  In his eyes Young
Grumpy belonged to the Boy, and was therefore valuable property.  He ran
at the gander.  The gander, recognizing his authority, withdrew, haughty
and protesting.  Young Grumpy followed with a triumphant rush, and, of
course, took all the credit to himself.

"This led him into the farmyard.  Here he promptly forgot both the dog
and the gander.  It was such a strange place, and full of such strange
smells.  He was about to turn back into the more familiar clover when, as
luck would have it, he stumbled upon a half-eaten carrot which had been
dropped by one of the horses.  How good it smelled!  And then, how good
it tasted!  Oh, no! the place where such things were to be found was not
a place for him to leave in a hurry!

"As he was feasting greedily on the carrot the Boy appeared, with the
white dog at his heels.  He did not look nearly so terrible as the
gander.  So, angry at being disturbed, and thinking he had come for the
carrot, Young Grumpy ran at him at once.

"But the Boy did not run away.  Surprised at his courage, Young Grumpy
stopped short, at a distance of two or three feet from the Boy's stout
shoes, sat upon his haunches with his little skinny black hands over his
chest, and began to gurgle and squeak harsh threats.  The Boy laughed,
and stretched out a hand to touch him.  Young Grumpy snapped so savagely,
however, that the Boy snatched back his hand and stood observing him with
amused interest, waving off the white dog lest the latter should
interrupt.  Young Grumpy went on blustering with his muffled squeaks for
perhaps a minute.  Then, seeing that the Boy was neither going to run
away nor fight, he dropped on all fours indifferently and returned to his
carrot.

"There was nothing pleased the Boy better than seeing the harmless wild
creatures get familiar about the place.  He went now and fetched a saucer
of milk from the dairy, and set it down beside Young Grumpy, who scolded
at him, but refused to budge an inch.  The yellow cat--an amiable soul,
too well fed to hunt even mice with any enthusiasm--followed the Boy,
with an interested eye on the saucer.  At sight of Young Grumpy her back
went up, her tail grew big as a bottle, and she spat disapprovingly.  As
the stranger paid her no attention, however, she sidled cautiously up to
the milk and began to lap it.

"The sound of her lapping caught Young Grumpy's attention.  It was a
seductive sound.  Leaving the remains of his carrot, he came boldly up to
the saucer.  The yellow cat flattened back her ears, growled, and stood
her ground till he was within a foot of her.  Then, with an angry
'_pf-f-f_' she turned tail and fled.  The stranger was so calmly sure of
himself that she concluded he must be some new kind of skunk--and her
respect for all skunks was something tremendous.

"Having finished the milk and the carrot, Young Grumpy felt a pressing
need of sleep.  Turning his back on the Boy and the dog as if they were
not worth noticing, he ambled off along the garden fence, looking for a
convenient hole.  The one-eyed gander, who had been watching him with
disfavor from the distance, saw that he was now no longer under the
protection of the white dog, and came stalking up from the other end of
the yard to have it out with him--thief of eggs and murderer of goslings
as the bird mistook him to be!  But Young Grumpy, having found a
cool-looking hole under the fence, had whisked into it and vanished.

"As matters stood now, Young Grumpy felt himself quite master of the
situation.  His heartless mother was forgotten.  Farmyard, clover-field,
and cool green garden were all his.  Had he not routed all presumptuous
enemies but the Boy?  And the latter seemed very harmless.  But a few
days the garden occupied all his attention--when he was not busy
enlarging and deepening his hole under the fence and digging a second
entrance to it.  He noticed that the Boy had a foolish habit of standing
and watching him; but to this he had no serious objection, the more so as
he found that the Boy's presence was often accompanied by a saucer of
milk.

"It was not till after several days of garden life that, lured by the
memory of the carrot, he again visited the barnyard.  At first it seemed
to be quite deserted.  And there was no sign of a carrot anywhere.  Then
he caught sight of the yellow cat, and scurried toward her, thinking
perhaps it was her fault there were no carrots.  She fluffed her tail,
gave a yowl of indignation, and raced into the barn.  Neither the white
dog, nor the Boy, nor the one-eyed gander was anywhere in sight.

"Young Grumpy decided that it was a poor place, the barnyard.  He was on
the point of turning back to the green abundance of the garden, when a
curious clucking sound attracted his attention.  At the other side of the
yard he saw a red hen in a coop.  A lot of very young chickens, little
yellow balls of down, were running about outside the coop.  Young Grumpy
strolled over.  The chickens did not concern him in the least.  He didn't
know what they were, and, as no flesh was in his eyes good to eat, he
didn't care.  But he hoped they might have such a thing as a carrot about
them."

"Oh-h-h!  What would _they_ have a carrot for?" protested the Babe.

Uncle Andy scorned to notice this remark.  "When Young Grumpy approached
the coop," he continued, "the red hen squawked frantically, and the
chickens all ran in under her wings.  Young Grumpy eyed her with
curiosity for a moment, as she screamed at him with open beak and ruffled
up all her feathers.  But in the coop was a big slice of turnip, at which
she had been pecking.  He knew at once this would be good, perhaps as
good as a carrot, and he flattened himself against the bars trying to get
in at it.

"The next moment he got a great surprise.  The red hen hurled herself at
him with such violence that, although the bars protected him, he was
almost knocked over.  He received a smart jab from her beak, and her
bristling feathers came through the bars in a fashion that rather took
away his breath.  He was furious.  Again and again he strove to force his
way in, now on one side, now on the other.  But always that fiery bunch
of beak and claw and feathers seemed to burst in his face.  Had it not
been for the bars, indeed, the red hen would have given him an awful
mauling.  But this, of course, he was too self-confident to suspect.
With characteristic obstinacy, he kept up the struggle for fully five
minutes, while the terrified chickens filled the air with their pipings
and the hen screamed herself hoarse.  Then, feeling a little sore, to be
sure, but very certain that he had impressed the hen, he strolled off to
look for some delicacy less inaccessible than that piece of turnip.

"At this point the one-eyed gander came waddling up from the goose pond.
He was lonely and bad-tempered, for his two wives had been killed by a
fox that spring, and the Boy had not yet found him a new mate.  Young
Grumpy looked at the big gray bird and recalled the little unpleasantness
of their previous encounter.

"'Oh, ho!' said he to himself--if woodchucks ever _do_ talk to
themselves--'I'll just give that ugly chap beans, like I did the other
day.'  And he went scurrying across the yard to see about it.

"To his surprise, the gander paid him no attention whatever.  You see, he
was on the side of the gander's blind eye.

"Now, Young Grumpy was so puzzled by this indifference that, instead of
rushing right in and biting the haughty bird, he sat up on his haunches
at a distance of some five or six feet and began to squeak his defiance.
The gander turned his head.  Straightway he opened his long yellow bill,
gave vent to a hiss like the steam from an escape pipe, stuck out his
snaky neck close to the ground, lifted his broad gray-and-white wings,
and charged.

"Before Young Grumpy had time even to wonder if he had been imprudent or
not, the hard elbow of one of those wings caught him a blow on the ear
and knocked him head over heels.  At the same time it swept him to one
side, and the gander rushed on straight over the spot where he had been
sitting.

"Young Grumpy picked himself up, startled and shaken.  The thing had been
so unexpected.  He would have rather liked to run away.  But he was too
angry and too obstinate.  He just sat up on his haunches again, intending
to make another and more successful attack as soon as his head stopped
buzzing.

"The gander, meanwhile, was surprised also.  He could not understand how
his enemy had got out of the way so quickly.  He stared around, and then,
turning his one eye skyward, as if he thought Young Grumpy might have
gone that way, he trumpeted a loud _honka-honka-honk--kah_.

"For some reason this strange cry broke Young Grumpy's nerve.  He
scuttled for his hole his jet-black heels kicking up the straws behind
him.  As soon as he began to run, of course, the gander saw him and swept
after him with a ferocious hissing.  But Young Grumpy had got the start.
He dived into his hole just as the gander brought up against the fence.

"Now, the moment he found himself inside his burrow, all Young Grumpy's
courage returned.  He wheeled and stuck his head out again, as much as to
say, 'Now come on, if you dare!"

"The gander came on promptly--so promptly, in fact, that the lightning
stroke of his heavy bill knocked Young Grumpy far back into the hole
again.

"In a great rage, the gander darted his head into the hole.  Chattering
with indignation, Young Grumpy set his long teeth into that intruding
bill, and tried to pull it further in.  The gander, much taken aback at
this turn of affairs, tried to pull it out again.  For perhaps half a
minute it was a very good tug-of-war.  Then the superior weight and
strength of the great bird, with all the advantage of his beating wings,
suddenly triumphed, and Young Grumpy, too pig-headed to let go his hold,
was jerked forth once more into the open.

"The next moment another blow from one of those mighty wing elbows all
but stunned him, and his grip relaxed.  He made a groping rush for the
burrow, but in that same instant the gander's great bill seized him by
the back of the neck and lifted him high into the air.

"This was very near being the end of Young Grumpy, for the one-eyed
gander would have bitten and banged and hammered at him till he was as
dead as a last year's June bug.  But happily the Boy and the white dog
came running up in the nick of time.  The gander dropped his victim and
stalked off haughtily.  And poor Young Grumpy, after turning twice around
in a confused way, crawled back into his hole.

"The white dog opened his mouth from ear to ear, and looked up at the Boy
with an unmistakable grin.  The Boy, half laughing, half sympathetic,
went and peered into the hole.

"'I guess you'd better keep out of Old Wall-Eye's way after this!' said
he.

"And Young Grumpy did.  Whenever the one-eyed gander was in the yard,
then Young Grumpy stayed in the garden."




CHAPTER IV

LITTLE SWORD AND THE INKMAKER

Out across the shining expanse of Silverwater, now lying unruffled by
any breath of wind, went flickering a little blue butterfly, as blue as
if a gentian blossom had taken to itself wings or a speck of sky had
fluttered down to meet its bright reflection in the lake.  It was a
foolish expedition for the little explorer, so far from shore, and over
that lonely, treacherous element which has such scant mercy for
butterflies.  The turquoise wings dipped and rose, sometimes coming so
close to the water that the Babe caught his breath, thinking the frail
voyager's eyes were unable to distinguish between the crystal purity of
the water and that of the air.  At last a wing tip, or more likely the
tip of the velvet tail, brushed the surface.  It was only the lightest
touch; and instantly, suddenly, as if startled by the chill contact,
the azure flutterer rose again.  In the same instant the water swirled
heavily beneath her, a little sucking whirlpool appeared shattering the
mirror, and circular ripples began to widen quickly and smoothly from
the break.

"That was a big fellow!" exclaimed Uncle Andy.  But the Babe said
nothing, being too intent upon the aerial voyager's career.

For two or three moments the flake of sky fluttered higher.  Then, as
the ripples smoothed themselves out, she seemed to forget, and began to
descend again as if lured downward by her own dainty reflection.  Yet
she had not quite forgotten, for now she only came within six or seven
inches of the traitorous surface.  Now her heavenly wings supported her
for a moment almost motionless.

In that moment a splendid shape, gleaming like a bolt of silver, shot a
clear foot into the air and fell back with a massive splash.  The
turquoise butterfly was gone.

"Oh--h!" cried the Babe, almost with a sob in his voice.  He loved the
blue butterflies as he loved no others of their brilliant and perishing
kindred.

"_Gee_!" exclaimed Uncle Andy.  "But he's a _whale_!"

The Babe, in his surprise at this remarkable statement, forgot to mourn
for the fate of the blue butterfly.

"Why, Uncle Andy," he protested.  "I didn't know whales could live here
in this little lake."

Uncle Andy made a despairing gesture.  "Oh," he murmured wearily, "a
fellow has to be _so_ careful what he says to you!  The next time I
make a metaphorical remark in your presence, I'll draw a diagram to go
with it!"

The Babe looked puzzled.  He was on the point of asking what "a
metaphorical" was, and also "a diagram"; but he inferred that there
were no whales, after all, in Silverwater.  He had misunderstood Uncle
Andy's apparently simple statement of fact.  And he felt convicted of
foolishness.  Anxious to reinstate himself in his uncle's approval by
an unexpected display of knowledge he waived "metaphorical" aside, let
"diagram" remain a mystery, and remarked disinterestedly:

"Well, I'm glad there ain't any _swordfish_ in Silverwater."

"Bless the child!" cried Uncle Andy.  "Whatever has been putting
swordfish into your head?"

"Bill!" replied the Babe truthfully.

"And what do you know about swordfish, then?" proceeded his uncle.

The Babe was much flattered at the unusual favor of being allowed to
air his information.

"They're awful!" he explained.  "They're as big as a canoe.  And
they've got a sword as long as your leg, Uncle Andy, right in their
tail, so they can stab whales and porpoises with it, just carelessly,
without looking round, so as to make pretend it was an accident.  And
they're quicker than greased lightning, Bill says.  So you see, if
there was one here in the lake, we couldn't ever go in swimming."

Uncle Andy refrained from smiling.  He puffed thoughtfully at his pipe
for half a minute, while the Babe waited for his verdict.  At length he
said, between puffs:

"Well, now, there's quite a lot of truth in that, considering that it's
one of Bill's yarns.  The swordfish does carry a sword.  And he does
jab it into things, whales, sharks, boats, seals, anything whatever
that he thinks might be good to eat or that he does not like the looks
of.  And _you_ are quite correct in thinking that the lake would not be
a health-resort for us if it was occupied by a healthy swordfish.  But
in one particular Bill has got you badly mixed up.  The swordfish
carries his sword not in his tail, but on the tip of his snout more
like a bayonet than a sword.  I don't think Bill has ever been at all
intimate with swordfish--eh, what?"

The Babe shook his blonde head sadly over this instance of Bill's
inaccuracy.

"And are they as big as Bill says?" he inquired.

"Oh, yes!  He's all right _there_!" assented Uncle Andy.  "When they
are quite grown up they are sometimes as long as a canoe, a seventeen
or eighteen foot canoe.  And they _are_ quick as 'greased lightning'
all right!"

"But how big are they when they're little?" pursued the Babe, getting
around to his favorite line of investigation.

"Well now, that depends on how little you take them!" answered Uncle
Andy.  "As they are hatched out of tiny, pearly eggs no bigger than a
white currant, which the little silver crabs can play marbles with on
the white sand of the sea-bottom till they get tired of the game and
eat them up, you've got a lot of sizes to choose from in a growing
sword-fish."

"I don't mean when they're so very little," answered the Babe, who did
not find things just hatched very interesting.

"I see," said Uncle Andy, understandingly.  "Of course when they are
first hatched, and for a long time afterwards, they are kept so busy
trying to avoid getting eaten up by their enemies that I don't suppose
one in ten thousand or so ever manages to survive to the stage where he
begins to make things interesting for his enemies in turn.  But _then_
things begin to hum."

"Tell me how they hum!" said the Babe eagerly, his eyes round with
anticipation.

"Well," began Uncle Andy slowly, looking far across the lake as if he
saw things that the Babe could not see, "in one way and another, partly
by good luck and partly by good management, Little Sword succeeded in
dodging his enemies till he had grown to be about two feet in length,
without counting the six inches or so of sharp, tapering blade that
stood straight out from the tip of his nose.  He was as handsome a
youngster as you would wish to see, slender, gracefully tapering to the
base of the broad, powerful tail, wide-finned, radiant in silver and
blue-green, and with a splendid crest-like dorsal fin of vivid
ultramarine extending almost the whole length of his back.  His eyes
were large, and blazed with a savage fire.  Hanging poised a few feet
above the tops of the waving, rose-and-purple sea-anemones and the
bottle-green trailers of seaweed, every fin tense and quivering, he was
ready to dart in any direction where a feast or a fight might seem to
be waiting for him.

"You see, the mere fact that he was alive at all was proof that he had
come triumphantly through many terrible dangers, so it was no wonder he
had a good deal of confidence in himself.  And his shapely little body
was so packed full of energy, so thrilling with vitality, that he felt
himself already a sort of lord in those shoal-water domains.

"But with all his lively experiences, there were things, lots of
things, which Little Sword didn't know even yet."

"I _guess_ so!" murmured the Babe, suddenly impressed with the extent
of his own ignorance.

"For instance," Uncle Andy went on, ignoring the interruption, "he had
not yet learned anything about the Inkmaker."

Here he paused impressively, as if to lure the Babe on.  But into the
latter's head popped so many questions all together, at the mention of
a creature with so strange a name, that for the moment he could not for
the life of him get any one of them into words.  He merely gasped.  And
Uncle Andy, delighted with this apparent self-restraint, went on
graciously.

"You're improving a lot," said he.  "You're getting quite a knack of
holding your tongue.  Well, you're going to know all about it in half a
minute.

"Little Sword caught sight of a queer, watery-pinkish, speckled
creature on the bottom, just crossing a space of clear sand.  It was
about twice as long as himself, with a pair of terrible big, ink-black
eyes, and a long bunch of squirming feelers growing out of its head
like leaf-stalks out of the head of a beet.  He noticed that two of
these feelers were twice as long as the rest, which did not seem to him
a matter of the least importance.  But he noticed at the same time that
the creature looked soft and good to eat.  The next instant, like a ray
of light flashed suddenly, he darted at it.

"But swift as he was, the pale creature's inky eyes had noted him in
time.  His feelers bunched suddenly tight and straight, and he shot
backwards, at the same moment spouting a jet of black fluid from
beneath his beaked mouth.  The black jet spread instantly in a thick
cloud, staining the clear, green water so deeply that Little Sword
could not see through it at all.  Instead of the soft flesh he had
expected it to pierce, his sword met nothing but a mass of sticky
anemones, shearing them from their base.

"In a fury, Little Sword dashed this way and that, trusting to luck
that he would strike his elusive enemy in the darkness.  But that
enemy's eyes, with their enormous bulging surface and the jetty
background to their lenses, could see clearly where the jewel-like eyes
of the young swordfish could make out nothing.  Little Sword, emerging
into the half light at the edge of the cloud, was just about to give up
the idle search, when something small but firm fastened itself upon his
side, so sharply that it seemed to bite into the flesh.

"Little Sword's tense muscles quivered at the shock, and he gave a
mighty leap which should, by all his customary reckoning, have carried
him fifty feet from the spot.  To his horrified amazement he did not go
as many inches, nor the half of it!  And then another something, small
but terrible, fastened itself upon his shoulder.

"Then the black, murky cloud thinned quite away; and Little Sword saw
what had happened.  The pale creature, having reached a rock to which
he could anchor himself with a couple of his feelers, had turned
savagely upon his rash assailant.  Little Sword was the prisoner of
those two longer tentacles.  They were trying to drag him down within
reach of the other feelers, which writhed up at him like a lot of
hideous snakes."

"Ugh!" cried the Babe with a shudder.  "But how did they hold on to
him?"

"You see," said Uncle Andy, "every feeler, long or short, had a row of
saucer-shaped suckers along its underside, like the heads of those
rubber-tipped arrows which I've seen you shooting at the wall, and
which stick where they strike.  Only _these_ suckers could _hold on_, I
can tell you, so fast that _you_ could never have pulled off even the
littlest of them.

"Little Sword looked down into the awful eyes of the Inkmaker, and
realized that he had made a great mistake.  But he was game all
through.  It was not for a swordfish, however young, to give in to any
odds.  Besides, just below those two great eyes, which stared up at him
without ever a wink, he saw a terrible beak of a mouth, which opened
and shut as if impatient to get hold of him.  This sight was calculated
to encourage him to exert himself, if he had needed any more
encouragement than the grip of those two, pale, writhing feelers on his
flesh.

"Now, for his size, Little Sword was putting up a tremendous fight.
His broad, fluked tail and immense fins churned the water amazingly,
and enabled him to spring this way and that in spite of all the efforts
of the two long tentacles to hold him still.  Nevertheless, he was
slowly drawn downwards, till one of the shorter feelers reached for a
hold upon him.  He darted at it, and by a lucky plunge of his sword cut
its snaky tip clean off.  It twisted back out of the way, like a
startled worm; and Little Sword lunged at the next one.  He pierced it
all right, but at a point where it was so thick that the stroke did not
sever it, and the tip, curling over, fastened upon him.  At the same
moment another feeler fixed itself upon the base of his tail, half
paralyzing his struggles.

"Little Sword was now being drawn implacably downwards.  In his fierce
rage he struck at everything in reach, but he was too closely held to
inflict any serious wounds.  He was within eight or nine inches of
those awful, unwinking, ink-black eyes.  The great beak opened upwards
at him eagerly.  It looked as if his career was at an end--when the
Fates of the Deep Sea decided otherwise.  Apparently they had more use
for Little Sword than they had for the Inkmaker.  A long shadow dropped
straight downward.  It missed Little Sword by an inch or two.  And the
gaping, long-toothed jaws of an immense barracouta closed upon the head
of the Inkmaker, biting him clean in halves.  The blind body curled
backwards spasmodically; and the tentacles, shorn off at the roots,
fell aimlessly and helplessly apart.  Little Sword flashed away,
trailing his limp captors behind him till they dropped off.  And the
barracouta ate the remains of the Inkmaker at his leisure.  He had no
concern to those swordfish when there was tender and delicious squid to
be had; for the Inkmaker, you know, was just a kind of big squid, or
cuttlefish."

"But what's a barracouta?" demanded the Babe hurriedly.

"Well, he's just a fish!" said Uncle Andy.  "But he's a very savage and
hungry fish, some three or four feet long, with tremendous jaws like a
pickerel's.  And he lives only in the salt water, fortunately.  _He's_
not a nice fellow, either, to have around when you're swimming, I can
tell you!"

"Why?" queried the Babe.

But Uncle Andy ignored the question firmly, and went on with his story.

"After this adventure Little Sword kept a very sharp look-out for the
pallid, squirming tentacles, sometimes reaching out from a dark hole in
the rocks or from under a mantle of seaweed, which he knew to belong to
one of the Inkmakers.  He hated the whole tribe with bitter hatred; but
at the same time his caution was unsleeping.  He bided his time for
vengeance, and used his sword on crabs and flatfish and fat groupers.
And so he grew at a great rate, till in the swelling sense of his power
and swiftness his caution began to fade away.  Even the incident itself
faded from his memory, but not the hatred which had sprung from it, or
the knowledge which it had taught him.

"When Little Sword was about five feet in length he carried a weapon on
his snout not far from a foot long.  By this time he was a great rover,
hunting in the deep seas or the inshore tides as the whim of the chase
might lead him, and always spoiling for a fight.  He would jab his
sword into the belly of a twenty-foot grampus just to relieve his
feelings, and be off again before the outraged monster, bleeding
through his six inches of blubber, had time to even make a pretense of
charging him.  And he was already a terror to the seals, who, for all
their speed and dexterity, could neither catch him nor escape him.

"But he was getting a little careless.  And one day, as he was
sleeping, or basking, some ten feet below the surface, the broad, dark
form of a sawfish arose beneath him and thrust at him with his dreadful
saw.  The pleasant idea of the sawfish was to rip up the sleeper's
silver belly.  But Little Sword awoke in time to just escape the horrid
attack.  He swept off in a short circle, came back with a lightning
rush, and drove his sword full length into the stealthy enemy's
shoulder just behind the gills.  The great sawfish, heavy muscled and
slow of movement, made no attempt to defend himself, but plunged
suddenly downward into the gloomy depths where he loved to lie in wait.
After relieving his indignation by a couple more vicious thrusts.
Little Sword realized that he was too small to accomplish anything
against this sneaking and prowling bulk, and shot off to look for a
less dangerous basking place.

"It was soon after this close shave with the sawfish that Little Sword
came once more across the path of the Inkmaker.  He--"

But the Babe could contain himself no longer.  He had been bursting
with questions for the last ten minutes, and had heroically restrained
himself.  But this was too much for him.

"Why, Uncle Andy," he cried.  "I thought the Inkmaker was dead.  I
thought the barracouta had eaten him up, feelers and eyes and all."

"Oh, you're a lot too particular!" grumbled Uncle Andy.  "This was
_another_ Inkmaker, of course.  And a very much bigger and more
dangerous one, moreover, as you'll see presently.  It was little _he_
had to fear from the barracoutas.  In fact, he had just fixed one of
his longer tentacles on a vigorous four-foot barracouta, and was slowly
drawing him down within reach of the rest of the feelers, when Little
Sword's shining eyes alighted upon the struggle.

"This particular Inkmaker was crouching in a sort of shallow basin
between rocks which were densely fringed with bright-striped weeds,
starry madrepores, and sea-anemones of every lovely color.  Disturbed
by the struggle, however, the madrepores and anemones were nervously
closing up their living blooms.  The Inkmaker, who always managed
somehow to have his own colors match his surroundings, so that his
hideous form would not show too plainly and frighten his victims away,
was now of a dirty pinkish-yellow, blotched and striped with
purplish-brown; and his tentacles were like a bunch of striped snakes.
Only his eyes never changed.  They lay unwinking, two huge round lenses
of terrible and intense blackness, staring upwards from the base of the
writhing tentacles."

The Babe shuddered again, and wished that the beautiful swordfish would
swim away as quickly as possible from the slimy horror.  But he
refrained interrupting.  It would be dreadful if Uncle Andy should get
annoyed and stop at this critical point!

"When Little Sword saw those long feelers dragging the barracouta
down," went on Uncle Andy, after relighting his pipe, "he darted
forward like a blue flame and jabbed his sword right through the
nearest one."

"Oh, ho!" cried the Babe, forgetting caution.  "He remembered how the
barracouta had saved _him_!"

"Not much!"  grunted Uncle Andy.  "There's no sentiment about a
swordfish, I can tell you.  He'd have jabbed the barracouta, and eaten
him, too, just as quick as look, but he hated the Inkmaker, and could
not think of anything else.  With a screwing backward pull he wrenched
his sword out of the feeler, which seemed hardly to notice the wound.
In the same instant another feeler snatched at him, for Mr. Inkmaker,
you know, had ten tentacles, every one of them spoiling for a fight.
It got only a slight hold, however, and Little Sword, whose strength
was now something amazing, tore himself clear with a great livid,
bleeding, burning patch on his side.

"And now, raging mad though he was, a gleam of sense flashed into his
brain.  He saw that it was not much use stabbing those tough tentacles.
Lurching forward as if to stand on his head he shot straight downward,
and drove his sword full length into one of those dreadful eyes.

"In an instant three or four feelers closed upon him.  But they were
now thrashing a little aimlessly, so that they did not work well
together.  The monster was confused by that terrible, searching trust.
Little Sword was hampered by the feelers clutching at him, but he still
had room to use his weapon.  With all his weight and quivering strength
he drove his sword again deep into the Inkmaker's head, twisting and
wrenching it sideways as he drew it out.  Other tentacles closed over
him, but seemed to have lost their clutching power through the attack
upon the source of their nervous energy.  The struggling barracouta was
drawn down with them, but blindly; and the water was now utterly black
with the rank ink which the monster was pumping forth.

"For a few moments all was one boiling convulsion of fish and tentacles
and ink, Little Sword simply stabbing and stabbing at the soft mass
under his weapon.  Then, all at once, the tentacles relaxed, falling
away as slack as seaweed.  The barracouta, nearly spent, swam off
without even waiting to say 'Thank you.'  And Little Sword coming to
his senses as he realized his victory, rose slowly out of the area of
the ink cloud.  He knew that the Inkmaker's flesh was very good to eat,
and he merely waited for the cloud to settle before making a meal which
would completely satisfy his vengeance."

The Babe was thoughtful for a few moments after Uncle Andy stopped
speaking.  At length he said positively:

"I'm glad we don't have any Inkmakers, either, in the lake."

"Umph!" grunted Uncle Andy, "there are lots of things we don't have
that we can very well do without."




CHAPTER V

ROCKED IN THE CRADLE OF THE DEEP

Casting his flies across the eddying mouth of one of those cold streams
which feed the crystal bosom of Silverwater, Uncle Andy had landed a
magnificent pink-bellied trout--five pounds, if an ounce!

"Hi, but isn't he a whopper?" he cried exultantly, holding up his prize
for the inspection of the Babe, who had been watching the struggle
breathlessly.

"A--whopper?" repeated the Babe doubtfully.  His idea of a whopper was
something that objectionable little boys have been known to tell in
order to get themselves out of a scrape.  No full-fledged fisherman as
yet, he did not see what it could have to do with a trout.

Uncle Andy seemed to divine his difficulty.

"I mean," he explained, "isn't he a big one?  _Tremendous_?"

At this again the Babe looked doubtful.  The fish was certainly a very
beautiful one; but to the Babe's eyes it did not seem in any way
remarkable for size.  Yet he did not like to appear to disagree with
Uncle Andy.

"Is it _big_?" he inquired politely.  "Bill says there's some fish
bigger than a house."

Uncle Andy looked at him askance.

"Seems to me," said he, "you're mighty hard to please to-day.  And,
anyhow, Bill talks nonsense.  They're not fish, those monsters he was
telling you about.  They're _whales_."

"But they live in the water, don't they?" protested the Babe in
surprise.

"Of course!" agreed Uncle Andy, wrapping his big trout up in wet grass
and seating himself on a handy log for a smoke.

"Then why aren't they fish?" persisted the Babe, ever anxious to get to
the root of a matter.

"Because they're not," replied Uncle Andy, impatient at having let
himself in for explanations, which he always disliked.  "They're
animals, just as much as a dog or a muskrat."

The Babe wrinkled his forehead in perplexity.  And Uncle Andy relented.

"You see," he continued, "they're not fish, because they cannot breathe
under water like fish can, but have to come to the surface for air,
just as we would have to.  And they're not fish, because they nurse
their babies as a cow or a cat does.  And--and there are lots of other
reasons."

"What are the other reasons?" demanded the Babe eagerly.

But Uncle Andy had felt himself getting into deep water.  He adroitly
evaded the question.

"Do you suppose this old trout here," said he, pointing to the grassy
bundle, "used to love and take care of its little ones, like the whale
I'm going to tell you about loved and took care of hers?  No indeed!
The trout had hundreds of thousands, and liked nothing better than to
eat them whenever it got the chance.  But the whale had only one--at a
time, that is--and she always used to think there was nothing else like
it in the world.  There are lots of other mothers as foolish as that.
Yours, for instance, now."

The Babe laughed.  It pleased him when he understood one of Uncle
Andy's jokes--which was not always, by any means.  He squatted himself
on the moss before the log, where he could stare straight up into Uncle
Andy's face with his blue, steady, expectant eyes.

"It was a long way off from Silverwater," began Uncle Andy in a
far-away voice, and with a far-away look in his eyes, "that the whale
calf was born.  It was up North, where the summer sun swung low over a
world of cold green seas, low grey shores, crumbling white ice-fields,
and floating mountains of ice that flashed with lovely, fairy-like
tints of palest blue and amethyst.  The calf himself, with his slippery
greyish-black back and under-parts of a dirty cream color, was not
beautiful--though, of course, his mother thought him so, as he lay
nursing just under her great fin, rocked gently by the long, slow
Arctic swells."

"What's Arctic swells?" interrupted the Babe, wrinkling his forehead
more than ever.  He had a vision of tall, smart-looking Eskimos, in
wonderful furs; and it seemed to him very curious that the old mother
whale should be so tame as to let them come close enough to rock her
baby for her.

"Rollers, I mean; Big waves!" grunted Uncle Andy discontentedly.  "A
fellow has to be so extraordinarily literal with you to-day!  Now, if
you interrupt again, I'll stop, and you can get Bill to tell you all
about it.  As I was going to say, he--the calf, not Bill--was about
eight or nine feet long.  He looked all head.  And his head looked all
mouth.  And his mouth--but you could not see into that for it was very
busy nursing.  His mother, however, lay with her mouth half open, a
vast cavern of a mouth, nearly a third the length of her body--and it
looked all whalebone.  For, you must know, she was of the ancient and
honorable family of the Right Whales, who scorn to grow any teeth, and
therefore must live on soup so to speak."

Here he paused, and looked at the Babe as much as to say, "Now, I
suppose you're going to interrupt again, in spite of all I've said."
But the Babe, restraining his curiosity about the soup, only sat
staring at him with solemn eyes.  So he went on.

"You see, it was a most convenient kind of soup, a _live_ soup, that
they fed upon.  The sea, in great spots and patches, is full of tiny
creatures, sometimes jelly-fish, sometimes little squid of various
kinds, all traveling in countless hosts from somewhere-or-other to
somewhere else, they know not why.  As the great mother whale lay there
with her mouth open, these swarming little swimmers would calmly swim
into it, never dreaming that it was a mouth.  There they would get
tangled among those long narrow strips or plates of whale-bone, with
their fringed edges.  Every little while the whale would lazily close
her mouth, thrust forward her enormous fat tongue, and force the water
out through this whalebone sieve of hers.  It was like draining a dish
of string beans through a colander.  Having swallowed the mess of
jellyfish and squid, she would open her mouth again, and wait for
another lot to come in.  It was a very easy and comfortable way to get
a bite of breakfast, while waiting for her baby to finish nursing.  And
every little while, from the big blowhole or nostril on top of her head
she would 'spout,' or send up a spray-like jet of steamy breath.  And
every little while, too, the big-headed baby under her flipper would
send up a baby spout, as if in imitation of his mother.

"You must not think, however, that this lazy way of feeding was enough
to keep the vast frame of the mother whale (she was quite sixty feet
long: three times as long as Bill's shanty yonder) supplied with food.
This was just nibbling.  When she felt that her baby had nursed enough,
she gave it a signal which it understood.  It fell a little back along
her huge side.  Then, lifting her enormous tail straight in the air,
she dived slowly downward into the pale, greenish glimmer of the deeper
tide, the calf keeping his place cleverly behind her protecting flipper.

"Down here the minute life of the ocean waters swarmed more densely
than at the surface.  Swimming slowly, the mother whale filled her
mouth again and again with the tiny darting squid, till she had
strained out and swallowed perhaps a ton of the pulpy provender.  As
they felt the whalebone strainers closing about them, each one took
alarm and let fly a jet of inky fluid, as if thinking to hide itself
from Fate; and the dim green of the surrounding water grew clouded till
the calf could hardly see, and had to crowd close to his mother's side.
A twist or two of her mighty flukes, like the screw of an ocean liner,
drove her clear of this obscurity, and carried her, a moment later,
into a packed shoal of southward journeying capelin."

The Babe's mouth opened for the natural question: "What's capelin?"

But Uncle Andy got ahead of him.

"That's a little fish something like a sardine," he explained hastily.
"And they travel in such countless numbers that sometimes a storm will
throw them ashore in long windrows like you see in a hay field, so that
the farmers come and cart them away for manure.  Well, it did not take
long for the old whale to fill up even _her_ great stomach, when the
capelin were so numerous.  She went ploughing through the shoal lazily,
and stopped at last to rub her little one softly with her flipper.

"All at once she caught sight of a curious-looking creature swimming
just beneath the shoal of capelin, and every now and then opening its
mouth to gulp down a bushel or so of them.  It was about fifteen feet
long, of a ghastly grayish white color, and from its snout stood
straight out a sharp, twisted horn perhaps six feet in length.  It was
only a stupid narwhal, with no desire in the world to offend his
gigantic neighbor: but she was nervous at the sight of his horn, which
made her think of her dreaded enemy the swordfish.  Tucking her baby
well under her fin, she made an hysterical rush at the unoffending
stranger.  His little pig-like eyes blinked anxiously, and, darting off
at his best pace, he was speedily lost to view in the cloudy myriads of
the capelin.

"Having now been under water for some twelve or fifteen minutes, the
mother whale knew that it was time for her baby to breathe
again--though she herself could have held on without fresh air for
another five or even ten minutes without much trouble."

The Babe gasped.  It was like a bad dream to him, the idea of going
along without a breath.

"Oh, how it must hurt!" he burst forth.  "I should think it would kill
them."

"It would kill you, of course, in about two minutes," replied Uncle
Andy.  "But they are built differently.  They have a handy way of doing
up a lot of breathing all at once, and then not having to think any
more about it for a while.  You can readily see what a convenience that
might be to them.

"When they got back to the surface, they lay comfortably rocking among
the green swells, while they both blew all the used-up air and steam
out of their lungs.  The feathery little jet of the calf rose gravely
beside his mother's high and graceful spout.  The calf, always hungry,
because he had such a lot of growing to do and was in such a hurry to
do it, fell at once to nursing again, while the mother lay basking half
asleep.  Overhead, some great white gulls flapped and screamed against
the sharp blue, now and then dropping with a splash to snatch some fish
from the transparent slope of a wave.  A couple of hundred yards away
three seals lay basking on an ice-floe, and in the distance could be
seen other whales spouting.  So the mother knew that she and her baby
were not alone in these wide bright spaces of sea and sky.

"As a general rule, the great whale was apt to stay not more than two
or three minutes at the surface, but to spend most of her time in the
moderate depths.  Now, however, with her big baby to nurse, she would
often linger basking at the surface till her appetite drove her to
activity.  In general, also, she was apt to be rather careless about
keeping watch against her enemies.  But now she was vigilant even when
she seemed asleep, and anything the least bit out of the ordinary was
enough to make her take alarm.  As she lay sluggishly rocking, the
great blackish round of her head and back now all awash, now rising
like a reef above the waves, she suddenly caught sight of a white furry
head with a black tip to its nose, swiftly cleaving the water.  She
knew it was only a white bear swimming, and she knew also that it was
not big enough to dare attack her calf.  But with her foolish mother
fears she objected to its even being in the neighborhood.  She swept
her dark bulk around so as to hide the little one from the white
swimmer's eyes, and lay glaring at him with suspicious fury.  The bear,
however, hardly condescended to glance at her.  He was after those
basking seals on the ice-floes.  Presently he dived, a long, long dive,
and came up suddenly at the very edge of the ice, caught the nearest
seal by the throat just as they were all hurling themselves into the
water.

"To this unhappy affair the old whale did not give so much as a second
look.  So long as the bear kept a respectful distance from her precious
baby she didn't care how many silly seals he killed.

"But presently she observed, far away among her spouting kindred, the
black, slow-moving shape of a steam whaler.  In some past experience
she had learned that these strange creatures, which seemed to have
other creatures, very small, but very, very dangerous, inside of them,
were the most to be dreaded of all the whale's enemies.  It was at
present too far off for her to take alarm, but she lay watching the
incomprehensible monster so sharply that she almost forgot to blow.
Presently she saw it crawl up quite close to the unsuspecting shape of
one of her kinsmen.  A spiteful flame leapt from its head.  Then a
sharp thunder came rapping across the waves, and she saw her giant
kinsman hurl himself clear into the air.  He fell back with a terrific
splash, which set the monster rolling, and, for perhaps a minute, his
struggles lashed the sea into foam.  Then he lay still, and soon she
saw him drawn slowly up till he clung close to the monster's side.
This unheard-of action filled her with a terror that was quite
sickening.  Clutching her calf tremblingly under her fin she plunged
once more into the deep, and, traveling as fast as possible for the
little one, at a depth of perhaps two hundred feet, she headed for
another feeding ground where she trusted that the monster might not
follow.

"When she came again to the surface, fifteen minutes later, the monster
and all her spouting kinsfolk were out of sight, hidden behind a
mile-long mountain of blue ice-berg.  But she was not satisfied.
Remaining up less than two minutes, to give the calf time for breath,
she hurriedly plunged again and continued her journey.  When this
manoeuver had been repeated half a dozen times she began to feel more
at ease.  At last she came to a halt, and lay rocking in the seas just
off the mouth of a spacious rock-rimmed bay.

"Here, as luck would have it, she found herself in the midst of the
food which she loved best.  The leaden green of the swells was all
flushed and stained with pale pink.  This unusual color was caused by
hordes of tiny, shrimplike creatures--distant cousins of those which
you like so well in a salad.  The whale preferred them in the form of
soup, so she went sailing slowly through them with her cavernous mouth
very wide open.  Every now and then she would shut her jaws and give
two or three great gulps, and her little eyes, away back at the base of
her skull, would almost twinkle with satisfaction.

"But, as it appeared, she was not the only one that liked shrimps.  The
air was full of wings and screams, where gulls, gannets, and skuas
swooped and splashed, quarrelling because they got in one another's way
at the feast.  Also, here and there a heavy, sucking swirl on the
smooth slope of a wave would show where some very big fish was taking
toll of the pinky swarms.  The whale kept her eye on these ponderous
swirls with a certain amount of suspicion, though not really
anticipating any danger here.

"She was just about coming to the conclusion that one can have enough,
even of shrimps, when, glancing downwards, she caught sight of a long,
slender, deadly-looking shape slanting up toward her through a space of
clear water between the armies of the shrimps.  She knew that grim
shape all too well, and it was darting straight at her baby, its
terrible sword standing out keen and straight from its pointed snout.

"In spite of her immense bulk and apparently clumsy form, the whale was
capable of marvelously quick action.  You see, except for her head she
was all one bundle of muscle.  Swift as thought, she whipped herself
clear round, between her calf and the upward rush of the swordfish.
She was just in time.  The thrust that would have gone clean through
the calf, splitting its heart in two, went deep into her own side.

"Withdrawing his terrible weapon, the robber fish whirled about like
lightning and made a second dash at the coveted prize.  But the mother,
holding the little one tight under her flipper, wheeled again in time
to intercept the attack, and again received the dreadful thrust in her
own flank.  So swift was the swordfish (he was a kind of giant
mackerel, with all the mackerel's grace and fire and nimbleness) that
he seemed to be everywhere at once.  The whale was kept spinning around
in a dizzy circle of foam, like a whirlpool, with the bewildered calf
on the inside.  The mighty twisting thrusts of her tail, with its
flukes twenty feet wide, set the whole surface boiling for hundreds of
yards about.

"At last, grown suddenly frantic with rage, with terror for her little
one, and with the pain of her wounds, the tormented mother broke into a
deep booming bellow, as of a hundred bulls.  The mysterious sound sent
all the gulls screaming into the air, and frightened the basking
walruses on the ledges three miles away.  Every seal that heard it
shuddered and dived, and an old white bear, prowling along the desolate
beach in search of dead fish, lifted his lean head and listened
nervously.

"Only the swordfish paid no attention to that tremendous and desperate
cry.  In the midst of it he made another rush, missed the calf by a
handbreadth, and buried his sword to the socket in the mother's side.

"At this the old whale seemed to lose her wits.  Still clutching the
terrified calf under one flipper, she stood straight on her head, so
that the head and half her body were below the surface, and fell to
lashing the water all around her with ponderous, deafening blows of her
tail.  The huge concussions drove the swordfish from the surface, and
for a minute or two he swam around her in a wide circle, about twenty
feet down, trying to get the hang of these queer tactics.  Then, swift
and smooth as a shadow, he shot in diagonally, well below the range of
those crashing strokes.  His sword went clean through the body of the
calf, through its heart, killing it instantly, and at the same time
forcing it from its mother's hold.  The lifeless but still quivering
form fixed thus firmly on his sword, he darted away with it, and was
instantly lost to view beyond the dense, churned hosts of the pink
shrimps.

"For perhaps a minute the mother, as if bewildered by the violence of
her own exertions, seemed quite unaware of what had happened.  At
length she stopped lashing the water, came slowly to the surface stared
about her in a dazed way, and once more bellowed forth her terrible
booming cry.  Once more the seabirds sprang terrified to the upper air,
and the old white bear on the far-off shore lifted his head once more
to listen nervously."

"And she never saw her baby any more," murmured the Babe mournfully.

Uncle Andy snorted, disdaining to answer such a remark.

"Oh, I wish somebody would do something to that swordfish," continued
the Babe.  And he wiped a tear from his nose.




CHAPTER VI

TEDDY BEAR'S BEE TREE

They were exploring the high slopes of the farther shore of
Silverwater.  It had been an unusually long trip for the Babe's short
legs, and Uncle Andy had considerately called a halt, on the pretext
that it was time for a smoke.  He knew that the Babe would trudge on
till he dropped in his tracks before acknowledging that he was tired.
A mossy boulder under the ethereal green shade of a silver birch
offered the kind of resting place--comfortable yet unkempt--which
appealed to Uncle Andy's taste; and there below, over a succession of
three low, wooded ridges, lay outspread the enchanting mirror of the
lake.  Uncle Andy's pipe never tasted so good to him as when he could
smoke it to the accompaniment of a wide and eye-filling view.

The Babe, who had squatted himself cross-legged on the turf at the foot
of the boulder, would have appreciated that superb view also, but that
his eager eyes had detected a pair of brown rabbits peering out at him
inquiringly from the fringes of a thicket of young firs.

"Perhaps," he thought to himself, "if we keep very still indeed,
they'll come out and play."

He was about to whisper this suggestion cautiously to Uncle Andy, when,
from somewhere in the trees behind them, came a loud sound of
scrambling, of claws scratching on bark, followed by a thud, a grunt,
and a whining, and then the crash of some heavy creature careering
through the underbrush.  It paused within twenty or thirty paces of
them in its noisy flight, but the bushes were so thick that they could
not catch a glimpse of it.

The rabbits vanished.  The Babe, startled, shrank closer to his uncle's
knee, and stared up at him with round eyes of inquiry.

"He's in a hurry, all right, and doesn't care who knows it!" chuckled
Uncle Andy.  But his shaggy brows were knit in some perplexity.

"Who's _he_?" demanded the Babe.

"Well, now," protested Uncle Andy, as much as to say that the Babe
ought to have known that without asking, "you know there's nothing in
these woods big enough to make such a noise as that except a bear or a
moose.  And a moose can't go up a tree.  You heard that fellow fall
down out of a tree, didn't you?"

"Why did he fall down out of the tree?" asked the Babe, in a tone of
great surprise.

"That's just what I--" began Uncle Andy.  But he was interrupted.

"Oh!  _Oh_!  It's stung me!" cried the Babe shrilly, jumping to his
feet and slapping at his ear.  His eyes filled with injured tears.

Uncle Andy stared at him for a moment in grave reproof.  Then he, too,
sprang up as if the boulder had suddenly grown red-hot, and pawed at
his hair with both hands, dropping his pipe.

"Gee!  I see why he fell down!" he cried.  The Babe gave another cry,
clapped his hand to his leg where the stocking did not quite join the
short breeches, and began hopping up and down on one foot.  A heavy,
pervasive hum was beginning to make itself heard.

"Come!" yelled Uncle Andy, striking at his cheek angrily and ducking
his head as if he were going to butt something.  He grabbed the Babe by
one arm and rushed him to the fir thicket where the rabbits had been.

"Duck!" he ordered.  "Down with you--flat!"  And together they crawled
into the low-growing, dense-foliaged thicket, where they lay side by
side, face downwards.

"They won't follow us in here," murmured Uncle Andy.  "They don't like
thick bushes."

"But I'm afraid--we've brought some in with us, Uncle Andy," replied
the Babe, trying very hard to keep the tears out of his voice.  "I
think I hear one squealing and buzzing in my hair.  _Oh_!"  And he
clutched wildly at his leg.

"You're right!" said Uncle Andy, his voice suddenly growing very stern
as a bee crawled over his collar and jabbed him with great earnestness
in the neck.  He sat up.  Several other bees were creeping over him,
seeking an effective spot to administer their fiery admonitions.  But
he paid them no heed.  They stung him where they would--while he was
quickly looking over the Babe's hair, jacket, sleeves, stockings, and
loose little trousers.  He killed half a dozen of the angry crawlers
before they found a chance to do the Babe more damage.  Then he pulled
out three stings, and applied moist earth from under the moss to each
red and anguished spot.

The Babe looked up at him with a resolute little laugh, and shook
obstinately from the tip of his nose the tears which he would not
acknowledge by the attentions of his handkerchief or his fist.

"Thank you _awfully_," he began politely.  "But _oh_!  Uncle Andy, your
poor eye is just dreadful.  Oh-h-h!"

"Yes, they _have_ been getting after me a bit," agreed Uncle Andy,
dealing firmly with his own assailants, now that the Babe was all
right.  "But this jab under the eye is the only one that matters.
Here, see if you can get hold of the sting."

The Babe's keen eyes and nimble little fingers captured it at once.
Then Uncle Andy plastered the spot with a daub of wet, black earth, and
peered over it solemnly at the Babe's swollen ear.  He straightened his
grizzled hair, and tried to look as if nothing out of the way had
happened.

"I wish I'd brought my pipe along," he muttered.  "It's over there by
the rock.  But I reckon it wouldn't be healthy for me to go and get it
just yet!"

"What's made them so awful mad, do you suppose?" inquired the Babe,
nursing his wounds and listening uneasily to the vicious hum which
filled the air outside the thicket.

"It's that fool bear!" replied Uncle Andy.  "He's struck a bee tree too
tough for him to tear open, and he fooled at it just long enough to get
the bees good and savage.  Then he quit in a hurry.  And we'll just
have to stay here till the bees get cooled down."

"How long'll that be?" inquired the Babe dismally.  It was hard to sit
still in the hot fir thicket, with that burning, throbbing smart in his
ear and two little points of fierce ache in his leg.  Uncle Andy was
far from happy himself; but he felt that the Babe, who had behaved very
well, must have his mind diverted.  He fished out a letter from his
pocket, rolled himself, with his heavy pipe tobacco, a cigarette as
thick as his finger, and fell to puffing such huge clouds as would
discourage other bees from prying into the thicket.  Then he remarked
irrelevantly but consolingly:

"It isn't always, by any means, that the bees get the best of it this
way.  Mostly it's the other way about.  _This_ bear was a fool.  But
there was Teddy Bear, now, a cub over the foothills of Sugar Loaf
Mountain, and _he_ was _not_ a fool.  When he tackled his first bee
tree--and he was nothing but a cub, mind you--he pulled off the affair
in good shape.  I wish it had been _these_ bees that he cleaned out."

The Babe was so surprised that he let go of his leg for a moment.

"Why?" he exclaimed, "how could a cub do what a big, strong, grown-up
bear couldn't manage?"  He thought with a shudder how unequal _he_
would be to such an undertaking.

"You just wait and see!" admonished Uncle Andy, blowing furious clouds
from his monstrous cigarette.  "It was about the end of the blue-berry
season when Teddy Bear lost his big, rusty-coated mother and small,
glossy black sister, and found himself completely alone in the world.
They had all three come down together from the high blue-berry patches
to the dark swamps to hunt for roots and fungi as a variation to their
fruit diet.  The mother and sister had got caught together in a
deadfall--a dreadful trap which crushed them both flat in an instant.
Teddy Bear, some ten feet out of danger, had stared for two seconds in
frozen horror, and then raced away like mad with his mother's warning
screech hoarse in his ears.  He knew by instinct that he would never
see the victims any more; and he was very unhappy and lonely.  For a
whole day he moped, roaming restlessly about the high slopes and
refusing to eat, till at last he got so hungry that he just _had_ to
eat.  Then he began to forget his grief a little, and devoted himself
to the business of finding a living.  But from being the most
sunny-tempered of cubs he became all at once as peppery as could be.

"As I have told you," continued Uncle Andy, peering at him with strange
solemnity over the mud patch beneath his swollen eye, "the blue-berries
were just about done.  And as Teddy would not go down to the lower
lands again to hunt for other kinds of rations, he had to do a lot of
hustling to find enough blue-berries for his healthy young appetite.
Thus it came about that when one day, on an out-of-the-way corner of
the mountain, he stumbled upon a patch of belated berries--large,
plump, lapis-blue, and juicy--he fairly forgot himself in his greedy
excitement.  He whimpered, he grunted, he wallowed as he fed.  He had
no time to look where he was going.  So, all of a sudden, he fell
straight through a thick fringe of blue-berry bushes and went sprawling
and clawing down the face of an almost perpendicular steep.

"The distance of his fall was not far short of thirty feet, and he
brought up with a bump which left him not breath enough to squeal.  The
ground was soft, however, with undergrowth and debris, and he had no
bones broken.  In a couple of minutes he was busy licking himself all
over to make sure he was undamaged.  Reassured on this point, he went
prowling in exploration of the place he had dropped into.

"It was a sort of deep bowl, not more than forty feet across at the
bottom, and with its rocky sides so steep that Teddy Bear did not feel
at all encouraged to climb them.  He went sniffing and peering around
the edges in the hope of finding some easier way of escape.
Disappointed in this, he lifted his black, alert little nose, and
stared longingly upwards, as if contemplating an effort to fly.

"He saw no help in that direction; but his nostrils caught a savor
which for the moment put all thought of escape out of his head.  It was
the warm, delectable smell of honey.  Teddy Bear had never tasted
honey; but he needed no one to tell him it was good.  Instantly he knew
that he was very hungry.  And instead of wanting to find a way out of
the hole, all he wanted was to find out where that wonderful smell came
from.  If he thought any more at all of the hole, it was only to be
glad he had had the great luck to fall into it.

"From the deep soil at the bottom of the hole grew three big trees,
together with a certain amount of underbrush.  Two of those were fir
trees, green and flourishing.  The third was an old maple, with several
of its branches broken away.  It was quite dead all down one side,
while on the other only a couple of branches put forth leaves.  About a
small hole near the top of this dilapidated old tree Teddy Bear caught
sight of a lot of bees, coming and going.  Then he knew where that
adorable smell came from.  For though, as I think I have said, his
experience was extremely limited, his mother had managed to convey to
him an astonishing lot of useful and varied information.

"Teddy Bear had an idea that bees, in spite of their altogether
diminutive size, were capable of making themselves unpleasant, and also
that they had a temper which was liable to go off at half-cock.
Nevertheless, being a bear of great decision, he lost no time in
wondering what he had better do.  The moment he had convinced himself
that the honey was up that tree, up that tree he went to get it."

"Oh!" cried the Babe, in tones of shuddering sympathy, as he felt at
his leg and his ear.  "Oh! why _didn't_ he stop to think?"

Uncle Andy did not seem to consider that this remark called for any
reply.  He ignored it.  Stopping just at this critical point he
proceeded with exasperating deliberation to roll himself another fat
and clumsy cigarette.  Then he applied fresh earth to both the Babe's
stings and his own.  At last he went on.

"That tree must have been hollow a long way down, for almost as soon as
Teddy Bear's claws began to rattle on the bark the bees suspected
trouble and began to get excited.  When he was not much more than
halfway up, and hanging to the rough bark with all his claws,
_biff_!--something sharp and very hot struck him in the nose.  He
grunted, and almost let go in his surprise.  Naturally, he wanted to
paw his nose--for _you_ know how it smarted!"

"I guess _so_!" murmured the Babe in deepest sympathy, stroking the
patch of mud on his ear.

"But that cub had naturally a level head.  He knew that if he let go
with even one paw he would fall to the ground, because the trunk of the
tree at that point was so big he could not get a good hold upon it.  So
he just dug his smarting nose into the bark and clawed himself around
to the other side of the tree, where the branches that were still green
sheltered him a bit, and there was a thick shadow from the nearest fir
tree, whose boughs interwove with those of the maple.  Here the bees
didn't seem to notice him.  He kept very still, listening to their
angry buzz till it had somewhat quieted down.  Then, instead of going
about it with a noisy dash, as he had done before, he worked his way up
stealthily and slowly till he could crawl into the crotch of the first
branch.  You see, that bear could learn a lesson.

"Presently he stuck his nose around to see how near he was to the bees'
hole.  He had just time to locate it--about seven or eight feet above
him--when again _biff_!  And he was stung on the lip.  He drew in his
head again quick, I can tell you--quick enough to catch that bee and
smash it.  He _ate_ it, indignantly.  And then he lay curled up in the
crotch for some minutes, gently pawing his sore little snout and
whimpering angrily.

"The warm, sweet smell of the honey was very strong up there.  And,
moreover, Teddy Bear's temper was now thoroughly aroused.  Most cubs,
and some older bears, would have relinquished the adventure at this
point, for, as a rule, it takes a wise old bear to handle a bee tree
successfully.  But Teddy Bear was no ordinary cub, let me tell you.  He
lay nursing his anger and his nose till he had made up his mind what to
do.  And then he set out to do it.

"Hauling himself up softly from branch to branch, he made no more noise
than a shadow.  As soon as he was right behind the bees' hole he
reached around, dug his claws into the edge of it, and pulled with all
his might.  The edges were rotten, and a pawful of old wood came.  So
did the bees!

"They were onto him in a second.  He grunted furiously, screwed his
eyes up tight, tucked his muzzle down under his left arm--which was
busy holding on--and reached around blindly for another pull.  This
time he got a good grip, and he could feel something give.  But the
fiery torture was too much for him.  He drew in his paw, crouched back
into the crotch, and cuffed wildly at his own ears and face as well as
at the air, now thick with his assailants.  The terrific hum they made
somewhat daunted him.  For a few seconds he stood his ground, battling
frantically.  Then, with an agility that you would never have dreamed
his chubby form to be capable of, he went swinging down from branch to
branch, whining and coughing and spluttering and squealing all the way.
From the lowest branch he slid down the trunk, his claws tearing the
bark and just clinging enough to break his fall.

"Reaching the ground, he began to roll himself over and over in the dry
leaves and twigs till he had crushed out all the bees that clung in his
fur."

"But why didn't the rest of the bees follow him?  They followed this
other bear to-day!" protested the Babe feelingly.

"Well, they didn't!" returned Uncle Andy quite shortly, with his
customary objection to being interrupted.  Then he thought better of
it, and added amiably: "That's a sensible question--a very natural
question; and I'll give you the answer to it in half a minute.  I've
got to tell you my yarn in my own way, you know--you ought to know it
by this time--but you'll see presently just why the bees acted so
differently in the two cases.

"Well, as soon as Teddy Bear had got rid of his assailants he clawed
down through the leaves and twigs and moss--like _I_ did just now, you
remember, till he came to the damp, cool earth.  Ah, how he dug his
smarting muzzle into it, and rooted in it, and rubbed it into his ears
and on his eyelids! till pretty soon--for the bee stings do not poison
a bear's blood as strongly as they poison us--he began to feel much
easier.  As for the rest of his body--well, _those_ stings didn't
amount to much, you know, because his fur and his hide were both so
thick.

"At last he sat up on his haunches and looked around.  You should have
seen him!"

"I'm glad I wasn't there, Uncle Andy," said the Babe, earnestly shaking
his head.  But Uncle Andy paid no attention to the remark.

"His muddy paws drooped over his breast, and his face was all stuck
over with leaves and moss and mud--"

"_We_ must look funny, too," suggested the Babe, staring hard at the
black mud poultice under his uncle's swollen eye.  But his uncle
refused to be diverted.

"And his glossy fur was in a state of which his mother would have
strongly disapproved.  But his twinkling little eyes burned with wrath
and determination.  He sniffed again that honey smell.  He stared up at
the bee tree, and noted that the opening was much larger than it had
been before his visit.  A big crack extended from it for nearly two
feet down the trunk.  Moreover, there did not seem to be so many bees
buzzing about the hole."

The Babe's eyes grew so round with inquiry at this point that Uncle
Andy felt bound to explain.

"You see, as soon as the bees got it into their cunning heads that
their enemy was going to succeed in breaking into their storehouse,
they decided that it was more important to save their treasures than to
fight the enemy.  It's like when one's house is on fire.  At first one
fights to put the fire out.  When that's no use, then one thinks only
of saving the things.  That's the principle the bees generally go upon.
At first they attack the enemy, in the hope of driving him off.  But if
they find that he is going to succeed in breaking in and burglarizing
the place, then they fling themselves on the precious honey which they
have taken so much pains to store, and begin to stuff their honey sacks
as full as possible.  All they think of then is to carry away enough to
keep them going while they are getting established in new quarters.
The trouble with the fool bear who has got us into this mess to-day was
that he tackled a bee tree where the outside wood was too strong for
him to rip open.  The bees knew he couldn't get in at them, so they all
turned out after him, to give him a good lesson.  When he got away
through the underbrush so quickly they just turned on us, because they
felt they must give a lesson to somebody."

"_We_ didn't want to steal their old honey," muttered the Babe in an
injured voice.

"Oh, I'm not so sure!" said Uncle Andy.  "I shouldn't wonder if Bill
and I'd come over here some night and smoke the rascals out.  But we
can wait.  That's the difference between us and Teddy Bear.  He
wouldn't even wait to clean the leaves off his face, he was so anxious
for that honey, and his revenge.

"This time he went up the tree slowly and quietly, keeping out of sight
all the way.  When he was exactly on a level with the entrance he
braced himself solidly, reached his right paw around the trunk like
lightning, got a fine hold on the edge of the new crack, and wrenched
with all his might.

"A big strip of half-rotten wood came away so suddenly that Teddy Bear
nearly fell out of the tree.

"A lot of bees came with it; and once more Teddy Bear's head was in a
swarm of little darting, piercing flames.  But his blood was up.  He
held onto that chunk of bee tree.  A big piece of comb, dripping with
honey and crawling with bees, was sticking to it.  Whimpering and
pawing at his face, he crunched a great mouthful of the comb, bees and
all.

"Never had he tasted, never had he dreamed of, anything so delicious!
What was the pain of his smarting muzzle to that ecstatic mouthful?  He
snatched another, which took all the rest of the comb.  Then he flung
the piece of wood to the ground.

"The bees, meanwhile--except those which had stung him and were now
crawling, stingless and soon to die, in his fur--had suddenly left him.
The whole interior of their hive was exposed to the glare of daylight,
and their one thought now was to save all they could.  Teddy Bear's one
thought was to seize all he could.  He clawed himself around boldly to
the front of the tree, plunged one greedy paw straight into the heart
of the hive, snatched forth a big, dripping, crawling comb, and fell to
munching it up as fast as possible--honey, bees, brood-comb, bee-bread,
all together indiscriminately.  The distracted bees paid him no more
attention.  They were too busy filling their honey sacks."

The Babe smacked his lips.  He was beginning to get pretty hungry
himself.

"Well," continued Uncle Andy, "Teddy Bear chewed and chewed, finally
plunging his whole head into the sticky mess--getting a few stings, of
course, but never thinking of them--till he was just so gorged that he
couldn't hold another morsel.  Then, very slowly and heavily, grunting
all the time, he climbed down the bee tree.  He felt that he wanted to
go to sleep.  When he reached the bottom he sat up on his haunches to
look around for some sort of a snug corner.  His eyelids were swollen
with stings, but his little round stomach was swollen with honey, so he
didn't care a cent.  His face was all daubed with honey, and earth, and
leaves, and dead bees.  His whole body was a sight.  And his claws were
so stuck up with honey and rotten wood and bark that he kept opening
and shutting them like a baby who has got a feather stuck to its
fingers and doesn't know what to do with it, But he was too sleepy to
bother about his appearance.  He just waddled over to a sort of nook
between the roots of the next tree, curled up with his sticky nose
between his sticky paws, and was soon snoring."

"And did he ever get out of that deep hole?" inquired the Babe, always
impatient of the abrupt way in which Uncle Andy was wont to end his
stories.

"Of course he got out.  He climbed out," answered Uncle Andy.  "Do you
suppose a bear like that could be kept shut up long?  And now I think
we might be getting out, too!  I don't hear any more humming outside,
so I reckon the coast's about clear."

He peered forth cautiously.

"It's all right.  Come along," he said.  "And there's my pipe at the
foot of the rock, just where I dropped it," he added, in a tone of
great satisfaction.  Then, with mud-patched, swollen faces, and crooked
but cheerful smiles, the two refugees emerged into the golden light of
the afternoon, and stretched themselves.  But, as Uncle Andy surveyed
first the Babe and then himself in the unobstructed light, his smile
faded.

"I'm afraid Bill's going to have the laugh on us when we get home!"
said he.




CHAPTER VII

THE SNOWHOUSE BABY

There had been a film of glass-clear ice that morning all round the
shores of Silverwater.  It had melted as the sun climbed high into the
bland October blue; but in the air remained, even at midday, a crispness,
a tang, which set the Child's blood tingling.  He drew the spicy breath
of the spruce forests as deep as possible into his little lungs, and
outraged the solemn silences with shouts and squeals of sheer ecstasy,
which Uncle Andy had not the heart to suppress.  Then, all at once, he
remembered what the thrilling air, the gold and scarlet of the trees, the
fairy ice films, the whirr of the partridge wings, and the sharp cries of
the bluejays all meant.  It meant that soon Uncle Andy would take him
back to town, the cabin under the hemlock would be boarded up.  Bill the
Guide would go off to the lumber camps beyond the Ottanoonsis, and
Silverwater would be left to the snow and the solitude of winter.  His
heart tightened with homesickness.  Yet, after all, he reflected, during
the months of cold his beloved Silverwater would be none too friendly a
place, especially to such of the little furred and feathered folk as were
bold enough to linger about its shores.  He shivered as he thought of the
difference winter must make to all the children of the wild.

"Why so solemn all of a sudden?" asked Uncle Andy, eyeing him
suspiciously.  "I thought a minute ago you'd take the whole roof off the
forest an' scare the old bull moose across the lake into shedding his new
antlers."

"I was just thinking," answered the Child.

"And does it hurt?" inquired Uncle Andy politely.

But, young as he was, the Child had learned to ignore sarcasm--especially
Uncle Andy's, which he seldom understood.

"I was just wondering," he replied, shaking his head thoughtfully, "what
the young ones of all the wild creatures would do in the winter to keep
warm.  Bill says they all go to sleep.  But I don't see how _that_ keeps
them warm, Uncle Andy."

"Oh, _Bill_!" remarked Uncle Andy, in a tone which stripped all Bill's
statements of the last shreds of authority.  "But, as a matter of fact,
there _aren't_ many youngsters around in the woods in winter--not enough
for you to be looking so solemn about.  They're mostly born early enough
in spring and summer to be pretty well grown up by the time winter comes
on them."

"Gee!" murmured the Child enviously.  "I wish I could get grown up as
quick as that."

Uncle Andy sniffed.

"There are lots of people besides you," said he, "that don't know when
they're well off.  But," he continued, seating himself on Bill's chopping
log and meditatively cleaning out his pipe bowl with a bit of chip,
"there _are_ some youngsters who have a fashion of getting themselves
born right in the worst of the cold weather--and that not here in
Silverwater neither, but way up north, where weather is weather, let me
tell you--where it gets so cold that, if you were foolish enough to cry,
the tears would all freeze instantly, till your eyes were shut up in a
regular ice jam."

"I wouldn't cry," declared the Child.

"No?  But I don't want you to interrupt me any more."

"Of course not," said the Child politely.  Uncle Andy eyed him
searchingly, and then decided to go on.

"Away up north," he began abruptly--and paused to light his pipe--"away
up north, as I was saying, it was just midwinter.  It was also
midnight--which, in those latitudes, is another way of saying the same
thing.  The land as far as eye could see in every direction was flat,
dead white, and smooth as a table, except for the long curving windrows
into which the hard snow had been licked up by weeks of screaming wind.
Just now the wind was still.  The sky was like black steel sown with
diamonds, and the stars seemed to snap under the terrific cold.  Suddenly
their bitter sparkle faded, and a delicate pale green glow spread itself,
opening like a fan, till it covered half the heavens.  Almost immediately
the center of the base of the fan rolled itself up till the strange light
became an arch of intense radiance, the green tint shifting rapidly to
blue-white, violet, gold, and cherry rose.  A moment more and the still
arch broke up into an incalculable array of upright spears of light,
pointing toward the zenith, and dancing swiftly from side to side with a
thin, mysterious rustle.  They danced so for some minutes, ever changing
color, till suddenly they all melted back into the fan-shaped glow.  And
the glow remained, throbbing softly as if breathless, uncertain whether
to die away or to go through the whole performance again."

"I know--" began the Child, but checked himself at once with a
deprecating glance of apology.

"Except for the dancing wonder of the light," continued Uncle Andy,
graciously pretending not to hear the interruption, "nothing stirred in
all that emptiness of naked space.  Of life there was not the least sign
anywhere.  This appeared the very home of death and intolerable cold.
Yet at one spot, between two little, almost indistinguishable ridges of
snow, might have been noticed a tiny wisp of vapor.  If one had put his
face down close to the snow, so that the vapor came between his eyes and
the light, he would have made it out quite distinctly.  And it would have
certainly seemed very puzzling that anything like steam should be coming
up out of that iron-bound expanse."

Now the Child had once seen, in the depth of winter, a wreath of mist
arising from the snowy rim of an open spring, and for the life of him he
could not hold his tongue.

"It was a boiling spring," he blurted out.

Uncle Andy gazed at him for some seconds in a disconcerting silence, till
the Child felt himself no bigger than a minute.

"It was a bear," he announced at length coldly.  Then he was silent again.

And the Child, mortified at having made such a bad guess, was silent too,
in spite of his pangs of curiosity at this startling assertion.

"You see," went on Uncle Andy, after he was satisfied that the Child was
not going to interrupt again, at least for the moment, "you see, under
those two ridges of frozen snow there was a little cavern-like crevice in
the rock.  It was sheltered perfectly from those terrific winds which
sometimes for days together would drive screaming over the levels.  And
in this crevice, at the first heavy snowfall, a big white bear had curled
herself up to sleep.

"She had had a good hunting season, with plenty of seals and salmon to
eat, and she was fat and comfortable.  Though very drowsy, she did not go
quite to sleep at once, but for several days, in a dreamy half-doze, she
kept from time to time turning about and rearranging her bed.  All the
time the snow was piling down into the crevice, till at last it was level
full and firmly packed.  And in the meantime the old bear, in her sleepy
turnings, had managed to make herself a sort of snowhouse--decidedly
narrow, indeed, but wonderfully snug in its way.  There was no room to
take exercise, of course, but that, after all, was about the last thing
she was thinking of.  A day or two more and she was too fast asleep to do
anything but breathe.

"The winter deepened, and storm after storm scourged the naked plain; and
the snow fell endlessly, till the snowhouse was buried away fairly out of
remembrance.  The savage cold swept down noiselessly from outer space,
till, if there had been any such things as thermometers up there, the
mercury would have been frozen hard as steel and the thin spirit to a
sticky, ropy syrup.  But even such cold as that could not get down to the
hidden snow-house where the old bear lay so sound asleep."

The Child wagged his head wistfully at the picture, and then cheered
himself with the resolve to build just such a snowhouse in the back yard
that winter--if only there should fall enough snow.  But he managed to
hold his tongue about it.

"Just about the middle of the winter," went on Uncle Andy, after a pause
to see if the Child was going to interrupt him again, "the old bear began
to stir a little.  She grumbled, and whimpered, and seemed to be having
uneasy dreams for a day or two.  At last she half woke up--or perhaps a
little more than half.  Then a little furry cub was born to her.  She was
just about wide enough awake to tell him how glad she was to see him and
have him with her, and to lick him tenderly for a while, and to get him
nursing comfortably.  When she had quite satisfied herself that he was a
cub to do her credit, she dozed off to sleep again without any anxiety
whatever.  You see, there was not the least chance of his being stolen,
or falling downstairs, or getting into any mischief whatever.  And that
was where she had a great advantage over lots of mothers whom we could,
think of if we tried."

"But what made the steam, Uncle Andy?" broke in the Child, somewhat
irrelevantly.  He had a way, sometimes rather exasperating to the
narrator, of never forgetting the loose ends in a narrative, and of
calling attention to them at unexpected moments.

"Can't you see that for yourself?" grunted Uncle Andy impatiently.  "It
was breath.  Try to think for yourself a little.  Well, as I was trying
to say, there was nothing much for the cub to do in the snowhouse but
nurse, sleep, and grow.  To these three important but not exciting
affairs he devoted himself entirely.  Neither to him nor to his big white
mother did it matter in the least whether the long Arctic gales roared
over their unseen roof, or the unimaginable Arctic cold groped for them
with noiseless fingers.  Neither foe could reach them in their warm
refuge.  Nothing at all, indeed, could find them, except, once in a
while, when the Northern Lights were dancing with unusual brilliance
across the sky, a dim, pallid glow, which would filter down through the
snow and allow the cub's eyes (if they happened to be open at the time)
to make out something of his mother's gigantic white form.

"For the youngster of so huge a mother, the snowhouse baby was quite
absurdly small.  But this defect, by sticking closely to his business, he
remedied with amazing rapidity.  In fact, if his mother had cared to stay
awake long enough to watch, she could fairly have seen him grow.  But, of
course, this growth was all at his mother's expense, seeing that he had
no food except her milk.  So as he grew bigger and fatter, she grew
thinner and lanker, till you would hardly have recognized this long,
gaunt, white fur bag of bones for the plump beast of the previous autumn.

"But all passes--even an Arctic winter.  The sun began to make short
daily trips across the horizon.  It got higher and higher, and hotter and
hotter.  The snow began to melt, crumble, shrink upon itself.  Up to
within a couple of hundred yards of the hidden snowhouse, what had seemed
to be solid land broke up and revealed itself as open sea, crowded with
huge ice cakes, and walrus, and seals.  Sea birds came splashing and
screaming.  And a wonderful thrill awoke in the air.

"That thrill got down into the snowhouse--the roof of which was by this
time getting much thinner.  The cub found himself much less sleepy.  He
grew restless.  He wanted to stretch his sturdy little legs to find out
what they were good for.  His mother, too, woke up.  She found herself so
hungry that there was no temptation to go to sleep again.  Moreover, it
was beginning to feel too warm for comfort--that is, for a polar bear's
comfort, not for yours or mine--in the snowhouse.  She got up and shook
herself.  One wall of the snowhouse very civilly gave way a bit, allowing
her more room.  But the roof, well supported by the rock, still held.
The snowhouse was full of a beautiful pale-blue light.

"Just at this particular moment a little herd of walrus--two old bulls
and four cows with their fat, oily-looking calves--came sprawling,
floundering and grunting by.  They were quite out of place on land, of
course, but for some reason known only to themselves they were crossing
over the narrow neck of low ground from another bay, half a mile away.
Perhaps the ice pack had been jammed in by wind and current on that side,
filling the shallow bay to the bottom and cutting the walrus off from
their feeding grounds.  If not that, then it was some other equally
urgent reason, or the massive beasts, who can move on land only by a
series of violent and exhausting flops, would never have undertaken an
enterprise so formidable as a half-mile overland journey.  They were
accomplishing it, however, with a vast deal of groaning and wheezing and
deep-throated grunting, when they arrived at the end of the crevice
wherein the snowhouse baby and his mother were concealed.

"Lifting their huge, whiskered and tusked heads, and plunging forward
laboriously on their awkward nippers, the two old bulls went by, followed
by the ponderous cows with their lumpy, rolling calves.  The hindermost
cow, a few feet to the right of the herd, came so close to the end of the
crevice that the edge of the snow gave way and her left nipper slipped
into it, throwing her forward upon her side.  As she struggled to recover
herself, close beside her the snow was heaved up, and a terrible,
grinning white head emerged, followed by gigantic shoulders and huge,
claw-armed, battling paws.

"This sudden and dreadful apparition startled the walrus cow into new
vigor, so that with a convulsive plunge she tore herself free of the
pitfall.  For a couple of seconds the old bear towered above her, with
sagacious eyes taking in the whole situation.  Then, judiciously ignoring
the mother, she sprang over her, treading her down into the snow, fell
upon the fat calf, and with one tremendous buffet broke its neck.

"With a hoarse roar of grief and fury the cow wheeled upon her haunches,
reared her sprawling bulk aloft, and tried to throw herself upon the
slayer.  The bear nimbly avoided the shock, and whirled round to see
where her cub was.  Blinking at the light and dazed by the sudden uproar,
but full of curiosity, he was just crawling up out of the ruins of the
snowhouse.  His mother dragged him forth by the scruff of the neck, and
with a heave of one paw sent him rolling over and over along the snow, a
dozen paces out of danger.  At the same time something in her savage
growls conveyed to him a first lesson in that wholesome fear which it is
so well for the children of the wild to learn early.  As he pulled
himself together and picked himself up he was still full of curiosity,
but at the same time he realized the absolute necessity for keeping out
of the way of something, whatever it was.

"He soon saw what it was.  At the cry of the bereaved mother the two
great walrus bulls had turned.  Now, with curious, choked roars, which
seemed to tear their way with difficulty out of their deep chests, they
came floundering back to the rescue.  The cub, a sure instinct asserting
itself at once, looked behind him to see that the path of escape was
clear.  Then he sat up on his haunches, his twinkling little eyes
shifting back and forth between those mighty oncoming bulks and the long,
gaunt, white form of his mother.

"For perhaps half a minute the old bear stood her ground, dodging the
clumsy but terrific onslaughts of the cow, and dealing her two or three
buffets which would have smashed in the skeleton of any creature less
tough than a walrus or an elephant.  But she had no notion of risking her
health and the future of her baby by cultivating any more intimate
acquaintance with those two roaring mountains of blubber which were
bearing down upon her.  When they were within just one more crashing
plunge, she briskly drew aside, whirled about, and trotted off to join
her cub.  They were really so clumsy and slow, those walruses, that she
hardly cared to hurry.

"For a few yards the two bulls pursued her; so she and the cub strolled
off together to a distance of some fifty paces, and there halted to see
what would happen next.  Even creatures so dull-witted as those walrus
bulls could see they would waste their time if they undertook to chase
bears on dry land, so they turned back, grumbling under their long tusks,
and joined the cow in inspecting the body of the dead calf.  Soon coming
to the conclusion that it was quite too dead to be worth bothering about,
they all three went floundering on after the other cows, who had by this
time got their own calves safely down to the water, and were swimming
about anxiously, as if they feared that the enemy might follow them even
into their own element.  Then, after as brief an interval as discretion
seemed to require, the old bear led the way back, sniffed at the body of
the fat walrus calf, and crouched down beside it with a long _woof_ of
deepest satisfaction.  For it is not often, let me tell you, that a polar
bear, ravenous after her long winter's fast, is lucky enough to make a
kill like that just at the very moment of coming out of her den."

Uncle Andy knocked the ashes out of his pipe with that air of finality
which the Child knew so well, and sometimes found so disappointing'.

"But what became of the snowhouse baby?" he urged.

"Oh," replied Uncle Andy, getting up from the chopping-log, "you see, he
was no longer a snowhouse baby, because the snowhouse was all smashed up,
and also rapidly melting.  Moreover, it was no longer winter, you know;
so he was just like lots of other wild babies, and went about getting
into trouble, and getting out again, and growing up, till at last, when
he was almost half as big as herself and _perfectly_ well able to take
care of himself, his mother chased him away and went off to find another
snowhouse."




CHAPTER VIII

LITTLE SILK WING

The first of the twilight over Silverwater.  So ethereal were the thin
washes of palest orange and apple-green reflection spreading over the
surface of the lake, out beyond the fringe of alder bushes, so
bubble-like in delicacy the violet tones of the air among the trees,
just fading away into the moth-wing brown of dusk, that the Child was
afraid to ask even the briefest questions, lest his voice should break
the incomparable enchantment.  Uncle Andy sat smoking, his eyes
withdrawn in a dream.  From the other side of the point, quite out of
sight, where Bill was washing the dishes after the early camp supper,
came a soft clatter of tins.  But the homely sound had no power to jar
the quiet.

The magic of the hour took it, and transmuted it, and made it a note in
the chord of the great stillness.  From the pale greenish vault of sky
came a long, faint twang as of a silver string, where the swoop of a
night hawk struck the tranced air to a moment's vibration.  A minute or
two later the light splash of a small trout leaping, and then, from the
heart of the hemlock wood further down the shore, the mellow
_hoo-hoo-hoo-oo_ of a brown owl.

The Child was squatting on the mossy turf and staring out, round-eyed,
across the water.  Suddenly he jumped, clapped both grimy little hands
to his face, and piped a shrill "Oh!"  A bat's wing had flittered past
his nose so close that he might have caught it in his teeth if he had
wanted to--_and_ been quick enough.

Uncle Andy turned, took his pipe from his mouth with marked
deliberation, and eyed the Child severely.

"What on earth's the matter?" he inquired, after a disapproving pause.

"I thought it was trying to bite my nose," explained the Child
apologetically.

"There's not very much to bite, you know," said Uncle Andy, in a
carping mood at having had his reveries disturbed.

"I know it's pretty little, and turns up--rather," agreed the Child;
"but I don't want anything to bite it."

"Nonsense!" said Uncle Andy.  "Who'd want to?"

"It was that bat!" declared the Child, pointing to the shadowy form
zigzagging over the fringe of bushes at the edge of the water.  "He
came down and hit me right in the face--almost."

"That bat bite you!" retorted Uncle Andy with a sniff of scorn.  "Why,
he was doing you the most friendly turn he knew how.  No doubt there
was a big mosquito just going to bite you, and that little chap there
snapped it up in time to save you.  There are lots of folk beside bats
that get themselves misunderstood just when they are trying hardest to
do some good."

"Oh, I see!" murmured the Child politely--which, of course, meant that
he did not see at all what Uncle Andy was driving at.  "_Why_ do bats
get themselves misunderstood, Uncle Andy?"

His uncle eyed him narrowly.  He was always suspecting the Child of
making game of him--than which nothing could be further from the
Child's honest and rather matter-of-fact intentions.  The question, to
be sure, was rather a poser.  While he pondered a reply to
it--apparently absorbed in the task of relighting his pipe--the Child's
attention was diverted.  And forever the question of why bats get
themselves misunderstood remained unanswered.

The bat chanced at the moment to be zig-zagging only a dozen feet or so
away, when from the empty air above, as if created on the instant out
of nothingness, dropped a noiseless, shadowy shape of wings.  It seemed
to catch the eccentric little flutterer fairly.  But it didn't--for the
bat was a marvelous adept at dodging.  With a lightning swerve it
emerged from under the great wings and darted behind Uncle Andy's head.
The baffled owl, not daring to come so near the hated man-creatures,
winnowed off in ghostly silence.

At the same moment a tiny, quivering thing, like a dark leaf, floated
to the ground.  There, instead of lying quiet like a leaf, it fluttered
softly.

"What's that?" demanded the Child.

"_Hush_!" ordered Uncle Andy in a peremptory whisper.

The shadowy leaf on the ground continued to flutter, as if trying to
rise into the air.  Presently the bat reappeared and circled over it.
A moment more and it dropped, touched the ground for a second with
wide, uplifted wings, and then sailed off again on a long, swift,
upward curve.  The fluttering, shadowy leaf had disappeared.

For once the Child had no questions ready.  He had so much to ask about
all at once.  His eyes like saucers with interrogation, he turned
appealingly to his uncle and said nothing.

"That was the little one--one of the two little ones," said Uncle Andy
obligingly.

"But what?--why?--"

"You see," went on Uncle Andy, hastening to explain before he could be
overwhelmed, "your poor little friend was a mother bat, and she was
carrying her two young ones with her, clinging to her neck with their
wings, while she was busy hunting gnats and moths and protecting your
nose from mosquitoes.  When the owl swooped on her, and so nearly
caught her, she dodged so violently that one of the little ones was
jerked from its hold.  Being too young to fly, it could do nothing but
flutter to the ground and squat there, beating its wings till the
mother came to look for it.  How she managed to pick it up again so
neatly, I can't say.  But you saw for yourself how neat it was, eh?"

The Child nodded his head vigorously and smacked his lips in agreement.

"But why does she carry them around with her that way?" he inquired.
"It seems to me awfully dangerous.  I don't think _I'd_ like it."

He pictured to himself his own substantial mamma swooping erratically
through the air, with skirts flying out behind and himself clinging
precariously to her neck.  And at the thought he felt a sinking
sensation at the pit of his stomach.

"Well, you know, you're not a bat," said Uncle Andy sententiously.  "If
you were you'd probably think it much pleasanter, and far _less_
dangerous, than being left at home alone while your mother was out
swooping 'round after moths and June bugs.'"

"Why?" demanded the Child promptly.

"Well, you just listen a bit," answered Uncle Andy in his exasperating
way.  He hated to answer any of the Child's most innocent questions
directly if he could get at them in a roundabout way.  "Once upon a
time"--("Ugh!" thought the Child to himself, "_this_ is going to be a
fairy story!"  But it wasn't).  "Once upon a time," went on Uncle Andy
slowly, "there was a young bat--a baby bat so small you might have put
him into your mother's thimble.  He lived high up in the peak of the
roof of an old barn down in the meadows beside the golden, rushing
waters of the Nashwaak stream, not more than five or six miles from
Fredericton.  We'll call him Little Silk Wing."

"_I_'ve been to Fredericton!" interjected the Child with an important
air.

"Really!" said Uncle Andy.  "Well, Little Silk Wing hadn't.  And now,
who's going to tell this story, you or I?"

"I won't interrupt any more!" said the Child penitently.  "But why was
he called Little Silk Wing, Uncle Andy?"

His uncle looked at him in despair.  Then he answered, with unwonted
resignation, "His wings weren't really any silkier than those of his
tiny sister.  But he got hold of the name _first_, that's all.  So it
was his!

"When the two were first born they were so tiny as to be quite
ridiculous--little shriveled, pale mites, that could do nothing but
hang to their mother's breasts, and nurse diligently, and grow.  They
grew almost at once to the same color as their mother, plumped out till
they were so big as to be not quite lost in a thimble and developed a
marvelous power of clinging to their mother's body while she went
careering through the air in her dizzy evolutions.

"But when they were big enough for their weight to be a serious
interference with their mother's hunting, then she was forced, most
reluctantly, to leave them at home sometimes.  She would take them both
together into the narrow crevice between the top beam and the slope of
the roof, and there they would lie motionless, shrouded in their
exquisitely fine, mouse-colored wing membranes, and looking for all the
world like two little bits of dry wood.  It was not always lonely for
them, because there were usually at least two or three grown-up bats
hanging by their toes from the edge of a nearby crack, taking brief
rest from the toil of their aerial chase.  But it was always
monotonous, unless they were asleep.  For all movement was rigorously
forbidden them, as being liable to betray them to some foe."

"Why, what could get at them, away up there?" demanded the Child, to
whom the peak of a lead always seemed the remotest, most inaccessible,
and most mysterious of spots.

"Wait and see!" answered Uncle Andy, with the air of an oracle.  "Well,
one night a streak of moonlight, like a long white finger, came in
through a crack above and lit up those two tiny huddled shapes in their
crevice.  It came so suddenly upon them that Little Silk Wing, under
the touch of that blue-white radiance, stirred uneasily and half
unfolded his wings.  The movement caught the great, gleaming eyes of an
immense brown hunting spider who chanced at that moment to be prowling
down the underside of the roof.  He was one of the kind that does not
spin webs, but catches its prey by stealing up and pouncing upon it.
He knew that a little bat, when young enough, was no stronger than a
big butterfly, and its blood would be quite good enough to suck.
Stealthily he crept down into the brightness of that narrow ray,
wondering whether the youngster was too big for him to tackle or not.
He made up his mind to have a go at it.  In fact, he was just gathering
his immense, hairy legs beneath him for that fatal pounce of his, when
he was himself pounced upon by a flickering shadow, plucked from his
place, paralyzed by a bite through the thorax, and borne off to be
devoured at leisure by a big bat which had just come in."

"Oh, I see," muttered the Child feelingly.  He was himself a good deal
afraid of spiders, and he meant that he understood now why it was less
dangerous for little bats to go swinging wildly through the twilight
clinging to their mother's necks than to stay at home alone.

But Uncle Andy paid no heed to the interruption.

"On the following night," he continued, "Little Silk Wing and his
sister found themselves once more alone in the crevice at the end of
the beam.  They knew nothing of the peril from which they had been
saved the night before, so they had learned no lesson.  On this night
they were restless, for their mother had fluttered away, leaving them
both a little hungry.  Hunting had been bad, and she had somewhat less
milk for them than their growing appetites demanded.  When once more
that slender finger of moonlight, feeling its way through a chink in
the roof, fell upon them in their crevice, it was the little sister
this time that stirred and fluttered under its ghostly touch.  She
stretched one wing clear out upon the beam, and it was with difficulty
that she restrained herself from giving vent to one of her
infinitesimally thin squeaks, tiny as a bead that would drop through
the eye of a needle.

"There was no great prowling spider to catch sight of her to-night.
But a very hungry mouse, as it chanced, was just at that moment
tip-toeing along the beam, wondering what he could find that would be
good to eat.  A lump of toasted cheese, or an old grease rag, or a
well-starched collar, or a lump of cold suet pudding would have suited
him nicely, but inexorable experience had taught him that such
delicacies were seldom to be found in the roof of the barn.  Under the
circumstances, any old moth or beetle or spider, dead or alive, would
be better than nothing.

"How his little black, beadlike eyes glistened as they fell upon that
frail membrane of a wing fluttering on the beam!  He darted forward,
straight and swift as a weaver's shuttle, seized the delicate wing in
his strong white teeth, and dragged the baby bat from her hiding place.
Baby as she was, she was game.  For one moment she sat up and chattered
angry defiance, in a voice like the winding of a watch, but so thin and
high-pitched that only a fine ear could have caught it.  Then the mouse
seized her, bit her tiny neck through, and dragged her off, sprawling
limply, along the beam."

The Child nodded vigorously.  He needed nothing more to convince him of
the superior security of a life of travel and adventure, as compared
with the truly appalling perils of staying at home.

"I see you take me!" said Uncle Andy approvingly.  "But this, as you
will observe, was not Little Silk Wing, but his sister.  For Little
Silk Wing life became now more interesting.  Having only one baby left,
his mother was able to carry him with her wherever she went.  And she
would not have left him alone again for the world, lest the unknown but
dreadful fate which had befallen his sister should overtake him also.

"He was old enough and wide awake enough by this time to appreciate his
advantages.  He could feel the thrill of his mother's long, swinging
swoops through the dewy coolness of the dusk.  He could thrill in
sympathy with her excitement of the chase, when she went fluttering up
into the thin pallor of the upper air, following inexorably the
desperate circlings of some high-flying cockchafer.  When she dropped
like lead to snap up some sluggish night moth, its wings were not yet
quite dry from the chrysalis, as he clung to the swaying grass tops,
his tiny eyes sparkled keenly.  And when she went zigzagging, with
breathless speed and terrifying violence, to evade the noiseless attack
of the brown owl, he hung on to her neck with the tenacity of despair
and imagined that their last hour had come.  But it hadn't, for his
mother was clever and expert.  She had fooled many owls in her day.

"This adventurous life of his, of course, was lived entirely at night.
During the day he slept, for the most part, folded in his mother's wing
membranes, while she hung by her toes from the edge of a warped board
in the warm goldy-brown shadows of the peak of the old barn.  Outside,
along the high ridge pole, swallows, king birds, jays, and pigeons
gathered under the bright blue day to scream, chatter or coo their
ideas of life, each according to the speech of its kind.  And sometimes
a cruel-eyed, hook-beaked, trim, well-bred looking hawk would perch
there on the roof--quite alone, let me tell you--and gaze around as if
wondering where all the other birds could have gone to!  And once in a
while also a splendid white-headed eagle would come down out of the
blue, and wing low over the barn, and scream his thin, terrifying yelp,
as if he were hoping there might be something like spring lambs hidden
in the barn.  But none of these things, affairs of the garish,
dazzling, common day, moved in the least the row of contented little
bats, all drowsing the useless hours of day away as they hung by their
toes in the soft gloom under the roof.  They would wake up now and
again, to be sure, and squeak, and crowd each other a little.  Or
perhaps rouse themselves enough to make a long and careful toilet,
combing their exquisitely fine fur with their delicate claws, and
passing every corner of the elastic silken membrane of their wings
daintily between their lips.  But as for what went on in the gaudy
light on the outer side of the roof, it concerned them not at all.

"But Little Silk Wing seems to have been born to illustrate the dangers
which beset the life of the stay-at-home.  For two days there had been
an unwonted disturbance in the deep-grassed meadow that surrounded the
barn.  There had been the clanking of harness, the long, shrill,
vibrant clatter of the scarlet mowing machine, the snorting of horses,
and the shouting and laughter of men turning the fresh hay with their
forks.  Then came carts and children, with shrill laughter and screams
of merriment, and the hay was hauled into the barn, load after load,
fragrant, crackling with grasshoppers; and presently the mows began to
fill up till the men with the pitchforks, sweating over the hot work of
stowing the hay, came up beneath the eaves.

"Reluctantly and indignantly the bats woke up.  Some of them, as the
loads came in with noisy children on top, bestirred themselves
sufficiently to shake the sleep out of their eyes, unfold their draped
wings, flutter down into the daylight, and fly off to the peaceful
gloom of the nearest woods.

"But the mother of Little Silk Wing was not so easily disturbed.  She
opened her tiny black beads of eyes as wide as she could, but gave no
other sign of having noticed the invaders of the old barn's drowsy
peace.  She had seen such excitement before, and never known any harm
to come of it.  And she hated flying out into the full glare of the sun.

"But there is such a thing, you know, as being a bit too calm and
self-possessed.  As the hay got higher up in the mow, beyond the eaves,
and almost up to the level of the topmost beam, one of the farm hands
noticed the little bat hanging under the ridgepole.  He was one of
those dull fools, not cruel at heart, perhaps, but utterly without
imagination, who, if they see something interesting, are apt to kill it
just because they don't know any other way to show their interest.  He
up with the handle of his pitchfork and knocked the poor little mother
bat far out into the stubble."

"_Oh_!" cried the Child.  "Didn't it hurt her _dreadfully_?"

"It killed her," replied Uncle Andy simply.  "But by chance it didn't
hurt Little Silk Wing himself, as he clung desperately to her neck.
The children, with cries of sympathy and reprobation, rushed to pick up
the little dark body.  But the black-and-white dog was ahead of them.
He raced in and snatched the queer thing up, gently enough, in his
teeth.  But he let it drop again at once in huge surprise.  It had come
apart.  All of a sudden it was two bats instead of one.  He couldn't
understand it at all.  And neither could the children.  And while they
stood staring--the black-and-white dog with his tongue hanging out and
his tail forgetting to wag, and the children with their eyes quite
round--Little Silk Wing fluttered up into the air, flew hesitatingly
this way and that for a moment till he felt sure of himself, and then
darted off to the shelter of those woods where he had so often
accompanied his mother on her hunting."

The Child heaved a sigh of relief.  "I'm so glad he got off," he
murmured.

"I thought you would be.  That's why he did," said Uncle Andy
enigmatically.




CHAPTER IX

A LITTLE ALIEN IN THE WILDERNESS

It was too hot and clear and still that morning for the most expert of
fishermen to cast his fly with any hope of success.  The broad
pale-green lily pads lay motionless on the unruffled breast of
Silverwater.  Nowhere even the round ripple of a rising minnow broke
the blazing sheen of the lake.  The air was so drowsy that those sparks
of concentrated energy, the dragonflies, forgot to chase their aerial
quarry and slept, blazing like amethysts, rubies and emeralds, on the
tops of the cattail rushes.  Very lazily and without the slightest
reluctance, Uncle Andy ruled in his line, secured his cast, and leaned
his rod securely in a forked branch to await more favorable conditions
for his pet pastime.  For the present it seemed to him that nothing
could be more delightful and more appropriate to the hour than to lie
under the thick-leaved maple at the top of the bank, and smoke and gaze
out in lotus-eating mood across the enchanted radiance of the water.
Even the Child, usually as restless as the dragonflies themselves or
those exponents of perpetual motion, the brown water skippers, was
lying on his back, quite still, and staring up with round,
contemplative blue eyes through the diaphanous green of the maple
leaves.

Though his eyes were so very wide open, it was that extreme but
ephemeral openness which a child's eyes so frequently assume just
before closing up very tight.  In fact, in just about three-eights of a
minute he would have been, in all probability, sound asleep, with a
rose-pink light, sifted through his eyelids, dancing joyously over his
dreams.  But at that moment there came a strange cry from up the
sweeping curve of the shore--so strange a cry that the Child sat up
instantly very straight, and demanded, with a gasp, "What's that?"

Uncle Andy did not answer for a moment.  Perhaps it was because he was
so busy lighting his pipe, or perhaps he hoped to hear the sound again
before committing himself--for so experienced a woodsman as he was had
good reason to know that most of the creatures of the wild have many
different cries, and sometimes seem to imitate each other in the
strangest fashion.  He had not long to wait.  The wild voice sounded
again and again, so insistently, so appealingly that the Child became
greatly excited over it.  The sound was something between the bleat of
an extraordinary, harsh-voiced kid and the scream of a badly frightened
mirganser, but more penetrating and more strident than either.

"Oh, it's frightened, Uncle Andy!" exclaimed the Child.  "What do you
think it is?  What does it want?  Let's go and see if we can't help it!"

The pipe was drawing all right now, because Uncle Andy had made up his
mind.

"It's nothing but a young fawn--a baby deer," he answered.  "Evidently
it has got lost, and it's crying for its mother.  With a voice like
that it ought to make her hear if she's anywhere alive--if a bear has
not jumped on her and broken her neck for her.  Ah! there she comes,"
he added, as the agitated bellowing of a doe sounded from further back
in the woods.  The two cries answered each other at intervals for a
couple of minutes, rapidly nearing.  And then they were silent.

The Child heaved a sigh of relief.

"I'm so glad he found his mother again!" he murmured.  "It must be
terrible to be lost in the woods--to be _quite_ alone, and not know,
when you cried, whether it would be your mother or a bear that would
come running to you from under the black trees!"

"I agree with you," said Uncle Andy, with unwonted heartiness.  It was
not too often that he was able to agree completely with the Child's
suggestions in regard to the affairs of the wild.  "Yes, indeed," he
added reminiscently; "I tried it myself once, when I was about your
age, away down in the Lower Ottanoonsis Valley, when the country
thereabouts was not settled like it is now.  And I didn't like it at
all, let me tell you."

"What came ?" demanded the Child breathlessly.  "Was it your mother, or
a bear?"

"Neither!" responded Uncle Andy.  "It was Old Tom Saunders, Bill's
uncle--only he wasn't old, or Bill's uncle, at that time, as you may
imagine if you think about it."

"Oh!" said the Child, a little disappointed.  He had rather hoped it
was the bear, since he felt assured of his uncle's ultimate safety.

"And I knew a little Jersey calf once," continued Uncle Andy, being now
fairly started in his reminiscences and unwilling to disappoint the
Child's unfailing thirst for a story, "in the same woods, who thought
she was lost when she wasn't, and made just as much noise over it as if
she had been.  That, you see, was what made all the trouble.  She was a
good deal of a fool at that time--which was not altogether to be
wondered at, seeing that she was only one day old; and when her mother
left her sleeping under a bush for a few minutes, while she went down
through the swamp to get a drink at the brook a couple of hundred feet
away, the little fool woke up and thought herself deserted.  She set up
such a bleating as was bound to cause something to happen in that wild
neighborhood."

"Yes!" said the Child, almost in a whisper.  "And which came _this_
time--her mother or the bear?"

"Both!" replied Uncle Andy, most unexpectedly.

"Oh!" gasped the Child, opening his mouth till it was as round as his
eyes.  And for once he had not a single question ready.

"You see, it was this way," went on Uncle Andy, prudently giving him no
time to think one up.  "When the bear heard that noise he knew very
well that the calf was all alone.  And, being hungry, he lost no time
in coming to seize the opportunity.  What he didn't know was that the
mother was so near.  Naturally, he would never think the calf would
make such a fuss if the mother were only down by the brook getting a
drink.  So he came along through the bushes at a run, taking no
precautions whatever.  And the mother came up from the brook at a run.
And they met in a little open spot, about fifty feet from where the
foolish calf stood, bawling under her bush.  She stopped bawling and
stood staring when she saw the bear and her mother meet.

"The bear was a big one, very hungry, and savage at the slightest hint
that his meal, right there in sight, was going to be interfered with.
The mother was a little fawn-colored Jersey cow, with short, sharp
horns pointing straight forward, and game to the last inch of her trim
make-up.  Her fury, at sight of that black hulk approaching her foolish
young one, was nothing short of a madness.  But it was not a blind
madness.  She knew what she was doing, and was not going to let rage
lose her a single point in the game of life and death.

"In spite of her disadvantage in being down the slope and so having to
charge straight uphill, she hurled herself at the enemy with a ferocity
that rather took him aback.  He wheeled, settled upon his haunches, and
lifted a massive forepaw, to meet the attack of a blow that should
settle the affair at once.  But the little cow was not to be caught so.
Almost as the bear delivered his lunging stroke she checked herself,
jumped aside with a nimbleness that no bull could have begun to match,
and sank both horns deep into her great antagonist's flank.  Before she
could spring back again beyond his reach, however, with a harsh groan
he swung about, and with the readiness of an accomplished boxer brought
down his other forepaw across her neck, smashing the spine.  Without a
sound the gallant little cow crumpled up and fell in a heap against the
bear's haunches.

"Throwing her off violently, he struck her again and again, as if in a
panic.  Then, realizing that she was quite dead, he drew away, bit
fiercely at the terrible wound in his flank, and dragged himself away,
whimpering.  For the time, at least, his appetite was quite gone.

"Uncomprehending, but very anxious, the calf had watched the swift
duel.  The finish of it dismayed her, but, of course, she did not know
why.  She could only feel that, in spite of the disappearance of the
bear, it was not altogether satisfactory.  She had trembled
instinctively at sight of the bear.  And now, curiously enough, she
trembled at the sight of her mother, lying there in a heap, so still."

Uncle Andy's way of putting it was somehow so vivid that the Child
trembled too at that.

"After a while," continued Uncle Andy, "when she saw that her mother
made no sign of rising and coming to her, she came staggering down from
her place under the bush, her long, awkward legs very difficult to
manage.  Reaching her mother's side, she poked her coaxingly with her
wet little muzzle.  Meeting no response, she poked her impatiently, and
even butted her.  When even this brought no response, a sudden
overwhelming terror chilled her heart, and her weak knees almost gave
way.  She had an impulse to run from this thing that looked like her
mother and smelled like her mother, and yet was evidently, after all,
not her mother.  She was afraid to stay there.  But she was also afraid
to go away.  And then she just began to bawl again at the top of her
voice, for she was not only frightened and lonely, but also hungry.

"Of course, everything in the woods for half a mile around heard her
bawling."

And just here Uncle Andy had the heartlessness to pause and relight his
pipe.

"And then--another bear came!" broke in the Child breathlessly.

"No, not exactly," responded Uncle Andy at last.  "Of course, lots of
things came to see what all that queer noise was about--stealthy
things, creeping up silently and peering with round bright eyes from
thickets and weed tufts.  But the calf did not see or notice any of
these.  All she saw was a tall, dark, ungainly looking, long-legged
creature, half as tall again as her mother had been, with no horns, a
long clumsy head, thick overhanging nose, and big splay hooves.  She
didn't quite know whether to be frightened at this great, dark form or
not.  But she stopped her noise, I can tell you.

"Well, the tall stranger stood still, about thirty or forty paces away,
eyeing the calf with interest and the fawn-colored heap on the ground
with suspicion.  Then, all at once, the calf forgot her fears.  She was
so lonely, you know, and the stranger did not look at all like a bear.
So, with a little appealing _Bah_, she ran forward clumsily, straight
up to the tall stranger's side, paused a moment at the alien smell, and
then, with a cool impudence only possible at the age of twenty-five
hours, began to help herself to a dinner of fresh milk.  The tall
stranger turned her great dark head far around, sniffed doubtfully for
a few seconds, and fell to licking the presumptuous one's back
assiduously."

"I know," said the Child proudly.  "It was a moose."

"I'd have been ashamed of you," said Uncle Andy, "if you hadn't known
that at once from my description.  Of course, it was a cow moose.  But
where the calf's great piece of luck came in was in the fact that the
moose had lost her calf, just the day before, through its falling into
the river and being swept away by the rapids.  Her heart, heavy with
grief and loneliness, her udder aching with the pressure of its milk,
she had been drawn up to see what manner of baby it was that dared to
cry its misery so openly here in the dangerous forest.

"And when the calf adopted her so confidently, after a brief
shyness--the shyness of all wild things toward the creatures who have
come under man's care--she returned the compliment of adopting the calf.

"After a little, when the calf had satisfied its appetite, she led it
away through the trees.  It followed readily enough for a while--for
perhaps half a mile.  Then it got tired, and stopped with its legs
sprawled apart, and bawled after her appealingly.  At first she seemed
surprised at its tiring so soon.  But with a resigned air she stopped.
The calf at once lay down and resolutely went to sleep.  Its wild
mother, puzzled but patient, stood over it protectingly, licking its
silky coat (so much softer than her own little one's had been), and
smelling it all over as if unable to get used to the peculiar scent.
When it woke up she led it on again, this time for perhaps a good mile
before it began to protest against such incomprehensible activity.  And
so, by easy stages and with many stops, she led the little alien on,
deep into her secret woods, and brought it, about sunset, to the shore
of a tiny secluded lake.

"That same evening the farmer, looking for his strayed cow, came upon
the dead body on the slope above the stream.  He saw the marks of the
fight and the tracks of the bear, and understood the story in part.
But he took it for granted that the bear, after killing the mother, had
completed the job by carrying off the calf.  The tracks of the moose he
paid no attention to, never dreaming that they concerned him in the
least.  But the bear he followed, vowing vengeance, till he lost the
trail in the gathering dusk, and had to turn home in a rage, consoling
himself with plans for bear traps.

"In her home by the lake, caressed and tenderly cared for by her tall
new mother, the calf quickly forgot her real mother's fate.  She forgot
about the whole affair except for one thing.  She remembered to be
terribly afraid of bears--and that fear is indeed the beginning of
wisdom, as far as all the children of the wild are concerned.  She
would start and tremble at sight of any particularly dense and bulky
shadow, and to come unexpectedly upon a big black stump was for some
weeks a painful experience.  But the second step in wisdom--the value
of silence--she was very slow to learn.  If her new mother got out of
her sight for half a minute she would begin bawling after her in a way
that must have been a great trial to the nerves of a reticent,
noiseless moose cow.  The latter, moreover, could never get over the
idea that to cause all that noise some dreadful danger must be
threatening.  She would come charging back on the run, her mane stiff
on her back and her eyes glaring, and she would hunt every thicket in
the neighborhood before she could feel quite reassured.  Meanwhile, the
calf would look with wonder in her big, velvet-soft eyes, with probably
no slightest notion in her silly head as to what was making her new
mother so excited."

"How inconvenient that they couldn't talk," exclaimed the Child, who
had great faith in the virtue of explanations.

Uncle Andy rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

"I suppose," he said, after a pause, "that the wild creatures _do_ talk
among themselves, more or less and after a fashion.  But, you see, such
simple speech as the calf possessed was only what she had inherited,
and that, of course, was cow language and naturally unintelligible to a
moose.  However, babies learn easily, and it was not long before she
and her new mother understood each other pretty well on most points of
importance.

"There were wildcats and foxes and a pair of big, tuft-eared, wild-eyed
lynxes living about the lake, and these all came creeping up one after
another, under the cover of the thickets, to stare in amazement at the
alien little one so tenderly mothered by the great cow moose.  They had
seen calves, on the farms of the settlement, and they regarded this one
not only with the greed of the hungry prowler, but with a particularly
cruel hostility as one of the retainers of feared and hated Man.  But
for all their anger they took care not to thrust themselves upon the
attention of the moose.  They appreciated too well the fury of her
mother wrath, the swiftness and deadliness of the stroke of her
knife-edged forehooves.  They were not going to let their curiosity
obscure their discretion, you may be sure, like some of the childish
deer and antelope often do."

"Why?" interrupted the Child eagerly, being all at once consumingly
anxious to know what the deer and antelope were curious about.  But
Uncle Andy paid no attention whatever.

"Then, one morning," he continued, "two other moose cows came along up
the lake shore, followed by their long-legged, shambling youngsters.
They stopped to discuss the condition of lily roots with their tall
sister; but at the sight of her nursing and petting and mothering a
_calf_--a baby of the cattle tribe whom they despised and hated for its
subservience to man and for living tamely behind fences, they became
quite disagreeable.  They sniffed loudly and superciliously.  The calf,
however, looking very small and neat and bright in her clean coat of
fawn color beside the gaunt, awkward moose babies, was not in the least
afraid of the disagreeable strangers.  She pranced up boldly to
investigate them.

"They wouldn't be investigated by the saucy little alien, and in a
moment of folly one of them struck at her.  The foster mother had been
watching their attitude with jealous eyes and rising wrath, and now her
wrath exploded.  With a hoarse bleat she sprang upon the offender and
sent her sprawling down the bank clean into the water.  Then she turned
upon the other.  But this one, with quick discretion, was already
trotting off hastily, followed by the two awkward youngsters.  The
triumphant foster mother turned to the calf and anxiously smelled it
all over to make sure it had not been hurt.  And the rash cow in the
water, boiling with wrath, but afraid to risk a second encounter,
picked herself up from among the lily pads and shambled off after her
retreating party.

"As the summer deepened, however, the calf began to feel and act more
like a moose calf--to go silently and even to absorb some of her foster
mother's smell.  The other moose began to get used to her, even quite
to tolerate her; and, the wild creatures generally ceased to regard her
as anything but a very unusual kind of moose.  Of course, she _thought_
she _was_ a moose.  She grew strong, sleek and nimble-footed on her
foster mother's abundant milk, and presently learned to browse on the
tender leaves and twigs of the fresh green shrubbery.  She soon,
however, found that the short, sweet grasses of the forest glades were
much more to her taste than any leaves or stringy twigs.  But the lily
roots which her foster mother taught her to pull from the muddy lake
bottom, as they wallowed luxuriously side by side in the cool water,
defying flies and heat, suited her admirably.  The great black moose
bulls--hornless at this season and fat and amiable as sheep--regarded
her with a reserved curiosity; and the moose calves, the strangeness of
her form and color once worn off, treated her with great respect.
Though she was so much smaller and lighter than they, her quickness on
her feet and her extremely handy way of butting made her easily master
of them all.  Even the supercilious young cow who had been so
disagreeable to her at first grew indifferently friendly, and all was
peace around the secluded little lake.

"Late one afternoon, however, when the shadows were getting long and
black across the forest glades, the peace was momentarily broken.  The
calf was pasturing in one of the glades, while her foster mother was
wallowing and splashing down among the lilies.  A bear creeping up
through the thickets so noiselessly that not even a sharp-eyed
chick-a-dee or a vigilant red squirrel took alarm, peered out between
the branches and saw the calf.

"As luck would have it, it was the same old bear!  He had recovered
from his wound, but naturally he had not forgotten the terrible horns
of the little fawn-colored Jersey cow.  When he saw the fawn-colored
calf he flew into a rage, and hurled himself forth at her to avenge in
one stroke the bitter and humiliating memory.

"But the calf was too quick for him.  At the first crackling of the
branches behind her she had jumped away like a deer.  From the corner
of her eye she saw the great black shape rushing upon her, and, with a
wild cry, half the bawl of a calf, half the bleat of a young moose, she
went racing, tail in air, down to the water, with the bear at her heels.

"With a terrific splashing the cow moose hurried to the rescue.  She
was a very big moose and she was in a very big rage; and very
formidable she looked as she came plowing her way to shore, sending up
the water in fountains before her.  He knew well that a full-grown cow
moose was an awkward antagonist to tackle when she was in earnest.
This one seemed to him to be very much in earnest.  He hesitated and
stopped his rush when about halfway down the bank.  Caution began to
cool his vengeful humor.  After all, it seemed there was really no luck
for him in a fawn-colored calf.  He'd try a red one or a
black-and-white one next time.  As he came to this conclusion, the
indignant moose came to shore.  Whereupon, he wheeled with a grunt and
made off, just a little faster, perhaps, than was _quite_ consistent
with his dignity, into the darkness of the fir thickets.  The moose,
with the coarse hair standing up stiffly along her neck, shook herself
and stood glaring after him.

"Through the summer and autumn the calf found it altogether delightful
being a moose.  As the cold began to bite her hair began to thicken up
a protection against it; but, nevertheless, with her thin, delicate
skin she felt it painfully.  After the first heavy snowfall she had a
lot of trouble to get food, having to paw down through the snow for
every mouthful of withered grass.  When the snow got to be three or
four feet deep, and her foster mother, along with a wide-antlered bull,
three other cows, and a couple of youngsters had trodden out a 'moose
yard' with its maze of winding alleys, her plight grew sore.  All along
the bottom edges of these alleys she nibbled the dead grass and dry
herbage, and she tried to browse, like her companions, on the twigs of
poplar and birch.  But the insufficient, unnatural food and the sharp
cold hit her hard.  She would huddle up beneath her mother's belly or
crowd down among the rest of the herd for warmth, but long before
Christmas she had become a mere bag of bones."

The Child shivered sympathetically.  But, remembering the Snowhouse
Baby, he could not help inquiring:

"Why didn't she make herself a house in the snow?"

"Didn't know enough!" answered Uncle Andy shortly.  "Did you ever hear
of any of the cow kind having sense enough for that?  Well, it's a
pretty sure thing, you may take it, that she would never have pulled
through the winter if something unexpected hadn't happened to change
her luck.

"It was the farmer--the one who had owned her mother, and who, of
course, really owned her, too.

"With his hired man and a team of two powerful backwoods horses and a
big sled for axes and food, he had come back into the woods to cut the
heavy spruce timber which grew around the lake.  A half-mile back from
the lake, on the opposite shore, he had his snug log camp and his warm
little barn full of hay.  He and his man had everything they needed for
their comfort except fresh meat.  And when they came upon the winding
paths of the 'moose yard' they knew they were not going to lack meat
for long.

"On the following day, on snowshoes, the two men explored the 'yard,'
tramping along beside the deep-trodden trails.  Soon they came upon the
herd, and marked the lofty antlers of the bull towering over a bunch of
low fir bushes.  The farmer raised his heavy rifle.  It was an easy
shot.  He fired, and the antlered head went down.

"At the sound of the shot and the fall of their trusted leader, the
herd scattered in panic, breasting down the walls of their paths and
floundering off through the deep snow.  The two men stared after them
with interest, but made no motion for another shot, for it was against
the New Brunswick law to kill a cow moose, and if the farmer had
indulged himself in such a luxury it would have cost him a hundred
pounds by way of a fine.

"Among the fleeing herd appeared a little fawn-colored beast, utterly
unlike any moose calf that the farmer or his man had ever heard of.  It
was tremendously nimble at first, bouncing along at such a rate that it
was impossible to get a really good look at it.  But its legs were much
too short for such a depth of snow, and before it had gone fifty yards
it was quite used up.  It stopped, floundered on another couple of
yards, and then lay down quite helplessly.  The two men hurried up.  It
turned upon them a pair of large, melting, velvet eyes--frightened,
indeed, but not with that hopeless, desperate terror that comes to the
eyes of the wild creatures when they are trapped.

"'Well, I'll be jiggered if that ain't old Blossom's calf that we made
sure the bear had carried off!' cried the farmer, striding up and
gently patting the calf's ribs.  'My, but you're poor!' he went on.
'They hain't used yer right out here in the woods, have they?  I reckon
ye'll be a sight happier back home in the old barn.'"

Uncle Andy knocked the ashes out of his pipe and stuck it back in his
pocket.

"That's all!" said he, seeing that the Child still looked expectant.

"But," protested the Child, "I want to know--"

"Now, you know very well all the rest," said Uncle Andy.  "What's the
use of my telling you how the calf was taken back to the settlement,
and got fat, and grew up to give rich milk like cream, as every good
Jersey should?  You can think all that out for yourself, you know."

"But the moose cow," persisted the Child.  "Didn't she feel _dreadful_?"

"Well," agreed Uncle Andy, "perhaps she did.  But don't you go worrying
about that.  She got over it.  The next spring she had another calf, a
real moose calf, to look after, you know."




CHAPTER X

WHAT HE SAW WHEN HE KEPT STILL

The Child was beginning to feel that if he could not move very soon
he'd burst.

Of course, under Uncle Andy's precise instructions he had settled
himself in the most comfortable position possible before starting upon
the tremendous undertaking of keeping perfectly still for a long time.
To hold oneself perfectly still and to keep the position as tirelessly
as the most patient of the wild creatures themselves--this, he had been
taught by Uncle Andy, was one of the first essentials to the
acquirement of true woodcraft, as only such stillness and such patience
could admit one to anything like a real view of the secrets of the
wild.  Even the least shy of the wilderness folk are averse to going
about their private and personal affairs under the eyes of strangers,
and what the Child aspired to was the knowledge of how to catch them
off their guard.  He would learn to see for himself how the rabbits and
the partridges, the woodchucks and the weasels, the red deer, the
porcupines, and all the other furtive folk who had their habitations
around the tranquil shores of Silverwater, were really accustomed to
behave themselves when they felt quite sure no one was looking.

Before consenting to the Child's initiation, Uncle Andy had impressed
upon him with the greatest care the enormity of breaking the spell of
stillness by even the slightest and most innocent-seeming movement.

"You see," had said Uncle Andy, "it's this way!  When we get to the
place where we are going to hide and watch, you may think that we're
quite alone.  But not so.  From almost every bush, from surely every
thicket, there'll be at least one pair of bright eyes staring at
us--maybe several pairs.  They'll be wondering what we've come for;
they'll be disliking us for being so clumsy and making such a racket,
and they'll be keeping just as still as so many stones in the hope that
we won't see them--except, of course, certain of the birds, which fly
in the open and are used to being seen, and don't care a hang for us
because they think us such poor creatures in not being able to fly--"

At this point the Child had interrupted:

"Wouldn't they be surprised," he murmured, "if we did?"

"I expect they've got some surprises coming to them that way one of
these days!" agreed Uncle Andy.  "But, as I was saying, we'll be well
watched ourselves for a while.  But it's a curious thing about the wild
creatures, or at least about a great many of them, that for all their
keenness their eyes don't seem to _distinguish_ things as sharply as we
do.  The very slightest movement they detect, sometimes at an
astonishing distance.  But when a person is perfectly motionless for a
long time, they seem to confuse him with the stumps and stones and
bushes in a most amazing fashion.  Perhaps it is that the eyes of some
of them have not as high a power of differentiation as ours.  Perhaps
it is that when a fellow is a long time still they think he's dead.
We'll have to let the scientists work that out for us.  But if you go
on the way you're beginning (and I'm bound to say you're doing very
well indeed, considering that you're not _very_ big), you'll often have
occasion to observe that some of the wild creatures, otherwise no
fools, are more afraid of a bit of colored rag fluttering in the wind
than of an able-bodied man who sits staring right at them, if only he
doesn't stir a finger.  But only let him wiggle that finger, his very
littlest one, and off they'll be."

The Child put his hand behind his back and wiggled his little finger
gently, smiling to think what sharp eyes it would take to see _that_
motion.  But his Uncle, as if divining his thoughts, went on to say:

"It's not as if those sly, shy watchers were all in front of you, you
know.  The suspicious eyes will be all around you.  Perhaps it may be a
tiny wood-mouse peering from under a root two or three steps behind
you.  You have been perfectly still, say, for ten minutes, and the
mouse is just beginning to think that you may be something quite
harmless.  She rubs her whiskers, and is just about to come out when,
as likely as not, you move your fingers a little, behind your
back"--here the Child blushed guiltily, and thrust both his grimy
little fists well to the front--"feeling quite safe because you don't
see the movement yourself.

"Well, the mouse sees it.  She realizes at once that you aren't dead,
after all--in fact, that you're a dangerous deceiver.  She wisks
indignantly back into her hole.  Somebody else sees her alarm, and
follows her example, and in two seconds it's gone all about the place
that you're not a stump or a stone or a harmless dead thing waiting to
be nibbled at, but a terrible enemy lying in wait for them all.  So you
see how important it is to keep still, with the real stillness of dead
things."

The Child winked his eyes rapidly.  "But I can't keep from _winking_,
Uncle Andy," he protested.  "I'll promise not to wiggle my fingers or
wrinkle my nose.  But if I don't wink my eyes sometimes they'll begin
to smart and get full of tears, and then I won't be able to see
anything--and then all the keeping still will be just wasted."

"Of course, you won't be able to keep from winking," agreed Uncle Andy.
"And, of course, you won't be able to keep from _breathing_.  But you
mustn't make a noise about either process."

"How can I make a noise winking?" demanded the Child in a voice of
eager surprise.  If such a thing were possible he wanted to learn how
at once.

"Oh, nonsense!" returned Uncle Andy.  "Now, listen to me!  We're nearly
there, and I don't want to have to do any more talking, because the
quieter we are now the sooner the wild folk will get over their first
suspiciousness.  Now, after we once get fixed, you won't move a muscle,
not even if two or three mosquitoes alight on you at once and begin to
help themselves?"

"No!" agreed the Child confidently.  He was accustomed to letting
mosquitoes bite him, just for the fun of seeing their gray, scrawny
bodies swell up and redden till they looked like rubies.

"Well, we'll hope there won't be any mosquitoes!" said Uncle Andy
reassuringly.  "And if a yellow-jacket lights on your sock and starts
to crawl up under the leg of your knickers, you won't stir?"

"N-no!" agreed the Child, with somewhat less confidence.  He had had
such an experience before, and remembered it with a pang.  Then he
remembered that he had enough string in his pockets to tie up both legs
so securely that not the most enterprising of wasps could get under.
His confidence returned.  "No, Uncle Andy!" he repeated, with earnest
resolution.

"Umph!  We'll see," grunted Uncle Andy doubtfully, not guessing what
the Child had in mind.  But when he saw him, with serious face, fish
two bits of string from the miscellaneous museum of his pocket and
proceed to frustrate the problematical yellow-jacket he grinned
appreciatively.

The place for the watching had been well chosen by Uncle Andy--a big
log to lean their backs against, a cushion of deep, dry moss to sit
upon, and a tiny, leafy sapling of silver poplar twinkling its
light-hung leaves just before their faces, to screen them a little
without interfering with their view.  Their legs, to be sure, stuck out
beyond the screen of the poplar sapling, in plain sight of every forest
wayfarer.  But legs were of little consequence so long as they were not
allowed to kick.

For just about a minute the Child found it easy to keep still.  In the
second minute his nose itched, and he began to wonder how long they had
been there.  In the third minute he realized that there was a hard
little stick in the moss that he was sitting on.  In the fourth minute
it became a big stick, and terribly sharp, so that he began to wonder
if it would pierce right through him and make him a cripple for life.
He feared that perhaps Uncle Andy had never thought of a danger like
this, and he felt that he ought to call attention to it.  But before he
had quite made up his mind to such a desperate measure the fifth minute
came--and with it the yellow-and-black wasp, which made the Child
forget all about the stick in the moss.  The wasp alighted on the red,
mosquito-bitten, naked skin above the top of the Child's sock, and
then, sure enough, started to go exploring up under the leg of his
knickers.  The Child felt nervous for a moment--and then triumphant.
He just saved himself from laughing out loud at the thought of how he
had fooled the inquisitive insect.

And so passed the fifth and sixth minutes.  The seventh and eighth were
absorbed in bitter doubts of Uncle Andy.  The Child felt quite sure
that he had been quite still for at least an hour.  If nothing
interesting had happened in all that time, then nothing interesting was
going to happen, nothing interesting could happen.  An awful distrust
assailed him.  Was it possible that Uncle Andy had merely adopted this
base means of teaching him to keep still?  Was it possible that even
now Uncle Andy (whose face was turned the other way) was either
laughing deeply in his sleeve or sleeping the undeservedly peaceful
sleep of the successful deceiver?

To do the Child justice, he felt ashamed of such doubts as soon as he
had fairly confronted himself with them.  Then, in the ninth minute,
both legs began to fill up with pins and needles.  This occupied his
attention.  It was an axiom with him that under such painful conditions
one should at once get up and move around.  Placed thus between two
directly conflicting duties, his conscience was torn.  Then he
remembered his promise.  His grit was good, and he determined to keep
his promise at all costs, no matter at what fatal consequence to his
legs.  And he derived considerable comfort from the thought that, if
his leg should never be any use any more, his Uncle Andy would at least
be stricken with remorse.

Then, as the tenth minute dragged its enormous, trailing length along,
came that terrible feeling already alluded to--that he must either move
or burst.  With poignant self-pity he argued the two desperate
alternatives within his soul.  But, fortunately for him, before he felt
himself obliged to come to any final decision, something happened, and
his pain and doubts were forgotten.

Two big yellow-gray snowshoe rabbits came hopping lazily past, one just
ahead of the other.  One jumped clean over Uncle Andy's out-stretched
feet, as if they were of no account or interest whatever to a rabbit.
The other stopped and thumped vigorously on the ground with his strong
hind foot.  At this signal the first one also stopped.  They both sat
up on their haunches, ears thrust forward in intense interrogation, and
gazed at the two moveless figures behind the poplar sapling.

The one immediately in front of him absorbed all the Child's attention.
Its great, bulging eyes surveyed him from head to foot, at first with
some alarm, then with half-contemptuous curiosity.  Its immensely long
ears see-sawed meditatively, and its queer three-cornered mouth
twinkled incessantly as if it were talking to itself.  At last,
apparently having decided that the Child was nothing worth taking
further notice of, it dropped on all fours, nibbled at a leaf,
discarded it, and hopped off to find more tasty provender.  Its
companion, having "sized up" Uncle Andy in the same way, presently
followed.  But being of the more suspicious disposition, it stopped
from time to time to glance back and assure itself that the strange,
motionless things behind the poplar sapling were not attempting to
follow it.

The Child was immensely interested.  He thought of a lot of questions
to ask as soon as he should be allowed to speak, and he resolved to
remember every one of them.  But just as he was getting them arranged a
small, low, long-bodied, snaky-slim, yellowish beast came gliding by
and drove them all clean out of his head.  It was a weasel.  It almost
bumped into the Child's feet before it noticed them.  Then it jumped
back, showing its keen teeth in a soundless snarl of its narrow,
pointed muzzle, and surveyed the Child with the cruellest little eyes
that he had ever even imagined.  The savage eyes stared him full in the
face, a red light like a deep-buried spark coming into them, till he
thought the creature was going to spring at his throat.  Then gradually
the spark died out, as the little furry reassured itself.  The
triangular face turned aside.  The working, restless nose sniffed
sharply, catching the fresh scent of the two rabbits, and in the next
instant the creature was off, in long, noiseless bounds, upon the hot
trail.  The Child knew enough of woodcraft to realize at once the
meaning of its sudden departure, and he murmured sympathetically in his
heart, "Oh, I do hope he won't catch them!"

All thoughts of the weasel and the rabbits, however, were speedily
driven from his mind, for at this moment he noticed a fat, yellowish
grub, with a chestnut-colored head, crawling up his sleeve.  He hated
grubs, and wondered anxiously if it had any unpleasant design of
crawling down his neck.  He squirmed inwardly at the idea.  But just as
he was coming to the conclusion that _that_ was something he'd _never_
be able to stand, a most unexpected ally came to his rescue.  With a
blow that _almost_ made him jump out of his jacket, something lit on
the fat grub.  It was a big black hornet, with white bands across its
shining body.  She gave the grub a tiny prick with the tip of her
envenomed sting, which caused it to roll up into a tight ball and lie
still.  Then straddling it, and holding it in place with her front pair
of legs, she cut into it with her powerful mandibles and began to suck
its juices.  The Child's nose wrinkled in spite of himself at sight of
this unalluring banquet, but he stared with all eyes.  There was
something terrifying to him in the swiftness and efficiency of the
great hornet.  Presently the grub, not having received quite a big
enough dose of its captor's anaesthetic, came to under the devouring
jaws and began to lash out convulsively.  Another touch of the medicine
in the hornet's tail, however, promptly put a stop to that, and once
more it tightened up into an unresisting ball.  Then straddling it
again firmly, and handling it cleverly with its front legs as a raccoon
might handle a big apple, she bit into it here and there, sucking
eagerly with a quick, pumping motion of her body.  The fat ball got
smaller and smaller, till soon it was very little bigger than an
ordinary sweet pea.  The hornet turned it over and over impatiently, to
see if anything more was to be got out of it; then she spurned it
aside, and bounced into the air with a deep hum.  She had certainly
been very amusing, but the Child drew a breath of relief when she was
gone.  He had caught the copper-red flicker of her sting, as it barely
touched the victim, and it seemed to him like a jet of live flame.

When the hornet was gone the Child began once more to remember that
little stick in the soft moss beneath him.  How had he ever forgotten
it?  He decided that he must have been sitting on it for hours and
hours.  But just as it was beginning fairly to burn its way into his
flesh, a queer little rushing sound close at his side brought his heart
into his throat.  It was such a vicious, menacing little sound.
Glancing down, he saw that a tiny wood-mouse had darted upon a big
brown-winged butterfly and captured it.  The big wings flapped
pathetically for a few seconds; but the mouse bit them off, to save
herself the bother of lagging useless material home to her burrow.  She
was so near that the Child could have touched her by reaching out his
hand.  But she took no more notice of him than if he had been a rotten
stump.  Less, in fact, for she might have tried to gnaw into him if he
had been a rotten stump, in the hope of finding some wood-grubs.

The mouse dragged away the velvety body of the butterfly to her hole
under the roots.  She was no more than just in time, for no sooner was
she out of sight than along came a fierce-eyed little shrew-mouse, the
most audacious and pugnacious of the mouse tribe, who would undoubtedly
have robbed her of her prey, and perhaps made a meal of her at the same
time.  He nosed at the wings of the butterfly, nibbled at them, decided
they were no good, and then came ambling over to the Child's feet.
Shoe-leather!  That was something quite new to him.  He nibbled at it,
didn't seem to think much of it, crept along up to the top of the shoe,
sniffed at the sock, and came at last plump upon the Child's bare leg.
"Was he going to try a nibble at that, too?" wondered the Child
anxiously, his blue eyes getting very big and round.  But no.  This
live, human flesh--_unmistakably_ alive--and the startling Man smell of
it, were too much for the nerves of his shrewship.  With a squeak of
indignation and alarm he sprang backward and scurried off among the
weed-stalks.

"_There_, now!" thought the Child, in intense vexation.  "He's gone and
given the alarm!"  But, as good luck would have it, he had done nothing
of the kind.  For a red fox, trotting past just then at a distance of
not more than ten or a dozen feet, served to all observers as a more
than ample explanation of the shrew's abrupt departure.  The fox turned
his head at the sound of the scurry and squeak, and very naturally
attributed it to his own appearance on the scene.  But at the same time
he caught sight of those two motionless human shapes sitting rigid
behind the poplar sapling.  They were so near that his nerves received
a shock.  He jumped about ten feet; and then, recovering himself with
immense self-possession, he sat up on his haunches to investigate.  Of
course, he was quite familiar with human beings and their ways, and he
knew that they never kept still in that unnatural fashion unless they
were either asleep or dead.  After a searching scrutiny--head sagely to
one side and mouth engagingly half open--he decided that they might be
either dead or asleep, whichever they chose, for all he cared.  He rose
to his feet and trotted off with great deliberation, leaving on the
still air a faint, half-musky odor which the Child's nostrils were keen
enough to detect.  As he went a bluejay which had been sitting on the
top of a near-by tree caught sight of him, darted down, and flew along
after him, uttering harsh screeches of warning to the rest of the small
folk of the wilderness.  It is not pleasant even in the wilderness to
have "Stop thief!  Stop thief!  Thief!  Thief!  Thief!" screeched after
you by a bluejay.  And the fox glanced up at the noisy bird as if he
would have been ready to give two fat geese and a whole litter of
rabbits for the pleasure of crunching her impudent neck.

All this while there had been other birds in view besides the
bluejay--chick-a-dees and nut-hatches hunting their tiny prey among the
dark branches of the fir-trees, Canada sparrows fluting their clear
call from the tree tops, flycatchers darting and tumbling in their
zig-zag, erratic flights, and sometimes a big golden-wing woodpecker
running up and down a tall, dead trunk which stood close by, and
_rat-tat-tat-tatting_ in a most businesslike and determined manner.
But the Child was not, as a rule, so interested in birds as in the
four-footed kindreds.  Just now, however, a bird came on the scene
which interested him extremely.  It was a birch-partridge (or ruffled
grouse) hen, accompanied by a big brood of her tiny, nimble chicks.
They looked no bigger than chestnuts as they swarmed about her,
crowding to snatch the dainties which she kept turning up for them.
The Child watched them with fascinated eyes, not understanding how
things so tiny and so frail as these chicks could be so amazingly quick
and strong in their movements.  Suddenly, at a little distance through
the bushes, he caught sight of the red fox coming back, with an air of
having forgotten something.  The Child longed to warn the little
partridge mother, but, realizing that he must not, he waited with
thumping heart for a tragedy to be enacted before him.

He had no need to worry, however.  The little mother saw the fox before
he caught sight of her.  The Child saw her stiffen herself suddenly,
with a low _chit_ of warning which sounded as if it might have come
from anywhere.  On the instant every chick had vanished.  The Child
realized that it was impossible for even such active creatures as they
were to have run away so quickly as all that.  So he knew that they had
just made themselves invisible by squatting absolutely motionless among
the twigs and moss which they so exactly resembled in coloring.

The fox, meanwhile, had been gazing around in every direction but the
right one, to try and see where that partridge cry had come from.  He
liked partridge, and it was some time since he had had any.  All at
once he was surprised and pleased to see a hen partridge, apparently
badly wounded, drop fluttering on the moss almost under his nose.  He
sprang forward to seize her, but she managed to flutter feebly out of
his reach.  It was obviously her last effort, and he was not in the
least discouraged.  She proved, however, to have many such last
efforts, and the last the Child saw of the fox he was still hopefully
jumping at her, as he disappeared from view among the underbrush.
About three minutes later there was a hard whirr of wings, and the
triumphant little mother reappeared.  She alighted on the very spot
whence she had first caught sight of the fox, stood for a moment
stiffly erect, while she stared about her with keen, bright eyes, and
then she gave a soft little call.  Instantly the chicks were all about
her, apparently springing up out of the ground as at the utterance of a
spell.  And proudly she led them away to another feeding ground.

What more the Child might have seen had time been allowed him will
never be known, for now the session was interrupted.  He was hoping for
a porcupine to come by, or a deer, or a moose.  He was half-hoping,
half-fearing that it might be a bear, or a big Canadian lynx with
dreadful eyes and tufted ears.  But before any of these more formidable
wonders arrived he heard a sound of rushing--of eager, desperate
flight.  Then a rabbit came into view--he felt sure it was one of the
two who appeared at the beginning of his watch.  The poor beast was
plainly in an ecstasy of terror, running violently, but as it were
aimlessly, and every now and then stopping short, all of a-tremble, as
if despair were robbing it of its powers.  It ran straight past the
poplar sapling, swerved off to the right, and disappeared; but the
Child could hear the sound of its going and perceived that it was
making a circle.  A couple of seconds later came the weasel, running
with its nose in the air, as if catching the scent from the air rather
than from the fugitive's tracks.

The weasel did not seem to be in any hurry at all.  It was the picture
of cool, deadly, implacable determination.  And the Child hated it
savagely.  Just opposite the poplar sapling it paused, seeming to
listen.  Then it bounded into the bushes on a short circle, saving
itself unnecessary effort, as if it had accurately estimated the
tactics of its panic-stricken quarry.  A few moments later the rabbit
reappeared, running frantically.  Just as it came once more before the
poplar sapling--not more than a couple of yards from the Child's feet,
out from under a neighboring bush sprang the weasel, confronting it
fairly.  With a scream the rabbit stopped short and crouched in its
tracks, quivering, to receive its doom.

The weasel leaped straight at its victim's throat.  But it never
arrived.  For at that moment the Child gave vent to a shrill yell of
indignation and jumped at the slayer with hands, eyes and mouth wide
open.  He made such a picture that Uncle Andy exploded.  The astonished
weasel vanished.   The rabbit, shocked back into its senses, vanished
also, but in another direction.  And the Child, pulling himself
together, turned to his uncle with a very red face.

"I'm sorry!" he said sheepishly.  "I'm so sorry, Uncle Andy.  But I
just _couldn't_ help it.  I didn't think."

"Oh, well!" said Uncle Andy, getting up and stretching, and rubbing his
stiffened legs tenderly.  "I can't say that I blame you  I came mighty
near doing the same thing myself when that fool of a rabbit squealed."




CHAPTER XI

THE LITTLE VILLAGER AND HIS UNFRIENDLY GUESTS

Across the still surface of Silverwater, a-gleam in the amber and
violet dusk, came a deep booming call, hollow and melancholy and
indescribably wild.  _Tooh-hoo-oo-whooh-ooh-oo_, and again
_whooh-ooh-ooh-oo_, it sounded; and though the evening was warm the
Child gave a little shiver of delicious awe, as he always did when he
heard the sunset summons of the great horned owl.

"That's a bad fellow for you, the Big Horned Owl," growled Uncle Andy.
"He's worse than a weasel, and that's a hard thing to say about any of
the wild folk.  He's everybody's enemy, and always ready to kill much
more than he can eat."

"_Some_ owls aren't bad," suggested the Child.  He had a soft spot in
his heart for owls, because they were so downy, and had such round
faces and such round eyes, and looked as if they thought of such
wonderful, mysterious things which they would never tell.

"How do you know that?" demanded Uncle Andy suspiciously.  "Mind, I'm
not saying off-hand that it isn't so, but I'd like to know where you
get your information."

"Bill told me," said the Child, with more confidence in his tones than
he usually accorded to this authority.

"Oh, Bill!" sniffed Uncle Andy.  "And haven't you got used to Billy's
fairy stories yet?"

There was an obstinate look in the Child's earnest blue eyes which
showed that this time the imaginative guide had told him a tale which
he was unwilling to discredit.

"I know very well, Uncle Andy," said he with a judicial air, "that Bill
loves to yarn, and often pretends to know a lot of things that aren't
so.  But I think he's telling the truth this time.  He said he was.
It's a little owl that lives out West on the big sandy plains.  And it
makes its nest in holes on the ground.  It knows how to dig these holes
itself, you know; but it can't dig them half, or a quarter, so well as
the prairie dogs can.  So it gets the prairie dogs to let it live in
their big, comfortable burrows; and in return for this hospitality it
kills and eats some of the rattlesnakes, the very small ones, I
suppose, of course, which come round among the burrows looking for the
young prairie dogs.  Well, you know, Uncle Andy, Bill has been out West
himself, and he's seen the villages of the prairie dogs, and the little
owls sitting on the tops of the hillocks which are on the roofs of the
prairie dogs' houses, and the rattlesnakes coiled up here and there in
the hot, sunny hollows.  There were lots and lots of the prairie dogs,
millions and millions of them, Bill said."

"There'd have been still more if it hadn't been for the little owls,"
said Uncle Andy with a grin.  But seeing a grieved look on the Child's
face, and remembering that he himself was none too fond of having his
narratives broken in upon, he hastened to add politely, but pointedly,
"I beg your pardon for interrupting.  Please go on!"

"Well, as I was going to say," continued the Child, in quite his
Uncle's manner, "Bill saw--he saw them himself, with his own
eyes--these millions and thousands of prairie dogs, and quite a lot of
the little owls, and only just a very few of the rattlesnakes.  So, you
see, it looks as if the owls must have eaten some of the snakes, and,
anyhow, I think Bill was telling the truth _this_ time."

"Well," said Uncle after puffing at his pipe for a few complimentary
moments of reflection, "there's one important thing which Bill appears
to have neglected.  He doesn't seem to have inquired the views of the
prairie dogs on the subject.  Now, if he'd got _their_ opinion--"

"But how _could_ he?" protested the Child reproachfully.  He was always
troubled when Uncle Andy displayed anything like a frivolous strain.

"To be sure!  To be sure!  You _couldn't_ have expected that of Bill,"
agreed Uncle Andy.  "Still, you know, the opinion of the prairie dogs
would have been interesting, wouldn't it?  Well, I'll tell you a story
just as soon as I can get this old pipe to draw properly, and then you
can judge the opinion of the prairie dogs as to whether the Little
Burrowing Owl is 'good' or not.  If their opinion does not agree with
Bill's, why you can choose for yourself between the two."


"Prairie Dog Village was of considerable size, covering as it did
perhaps a dozen acres of the dry, light prairie soil.  Its houses were
crowded together without any regard to order or arrangement, and so
closely as to suggest that their owners imagined land was scarce in the
neighborhood.  It wasn't.  For hundreds of miles in every direction the
plains stretched away to the dim horizon.  There was room everywhere,
nothing much, in fact, _but_ room, with a little coarse grass and
plenty of clear air.  But the population went in for crowding by
preference, and didn't care a cactus whether it was hygienic or not.

"The houses were ail underground, each with a rounded hillock of earth
beside its front door; and the size of these hillocks was an indication
of the size of the houses beneath, for they were all formed by the
earth brought to the surface in the process of excavating the rooms and
passages.  On the tops of these hillocks the owners sat up in the sun
to bark and chatter and gossip with their nearest neighbors, always
ready to dive headlong down their front doors, with a twinkling of
their hind feet, at the approach of danger,

"But if the village was large, the Little Villager himself was
decidedly small.  Some twelve or fifteen inches in length from the tip
of his innocent-looking nose to the end of his short and quite
undistinguished-looking tail, he seldom had occasion to stretch himself
out to his full length, and therefore he seldom got the credit of such
inches as he actually possessed.  His ears were short and rounded, his
eyes were large, softly bright, and as innocent-looking as his nose.
His body was plump and rounded, and he looked almost as much a baby
when quite grown up as he had looked when he was still a responsibility
to his talkative little mother.  In color he was of a grayish-brown on
top, and of a dingy white underneath, with a black tip to his tail to
give a finish which his costume would otherwise have lacked.

"Except for unimportant variations in size, there was perhaps some
hundreds of thousands of others, just like the Little Villager, sitting
on their hillocks, or popping in and out of their round doorways, and
chattering and barking in shrill chorus under the pale blue dome of a
lovely sky.  But on the hillock next door to the Little Villager sat no
garrulous, furry gossip like himself.  That mound top was deserted.
But at its foot, curled up and basking in the still blaze of the sun,
close beside the doorway, lay a thick-bodied, dusty-colored rattler,
the intricate markings on his back dimmed as if by too much light and
heat.  His venomous, triangular head, with the heavy jaw base that
showed great poison pockets, lay flat on his coils, and he had the
lazy, well-fed appearance of one who does not have to forage for his
meals.  Here and there, scattered at wide intervals throughout the
village, were to be seen other rattlers, of all sizes, from foot-long
youngsters up to stout fellows over a yard in length, either basking in
the hollows or lazily wriggling their way between the hillocks.  They
seemed to pay no attention whatever to the furry villagers; for a
rattler likes to make a huge meal when he's about it, and therefore
does not bother often about the, to him, rather laborious process of
dining.  The villagers, on their part, also seemed to pay little
attention to the snakes; except that those who chanced to be foraging
on the coarse herbage which grew between the hillocks always got out of
the way with alacrity if a wriggling form approached, and not one of
the coiled baskers ever woke up and shifted its position but that a
hundred pairs of bright, innocent eyes would be fixed upon it until its
intentions became quite clear.

"The Little Villager, who had just come out of his burrow, sat straight
up on his hind-quarters, on the top of his hillock, with his forepaws
hanging meekly over his breast, and glared all about him to see if any
danger was in sight.  The big rattler beside the door of the next
hillock underwent his careful scrutiny, which convinced him that the
reptile had recently made a good meal, and would not be dangerous until
he had slept it off.  Then he glanced skyward.  A great hawk was
winging its way up from the southern horizon, almost invisible in the
strong, direct glare, but the Little Villager's keen eyes detected it.
He barked a warning, and the sharp signal went around from hillock to
hillock; and in half a minute all the big, babyish eyes were fixed upon
the approach of the skying marauder.  Everybody chattered about it
shrilly till the hawk was straight over the village.  Then suddenly the
noise was hushed.  The great bird half folded its wings and swooped,
the air making a hissing hum in its rigid pinion tips.  The swoop was
lightning swift, but even swifter was the disappearance of the Little
Villager, and of all his neighbors for fifty feet about him.  Before
the hawk reached earth they had dropped into their burrows.

"Checking himself abruptly, the hawk flew on over the tops of the
hillocks, making unexpected zigzag rushes to right and left.  But
wherever he went, there the villagers had vanished, almost as if the
wind of his approach had whisked them away.  Baffled and indignant, he
at last gave up the hope of a dinner of prairie dog, and dropped on a
small rattler which was too sluggish from overeating to have noticed
that there was any particular excitement in the village.  Gripping the
reptile in inexorable talons just behind its head, the great bird bit
its backbone through, carried it to the nearest hillock, and proceeded
to tear it to pieces.  Calmly he made his meal, glancing around with
eyes glassy hard and fiercely arrogant, while from every burrow in the
neighborhood round, innocent heads peered forth, barking insult and
defiance.  They were willing enough that the rattler should be
destroyed, but they wished the hawk to understand that his continued
presence in the villages was not desired.  Of the two foes, they
preferred the rattler, to whose methods of administering fate they had
grown so accustomed that they could regard them with something like
philosophy, especially where only a neighborhood was concerned.  But
the hawk's attack was so abrupt and violent as to be upsetting to the
nerves of the whole village.

"When the hawk had finished his meal and wiped his beak on the hard
earth he flew off; and long before he was out of sight all the furry
householders were out on top of their hillocks and chattering at the
tops of their voices about the affair.  The Little Villager himself,
having been first to give the alarm, was particularly excited and
important.  But even he managed to calm himself down after a while.
And then, feeling hungry from excess of emotion, he descended from his
hillock and fell to nibbling grass stems.

"He had been but a few minutes at this engrossing occupation when from
the door of a nearby burrow popped suddenly a small brown owl.  The
bird appeared with a haste which seemed to ruffle its dignity
considerably.  It was followed at once by its mate.  The two blinked in
the strong light, and turned to peer down the hole from which they
emerged, as if expecting to be followed.  They were snapping their
strong hooked beaks like castanets, and hissing indignantly.  But
nothing more came out of the hole.  They glared about them for several
minutes with their immense, round, fiercely bright eyes.  Then, lifting
themselves like blown thistledown, with one waft of their broad, downy
wings they floated over to the door of the Little Villager's burrow.
They looked at it.  They looked at the Little Villager where he sat
holding a half-nibbled grass stem between his paws.  They snapped their
beaks once more, with angry decision, and with two or three awkward,
scuttling steps, like a parrot walking on the floor of his cage, they
plunged down, quite uninvited, into the burrow.

"The Little Villager sat just where he was for perhaps half a minute,
barking with indignation.  Then he followed the impertinent visitors.
As he entered he heard a confused sound of shrill, angry chattering,
explosive hissing, and savage snapping of beaks.  Being able to see
quite comfortably in the gloom, he distinguished his companion, the
lady villager who was at that time occupying the burrow with him, doing
her best to make the visitors understand that they were not welcome.
Her language might have seemed clear enough.  She made little rushes at
them with open mouth and gnashing teeth, and her tones were just as
unpleasant as she knew how to make them.  But the guests confronted her
with claws and beaks so ready and so formidable that she did not like
to come to close quarters.

"Nor, indeed, when the Little Villager himself arrived was the
situation very much altered.  One of the owls turned and faced him,
whereupon he, too, lost his resolution and confined himself to threats.
The two owls, for their part, seemed to consider it wise to stand on
the defensive rather than to force a battle to a finish with their
unwilling hosts.  For some minutes, therefore, the war of threats and
bad language went on, without fur or feathers actually flying.  Then at
last the Little Villager, who was by nature an easy-going, unresentful
soul, chanced to glance aside from his adversary; and it flashed into
his mind that, after all, there was some room to spare in the burrow.
Anyhow, he was tired of the argument.  He turned away indifferently and
began to nibble at some tough grass stems which he had brought down in
case of a rainy day.  Seeing him thus yield the point at issue, his
mate was not going to fight it out alone.  She, too, turned her back
with ostentatious indifference upon her rude guests, and went out and
sat on the top of the hillock to let her feelings calm down.  The pair
of owls, well satisfied to have forced themselves upon the Little
Villager's hospitality, huddled together in their own corner, and
resumed the nap which had been so unpleasantly interrupted in their
previous residence."

"What was it that interrupted?" broke in the Child, glad that it was
not he that could be accused of it, _that_ time.  "What was it that
drove them out of their own burrow in such a hurry?"

"It was a big rattlesnake," answered Uncle Andy, quite politely,
remembering that he himself had recently been guilty of an
interruption.  "I ought to have explained that before, but I was
interested in the Little Villager and forgot it.  It was a big
rattlesnake which had got tired of its old hole and taken a fancy to
that of the owls.  So the owls had had nothing to do but get out,
without even a half-minute to talk over the matter.  And hating to stay
out in the full glare of the sun, which was very hard on their eyes,
they had invited themselves to live with the Little Villager just
because his house was the first they came to.

"All the rest of the day the Little Villager and his companion were
extremely discontented.  Their burrow was a very roomy and comfortable
one, but it was spoiled for them by the presence of those two
moon-eyed, hook-beaked, solemn persons sitting side by side in the
opposite corner.  So they spent most of their time outside on the
hillock, gossiping about it to their neighbors, who were extremely
interested and full of suggestions, but showed no inclination whatever
to come and help turn the intruders out.  That was a thing which had
never been attempted in their village, and the prairie dogs were not
noted for their initiative.  In learning to get together and live in
villages they had apparently exhausted it all.  They were always ready
to chatter, from morning to night, about anything, and protest against
it, and declare that it must not be permitted, but they always shirked
the bother of united action, even to suppress the most dangerous and
destructive of nuisances.

"When evening came, however, they had the house to themselves.  The
owls, getting lively as the sunset colors faded from the sky, scuttled
forth and sat up side by side on the top of the hillock.  As soon as it
was full night, and the stars had come out clear and large in the
deeply crystalline sky, they began hovering hither and thither on their
wide, soundless wings, hunting the tiny prairie mice, which swarmed
among the hillocks after dark.

"While they were thus pleasantly occupied, the Little Villager and his
companion had an idea.  It was not a very usual thing with them, and
they hastened to act upon it lest it should get away.  They proceeded
to block up their entrance tunnel about three feet from the door.  They
packed the earth hard, and made a good job of it, and flattered
themselves that their guests would not get in in a hurry, even if they
were pretty good burrowers themselves.  Then at the extreme opposite
corner of their central chamber they tunneled a new passageway, which
brought them out quite on the other side of the hillock.  This done,
they felt very pleased with themselves, and settled down for a
well-earned sleep, curled up in a furry ball together.

"At daybreak the owls came home.  Confidently they ducked their big,
round heads and dived down the old entrance, only to be brought up with
a bump when they had gone about three feet.  Out they came in a rage,
fluffing their feathers and snapping their beaks, and stood on each
side of the hole to talk the affair over.  First, one and then the
other reentered to investigate.  They found it quite inexplicable.
They felt sure this _was_ the way they had previously entered--so sure,
in fact, that again and again they tried it, only growing more and more
puzzled and indignant with each attempt.  Finally they came to the
conclusion that they must have made some mistake.  They scuttled
solemnly round the hillock, and came upon the new entrance.  Ah, of
course, they _had_ been mistaken.  Their indignation vanished.  They
scurried in cheerfully, one hard upon the other's tail, and took up
their place in their adopted corner.  The Little Villager and his mate
opened disgusted eyes upon them for a second, then went to sleep again,
relinquishing all thought of further protest.

"After this, for a time, there was perfect peace in the house, the
peace of mutual aversion.  Hosts and guests ignored each other
scrupulously.  But after a while a family was born to the Little
Villager, a litter of absurd, blind, tiny whimperers, all heads and
hungry mouths.  The two owls were immensely interested at once, but
their efforts to show their interest were met by such an astonishing
display of ferocity on the part of both the Little Villager and his
mate that they discreetly withdrew their advances and once more kept
strictly to themselves.  They knew their business, these owls; and they
knew they would lose nothing in the long run by a little temporary
forbearance.  They were well aware, from past experience with prairie
dogs, that the vigilance of the happy parents would relax in course of
time, and that all the while the little ones, growing larger and
plumper every day, would be getting better worth the interest of an
appreciative owl.

"The event proved they were right.  As the days went by, and the young
ones grew lively and independent, the Little Villager and his mate grew
less and less anxious about them.  Their soft eyes now wide open, they
would leave the nest and wander about the burrow, in spite of all that
their mother or their father (whichever happened to be in charge at the
time) could do to prevent them.  There were so many of them, moreover,
that it was quite impossible to keep an eye on them all at once.

"Late one afternoon, in that debatable time when the owls in their
corner were just beginning to wake up, two of the youngsters ran over
quite near them.  The temptation was irresistible.  There was a light
pounce, a light squeak instantly strangled, and _one_ of the
youngsters, badly frightened, ran back to the mother.  The other
remained, limp and motionless, in the owl's corner, with a set of
steel-like talons clutching it.

"The mother started to the rescue boldly.  But the moment she left the
rest of the litter the second owl hopped over toward them.  She paused
in an agony of irresolution.  Then she turned and scurried back.  She
could not sacrifice all for the sake of one.  But as she gathered the
survivors to her she barked and chattered furious defiance at the
murderer.  Her clatter brought down the Little Villager himself, and
together they hurled all the insults they could think of at the owl,
who, however, calmly turned his feathery back upon them and proceeded
to devour his easy prey.

"For some days there was renewed vigilance, and the little ones kept
close to their parents' side.  But the memory of a prairie dog,
especially of a young prairie dog, is distinctly short.  Soon there was
more wandering from the nest, and then a lot of childish racing about
the floor of the burrow.  Again a youngster went too near the owls'
corner and remained there.  This time there was no fuss about it,
because the slaughter was accomplished quite silently, and the mother
did not happen to see.  After this there would never be more than two
or three days go by without the sudden disappearance of one or another
of the litter, which, after all, kept the burrow from becoming too
crowded.  The youngsters were getting so big by now that their parents
began to lose all interest in them.  It became time for them to be
weaned.  But as the interest of the owls had been increasing as that of
the parents diminished, it happened by this time that there was not one
left to wean.  So the duty of the furry little mother, with her silly
nose and her big, childish eyes, was singularly simplified.  It was no
use making more trouble with her unfriendly guests over a matter that
was now past remedy.  So all was overlooked, and the burrow settled
down once more to the harmony of mutual aversion."

Uncle Andy stopped and proceeded to refill his pipe, waiting for the
Child's verdict.  The Child's face wore the grieved look of one who has
had an illusion shattered.

"I shan't ever believe a word Bill tells me again," said he, with
injured decision.

"Oh," said Uncle Andy, "you mustn't go so far as that.  Bill tells lots
of interesting things that are true enough as far as they go.  You must
learn to discriminate."

The Child did not know what "discriminate" meant, and he was at the
moment too depressed to ask.  But he resolved firmly to learn it,
whatever it was, rather than be so deceived again.




CHAPTER XII

THE BABY AND THE BEAR

A stiffish breeze was blowing over Silverwater.  Close inshore, where
the Babe was fishing, the water was fairly calm--just sufficiently
ruffled to keep the trout from distinguishing too clearly that small,
intent figure at the edge of the raft.  But out in the middle of the
lake the little whitecaps were chasing each other boisterously.

The raft was a tiny one, of four logs pinned together with two lengths
of spruce pole.  It was made for just the use which the Babe was now
putting it to.  A raft was so much more convenient than a boat or a
canoe when the water was still and one had to make long, delicate casts
in order to drop one's fly along the edges of the lily pods.  But the
Babe was not making long, delicate casts.  On such a day as this the
somewhat unsophisticated trout of Silverwater demanded no subtleties.
They were hungry, and they were feeding close inshore, and the Babe was
having great sport.  The fish were not large, but they were clean,
trim-jawed, bright fellows, some of them not far short of the
half-pound; and the only blue-bottle in the ointment of the Babe's
exultation was that Uncle Andy was not on hand to see his triumph.  To
be sure, the proof would be in the pan that night, browned in savory
cornmeal after the fashion of the New Brunswick backwoods.  But the
Babe had in him the makings of a true sportsman, and for him a trout
had just one brief moment of unmatchable perfection--the moment when it
was taken off the hook and held up to be gloated over or coveted.

The raft had been anchored, carelessly enough, by running an inner
corner lightly aground.  The Babe's weight, slight as it was, on the
outer end, together with his occasional ecstatic, though silent,
hoppings up and down, had little by little sufficed to slip the
haphazard mooring.  This the Babe was far too absorbed to notice.

All at once, having just slipped a nice half-pounder onto the forked
stick which served him instead of a fishing basket, he noticed that the
wooded point which had been shutting off his view on the right seemed
to have politely drawn back.  His heart jumped into his throat.  He
turned--and there were twenty yards or so of clear water between the
raft and the shore.  The raft was gently but none too slowly gliding
out toward the tumbling whitecaps.

Always methodical, the Babe laid his rod and his string of fish
carefully down on the logs, and then stood for a second or two quite
rigid.  This was one of those dreadful things which, as he knew, _did_
happen, sometimes, to other people, so that he might read about it.
But that it should actually happen to _him_!  Why, it was as if he had
been reading some terrible adventure and suddenly found himself thrust
trembling into the midst of it.  All at once those whitecaps out in the
lake seemed to be turning dreadful eyes his way and clamoring for
_him_!  He opened his mouth and gave two piercing shrieks which cut the
air like saws.

"What's the matter?" shouted a very anxious voice from among the trees.

It was the voice of Uncle Andy.  He had returned sooner than he was
expected.  And instantly the Babe's terror vanished.  He knew that
everything would be all right in just no time.

"I'm afloat.  Bill's raft's carrying me away!" he replied in an injured
voice.

"Oh!" said Uncle Andy, emerging from the trees and taking in the
situation.  "You _are_ afloat, are you!  I was afraid from the noise
you made that you were sinking.  Keep your hair on, and I'll be with
you in five seconds.  And we'll see what Bill's raft has to say for
itself after such extraordinary behavior."

Putting the canoe into the water, he thrust out, overtook the raft in a
dozen strokes of his paddle, and proceeded to tow it back to the shore
in disgrace.

"What on earth did you make those dreadful noises for?" demanded Uncle
Andy, "instead of simply calling for me, or Bill, to come and get you?"

"You see, Uncle Andy," answered the Babe, after some consideration, "I
was in a hurry, rather, and I thought you or Bill might be in a hurry,
too, if I made a noise like that, instead of just calling."

"Well, I believe," said Uncle Andy, seating himself on the bank and
getting out his pipe, "that at last the unexpected has happened.  I
believe, in other words, that you are right.  I once knew of a couple
of youngsters who might have saved themselves and their parents a lot
of trouble if they could have made some such sound as you did, at the
right time.  But they couldn't, or, at least, they didn't; and,
therefore, things happened, which I'll tell you about if you like."

The Babe carefully laid his string of fish in a cool place under some
leaves, and then came and sat on the grass at his uncle's feet to
listen.

"They were an odd pair of youngsters," began Uncle Andy--and paused to
get his pipe going.

"They were a curious pair, and they eyed each other curiously.  One was
about five years old and the other about five months.  One was all pink
and white, and ruddy tan, and fluffy gold, and the other all glossy
black.  One, in fact, was a baby, and the other was a bear.

"Neither had come voluntarily into this strange fellowship; and it
would have been hard to say which of the pair regarded the other with
most suspicion.  The bear, to be sure, at five months old, was more
grown up, more self-sufficing and efficient than the baby at five
years; but he had the disadvantage of feeling himself an interloper.
He had come to the raft quite uninvited, and found the baby in
possession!  On that account, of course, he rather expected the baby to
show her white little teeth, and snarl at him, and try to drive him off
into the water.  In that case he would have resisted desperately,
because he was in mortal fear of the boiling, seething flood.  But he
was very uneasy, and kept up a whimpering that was intended to be
conciliatory; for though the baby was small, and by no means ferocious,
he regarded her as the possessor of the raft, and it was an axiom of
the wilds that very small and harmless-looking creatures might become
dangerous when resisting an invasion of their rights.

"The baby, on the other hand, was momentarily expecting that the bear
would come over and bite her.  Why else, if not from some such sinister
motive, had he come aboard her raft, when he had been traveling on a
perfectly good tree?  The tree looked so much more interesting than her
bare raft, on which she had been voyaging for over an hour, and of
which she was now heartily tired.  To be sure, the bear was not much
bigger than her own Teddy Bear at home, which she was wont to carry
around by one leg, or to spank without ceremony whenever she thought it
needed discipline.  But the glossy black of the stranger was quite
unlike the wild and grubby whiteness of her Teddy, and his shrewd
little twinkling eyes were quite unlike the bland shoe buttons which
adorned the face of her uncomplaining pet.  She wondered when her
mother would come and relieve the strain of the situation.

"All at once the raft, which had hitherto voyaged with a discreet
deliberation, seemed to become agitated.  Boiling upthrusts of the
current, caused by some hidden unevenness on the bottom, shouldered it
horridly from beneath, threatening to tear it apart, and unbridled
eddies twisted it this way and that with sickening lurches.  The tree
was torn from it and snatched off reluctant all by itself, rolling over
and over in a fashion that must have made the cub rejoice to think that
he had quitted a refuge so eccentric in its behavior.  As a matter of
fact, the flood was now sweeping the raft over what was, at ordinary
times, a series of low falls, a succession of saw-toothed ledges which
would have ripped the raft to bits.  Now the ledges were buried deep
under the immense volume of the freshet.  But they were not to be
ignored, for all that.  And they made their submerged presence felt in
a turmoil that became more and more terrifying to the two little
passengers on the raft.

"There was just one point in the raft, one only, that was farther away
than any other part from those dreadful, seething-crested black
surges--and that was the very center.  The little bear backed toward
it, whimpering and shivering, from his corner.

"From her corner, directly opposite, the baby too backed toward it,
hitching herself along and eyeing the waves in the silence of the
terror.  She arrived at the same instant.  Each was conscious of
something alive, and warm, and soft, and comfortable--with motherly
suggestion in the contact.  The baby turned with a sob and flung her
arms about the bear.  The bear, snuggling his narrow black snout under
her arm as if to shut out the fearful sight of the waves, made futile
efforts to crawl into a lap that was many sizes too small to
accommodate him.

"In some ten minutes more the wild ledges were past.  The surges sank
to foaming swirls, and the raft once more journeyed smoothly.  The two
little voyagers, recovering from their ecstasy of fear, looked at each
other in surprise--and the bear, slipping off the baby's lap, squatted
on his furry haunches and eyed her with a sort of guilty apprehension.

"Here it was that the baby showed herself of the dominant breed.  The
bear was still uneasy and afraid of her.  But she, for her part, had no
more dread of him whatever.  Through all her panic she had been dimly
conscious that he had been in the attitude of seeking her protection.
Now she was quite ready to give it--quite ready to take possession of
him, in fact, as really a sort of glorified Teddy Bear come to life;
and she felt her authority complete.  Half-coaxingly, but quite firmly,
and with a note of command in her little voice which the animal
instinctively understood, she said: 'Turn here, Teddy!' and pulled him
back unceremoniously to her lap.  The bear, with the influence of her
comforting warmth still strong upon him, yielded.  It was nice, when
one was frightened and had lost one's mother, to be cuddled so softly
by a creature that was evidently friendly, in spite of the dreaded man
smell that hung about her.  His mother had tried to teach him that that
smell was the most dangerous of all the warning smells his nostrils
could encounter.  But the lesson had been most imperfectly learned, and
now was easily forgotten.  He was tired, moreover, and wanted to go to
sleep.  So he snuggled his glossy, roguish face down into the baby's
lap and shut his eyes.  And the baby, filled with delight over such a
novel and interesting plaything, shook her yellow hair down over his
black fur and crooned to him a soft, half-articulate babble of
endearment.

"The swollen flood was comparatively quiet now, rolling full and turbid
over the drowned lands, and gleaming sullenly under a blaze of sun.
The bear having gone to sleep, the baby presently followed his example,
her rosy face falling forward into his woodsy-smelling black fur.  At
last the raft, catching in the trees of a submerged islet, came softly
to a stop, so softly as not to awaken the little pair of sleepers.

"In the meantime two distraught mothers, quite beside themselves with
fear and grief, were hurrying downstream in search of the runaway raft
and its burden.

"The mother of the baby, when she saw the flood sweeping the raft away,
was for some moments perilously near to flinging herself in after it.
Then her backwoods common sense came to the rescue.  She reflected, in
time, that she could not swim--while the raft, on the other hand, could
and did, and would carry her treasure safely enough for a while.
Wading waist deep through the drowned fields behind the house, she
gained the uplands, and rushed dripping along the ridge to the next
farm, where, as she knew, a boat was kept.  This farmhouse, perched on
a bluff, was safe from all floods; and the farmer was at home,
congratulating himself.  Before he quite knew what was happening, he
found himself being dragged to the boat--for his neighbor was a
strenuous woman, whom few in the settlement presumed to argue with, and
it was plain to him now that she was laboring under an unwonted
excitement.  It was not until he was in the boat, with the oars in his
hands, that he gathered clearly what had happened.  Then, however, he
bent to the oars with a will which convinced even that frantic and
vehement mother that nothing better could be demanded of him.  Dodging
logs and wrecks and uprooted trees, the boat went surging down the
flood, while the woman sat stiffly erect in the stern, her face white
as death, her eyes staring far ahead, while from time to time she
muttered angry phrases which sounded as if the baby had gone off on a
pleasure trip without leave and was going to be called to sharp account
for it.

"The other mother had the deeper and more immediate cause for anguish.
Coming to the bank where she had left her cub in the tree, she found
the bank caved in and the tree and cub together vanished.  Unlike the
baby's mother, she _could_ swim; but she knew that she could run faster
and farther.  In stoic silence, but with a look of piteous anxiety in
her eyes, she started on a gallop down the half-drowned shores,
clambering the heaps of debris, and swimming the deep, still estuaries
where the flood had backed up into the valleys of the tributary brooks.

"At last, with laboring lungs and pounding heart, she came out upon a
low, bare bluff overlooking the flood, and saw, not a hundred yards
out, the raft with its two little passengers asleep.  She saw her cub
lying curled up with his head in the baby's arms, his black fur mixed
with the baby's yellow locks.  Her first thought was that he was
dead--that the baby had killed him and was carrying him off.  With a
roar of pain and vengeful fury, she rushed down the bluff and hurled
herself into the water.

"Not till then did she notice that a boat was approaching the raft--a
boat with two human beings in it.  It was very much nearer the raft
than she was--and traveling very much faster than she could swim.  Her
savage heart went near to bursting with rage and fear.  She knew those
beings in the boat could have but one object--the slaughter, or at
least the theft, of her little one.  She swam frantically, her great
muscles heaving as she shouldered the waves apart.  But in that race
she was hopelessly beaten from the first.

"The boat reached the raft, bumped hard upon it--and the baby's mother
leaped out while the man, with his boathook, held the two craft close
together.  The woman, thrusting the cub angrily aside, clutched the
baby hysterically to her breast, sobbing over her and muttering strange
threats of what she would do to her when she got her home to punish her
for giving so much trouble.  The baby did not seem in the least
disturbed by these threats--to which the man in the boat was listening
with a grin--but when her mother started to carry her to the boat she
reached out her arms rebelliously for the cub.

"'Won't go wivout my Teddy Bear,' she announced with tearful decision.

"'Ye'd better git a move on, Mrs. Murdoch,' admonished the man in the
boat, 'Here's the old b'ar comin' after her young un, an' I've a notion
she ain't exactly ca'm.'

"The woman hesitated.  She was willing enough to indulge the baby's
whim, the more so as she felt in her heart that it was in some respects
her fault that the raft had got away.  She measured the distance to
that formidable black head cleaving the waters some thirty yards away.

"'Well,' said she, 'we may's well take the little varmint along, if
baby wants him.'  And she stepped over to pick up the now shrinking and
anxious cub.

"'You quit that an' get into the boat quick!" ordered the man in a
voice of curt authority.  The woman whipped round and stared at him in
amazement.  She was accustomed to having people defer to her; and Jim
Simmons, in particular, she had always considered such a mild-mannered
man,

"'Get in!' reiterated the man in a voice that she found herself obeying
in spite of herself.

"'D'ye want to see baby et up afore yer eyes?" he continued sternly,
hiding a grin beneath the sandy droop of his big mustache.  And with
the baby kicking and wailing and stretching out her arms to the
all-unheeding cub, he rowed rapidly away just as the old bear dragged
herself up upon the raft.

"Then Mrs. Murdoch's wrath found words, and she let it flow forth while
the man listened as indifferently as if it had been the whistling of
the wind.  At last she stopped.

"'Anything more to say, ma'am?' he asked politely.

"Mrs. Murdoch snorted a negative.

"'Then all _I_ hev to say,' he went on, 'is that to _my_ mind _mothers_
has _rights_.  That there b'ar's a mother, an' she's got feelin's, like
you, an' she's come after her young un, like you--an' I wasn't a-goin'
to see her robbed of him.'"




CHAPTER XIII

THE LITTLE SLY ONE

From away up near the top of the rocky hill that rose abruptly across
the inlet came a terrible screech, piercing and startling.

"Gee!" said the Babe, slipping closer to Uncle Andy, where they sat
together on a log by the water.  "I'm glad that's away over there!
What is it, Uncle Andy?"

"Lynx!" replied Uncle Andy, puffing at his pipe.

"What did he go and do _that_ for?"

"Well," said Uncle Andy presently, "if you'll try your level best to
listen without interrupting, I'll tell you."

"I'm _not_ interrupting!" protested the Babe.

"_Of_ course not!" agreed Uncle Andy.  "Well, you see, the lynx is the
slyest thing that goes on four legs.  You think, maybe, a fox is sly.
That fool guide Bill's told you that.  Now, a fox is sly when he
chooses to be, and when he wants to be impudent he'd sass King Solomon
to his face.  But a lynx is just born sly, and can't even think of
outgrowing it."

"I don't see anything sly about that noise he made just now!" said the
Babe.

"There you go!" exclaimed Uncle Andy.  Then he stopped and thought for
quite a while.  But as the Babe never spoke a word he soon went on
again.

"You see, I was just coming to that.  That awful screech is one of the
slyest things he does.  That fellow has been hunting a while without
catching anything.  Creeping, creeping on his great furry feet, making
no more sound than the shadow of the leaf on the moss; for all his
quietness he hasn't had any luck.  So at last, hiding behind a bush, he
let out that screech just to start things moving.  Did you notice how
quick it stopped?  Well, he knew if there was any rabbit or partridge
asleep near by it would be so startled it would jump and make a noise;
and then he'd be on it before it could more than get its eyes open.
Don't you call that sly?"

The Babe merely nodded, being resolved not to interrupt.

"Good," said Uncle Andy.  "You're improving a lot.  Now, let me tell
you, the slyest thing of all is the Little Sly One, which those who
know everything call the lynx kitten.  The Little Sly One is good
enough for us to call her, for she is even slyer when she is a she than
when he is a he.  Is that quite clear?"

"Of _course_!" exclaimed the Babe.

"Well, the Little Sly One was a lonely orphan.  She had had a mother
and a sister and two brothers; but a man with a dog and a gun had
happened on the mouth of the cave in which they lived.  The dog had
hastily gone in.  There was a terrible noise in the cave all of a
sudden, and the dog would have hastily come out again, but for the fact
that he was no longer able to come or go anywhere.  When the noise had
stopped so that he could see in, the man had shot the mother lynx.
Then he had shot the dog, because that was the only thing to do.  And
because he was very sorry and angry about the dog, he also shot the
lynx kittens, where they crowded, spitting savagely, at the back of the
cave.  But there were only three of them at the back of the cave.  The
Little Sly One, instead of bothering to spit when there were other
things more important to be done, had run up the wall and hidden in a
crevice, so still she didn't even let her tail twitch.  Of course, like
all her family, she didn't really have a tail, but merely a little
blunt stub, perhaps two inches long.  But that stub could have
twitched, and wanted desperately to twitch, only she would not let it.
She always seemed to think she had a tail, and, if she had had, it
would have stuck out so the man could have seen it, the crevice being
such a very small one.  You see how _sly_ she was!

"Of course, the Little Sly One was lonely for the next few days, but
she was kept so busy hunting breakfasts, and lunches, and dinners, and
suppers that she hadn't time to fret much.  She was something like a
three-quarters-grown kitten now, except for her having no tail to speak
of, and curious, fierce-looking tufts to her ears, and pale eyes so
savage and bright that they seemed as if they could look through a log
even if it wasn't hollow.

"Also, her feet were twice as big as a kitten's would have been, and
her hindquarters were high and powerful, like a rabbit's.  Her soft,
bright fur was striped like a tiger's--though by the time she was grown
up it would have changed to a light, shadowy, brownish gray, hard to
detect in the dim thickets.

"The Little Sly One was so sly and so small that she had no difficulty
in creeping up on birds and woodmice, to say nothing of grasshoppers,
beetles and crickets.  But one day she learned, to her great annoyance,
that she was not the only thing in the woods that could do this
creeping up.  She had been watching a long time at the door of a
woodmouse burrow, under a tree, when suddenly she seemed to feel danger
behind her.  Without waiting to look round, being so sly, she shot into
the air and landed on the trunk of a tree.  As she madly clawed up it,
the jaws of a leaping fox came together with a snap just about three
inches behind her, just, in fact, where an ordinary tail would have
been.  So, you see, her tail really saved her life, just by her not
having any!

"Well, when she was safely up the tree, of course she couldn't help
spitting and growling down at the hungry fox for a minute or two, while
he looked up at her with his mouth watering.  Then, however, she curled
herself up in a crotch and pretended to go to sleep.  And then the fox
went away, because he didn't know when she would wake up, and he didn't
want to wait!  You see how sly she was!

"But once it happened she was not so sly as she might have been.  You
see, after all, in spite of her fierce eyes, she was still only a
_kitten_ of a lynx; and she _had_ to _play_ once in a while.  At such
times she would pounce on a leaf as if it were a mouse, or just tumble
all over herself pretending she had a real tail and was trying to catch
it.  So, of course, when she happened to pass under a low, bushy branch
and caught sight of a slim, smooth, black tip of a tail, no bigger than
your little finger, hanging down from it, she naturally couldn't resist
the temptation.  She pranced up on her hind legs and _clawed_ that
black tip of a tail--clawed it hard!

"The next instant, before she could prance away again, the _other_ end
of that slim, black tip swung out of the branch and whipped itself
round and round her body, and a black head, with sharp fangs in it, hit
her _biff, biff, biff_! on the nose.  It was the tail of a black snake
she had tried to play with."

"Gee!  But she wasn't sly that time!" exclaimed the Babe, shaking his
head wisely.

"The black snake wasn't poisonous, of course," continued Uncle Andy,
"but his fangs hurt the Little Sly One's nose, I can tell you.  But the
worst of it was, how he could squeeze!  Those black coils tightened,
tightened, till the Little Sly One, who in her first fright had set up
a terrific spitting and yowling, found she had no breath to waste on
noise.  Her ribs felt as if they would crack.  But, fortunately for
her, her teeth and claws were available for business.  She fell to
biting, and ripping, and clawing, till the black snake realized it was
no Teddy Bear he had got hold of.  For a minute or two he stood it,
squeezing harder and harder.  Then he wanted to let go.

"And this, I think, was where he made a mistake.  As he relaxed his
deadly coils and swung his head round, the Little Sly One struck out
with both forepaws at once, and succeeded in catching the hissing,
darting head.  She caught it fairly, and her long, knife-sharp claws
sank in, holding it like a carpenter's vise.  The next minute she had
her teeth in the back of the snake's neck, chewing and tearing.

"Now, the snake's tail was still around the branch, so he tried
furiously to swing the Little Sly One up and crush her against the
branch.  But she was too heavy and too strong.  So he came down,
instead, and thrashed wildly among the leaves, trying to get a new grip
on her.  It was no use, however.  He had made too big a mistake.  And
the next minute he kind of straightened out.  The Little Sly One had
bitten through his backbone, just behind the head.

"Well, now, you see, she had a good square meal before her.  But, being
very sly, she first looked all round to see if anyone was coming to
dine with her.  There was no one in sight, but she knew how curiously
things get about sometimes.  So she growled, on general principles,
grabbed the snake in her teeth, and climbed up the tree so she might
eat in peace.

"The tail was no good to eat, so she bit it off and scornfully let it
drop.  If that black snake hadn't had a tail, he would never have been
eaten by a kitten lynx; so the Little Sly One, as she considered this
point, and also thought of the fox, said to herself: 'Well, maybe my
tail doesn't amount to much, after all.  But there doesn't seem to be
any luck in tails, anyway.'

"For all that, things in general were keeping her so very, very busy
the Little Sly One felt lonely and homesick at times.  And especially
she felt the need of some kind of a nest which she could call her very
own, where she could curl herself up and go to sleep without fear of
unpleasant interruptions.

"This sort of thing, as you may imagine, was not to be found every day
of the week.  Most such places had owners, and the Little Sly One was
not yet big enough and strong enough to turn the owners out.  If she
_had_ been big enough--  Well, you see, she hadn't any more
conscience than just enough to get along with comfortably.

"One fine day, soon after her adventure with the black snake, her
search for a home of her own brought her out into the warm sunshine of
a little, deserted clearing.  It was an old lumber camp, all grown up
with tall grass and flowering weeds.  The weeds and grass crowded up
around the very threshold of the old gray log cabin.

"The Little Sly One stopped short, blinking in the strong light and
sniffing cautiously.  There was no smell of danger--none whatever, but
a scent came to her nose that she thought was quite the nicest scent in
the world.

"Where did it come from?  Oh, there is was--that bunch of dull-green
weeds!  Forgetting prudence, forgetting everything, she ran forward and
began rolling herself over and over in ecstasy in the bed of
strong-smelling weeds."

"Catnip!" suggested the Babe.

"Of course!" agreed Uncle Andy impatiently.  "What else _could_ it be?

"The Little Sly One had never heard tell of catnip, but she knew right
off it was something good for every kind of cat.  When she had had
_quite_ enough of it, she felt kind of light and silly, and not afraid
of anything.  So, as bold as you please, she marched right up to the
cabin.

"The door was shut.  She climbed upon the roof.  There was an old bark
chimney, with a great hole rotted in its base.  She looked in.

"It was pleasantly shadowy inside, with a musty smell and no sign of
danger.  She dropped upon a narrow shelf.  From the shelf, sniffing and
glancing this way and that, she sprang to a kind of wider shelf close
under the eaves.

"That was a bunk, of course, where one of the lumbermen used to sleep,
though _she_ didn't know _that_.  It was full of old dry hay, very
warmy and cozy.  And the hay, as the Little Sly One observed at once,
was full of mice.

"She pounced on one at once and ate it.  Decidedly, this was the place
for her.  She curled herself up in the warm hay and went to sleep
without fear of any enemies coming to disturb her."

"But what would she do when the lumbermen came back?" demanded the Babe
anxiously.

"By _that_ time," answered Uncle Andy, putting away his pipe and rising
to go, "she would no longer be the _Little_ Sly One!  She'd be big
enough to take care of herself--and run away as soon as she heard them
coming."




CHAPTER XIV

THE DARING OF STRIPES TERROR-TAIL

"What would you do if a bear came at you, Uncle Andy?" inquired the
Babe.

"Run," said Uncle Andy promptly, "unless I had a gun!"

The Babe thought deeply for a moment.

"And what would you do if a little, teeny, black-and-white striped
skunk came at you?" he asked.

"Run like sixty!" responded Uncle Andy, still more promptly.

"But a skunk's so little!" persisted the Babe.  "Will he bite?"

"Bite!" retorted Uncle Andy scornfully.  "He doesn't have to.  It
appears to me you don't know skunks very well!"

"Huh!" said the Babe.  "I've smelt 'em.  But _smells_ can't hurt
anybody."

"With your notions of skunks," answered Uncle Andy, "you're going to
get yourself into a heap of trouble one of these days.  I'd better tell
you about what happened once when a small young skunk, out walking all
by himself in the dewy twilight, happened to meet a large young bear."

Now, the Babe had a great respect for bears.

"Huh!" said he scornfully.  "What could _he_ do to a bear?"

"The little skunk's name," said Uncle Andy, paying no heed to the
interruption, "was Stripes Terror-Tail.  He was a pretty fellow, black
and glossy, with two clear white stripes down his back on each side of
his backbone.  His tail was long and bushy, and carried high in a
graceful curve; and he was about the size of a half-grown kitten.

"Generally he went hunting with the rest of his family, for the
Terror-Tails are affectionate and fond of each other's companionship.
But each one does just as he likes, in his easy way; so on this
particular evening little Stripes had strolled off by himself over the
dewy hillocks, catching fat crickets in the dim twilight, and hoping
every minute that he might find a ground sparrow's nest under some
bush."

"Did he rob birds' nests?" asked the Babe, remembering that this, for
boys, was one of the deadly sins.

"He certainly did!" said Uncle Andy, who didn't like to be interrupted.
"That is, when he had a chance.  Well, as luck would have it, a young
bear was out nosing around the hillocks that evening, amusing himself
with the fat crickets.  He wasn't very hungry, being chock full of the
first blueberries.

"He would sit back on his haunches, like a tremendous, overgrown black
puppy, with his head tilted to one side, his ears cocked shrewdly, and
a twinkle in his little dark eyes; and with one furry forepaw he would
pat a thick bunch of grass till the frightened crickets came scurrying
out to see what was the matter.  Then he would almost fall over himself
trying to scoop them all up at once--and while he was chewing those
he'd caught he'd look as disappointed as anything over those that got
away.

"Well, when he got tired of crickets he thought he'd look for a bird's
nest.  He came to a wide, flat, spreading juniper bush, just the kind
that might have a bird's nest under it; and as he nosed around it he
came face to face with little Stripes.  You see, they were both after
the same thing, and both had the same idea about the best place to look
for it.

"Now, that young bear's education had been terribly neglected.  He
didn't know any more about skunks than you do.  So he thought, maybe
the soft little black-and-white thing with the fluffy tail carried so
airily might be just as good to eat as birds' eggs--besides being more
filling, of course.

"He would have grabbed little Stripes right off, had the latter tried
to run away.  But as Stripes showed no sign of any such intention, the
bear hesitated.  After all, there didn't seem to be any great hurry!
He put out a big paw to slap the stranger, but changed his mind and
drew it back again, the stranger seemed so unconcerned.  It was
decidedly queer, he thought to himself, that a little scrap of a
creature like that should be taking things so easy when he was around.
He began to feel insulted.

"As for Stripes, nothing was farther from his mind than running away
from the big black creature that had suddenly appeared in front of him.
It was not for a plump, leisurely little skunk to be taking violent
exercise on a hot night.  Yet he didn't want to walk right over the
bear--not at all.  And he had no intention of making things
disagreeable for the clumsy-looking stranger."

"Huh, what could _he_ do to _him_?" interrupted the Babe again.  He had
the greatest faith in bears.

"_Will_ you wait!" groaned Uncle Andy.  "But first let me explain to
you the peculiar weapon with which Stripes, and all the Terror-Tail
family, do their fighting when they have to fight--which they are quite
too polite to do unnecessarily.  Some distance below his bushy,
graceful tail, sunken between the strong muscles of his thighs, Stripes
had a shallow pit, or sac, of extraordinarily tough skin containing a
curious gland which secreted an oil of terrible power.

"The strong muscles surrounding this sac kept the mouth of it always so
tightly closed that not an atom could get out to soil the little
owner's clean, dainty fur, or cause the slightest smell.  In fact,
Stripes was altogether one of the cleanest and daintiest and most
gentlemanly of all the wild creatures.  But when he _had_ to, he could
contract those muscles around the oil sac with such violence that the
deadly oil--blinding and suffocating--would be shot forth to a distance
of several feet, right into the face of the enemy.  And _that_, let me
tell you, was never good for the enemy!"

"Why?" demanded the Babe.

But Uncle Andy only eyed him scornfully.  "When Stripes, quite civilly,
looked at the bear, and then proceeded to smell around under the
juniper bush for that bird's nest, which didn't seem to be there, the
bear was much puzzled.  He put out his paw again--and again drew it
back.

"Then he said 'Wah!' quite loud and sharp, to see if that would
frighten the imperturbable stranger.  But Stripes didn't seem to mind
noises like that.  His bright, intelligent eyes were on the bear all
the time, you know, though he seemed to be so busy hunting for that
bird's nest.

"'Pooh!' said the bear to himself, 'he's just plain idiot, that's
what's the matter with him.  I'll eat him, anyway!' and he bounced
forward, with paw uplifted, intending to gather Stripes as he would a
fat cricket."

Here Uncle Andy was so inconsiderate as to pause and relight his pipe.
The Babe clutched his arm.

"Well," he went on presently, "just at this moment Stripes made as if
he was going to run away, after all.  He whisked round and jumped about
two feet, and his fine tail flew up over his back, and in that very
instant the bear thought the whole side of the hill had struck him in
the face.

"He stopped with a bump, his nose went straight up in the air, and he
squalled: 'Wah-ah!  Wah--'  But in the middle of these remarks he
choked and strangled and started pawing wildly at his nose, trying to
get his breath.

"His eyes were shut tight, and that deadly oil clung like glue.  His
paws couldn't begin to get it off, and so he fell to rooting his nose
in the turf like a pig, and plowing the grass with his whole face,
fairly standing on his head in his efforts, all the time coughing and
gurgling as if he was having a fit.

"His behavior, in fact, was perfectly ridiculous; but there was no one
there to laugh at it but Stripes, and he was too polite.  He just
strolled on quietly to another bush, and kept looking for that bird's
nest.

"At last the bear, what with pawing and rooting, managed to get his
breath and open his eyes.  He wallowed a bit more, and then sat up, his
nose full of dirt, and moss and grass hanging all over his face.  He
was a sight, I tell you!  And how he did dislike himself!

"As he sat there, thinking how he'd ever get away from himself, he
caught sight of Stripes, strolling off quietly over the brown hillocks.
Sitting back on his haunches, he blinked at the little, leisurely
black-and-white figure.

"'And to think I was going to eat _that_!' he said to himself sadly."




CHAPTER XV

DAGGER BILL AND THE WATER BABIES

"What's that?" demanded the Babe nervously, as a peal of wild, crazy
laughter rang out over the surface of the lake.

"Why, don't you know what _that_ is yet?" Said Uncle Andy with a
superior air.  "That's old Dagger Bill, the big black-and-white loon.
Sounds as if he was terribly amused, doesn't he?  But he's only calling
to his big black-and-white mate, or the two little Dagger Bills they
hatched out in the spring."

"What does _he_ do?" asked the Babe.

"I don't _know_ much about that fellow," answered Uncle Andy.  "Now you
see him, and now you don't.  Mostly you don't; and, when you do, as
likely as not it's only his snaky black head, with its sharp dagger of
a bill, stuck up out of the water to keep track of you.  He's _most_
unsociable.  If anyone tells you he knows all about a loon, you wink to
yourself and pretend you are not listening.  But I'll tell you who _do_
know something about old Dagger Bill--the Water Babies.

"Who're the Water Babies?" demanded the Babe.

"Why don't you know _that_?  The little muskrats, of course, that live
in the warm, dry, dark nest under the dome of their mud house, out in
the water--the house with its doors so far under water that no one can
get into it without diving and swimming."

"It must be cozy and awfully safe," said the Babe, who began to want a
place like that himself.

"Yes, _fine_!" agreed Uncle Andy.  "And safe from everything but the
mink; and if _he_ came in by one door, there was always another door
open for them to get out by, so quick that the mink could never see
their tails.

"Old Dagger Bill, of course, could never get into the house of the
Water Babies, for all his wonderful swimming and diving, because he was
so big--as big as a goose.  But, as a rule, he wouldn't want to bother
the Water Babies.  Fish were much more to Dagger Bill's taste than
young muskrat; and he could swim so fast under water that few fish ever
escaped him, once he got after them.

"This summer, however, things were different at Long Pond.  Hitherto it
had fairly swarmed with fish--lake trout, suckers, chub, red fins, and
so on.  But that spring some scoundrel had dynamited the waters for the
sake of the big lake trout.  Few fish had survived the outrage.  And
even so clever a fisherman as Dagger Bill would have gone hungry most
of the time had he not been clever enough to vary his bill of fare.

"'If we can't have all the bread we want,' he said to the family, 'we
must try to get along on cake!'"

"Dagger Bill _might_ get _bread_ from some camp," interrupted the Babe
thoughtfully, being a matter-of-fact child.  "But _what_ could he know
about _cake_, Uncle Andy?"

"Oh, come on!  You know what I mean!" protested Uncle Andy, aggrieved
at the Babe's lack of a sense of humor.  "You're too particular, you
are!  _You_ know bread meant fish with Dagger Bill--and cake meant
things like winkles and frogs, and watermice, and--Water Babies, of
course!

"Well, you know, it was no joke hunting the Water Babies, for the old
muskrats could fight, and would, and did!  And after Dagger Bill and
his family had breakfasted on two or three Water Babies, there was
great excitement in all the muskrat homes.

"Dagger Bill was a new enemy, and they were not quite sure how to
manage him.  The mink they knew, the fox they knew, and the noiseless,
terrible eagle owl, and the swooping hawk.  All these they had their
tricks for evading.  And the savage pike they would sometimes fight in
his own element.

"But Dagger Bill, swimming under water like a fish, and spearing them
from beneath with the deadly javelin of his beak, this was a new and
dreadfully upsetting danger.  Furry heads got close together, and there
was a terrible lot of squeaking and squealing before anyone could make
up his mind what to do.  And meanwhile Dagger Bill was feeling quite
pleased, because he had found out that Water Babies were good--and
safe!--to eat.

"Now the Water Babies, I must tell you, had two nests--one in the
waterhouse, a few yards out from shore, and one at the end of the
burrow leading up into the dry bank.  Their favorite amusement, as a
rule, was playing tag in the quiet water around the house, sometimes on
the surface, sometimes beneath it.  They would catch and nip each other
by the tails or the hind legs, and sometimes grapple and drag each
other down, for all the world like a lot of boys in swimming--but how
they could swim!  You'd give your eye teeth to swim like they could."

"Bet your boots, Uncle Andy," agreed the Babe enthusiastically.
"Specially _these_ teeth, 'cause they're my first, and I'll lose 'em
soon, anyway."

"Huh!" grunted Uncle Andy, looking at him suspiciously.  "But, as I was
saying, the Water Babies _could swim_.  They were no match for Dagger
Bill, however, who was quicker than a fish.  And when Dagger Bill took
to hunting Water Babies, it was no longer safe for them to play far
from home.  They would get themselves well nipped by their relations, I
can tell you, whenever they went outside the little patch of shallow
water between the house and the bank.

"Now the sharpness of Dagger Bill's eyes was something terrible.  From
away across the lake, where no muskrat could see him at all, _he_ could
see the ripple made by the brown nose of the littlest muskrat swimming.
So one day, when the Water Babies were playing tag in what was really,
you know, nothing more nor less than their own back yard, he saw the
swift ripples and splashes crossing and recrossing--and he laughed!
_You_ know how he laughed.

"And when the muskrats heard that wild laughter, they bobbed up their
furry heads, those in the water; and those on land sat up like
squirrels to listen, and all were as delighted as possible because the
sound was so very far away!  Then the Water Babies all began to play
about as boldly as you please, because they knew Dagger Bill was away
over at the other side of the lake.

"But do you suppose he really was?

"Not much!  The moment he was done laughing he dived, and swam as hard
as he could straight across the lake, under water.  He swam and he
swam, a sharp, black-and-white wedge rushing through the golden deep,
as long as he could hold his breath.  When he could not hold it a
moment longer he came up, stuck his bill just above water, took a long
breath, and dived again.  He was halfway across the lake when he came
up that time.  Next time he was _all_ the way across; but, being very
cunning indeed, he came up under a grassy bank, where his black bill
was hidden among the stems.

"He was not more than twenty paces now from the place where the Water
Babies were splashing and racing and squeaking, and having such a good
time on the smooth, sunny water, under the blue, blue sky.  They were
very happy.  Dagger Bill sank back into the deep water so noiselessly,
you would have said it was a shadow sinking.  Then he rushed forward
like a swordfish, down there in the brown glow, and darted up right
into the game of tag.

"He had aimed his cruel thrust at the Water Baby who, at that
particular moment, was IT.  But, in that same second, as luck would
have it, IT caught the one he was pursuing, nipped his tail, and
doubled back like lightning to escape getting nipped in return.  So,
you see, Dagger Bill missed his aim.  That javelin of his beak just
grazed the brown tip of IT'S nose, scaring him to death, but nothing
more."

"Ah-h!' breathed the Babe, relieved in his feelings.

"In a wink, of course," went on Uncle Andy, "all the Water Babies, with
a wild slapping of tails on the water to warn each other, were
scurrying desperately for the nest.  Some dived as deep as possible;
but others lost their wits and swam on the surface.  A moment more, and
Dagger Bill, who had sunk at once, darted up again, and this time his
terrible beak pierced right through a little swimmer's body, severing
the backbone."

"Oh-h-h!" murmured the Babe, drawing in his breath sharply.

"I can't help it," said Uncle Andy.  "But that's the way things go.
Well, now, Dagger Bill rose right out on top of the water, as a bird
should, and swam toward shore with the victim hanging limply from his
beak.  But every old muskrat, along the bank or around the waterhouse,
had seen and had understood.  Those folks that think muskrats and other
wild creatures have sense, would have said it was all planned out
ahead--it happened so quick.  Every muskrat dived like a flash into the
water and disappeared.

"Dagger Bill was coolly making for shore, not dreaming that anybody
would dare interfere with him, when suddenly his black head went up in
the air, his great beak opened with a hoarse squawk, and he dropped the
dead Water Baby.  His dark wings flopped, and his tail was drawn under
so violently that he nearly turned over backward.  It seemed to him
that nothing less than the Great Sturgeon, which lived far down the
river, must have grabbed him by the feet."

"Wish it had been!" said the Babe.

"Just you wait!" said Uncle Andy.  "Well, the next minute he looked
down, and, lo and behold! all the water underneath him was alive with
swimming muskrats, darting up and closing in upon him.  Three or four
already had their sharp teeth in his feet.  He was mad and frightened,
I can tell you.

"He struggled and flopped, but his short wings could not raise him from
the water with those weights fastened upon his feet.  Then his black
head shot under, and he jabbed savagely this way and that, making
dreadful wounds in those soft, furry bodies.  But the muskrats never
heeded a wound.  They swarmed upon their enemy with a splendid,
reckless rage.  _They'd_ teach him to stab Water Babies!

"And they did, too!  In a minute or so they had pulled the old robber
clean under, where they could all get at him; and, my! you should have
seen how the water boiled!  But it was only for a minute or two.  Then
two muskrats came up, bleeding, but proud as you please, and then two
or three more; and they all went ashore to lick their wounds and make
their toilets, for, as you may imagine, their hair was somewhat
disarranged.

"And then, while they were combing their fur with the claws of their
little forepaws, like hands, who should come up but Dagger Bill; but
his feet came up first, and he didn't come up far, anyway, and he
didn't stir.  In fact, he was good and dead--so dead that presently a
young chub, and a red-fin, and two sunfish, came up and swam round him
curiously.

"You see, they thought they might never have another chance to get such
a _good, comfortable_ look at a loon, and be able to talk about it
afterwards."



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