"Come and sit by me, you lonely little fellow," she purred.
"No--you needn't be frightened. ('I wasn't,' said Phil.) The only creatures that are afraid of me are the Hares and Foxes, and if I didn't eat them they would soon overrun the whole place; I do it out of kindness, you know."
She had seated herself on the ground as she was speaking, and made a soft and comfortable heap of fur. But Phil, though he, too, felt sleepy in the warm sunshine, was both to do as she suggested and use her back as a cushion.
"I've been very unjustly blamed," she began in a plaintive voice, when she had asked him what colour he thought her eyes, and whether he considered her fur becoming. "Settlers say that I am in the habit of dropping from trees on to the backs of Deer, and tearing their throats. They must mistake the Puma for me,--isn't it too bad?"
"Much too bad," agreed Phil, though he wondered a little if she were as innocent as she would have him believe. It was only politeness that kept him beside her, for he wanted to play with the Squirrels, who were much more to his liking. He could see one now beckoning to him from a great maple, as if he was very anxious to tell him something that he had heard. With a great effort Phil turned his attention to "Peeshoo"; she was talking of the Wolverene, which he could see that she did not love.
"He was so abominably greedy," she said, "and Wanted our share as well as his own. Quite early this morning he was after one of my Hares; it was a remarkably active little creature, and soon left him in the lurch. He caught a Rabbit or two and a few Birds, and might have been satisfied with those. But no--he wanted something larger, and ventured so near the mountains that a Grizzly Bear, who had strolled down to see what these woods were like, found him nosing about his breakfast, which he had just killed. What he said to the Grizzly I don't know, but it couldn't have pleased him, for with a single blow of his heavy paw the great Bear struck him down.
That Wolverene will never try to rob me of my Hares again!"
"Was he _quite_ killed?" Phil asked her anxiously, and "Peeshoo" smiled an ugly smile that showed her teeth and made Phil draw away from her.
"Don't you know yet what the paw of a big Grizzly is, child? It would kill a man, let alone an animal like the Wolverene. I keep out of the way of the Grizzlies myself--I find it wiser, and so will you."
But Phil knew well that even a Grizzly would not harm him, and he had always been fond of Bears. Some day he would go and see them; they were brave creatures, at any rate, and could tell him much that he longed to know.
"Peeshoo" talked on, but he scarcely heard her. So the Wolverene had been killed himself, instead of killing the Beavers, and for the present at least they would be safe. How glad Father Beaver would be, he thought; it was good news this time that he had to tell him, and as soon as he could get rid of "Peeshoo" he would hasten back to the colony. He did not mention the Beavers to her, for he thought it quite possible that she might eat other small animals besides Foxes and Hares; and he was learning to be very careful not to injure his friends.
When "Peeshoo's" hunger grew stronger than her interest in her companion, Phil and she parted company. Phil went straight to the river, and followed its course until he came to the Beavers'
dome-shaped houses. Of the Beavers themselves there was no sign.
"I'll explore one of their tunnels," thought Phil. He dived into the river, using his right leg instead of a tail to splash the water as the Beavers did, and soon found a Beaver's hole.
"Anyone at home?" he sang out gaily, as he ran through the tunnel's twists and turns.
"We're here!" cried Mother Beaver from its innermost recesses; and there Phil found her with her young ones, looking most forlorn.
"What is the matter?" he asked, for he had never seen her so distressed. She was shaking all over as she told him, and her voice was broken with sobs.
The night before, it seemed, almost immediately after Phil had left them, the Wolverene had made an unexpected attack. All had seemed safe, and the Beavers had for a moment relaxed their guard.
Dropping from the branches of a tree into their very midst, the Wolverene had pounced on a plump young Beaver just then engaged in felling a willow sapling; in spite of his struggles there had been no chance for him, and the Wolverene had eaten him then and there.
Not content with this, he had taken his stand upon the river bank, intent on further prey. The young Beavers were trembling still, and even the bravest of their elders were afraid to venture out from their retreat.
When Mother Beaver heard what had happened to the Wolverene in the early morning, she could scarcely contain herself for joy, and Father Beaver, who had sought his family in vain in the winter houses, where many of the colony had taken refuge, would have embraced Phil had he known how. He straightway planned a wonderful new dam that should put the old one to shame; and the number of trees the Beavers felled that night was simply marvellous. Nowhere along the river banks were more contented creatures than they; and many a timid wood thing, unknown to them, shared their thanksgiving that the Wolverene was dead.
Father Beaver was interested to learn from Phil of the Hackees'
"We have all our foes," he said, "and must fight them as best we can, with our wits or our teeth, the weapons Nature has given us.
That Stoat you saw will perhaps be trapped this winter; his brownish coat will turn pure white when the snow comes, and he will be called an 'Ermine' instead of a 'Stoat'; and then the hunters will be after him."
"Then the Ermine and the Stoat are the same creature?" cried Phil in amazement.
"The very same," said Father Beaver, "and Ermine fur is more valuable than our own. All sorts of traps will be set for him, for as his coat will be the same colour as the snow, it will be almost impossible for the fur hunters to take him in any other way."
"I wonder _why_ his fur turns white in winter?" Phil said, thoughtfully.
Father Beaver looked thoughtful too. "It is said to keep him much warmer than if it were dark," he remarked: "But I should think that it is so that he may not readily be seen against the snow. Perhaps that is Nature's way of taking care of him. We are all her children. But these are things that neither you nor I can understand."
SHIPS OF THE DESERT
By Lillian M. Gask
"I wonder where I shall find a Camel," said Phil to himself. Not even the Arab Horses, far-famed and lovely as they were, could for him compare in interest with the "ships of the desert," without whose aid, Nature had told him the burning sands would be more impassable than tractless seas. He had seen a Camel once in a travelling menagerie; a depressed and shaggy Camel, with dim, lack-lustre eyes and a rough coat. He wondered if the Camels in Arabia would look like that.
There was no breeze now, and the thin blue smoke that rose above the chimneys of the distant houses hung lazily in the sky. Phil had walked far since he left the mountain, and although a tawny Butterfly with an oblique white bar across the tip of her forewings had stayed her flight in passing, it had only been to wish him a pleasant journey. The sands of the desert plains stretched far to left and right in the broiling sunshine, looking like tracts of gold. Phil's eyes were dazzled by the glare; he sought the shade of a palm tree and leant against its slender trunk.
Presently he became aware that something was watching him from a sandy bank not far away. It was a Lizard--surely the queerest Lizard that Nature had ever made. His body was covered with shining scales, like those of most of his kindred, but his fat tail, ringed with thorn-like spines, was very curious, and his big teeth, set far apart in his funny mouth, were too large for his small round head.
He gazed at Phil in quizzical amusement, and asked him what he wanted in Arabia.
"To see a Camel," Phil replied, and the Lizard gave a dry little chuckle.
"You will have to go down to the plains for that," he said, "and the wind will blow the sand into your eyes. Better stay here with me. The shade is pleasant, and dates are sweet."
Phil shook his head.
"I have come a long way to see the Camel," he persisted. "Have I far to go before I shall find him?"
The Thorny-tailed Lizard--for this was he--blinked several times before he spoke again.
"Not far for you," he said at last, "for Nature has given you invisible wings to your feet. Before you go have a look at my burrow. It is a simple little affair, but very comfortable, and when I tuck my head and body inside it I am quite safe. If the Arabs, who find me as dainty eating as they do Locusts, try to pull me out by my tail, it comes off in their hands, and I grow another.
He! he! he!"
The Lizard was quite a character in his way, and Phil spent a pleasant half-hour with him. His burrow, though only a deep long hole in the sand-bank, was very cosy, and Mrs. Thorny-tail was most intelligent. She had a great deal to say to Phil about a demure Red Locust who showed some inclination, to bite him as he bade her farewell at the entrance to the burrow.
"He belongs to the same family as the Grasshoppers," she remarked, as, much discomfited at what she said to him, the Locust flew away.
"But instead of leaping through the air as they do, he uses his strong wings, which carry him very far."
"He scarcely looks large enough to do all the harm they say," said Phil, who had heard of him from the Butterfly. "I should have thought him quite a harmless creature if I had not known."
"A swarm of his family can make a green land desolate," returned the Lizard. "Small things can do much mischief, as you will learn when you grow older. There is nothing safe from Locusts. They have even been known in the Strait of Ormuz to settle on a ship, and, by devouring the sails and cordage, oblige the captain to stay his course. What? You are still thinking about your Camels? Well, ask for 'Maherry' when you reach the Arabs' dwellings. He is the fleetest Heirie in Arabia."
"Is a 'Heirie' the same as a Camel?" Phil inquired. But the Thorny-tailed Lizard had already tucked her head into her burrow, and soon was lost to sight.
A Weaver Bird fluttered from the palm tree in a state of wild alarm.
"There's a Viper under that stone," she cried, "Do send him off. He makes my heart beat so that I can scarcely hear myself twitter."
Phil turned it over, and a Snake wriggled away as if he had no wish that Phil should see his face. The Weaver Bird thanked Phil with many words.
"He has been watching me all the morning," she said, "with those dreadful eyes of his. I am thankful that he has gone, though my young ones have flown now, and my mind is at peace. Won't you stay and look at my nest? We made it all ourselves, I and my mate, and it is quite worth seeing."
It hung from a fairly high branch, and could only be reached by means of a long narrow entrance, most elaborately woven of grass and twigs, somewhat in the shape of an old-fashioned netted purse.
This, she told him, was to keep away poisonous Snakes and mischievous Monkeys, who would otherwise have helped themselves to her eggs, or feasted upon her fledglings.