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- Rataplan - 20/27 -


not approve of strangers, there was a fearful noise, a blaze of fire and smoke, and one of his wives and two or three of his children fell dead.

Osra waited no longer; with a peculiar sort of guttural chuckle he stretched out his long legs, and with tremendous strides--which covered from twenty to twenty-two feet at a time--flew like the wind, followed by his remaining wives and little ones.

Away they went, taking no thought or heed of the young ones so that they got away, and when they had been racing for some time at the rate of twenty miles an hour, Osra was surprised to find himself and his wives back at the very same spot!

There were the bodies of his wife and children, and there also was the stranger ostrich.

Osra was taken by surprise, for although he was not particularly good at hearing, he prided himself on his sight, and he was a little puzzled to know how he could have got to the very same spot again without seeing where he was going.

But, startled as he was, and puzzled as he had felt at this stranger ostrich, he suddenly did what, had he only done before, might have saved the lives of his wife and children.

Kicking out sideways with one of his powerful legs, he knocked that stranger ostrich over, and over, and over, with such a blow that his head and neck flew in one direction, a curious thing, from which came out more fire and smoke, in another, and a straight body with the head and face of a man, or what was left of it, went in a third, and lay perfectly still.

Osra hesitated a little, and then went up and examined each part of the ostrich. It had only been an imitation ostrich after all; for the head and neck were mounted on a stick, the feathers were only sewn on to a skin stuffed with straw, and the curious, little white legs belonged to a man who was now quite dead.

Osra and his wives paced slowly about for some time, and after a while were joined by their little ones, who were worn out and exhausted by the long run.

This was one adventure, and one that frightened the young ones very much. But they had a good time afterwards, for Osra led them, with slow and stately steps, to a farm close by, where there were some nice, young broods of soft, fluffy chickens, and tiny, little yellow ducklings running about with their mothers.

With a cool and indifferent air Osra and his wives took up the little fluffy chickens one by one, and swallowed them whole; the poor bewildered mothers clucking and screaming, and spreading out their wings, wondering where on earth their families had gone.

Having picked up all the fluffy little chickens, they went on and picked up the little yellow ducklings, and the poor mothers hissed and scolded, and did everything in their power to defend their darlings from these huge, horrible, creatures which demolished them so quickly.

While they were doing this the young ostriches set to work and ate up all the stray eggs they could find, one or two small animals, and some young wild birds who were so unsophisticated as to believe them to be mother hens, and so injudicious as to hop quite close to them in order to pick up the corn.

Having eaten all they could find, the family prepared to depart, the old birds, followed by the mother hens and the mother ducks, in terrible distress and furious anger.

In vain they pecked, hissed and scolded at the huge legs and two-toed feet of the ostriches. The legs and feet went solemnly and haughtily on, occasionally stepping on the poor, distracted mothers, who cared not what they did or what happened to them now that they were bereaved of their little ones.

Away they went through the farm with their peculiar, swinging walk, followed by their young ones, who ate up all that came in their way, and felt that this delightful feast more than made up for their terrible fright in the earlier part of the day.

But just as they were going out of the gate of the farm Osra suddenly saw, in a sort of paddock, another ostrich, and stayed behind to say something to her.

[Illustration: "OSRA AND HIS WIVES TOOK UP THE CHICKENS, ONE BY ONE, AND SWALLOWED THEM WHOLE."]

In some curious way the gate of the paddock opened, and Osra--proving, with all his high opinion of himself, how extremely stupid he could be on occasion--walked gravely in. As soon as he was in, the gate of the paddock closed in the same mysterious way, and it was not until he had been talking to the strange ostrich for some little time that he realized, with an awful shock, that his wives and children had gone, and that he was a prisoner.

Now, he had liked the strange ostrich very much, and, although she had told him that she was not an African ostrich, he thought her very beautiful; at the same time, he did not wish to stay with her altogether, away from his wives and children, and, as soon as he found that he was a prisoner and that they had gone, he did his very best to make his escape.

But the paddock was strong, and, although Osra could run round and round it in a few minutes, he could neither jump nor fly over the fence.

And so, in spite of his great strength, in spite of his huge body and wonderfully muscular legs, he could do nothing, for he could not fly. And so he had to suffer the punishment for the wrong-doing of his predecessors.

He was as savage and dangerous as he could be for a long time, and his captors were extremely careful to keep out of the reach of his hard, straight bill and strong, powerful legs.

For a little while he would not even eat, but this did not last long, and it was by the persuasion of his new friend that he began to take his food again.

Once having done this, he grew more reconciled, and, as he found that his new companion was very beautiful, he began to forget his wives and children, and in time--although not without many struggles to get out and many savage onslaughts at the fences--he settled down into an ordinary African farm ostrich, and was perhaps just as contented as any of his companions.

He never saw his wives and children again; for the matter of that, he did not want to. In time he had six wives of his own at the farm, and strutted about in his grave, dignified and conceited way, proving himself a fairly good husband, but always ready for and somewhat greedy about meals. And, although he was never allowed out on the farm, as some of the American ostriches were, he grew in time to be quite contented, and even fairly happy.

SEELA, THE SEAL

There had been a terrible storm on the Pacific coast--such a storm as even the oldest fisherman, who had lived in the same little fishing village on the North American shore all his life, never remembered to have seen before.

For days sulky, smoke-like clouds had been gathering in the sky, while the sea grew darker and darker in hue, until its darkness was accentuated into an inky appearance by the white-capped waves, which grew bigger and fiercer as each hour drew on. And at last the storm had burst after a deadly silence that could almost be felt--burst with such vindictive fury that houses and buildings, which had stood steadfast for years, toppled and fell down like a house of cards, while the stately vessels which had braved many a storm were tossed about and wrecked upon the rocks.

Even the fish in the sea were surprised, and after a little consultation decided to swim nearer the shore and keep quiet until the storm had spent itself. The fish were not the only ones that came to the conclusion that the shore was the best place.

Seela, a full-grown seal, who thought a great deal of himself and all belonging to him, liked the sea to be a little rough at times. He knew perfectly well that roughness always meant a good meal of fish afterwards, but so much roughness as all this he did not care about. Therefore, when he had stood it for some time, and found that he could hardly keep himself from being dashed against the rocks, and the big pieces of ice which came floating along on the top of the waves, he spoke to his wives and told them to follow him to the shore.

And when they arrived there and scrambled up in their awkward, shambling manner, their sleek, lithe bodies looking as though there were no bones in them, but only soft, flexible muscles, the fishermen on the shore looked at one another in despair. For they knew only too well what the advent of seals meant. It meant that, instead of their catching the fish and so feeding their wives and families, the seals would do both for themselves.

It was not often that seals visited that part of the land, but they had been there before, and a bad time they made for the poor fishermen, who had nearly been ruined the last time, and had made up their minds that, should the seals ever come there again, they would not rest until they had destroyed them. Not that they were of much value, except for the fat of their oily bodies, for they were neither hair seals nor fur seals, but just common seals, with nothing to speak of but the habits, traits and characteristics of all other families of seals and sea lions.

"There's that old rascal that was here last year," one of the fishermen exclaimed, pointing at Seela. "I know him because he has only one eye, a part of one of his front flippers has been torn off, and he is covered with scars and wounds."

Seela was certainly not handsome, and as he shambled up to a place of safety he looked a very sorry object indeed. As a rule he never went on shore when the fishermen were there, but he was sure of two things at that time, and one was that the shore was the best place for the time being, and the second was that it was far too dangerous and treacherous a spot where he had landed for the fishermen to venture close enough to harm him.


Rataplan - 20/27

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