"Ow-w-w-ch!" he continued to wail.
The snake stopped, confused, craning its head upward at the new complication, then downward at its known adversary. Its hesitation would make Willie's escape practicable, if he could conquer his crazy fear.
"Willie, break off a limb--beat it back! I can run!"
The snake undulated a few inches farther. The reiterated cry was Willie's only response. Anna's quick eye saw another chance.
"There's that big limb on the redwood. You can reach it. Swing across. It's easy. You must!" stamping. "O Willie, do it! Do it!"
Her sailor father had often reproved Anna for her delight in climbing and swinging from tree to tree, by means of her long arms and practised hands.
"It iss not goodt for you to be a monkey, mine Anna," he would say.
"Little girls need nefer to go to the masthead. Thou hast no call to be a sailor. Be only a brave _kindchen_, and help our goodt mother wit' the dishes."
His admonition would dissolve in an unrestrained roar of laughter as she wickedly "shinned" up the porch post to a coign of vantage on the vine-covered roof.
But she could not climb the tree where the snake still clung. There was the neighboring redwood, huge-girthed, smooth-boled, with limbs out of reach, yet with the lowest bough almost touching the limb on which Willie crouched, mechanically clutching the body of the tree, but dumb and stupefied with the horror of his situation.
Anna hurriedly piled large rocks under a thick, broken branch-stump of the redwood, which was at least eight feet from the ground. Four times she leaped upward and fell back, wounding her tough little feet. She noticed blood-stains on the rocks as she heaped them with a broader base for her fifth attempt. The snake rested, waving his head downward as if in query. Fortunately, he was full and sluggish.
Once more Anna crouched and shot upward. Her right hand caught the projecting stump, her left easily followed. Clasping the decreasing trunk of the tree with her slim, muscular legs, hanging also by her hands, she dropped her head backward to take observation. The snake hung out, also, toward her, from his tree, then resumed his deliberate climbing. Evidently the task was neither easy nor to his liking.
Anna hitched breathlessly up toward the coveted limb. Reaching it, she took out her jack-knife,--inseparable companion,--scientifically cut a wedge from a short limb above her, and broke off the weakened branch. Recovering her balance, she reached out with this flexible club, but could not touch the snake, now roused to accelerated activity.
Holding her weapon between her teeth, Anna worked her way nearly to the end of her tough support. Throwing out her right hand, she was able to catch the big limb, at the base of which Willie, almost insensible, still huddled. Then she swung, pendulum-like, by her hands, increasing her momentum. At the right moment she released the redwood bough and flung her light body full upon the young oak.
Grasping the limb with both hands, she hauled herself up beside the terrified boy.
The snake, shaken by the tumult above, wavered and stopped. As a rule, a rattlesnake, conscious of his defense, makes a good fight; but here the conditions were unusual and confusing. On level ground, where he could have coiled, and where his sensitive under surface could have slid comfortably over smooth earth, he would not have shirked combat when cornered. Now, with his enemy mysteriously above, his one idea seemed to be escape.
Willie jabbered an idiotic welcome.
"He can't strike until he gets clear here," Anna reassured him. "He can't coil."
Her rapid blows still further dismayed her antagonist. He bit viciously at the stick, touching it more than once; for the rattler's strike is deadly swift, despite his languid locomotion.
At last Anna, settling herself firmly on the limb, raised her club with both hands and delivered a slashing blow on the neck of her foe, breaking, as they afterward found, his vertebral column.
The darting head hung limp; a progressive loosening ran through the mottled coils; there was a slight rasping sound, a thud, and then a whitish heap on the ground, which Anna cleared when, swinging down by her hands to a safe distance, she leaped lightly to the ground.
Willie followed, dazed and fearful. He helped round up the cows, casting furtive glances ahead and on each side at every footstep.
Before entering the house, he slunk, although still agonized with fear, through the golden twilight to the abhorred bathing-pool and the languidly fluttering cross-bars of the repudiated gingham shirt.
But Anna, too ill for supper, crept into her father's arms, where he sat on the vine-darkened veranda, and fell asleep on his shoulder.
"Ach, mine Anna," the captain said, tenderly, "it iss sometimes goodt for little girls to make themselves to be sailors!"
THE BUTTERFLY'S CHILDREN
By Mrs. Alfred Gatty
"Let me hire you as a nurse for my poor children," said a Butterfly to a quiet Caterpillar, who was strolling along a cabbage-leaf in her odd lumbering way. "See these little eggs," continued the Butterfly; "I don't know how long it will be before they come to life, and I feel very sick and poorly, and if I should die, who will take care of my baby Butterflies when I am gone? Will _you_, kind, mild, green Caterpillar? But you must mind what you give them to eat, Caterpillar!--they cannot, of course, live on _your_ rough food. You must give them early dew, and honey from the flowers, and you must let them fly about only a little way at first; for, of course, one can't expect them to use their wings properly all at once. Dear me! it is a sad pity you cannot fly yourself. But I have no time to look for another nurse now, so you will do your best, I hope. Dear! dear! I cannot think what made me come and lay my eggs on a cabbage-leaf! What a place for young Butterflies to be born upon! Still you will be kind, will you not, to the poor little ones? Here, take this gold-dust from my wings as a reward. Oh, how dizzy I am! Caterpillar! you will remember about the food--"
And with these words the Butterfly drooped her wings and died; and the green Caterpillar, who had not had the opportunity of even saying Yes or No to the request, was left standing alone by the side of the Butterfly's eggs.
"A pretty nurse she has chosen, indeed, poor lady!" exclaimed she, "and a pretty business I have in hand! Why, her senses must have left her or she never would have asked a poor crawling creature like me to bring up her dainty little ones! Much they'll mind me, truly, when they feel the gay wings on their backs, and can fly away out of my sight whenever they choose!"
However, there lay the eggs on the cabbage-leaf; and the green Caterpillar had a kind heart, so she resolved to do her best. But she got no sleep that night, she was so very anxious. She made her back quite ache with walking all night round her young charges, for fear any harm should happen to them; and in the morning says she to herself--
"Two heads are better than one. I will consult some wise animal upon the matter, and get advice. How should a poor crawling creature like me know what to do without asking my betters?"
But still there was a difficulty--whom should the Caterpillar consult? There was the shaggy Dog who sometimes came into the garden. But he was so rough!--he would most likely whisk all the eggs off the cabbage-leaf with one brush of his tail. There was the Tom Cat, to be sure, who would sometimes sit at the foot of the apple-tree, basking himself and warming his fur in the sunshine; but he was so selfish and indifferent! "I wonder which is the wisest of all the animals I know," sighed the Caterpillar, in great distress; and then she thought, and thought, till at last she thought of the Lark; and she fancied that because he went up so high, and nobody knew where he went to, he must be very clever, and know a great deal, for to go up very high (which _she_ could never do), was the Caterpillar's idea of perfect glory.
Now in the neighbouring corn-field their lived a Lark, and the Caterpillar sent a message to him, to beg him to come and talk to her, and when he came she told him all her difficulties, and asked him what she was to do to feed and rear the little creatures so different from herself.
"Perhaps you will be able to inquire and hear something about it next time you go up high," observed the Caterpillar, timidly.
The Lark said, "Perhaps he should;" but he did not satisfy her curiosity any further. Soon afterwards, however, he went singing upwards into the bright, blue sky. By degrees his voice died away in the distance, till the green Caterpillar could not hear a sound.
So she resumed her walk round the Butterfly's eggs, nibbling a bit of the cabbage-leaf now and then as she moved along.
"What a time the Lark has been gone!" she cried, at last. "I wonder where he is just now! I would give all my legs to know!" And the green Caterpillar took another turn round the Butterfly's eggs.
At last the Lark's voice began to be heard again. The Caterpillar almost jumped for joy, and it was not long before she saw her friend descend with hushed note to the cabbage bed.
"News, news, glorious news, friend Caterpillar!" sang the Lark; "but the worst of it is, you won't believe me!"
"I believe everything I am told," observed the Caterpillar, hastily.
"Well, then, first of all, I will tell you what these little creatures are to eat. What do you think it is to be? Guess!"
"Dew, and the honey out of flowers, I am afraid," sighed the Caterpillar.
"No such thing, old lady! Something simpler than that. Something that _you_ can get at quite easily."
"I can get at nothing quite easily but cabbage-leaves," murmured the Caterpillar, in distress.
"Excellent! my good friend," cried the Lark, exultingly; "you have found it out. You are to feed them with cabbage-leaves."
_"Never!"_ said the Caterpillar, indignantly. "It was their dying mother's last request that I should do no such thing."
"Their dying mother knew nothing about the matter," persisted the lark; "but why do you ask me, and then disbelieve what I say? You have neither faith nor trust."
"Oh, I believe everything I am told," said the Caterpillar.
"Nay, but you do not," replied the Lark; "you won't believe me even about the food, and yet that is but a beginning of what I have to tell you. Why, Caterpillar, what do you think those little eggs will turn out to be?"
"Butterflies, to be sure," said the Caterpillar.