The Fourth of July, 1862, was a gala day at Roanoke Island. The camps of the island and the vessels in the harbor were in holiday attire. Colors were flying, bands playing, drums beating, patriotic steam was up to high pressure. The good old day, so dear to the hearts of Americans, was made more glorious by the exchange of camp hospitalities and an indulgence in such simple hilarity as the occasion seemed to require; but "Jeff" was not forgotten. Early in the morning he was bathed and scrubbed, more than to his heart's content, and then patriotically decorated. In his right ear was a red ribbon, in his left a white one; around his neck another of blue.
Thus adorned he was brought on shore to pay me a visit, and as he came through my door he appeared to be filled with the pride of patriotism and a realization of the greatness of the occasion. His reward for this unusual demonstration was instantaneous, and consisted of some apples and a toothsome dessert of sugar.
Afterward he made the round of the camps with a special escort of warrant officers and devoted Jack Tars.
During this triumphant march over the island an incident occurred which developed the slumbering instinct of the swamp "racer." In a second, as it were, and seemingly without cause, "Jeff" was seen to move off at a tremendous pace at right angles with the line of march. He was seen after he had run a few yards to make a great jump, and then remain in his tracks. The pursuing party found him actively engaged in demolishing a moccasin, which he had crushed by jumping and landing with his feet upon its head and back. Hogs of this particular kind are famous snake-killers--a big rattler or a garter snake is all the same to them. They advance to the attack with the greatest impetuosity, and a feast upon snake is the usual reward of exceptional bravery.
"Jeff" was a confirmed lover of good eating, and in time paid the usual penalty for over-indulgence of his very piggish appetite.
While the meal pennant was up, it was his habit to go from one fore-castle mess to another, and to insist upon having rather more than his share of the choice morsels from each. In a short time he came to the repair shop very much the worse for wear, with an impaired digestion and a cuticle that showed unmistakable evidence of scurvy. For the first he was put upon short rations; for the second, sand baths on shore were prescribed. Under this treatment poor "Jeff" lost all his buoyancy of spirits and his habitual friskiness, and became sad and dejected, but bore his troubles with patience. He took to the sand baths at once, and gave forth many disgruntled grunts when lifted out of them.
The last time I saw "Jeff," in 1862, he was buried up to his ears in the cool sands of the Roanoke Island shore, with eyes upturned and looking like a very sad pig, but I fear none the wiser for his offenses against the rights of a well-regulated digestion.
THE IMPUDENT GUINEA-PIG
By Charles F. Lummis
No other creature is so absolutely graceful as a rattlesnake, and none more gentle in intention. It is only against imposition that he protests. Our forefathers had learned a not unworthy lesson from their contact with nature in the New World when they put upon the first flag of the colonies a rattlesnake, with the Latin legend, _Nemo me impune lacessit_--"No one wounds me with impunity."
The flag of independence, however, only half told the real meaning of its emblem--the warning, and not the self-restraint. There is a device, to my notion, much more expressive: a rattlesnake rampant, with the Spanish motto, _Ni huyes ni persigues_--"Thou needst not flee, but thou must not pursue." Or, in other words, "I impose upon no one; no one must impose upon me." That is the real meaning of the rattlesnake, as any one can testify who knows him well.
I chanced one day to enter the market in Los Angeles, and was surprised to find in one of the stalls a large collection of rattlesnakes, mostly brought in from the Mojave desert. It was the first time I had ever seen the crotalus sold in the stalls of a city market; and as they went at the very reasonable figure of fifty cents apiece, I promptly purchased a pair. The dealer, with a noose of cord, lassoed the two I indicated, and after some maneuvering got them stowed in two large cigar boxes, which he tied up tightly. Reaching home safely with my new pets, I made them a roomy cage with wire-screen in front and a sliding door on top, and transferred them to it without much difficulty. One was a strong, handsome fellow five feet long and with fifteen rattles; the other was about three feet in length and had an ordinary "string."
The dealer told me they had eaten nothing in six months; and fancying it must be about lunch-time with them, I went down-town, as soon as they were comfortably settled in the new quarters, to get them food. A rattler, you know, will touch no dead meat, so I had to seek some living bait. After ransacking the markets I found at last one young cuye--the funny little South American, generally miscalled among us the "guinea-pig." It was about half grown--a very proper-sized morsel for the larger snake.
My friends rattled a little as I opened the slide on the top of their cage, promptly closing it as I dropped the cuye in. But, to my surprise, they paid no further attention to the newcomer, except to appear very much bored by him; and, stranger yet, the guinea-pig showed no sign whatever of fear. I have so often watched birds, rabbits, dogs, horses, cattle, and other animals--up to the strongest and boldest--in presence of the rattlesnake, and have always noted in them such unmistakable tokens of terror, that it astonished me to find this pretty little white-and-tan creature so utterly unconcerned. In dropping from the door he alighted squarely upon the backs of the snakes, whereupon they drew away uneasily; and he proceeded to look and sniff about, very much as you may have seen a rabbit do. I stood by the cage a long time, expecting the snakes to lose patience at last and enact a tragedy; but nothing happened. The cuye scurried freely about the cage, generally treading upon the irregular loops which covered most of the floor; and the snakes neither rattled nor raised their heads at him.
For fully a week the three lodged together harmoniously. Sometimes, on entering the room, I found the guinea-pig quietly reposing inside the careless coil of one of his strange bedfellows. Several times he was squatting upon them, and more than once sitting squarely upon the head of one! I began to wonder if there were anything constitutionally wrong with the snakes. Whether they deemed him too big or too foolish to be eaten, I have never known; but, whatever the reason, they made no motion toward eating him.
Unfortunately, he did not know how to return a favor.
One afternoon I was writing at my desk, when a tremendous rattling behind me caused me to jump up and go to the cage. The smaller snake was up in arms, skirring his rattle violently, while the larger one was twisting uneasily about, but not showing fight. And what do you imagine ailed him? Why, that miserable cuye was perched upon him, coolly nibbling that beautiful rattle, of which only three or four beads were left! In my righteous indignation I tore open the slide and "snaked out" the vandal as quickly as possible.
Afterward it occurred to me to wonder that I had not been struck; for nothing so alarms and angers a crotalus as a swift motion like that with which I had removed the cuye. The rattles never grew again, and my best snake was spoiled. Why the cuye should have cared to eat that mysterious husk which is so absolutely dry and flavorless, I can explain only by adding that rats and mice have the same perverted taste, and that it seems fairly a passion with them. I have had many skins and rattles eaten up by them.
Shortly after this episode one of our helpers in the office found a nest of mice, and, mindful of my hungry snakes, I contrived to catch one mouse alive. When the rattlers saw him through their screen, they manifested such a lively interest as nothing had aroused in them before. I cautiously opened the slide in the top of the cage, held the mouse up by the tail, and let him drop.
There was a fair illustration of the matchless agility of the crotalus when he cares to be quick. The cage was just twelve inches high in the clear; but before the falling mouse was halfway to the bottom, there was an indescribable gray blur, and I knew that the larger snake had hit him. I have improved numerous chances to study the stroke of rattlesnake, which is the swiftest motion made by any living creature; but that particular case, better than any other, gave me a conception of its actual rapidity. From years of experience with the pneumatic shutter in photographing objects in rapid motion, I should say the snake's head traversed that twelve or fifteen inches in something like the three-hundredth part of a second.
The mouse fell upon the floor of the cage, and it never moved again. The snake knew perfectly that it had done its work, for in place of "recovering" for another stroke, as they invariably do after a failure, he swallowed the mouse in the usual slow and painful fashion, with as much apparent effort as a morsel four times as large should have given him.
HARD TO HIT
By Ernest Ingersoll
The spring weather we sometimes have in March reminds me, especially in the evening, of some days passed so high up in the Rocky Mountains that the summer was left down in the valley. One such spring-like evening we camped close to the timber-limit, and I made my first trip into the region above, in which no trees grow.
Having left the spruce-woods quickly behind, there came some stiff climbing up ledges of broken rocks, standing, cliff-like, to bar the way to the summit. These surmounted, the way was clear, for from the northeast--the side I was on--this mountain presents a smooth grassy slope to the very top; but the western side of the range is a series of rocky precipices, seamed and shattered. This is true of many mountains in Colorado.
Just above the cliffs grew a number of dwarfed spruces, some of them with trunks six inches in diameter, yet lying flat along the ground, so that the gnarled and wind-pressed boughs were scarcely knee-high. They stood so closely together, and were so stiff, that I could not pass between them; but, on the other hand, they were strong enough to bear my weight, so that I could walk over their tops when it was inconvenient to go around.
Some small brown sparrows, of two or three species, lived there, and they were very talkative. Sharp, metallic chirps were heard, also, as the blue snow-bird flitted about, showing the white feathers on either side of its tail, in scudding from one sheltering bush to another. Doubtless, careful search would have discovered its home, snugly built of circularly laid grasses, and tucked deeply into some cozy hollow beside the root of a spruce.
My pace now became slow, for in the thin air of a place twelve thousand feet above the sea-level, climbing is exhausting work. But before long I came to the top, and stood on the verge of a crag that showed the crumbling action of water and frost. Gaping cracks seamed its face, and an enormous mass of fallen rock covered the broad slope at its foot. The very moment I arrived there, I heard a most lively squeaking going on, apparently just under the edge of the cliff or in some of the cracks. It was an odd noise, something between a bark and scream, and I could think of nothing but young hawks as the authors of it. So I set at work to find the nest, but my search was in vain, while the sharp squeaking seemed to multiply and to come from a dozen different quarters. By this time I had crawled down the rough face of the cliff, and had reached the heaps of fallen rock. There I caught a glimpse of a little head with two black eyes, like a prairie-dog's, peering out of a crevice, and I was just in time to see him open his small jaws and say _"shink"
_--about as a rusty hinge would pronounce it. I whipped my revolver out of my belt and fired, but the little fellow dodged the bullet and was gone. Echoes rattled about among the rocks, wandered up and down the canon, and hammered away at half a dozen stone walls before ceasing entirely. But when they had died away, not another sound was to be heard. Every little rascal had hid.
So I sat down and waited. In about five minutes a tiny, timid squeak broke the stillness, then a second a trifle louder, then one away under my feet in some subterranean passage. Hardly daring to breathe, I waited and watched. Finally the chorus became as loud as before, and I caught sight of one of the singers only about ten yards away, head and shoulders out of his hole, doubtless commenting to his neighbor in no complimentary way upon the strange intruder. Slowly lifting my pistol, I pulled the trigger. I was sure he had not seen me, yet a chip of rock flying from where he had stood was my only satisfaction; he had dodged again.
I had seen enough, however, to know that the noisy colony was a community of Little Chief hares (_Lagomys princeps,_ as they are named in the textbooks), or "conies," as the silver miners call them. They are related to the woodchucks as well as to the hare, and they live wholly at or above timber-line, burrowing among the fallen and decomposing rocks which crown the summits of all the mountains. Not every peak, by any means, harbors conies; on the contrary, they are rather uncommon, and are so difficult to shoot that their skins are rare in museums, and their ways are little known to naturalists. During the middle of the day they are asleep and quiet; but in the evening and all night when the moon shines they leave their rocky retreats and forage in the neighboring meadows, meeting the yellow-footed marmot and other neighbors.
About the only enemies they have, I fancy, are the rattlesnake and weasel, excepting when a wild-cat may pounce upon one, or an owl swoop down and snatch up some rambler. In the cold season, of course, their burrows are deep in snow; but then the little fellows are taking their long winter sleep, and neither know nor care what the weather may be.
An Indian will eat a cony,--if he can catch it. He likes to use its fur, also, for braiding his locks into those long plaits which delight his soul; but the lively little rodents are pretty safe from all human foes, even one with a Colt's revolver!
THAT SLY OLD WOODCHUCK
By William O. Stoddard
"Deah me! Dey's jes' one moah row ob taters. I's hoein' de bes' I know."
Julius leaned on his hoe for a moment. His bright black face was turned a little anxiously toward the front fence. Over in the road beyond that there stood a white boy, of about his own size, and he was calling:
"Quib! Quib! Come here!"
"Dar he goes!" said Julius. "Dey'e got him agin. He's de bes' dog for woodchucks, he is! An' I can't go 'long. Tell you wot, dough, if I'd ha' t'ought he'd run away 'fore I'd hoed dese taters, I'd nebber hab gibben him dat big bone. De rascal! He's jes' hid it away, somewhar, down 'mong de cabbages."
That was what Quib had done with his precious bone; but now his little, lean, yellow legs were carrying him rapidly down the road, with half a dozen very noisy boys behind him.
"Pete! Pete Corry! Where was it you saw that woodchuck?"
"Finest woodchuck you ever saw in all your life!" was Pete's reply.
"He'll get away from us!"
"No, he won't. Abe Selover is watching for him. That woodchuck is in the stone-heap at the corner of old Hamburger's pasture-lot."
Quib must have understood what Mart Penniman said, for he did not halt for one second till he reached the bars that led into that very field. It was more than a quarter of a mile from the potato-patch, but Quib had barked all the way--probably out of respect for the size and importance of the coming woodchuck.
Mart Penniman and Abe Selover had started their great "game" on the way home from driving their cows. They had raced him across the pasture and along the fence, into the stone-heap, and then Abe had staid to keep watch while Mart went after Julius Davis's dog. That meant also, of course, as large a crowd of boys as he could pick up in going and coming.
It was a sad thing for Julius that his mother had set him at the potato-patch, and that Quib had broken his contract with the bone.
Quib was not usually so treacherous, but he happened to be on friendly terms with every boy of that hunting-party.
They had all helped him chase woodchucks at one time or another, and he had great confidence in them, but that was nothing at all to their confidence in him.
The pasture bars did not stop a single one of the woodchuck-hunters. All the boys went over while Quib was wriggling under, through a hole he knew, and there, almost right before them was the stone-heap. It was quite a large one, and it was thickly overgrown with wild raspberry vines.
"Abe--is he there?"