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The lion was lazy, as usual, and, thinking he could easily overtake a giraffe, did not put forth his best speed. Consequently, he made the fatal mistake of allowing the giraffe a good start, and to his great surprise found he was losing ground.
But, lazy and indolent as the lion is, he can be energetic enough when he chooses, and so the King of Beasts gathered himself together, put forth his great strength and best speed, and very soon it was Gean who was losing ground, while the lion was gaining steadily.
Quivering with terror, and with her strength failing her, poor Gean began to feel hopeless. She could see the lion getting closer and closer, but not a sound did she make, for the giraffe is absolutely dumb, and makes no noise even when dying. On and on she went, trusting to her strong limbs, making curious, frog-like leaps and awkward, jumpy movements, her long neck rocking swiftly up and down as though pulled by some mechanical contrivance, and her tail swishing faster than ever.
She knew now she could not keep up much longer, and at last, realizing she must give up the race, turned suddenly round and faced her enemy, sending forth such a shower of strong, vigorous kicks that the lion was not only surprised, but completely bewildered. He hesitated but a moment, however, and then prepared to spring. Crouching down, with his huge head close to the ground, he watched his opportunity, for he had no relish for springing straight at those flourishing heels, and Gean took very good care to keep her head carefully out of his way, although she was quite prepared to give him a good blow with a sidelong swing of her-muscular neck. But she knew perfectly well that she could not keep this up more than another minute or two, and her beautiful, brown eyes were distended with fear, and her breath came thick and fast.
It would indeed have gone hard with her, but at that very moment Groar appeared on the scene, and, taking in what was happening at a single glance, he promptly went to the rescue. A shambling and clumsy object he looked, moving the fore and hind legs of the same side simultaneously, but in Gean's eyes at that moment he was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. She kept up her kicking until Groar came up to her, and then he joined in with might and main, nourishing his four feet in the very face of the lion and daring him to do his worst.
But the lion thought better of it. It was all very well tackling one giraffe, but to face four such pairs of heels was more than he cared about, and when Groar took him unawares in the midst of all the kicking by suddenly striking him a heavy blow with his neck, the King of Beasts concluded it was not a good time to prove his sovereignty, and, with a sulky growl, slunk off to his lair.
As soon as the lion turned his back, poor Gean sank down utterly exhausted, her small head waving wearily to and fro, her long, black tongue hanging out of her mouth, and her breath coming in short, painful gasps. Groar comforted her as well as he could, caressing her tenderly, and every now and then drawing himself up to his full height on the lookout for danger. He never left her until she was able to move slowly back to the low woods, and then only to gather for her some tender shoots of camel-thorn and mimosa, and any young, tender leaves he could find.
Gean took them all very gently, and seemed humbled and grateful, and when, a little later on, he suggested that she should let him always take care of her, she thought it over and finally concluded it would be a very nice arrangement. And so Groar took her home to his herd and introduced her to the leader--an old giraffe with a dark chestnut hide and a longer neck than any of the others--as his wife.
And Gean was very happy, for Groar was a good and kind husband, and very devoted to her, and she no longer had to be always looking out for danger, for Groar was always watching, and guarded her with the greatest care. He took her for long walks through the woods, where they found nice, fresh food, and saw that she had her share of it, but they picked and ate only a few leaves or blades of grass at a time, for it is a provision of Nature that giraffes shall feed in this way, as their digestion is extremely delicate.
In times of danger they would get close to a tree, lean their bodies against it, and then, putting their heads and necks under the branches, would be so completely hidden that sometimes the natives would mistake the giraffes for trees, and the trees for giraffes. Gean and Groar were more easily hidden than some of their cousins who lived in Northern Africa, for, being South Africans themselves, they were of a much darker color, and therefore not so noticeable.
[Illustration: "GROAR JOINED IN WITH MIGHT AND MAIN."]
It was in this way that they saved themselves one day, when, followed by hunters. These hunters were mounted on good, fleet horses, and had traced the pair of giraffes by their _spoor_, or footmarks. These footmarks were ten or eleven inches in length, pointed at the toe, and rounded at the heel, so that it was quite easy to find which way the giraffes had gone.
Accordingly, the hunters followed the spoor, which went across miles of rough, uneven ground--for giraffes know perfectly well that they always have the advantage on rough ground, being able to leap over obstacles without diminishing their speed--and finally led them to a wood.
Here the hunters paused, and, finding it impossible to ride through the thick growth, tethered their horses and left them in charge of some natives, while they, creeping cautiously forward, with guns in hand, tried to find out in which direction the animals had gone.
But this was a very difficult matter, for there were no footmarks now, owing to the thick undergrowth, and, moreover, the giraffes were on guard. For this was their great object in living in low woods; it was quite easy to see an enemy approaching.
Groar's long neck and small head had appeared at the top of some of the bushes just before the hunters entered the wood, and he knew perfectly well what it all meant. With a swift movement he withdrew his head, and, telling Gean to follow him, he led her to a nice, tall tree, and when she had settled herself comfortably, with her head under the branches, betook himself to another tree near by, and hid his own head in the same manner.
So wonderfully did the giraffes blend with the bark and foliage of the trees, that, although the hunters passed close by, they were unable to find them. Little did they think while moving cautiously along that the very animals they were looking for were silently watching them, with gentle eyes, from between the branches of trees quite close to them.
Not a muscle did either Groar or Gean move until they made quite sure the hunters had gone, and then, Groar declaring it to be quite safe, they withdrew their heads and necks from the branches, relaxed their stiffened limbs, and, moving their sloping[Footnote: The slope in a giraffe's back is caused by its elongated shoulder-blades. The fore and hind legs are exactly the same length.--_Author_.] backs from the trees, walked softly and quietly in another direction.
They were both so stiff from standing in the same position for so long a time that they were obliged to go slowly at first, and it was a very good thing they did so; for suddenly they came to a deep pit, so cunningly and cleverly hidden, that it was a great wonder Gean had not walked straight into it. The pit was nearly ten feet deep, and a hard bank of earth had been built from one side to the other, about six or seven feet high. Had Gean fallen into it, her forelegs would have been on one side of the wall and her hind legs on the other, and she would have been balanced in such a manner that, in spite of any amount of kicking and struggling, it would have been quite impossible for her to obtain a foothold, and she would have been obliged to stay there until the natives came and killed her.
As it was, she stopped just in time; but two such frights, in one day, were enough to make any giraffe nervous, and so they both rejoined the herd, and let the old leader keep guard while they had their evening meal in peace.
Gean wandered off a little way by herself that night, and, as she seemed to wish to be alone, Groar did not bother her, but kept a strict lookout all the time. And in the morning she called him to look at something, and this something was a soft, helpless, little, baby giraffe, with delicate limbs and small body, a funny, scraggy, long neck and small head, with the very same sort of gentle, pathetic eyes that Gean herself had.
And Groar thought it was the very finest baby he had ever seen, and was fonder and prouder of Gean than ever. As for Gean, she was sublimely happy, and was never tired of fondling and caressing her little one and attending to its many wants.
For it was a delicate baby, and for some time after its birth it seemed very doubtful whether it would live or not. But Gean tended and nourished it, kept it nice and warm, and in due course of time it grew strong and healthy.
And here we must leave Gean. She had a good home, plenty to eat, a kind husband and pretty little baby, and what more could any giraffe want?
KEESA, THE KANGAROO
The first thing that Keesa remembered was waking up in a dark, warm place, and feeling very hungry and a bit chilly.
With a little shiver he feebly gathered himself together and crept closer to the warm side of his small prison.
There was a curious something inside this warm part of his prison, which kept up a continuous, methodical beating, sometimes faster and sometimes slower, but never stopping.
Keesa did not think much about it then. His tiny, flexible, little mouth was seeking instinctively for something to satisfy his hunger, and, having found it, he troubled himself no further about the little, throbbing sound that never stopped. He was too young then to know that it was the beating of his mother's heart; but as he grew older he learned to regard it as a very barometer for danger signals. He knew that whenever it began to beat quicker than usual his mother was scenting danger; and that when it throbbed very, very quickly the danger had come, and was causing his mother great anxiety on his account.
All this he learned as he grew larger, but at this time he was only a
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